In Penang, you’ll never run out of interesting things to do, and that includes taking your special one out. From historical sites to ghost museums, handicraft markets to sunsets at the beach, there’s something for every couple to enjoy.
Unless your date is lepidopterophobic (pathologically afraid of butterflies), this giant greenhouse-like structure will be delightful, educational, and romantic at various turns. Housing 15,000 of nature’s gentlest, free-flying, light-footed friends, as well as 200 tropical plant species plus decorative waterfalls, caves, and ponds, Entopia could truly pass for utopia.
Butterflies sipping on hibiscus nectar at the Entopia Butterfly Farm | © Michelle Leong
Scrap the overplayed movie-and-dinner ploy and watch the gorgeous sunrise at the Straits Green. Extending all the way to Straits Quay and the residential compounds beyond, this stretch of promenade is the perfect spot to witness the twilight sky-ribbon displays of cherry, crimson, and canary in the early hours of 6.30-8.00 a.m.
These days, you’re considered a bore if you work in an office without a side interest in non-conformist artistic culture. So take your date to China House — a shophouse-turned-everything with coffee, cake, courtyards, and chords — and tap your feet to the funky renditions of blues, pop, jazz, rock, and fusion at the hipster bar (ask around if you lose your way). It’s 30% off beer, wines, and cocktails if you show up between 5 and 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Sometimes it’s the tourists who know where to go – and in Penang this means Batu Ferringhi. Nothing much happens during the day, but once evening rolls around, Batu Ferringhi becomes festival-noisy with food, music, and crowds. Romance-with-a-twist can be achieved by strolling with your loved one along white sandy shores while watching the gymnastic turns of sunset colors across the sky, before popping over to the night market for delicious seafood.
If your date is hipster, cool, and crafty, why not bring them to Hin Bus Depot? This abandoned bus station was converted into a contemporary art space, quickly becoming one of the coolest places in Malaysia. Open between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays, there’s an array of art-meets-life paintings and amazingly intricate handmade jewelry and ceramics. In fact, turn up your romantic side and bring a picnic blanket for the lawn, where you can sip kefir, eat thin-crust pizza, and smile surreptitiously at each other.
If you’ve got the dosh, take your girl/boyfriend to the Ferringhi Garden Restaurant. This gorgeous venue is canvassed by cascading foliage, dancing fountains, and wooden roof bows, making you momentarily forget that you’re actually here for food. Romantic, dim lighting sets the stage, grilled lobster is the first act, and intermission may feature a drink or two.
For adrenalin-chasing couples, the Ghost Museum should be at the top of your list. This is no Scream, but the vivid depictions of pontianaks (long-haired female ghosts of Indonesian-Malaysian folklore), zombies, and vampires definitely send a few shivers down your spine. The museum is as educational as it is fun, and you’ll get to learn about the folkloric origins of each ghost while (maybe) clutching your lover’s hand in horror.
Avatar Garden may be called ‘The Sea of Pearls’ in Mandarin, but in English its name will more likely conjure images from the 2009 film by James Cameron. Showers of fairy light in varying colors of pink, purple, green, and blue illuminate the small garden (which, incidentally, is not much for show during the day) turning it into an ethereal sky on earth. Your date will thank you for this excursion to paradisiacal Pandora.
History buffs will relish a visit to the largest standing fort in Malaysia, which — your date will be interested to find — has never once been in operational combat. It stands like a bulwark of brick on the banks of Light Street shores, and has one of the best unhindered views of the ocean’s horizon. Entrance costs RM20 ($5).