Penang’s capital of George Town offers a wealth of attractions, including life-sized street art, a buzzing night life, and street food under RM5 (USD $1.25). But what visitors don’t know is that much of Penang’s charm lies outside its central town. Between butterfly farms, jungle treks and turtle hatcheries, there are many more off-the-beaten-path sights to be explored — on the island, mainland, and surrounding islets. Here are the 5 best day trips you should take in Penang.
The long winding coastline along the northern cliffs of Penang island may take a while to overcome (45 minutes if you’re traveling from central George Town), but the trip to Teluk Bahang is worth it. At the peak of your journey lies the Tropical Fruit Farm, which sits 800 feet (244 meters) above sea level, covering 25 acres of tropical fruit trees, creepers, and ground-based plants. A guided farm tour costs RM75 ($18.75 USD) and includes a fruit buffet.
While you’re here, you’ll want to visit the Entopia Butterfly Farm too. 15,000 butterflies roam freely in this bean-shaped glass house. They frolic, dance, and mate among the breathtaking foliage afforded by 200 species of tropical plants, including the carnivorous pitcher plant. Dragonflies, mandarin ducks, and monitor lizards are also cheerful participants of the living ecosystem here.
If you have time, be sure to stop by the Tropical Spice Garden as well. Around 500 species of flora and fauna call this garden home, and the tour will enlighten you to the sheer biological diversity behind the spices and herbs used in everyday culinary experiences. Incidentally, you’ll also get a chance to participate in the very hands-on cooking sessions and see if your culinary fingers are as deft as your green thumb.
The geographical heart of Penang island is often overlooked for its lagging development. But if you forgive it for not leaping into the 21st century with wanton abandonment, you’ll be rewarded with hundreds of mini seated-Buddha statues at the largest Buddhist temple in the country, and a great view of the hills (and development projects) in Air Itam.
Kek Lok Si is a motley collection of prayer halls, temples, and monasteries first built in 1890. The highlight of this experience is the 36.5-meter tall statue of the Goddess of Mercy, whose pagoda lights up like a birthday cake during Chinese New Year. If you’re lucky enough to be in Penang during Chinese New Year, Kek Lok Si is a must-visit.
Since you’ve already warmed to the view from the hills, why not go for broke at the Penang Hill? If you’re feeling gutsy and don’t mind the sweat, it’ll take you three to four hours to hike to the peak. If you’re feeling less fit, the steep funicular train takes you all the way to the top, where you can also visit the skywalk at The Habitat, an expansive walkway on steel-and-iron stilts that’ll give you a full view of the forest, sea, and hills.
Penang Hill, Bukit Bendera 11500, Penang, Malaysia +604 829 8880
The Habitat ,Bukit Bendera 11500, Penang, Malaysia +604 827 2677
This is not exactly Survivor, but many a turn in the dense-leafed forests of the state’s national park will have you catching your breath. There are two trekking trails here; the coastline trail is easier and more even, while the other goes over the hills and through the tropical jungles (where you will do well to arm yourself with mosquito repellent, water, and shoes with grip).
The coastline trail leads to the Monkey Beach, where fine white sand awaits. Here you can power through to the peak and enjoy an unobstructed 360° view of the sea from the Muka Head Lighthouse. The second trail takes you on a steep jungle climb towards Pantai Kerachut, another stretch of white pristine sand, and the Penang Turtle Sanctuary, where green and Olive Ridley turtles come ashore between April and August to lay their eggs.
The Penang National Park is about 45 minutes by car from central George Town. There’s no entrance fee unless you want to hire a boat to take you straight to Monkey Beach or Pantai Kerachut, in which case it’ll cost RM50-100 ($12.50-25 USD). We recommend taking the 101 bus to the National Park, as taxis and Grab drivers are not usually keen to take you all the way here.
The state of Penang consists of the island and the mainland, though the latter is often overlooked in tourism (no thanks to its distance from George Town). But if you brave yourself for the journey across the bridge, you’ll be compensated with an off-the-beaten-track experience.
One such experience is the Penang Bird Park, which features over 300 species of birds. Flamingos, pelicans, kingfishers, storks, sunbirds, and mandarin ducks fly and feast in this oasis of quiet verdure, waterfalls, and straw-capped huts. Other animals, including mouse deer, pythons and macaques, also make an appearance. Entrance costs RM38 ($9.50 USD) for foreigners and RM23 ($5.75 USD) for Malaysians.
Before heading back to the island, stop by St. Anne’s Church in Bukit Mertajam. Founded in 1846, this pretty whitewashed church draws more than 100,000 people during the annual St. Anne’s Feast, which culminates with a candlelit procession on July 26.
Penang Bird Park, 13700 Seberang Jaya, Penang, Malaysia +604 399 1899
Located off the eastern coast of Penang island, this quiet islet weaves a tale of small fishing villages (only 50 families live here), great seafood, and the darkest night sky you’ll find in Penang. You’ll be able to roam freely on the island, and the inhabitants are more than happy to show you their coral cleaning activities and fishing boats (locally known as sampan).
You’ll be able to reach this islet at the Pulau Aman jetty from the Bukit Tambun pier (on the mainland). Ask for a ferry, which begins operation at 10 a.m. and costs RM6 ($1.50 USD) per person, and bring lots of water. If you’re not planning to camp there, be sure to get in and out early, as the last ferry back to the main Penang island leaves at 6 p.m.