Penang isn’t just Komtar and 19th-century townhouses. Check out these other examples of beautiful architecture in the ever-popular Malaysian town.
Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge
More simply known as “The Second Bridge,” this winding masterpiece is 15 miles (24 km) long, making it the longest bridge in Southeast Asia. It connects the southwest of Penang Island (Batu Maung) to the southeast of the mainland (Batu Kawan). You’ll want to see it after sunset — it looks like a snake twisting through black water.
Located at the westernmost point of Penang Island, this majestic building is a funky formula of Neo-Baroque and Palladian architectural styles, featuring colonnades, arched windows, and a sharp rooftop silhouette.
Built in 1903 at a cost of $100,000 (that’s $2 million in today’s money), this prime real estate now houses the Municipal Council of Penang Island. Yes, all you parking lot violators — this is where you pay for your ticket.
Fondly known as “The Blue Mansion,” this heritage building is the legacy of wealthy 19th-century merchant, Cheong Fatt Tze. It features Chinese “air well” courtyards, English encaustic clay tiles and Scottish cast iron works — a reflection of the merchant’s eclectic tastes, really.
Tour times are at 11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily. Adult tickets cost RM17 ($4.30). If you can afford it, you might as well stay at their exclusive suites, too. Prices range upwards of RM500 ($126).
Not all that glitters is gold. This ornate South Indian Hindu temple is located in the wilds of Seberang Jaya, the mainland part of Penang. With the largest gopuram (a sculpture tower featuring floral motifs and statue deities) in Malaysia, this gold-gilded temple was erected at the impressive cost of RM2.3 million ($580,727) to serve the needs of local Hindus. Tourists don’t often visit this temple, given its distance from George Town, but if you’re driving in from other parts of the peninsula, this will make an interesting stop-over.
Quite possibly the most expensive hotel in Penang, the “E&O” dates all the way back to 1885. The Sarkies Brothers decided to build this luxury accommodation for the British colonialists and wealthy merchants who passed through the Straits.
Renowned literati have passed through its doors, including Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, and Somerset Maugham. And why not? With over 100 rooms, a panoramic seafront, and faux cast iron-framed verandahs, anyone could be inspired to write the next Pulitzer.
Part of this temple is currently under construction, but if you don’t mind a bit of scaffolding, then head on up to Air Itam for the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Cultural Buddhism makes itself transparent here — mythical dragons, Chinese goddesses, and small Buddha figurines line the walls, ceilings and walkways in this complex of temples. You’ll need to take the cable train to the statue of Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy), who stands at 120 ft. (36.57 meters) tall, under an even taller pavilion.
Do yourself a favor, and visit during Chinese New Year when it looks like this:
The biggest mosque in Penang isn’t in the old town, a fact that may surprise first-time visitors. Designed by the Filipino architect Efren Brindez Paz, this mosque sits on 4.6 hectares of land. It has a central golden dome bearing the Islamic crest and star, supported by curved arches not unlike the fingers of God. Avoid visiting on Fridays between noon and 3.00 p.m., unless you like getting stuck in human traffic.
The oldest missionary girls’ school in Southeast Asia has a haunting history. In World War II, the Japanese took over this boarding school and turned it into an interrogation base for American Prisoners of War. You can still see the prisoners’ etchings on the walls. It’s been said that the primary school is haunted.
Depending on your luck, you may or may not get past the security guard. Visitors are rarely allowed in during school hours, but if the security guard lets you through, be sure to check out Old Well, the Government House, and the Old Chapel.