Penang is an island that is part of Malaysia. Its capital, Georgetown, is a mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences besides being a British colonial bastion, as the name suggests. It is also considered the starting point of the Baba-Nyonya culture of Malacca and Penang. Due to its importance in the past as a trading port, Penang is a melting pot of cultures and religions from right across Southeast Asia and has some of the most important monuments in the region. Today, Penang is a modern city too, with skyscrapers and shopping malls but the core of Georgetown remains UNSECO-tagged and packed full of things to see.
Old Georgetown, the heart of the city, lies close to the old docks and is recognized by the colonial and traditional-style buildings present there. The colors and structure of these will leave you in awe of the splendor that Penang once enjoyed during its history as a trading post in Southeast Asia. Join guided walking tours to view the heritage sites within the city or hire a trishaw (tricycle rickshaw) to take you around.
Home of the colonials, Penang Hill has a summit of 821 meters above sea level and is dotted with colonial mansions, which are now largely guest houses or restaurants. For the exercise buffs, a trekking path goes up the hill through the Botanical Gardens. For the rest, there’s a short 30-minute cable car ride that will take you straight to the top. Enjoy the view of Penang laid out before your eyes on all sides.
This 19th century mansion was once the property of a wealthy Baba merchant. It is today a showcase of the Peranakan culture, and various items such as the furniture, cutlery, opium beds, and women’s accessories and jewelry are all well preserved. If you have a couple of hours to study the history of Penang, this is where you should spend it!
This is one of the largest Buddhist temples around, and is located right opposite the Wat Chayamangkalaram, one of the city’s Thai Buddhist temples. In fact, this worshipping spot that’s largely frequented by Penang’s Burmese population is the only one of its kind currently in existence outside of Myanmar, complete with those unique gables and colourful frescos!
Probably the only two of their kind in Malaysia (if not the world), these camera museums hold nearly 2,000 varieties of cameras between them. Visitors are allowed to touch and are even given training on how to use the various cameras. A must-visit destination for any kind of shutterbug, professional or amateur, and a fine place to prime yourself before heading out to those photogenic beaches of the Malay coast.
One of the great clan houses, this landmark is the ancestral home of the Khoo family. Explore this well-preserved and ornate residence and see how the rich merchants and traders of the past lived. A clan house is a meeting point of the entire family and serves as the headquarters. The Chinese immigrants from the 15th century, mainly those that came as traders rather than laborers, all had such houses. However, only a handful have been as well-preserved as this one.
One of the reminders of British rule over this region is this fort and some of the colonial structures in the town. Although the structure is now reduced to just a 10 foot surrounding wall enclosing a garden and a few buildings such as a chapel, prison and barracks, it gives visitors an idea of how the British conquerors maintained their control over the area. in fact, this fort and the clock tower in central Penang are the two main icons of British rule left behind.
A real treat for nature lovers, the Penang Botanical Gardens are located at the foot of Penang Hill. In fact, visitors can trek through the botanical garden to reach Penang Hill, if so inclined. The pathways are landscaped and a variety of blooms can be seen along them. Be careful of your belongings, since the resident monkey brigade has a tendency to lift anything not tied down!
The largest Hindu temple in Penang, the Nattukotai Chettiar temple was built and consecrated by the Chettiar community from Tamil Nadu in South India, dedicated to Lord Thandayutha. Laid out in the form of a cross, the temple has a feeling of calm and serenity that is matched by few other places of worship in Penang. The walls are covered with hundreds of paintings, and the temple plays host to the annual Thaipusam festival as well.
The Butterfly Farm was established in 1986 and is one of the world’s largest, housing over 4,000 creatures and working on the research and preservation of these amazing insects. Over 120 species are cocooned here, and the place is known well enough that ex British Prime Minister Tony Blair even once paid a visit.