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What to do in Penang; A 2 Day Penang Itinerary

I’ve studied my Master’s Degree in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, despite being based in Thailand. So every time I took the train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, I passed by the island of Penang. My Malaysian friend’s had always told me about how amazing it was, and what to do in Penang, they even created a Penang Itinerary for me, but I never had the time. Until now! Previously, I was always checking out things to do in Langkawi, Penang’s tax-free island brother, and always skipped Penang, but no longer.

What to do in Penang
What to do in Penang

Why You Should Visit Penang; A Brief History

Malaysia pens itself as “Malaysia, Truly Asia”. In the case of Penang, or Pilau Pinang (Beetlenut Island), that statement could not be truer. Chinese and Portuguese traders had long used the island as a stopover on their way around Indonesia for trading spice. Sir Francis Light of the East India Company saw an opportunity to control the shipping in the area and bargained his way onto the island through a local Sultan. It is rumoured that he shot cannon full of silver into the island’s undergrowth to encourage his sailors off their ships and to start clearing the jungles.

Once the British had taken control, the island and trade all over the area began burgeoning. Workers were drafted in from China and India providing labour for the port. Thais made their way to the island together with many ethnic Malays and Indonesians from all over the region.

Today, Penang is a culturally rich and commercial place dominated by the Hokien Chinese, Hindu Indians and a scattering of Malays. The principal tourist area is the once glorious beach along Batu Ferringhi in the north of the island where the tourists and holidaymakers linger in the sultry hot days. There, you will find plenty of opportunities to take part in activities like jet skiing and parasailing.

The capital city, Georgetown has recently been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. This eclectic city is filled with stunning temples, colonial buildings and modern concrete structures. Sightseeing, in and out of the city is wonderful. Penang has the largest Chinese population in any single city outside of China, the oldest vernacular railway in Asia, the 3rd largest reclining Buddha Statue in the world and one of the biggest Buddha temple complexes in Asia at Kek Lok Se.

The food is spicy hot and the island is famous for the Laksa served on every street corner. You will often see groups of young islanders mixing socially, from each ethnic background, Malaysians every one of them. In the part of Georgetown known as “Little India” you are just as likely to see Malays or Chinese people as you are ethnic Indians.

Malaysia, Truly Asia? Most definitely so next time you’re making your way to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, add this little gem to your itinerary, you won’t regret it. Happy travels!

What to do in Penang
What to do in Penang

What to do in Penang; Penang’s Top 10 Attractions

1) George Town

Georgetown is the capital of Penang Island, and it’s a great place to base yourself for a night or two and soak up the atmosphere. It’s not also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the 19th century colonial architecture. Make sure to go by foot, and include Armenian Street (the most famous street, Pitt Street, Love Lane and little India).

You’ll need at least half a day to explore Georgetown, so you’re not rushing around. 

TOP-TIP: If you’re pushed for time, you can combine George Town, Kek Lok Si Temple AND Penang Hill in one day for $50 or so. This is a great option if you want to explore Penang for a day or so, but also stay in a resort and relax. 

What to do in Penang
What to do in Penang

2) Kek Lok Si Temple of Supreme Bliss

Penang’s most famous sight, the impressive Kek Lok Si Temple. The complex is home to lots of temples, and the structures are said to be the biggest Buddhist temples in South East Asia! Once there, you can also hop on a mini-train ($1) and hit the peak of the complex to see the huge 36m Kuan Yin statue, the Goddess of Mercy. Getting here, taxis from Georgetown are about $5 each way. 

TOP-TIP: If you’re pushed for time, you can combine George Town, Kek Lok Si Temple AND Penang Hill in one day for $50 or so. This is a great option if you want to explore Penang for a day or so, but also stay in a resort and relax. 

What to do in Penang
What to do in Penang

3) Penang Hill/Bukit Bendera

Home to the best view of Georgetown on the island, and at night it’s particulalu impressive. You can eat at the top of the hill at the David Brown restaurant, or the food court (cheaper and just as nice!).

Getting up the Penang Hill you have two choices. One is the cute Penang Hill Railway ($8 return), or you can hike it (starting from the Botanic Gardens). It’s 800m up, so it should take 2-3 hours, bring water!

TOP-TIP: If you’re pushed for time, you can combine George Town, Kek Lok Si Temple AND Penang Hill in one day for $50 or so. This is a great option if you want to explore Penang for a day or so, but also stay in a resort and relax. 

What to do in Penang
What to do in Penang; Penang Hill

4) Penang Street Art

Strictly speaking, this could be included within the ‘Georgetown’ section, but really the Penang Street Art has become an attraction in its own right. The graffiti is aimed to depict Penang Life, and it’s dotted all around old George Town. Chulia, Muntri and Armenia Street are guaranteed ‘street art’ finds, so head there with your camera!

Penang Itinerary
Penang Itinerary

5) Snake Temple

My personal favourite in Penang, and a bit gross. The temple was built in memory of Chor Soo Kong, a famous Chinese Monk. It’s just off the main highway, and it’s famous due to the pit vipers which live within the grounds. Grim! The legend has it that the monk gave refuge to the snakes, and then when the temple was built, they all flooded to the temple and now live there. They’re dotted around the whole temple, sitting on alters, and you are free to touch them should you choose (don’t worry, their venom has been removed).

Penang Snake Temple
Penang Snake Temple

6) Batu Ferringhi Beach

There are a lot of beaches in Penang of course, but Batu Ferringhi is the most developed. In general the north of th island, where Batu Ferringhi is, has the best beaches (And resorts), where the west of the island is less developed and more ‘Malaysian’. Across the north coast then the main beaches are Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi proper, and Teluk Bahang.

If watersports are your thing, you can get a combo ticket for parasailing and jetskiiing for $59

What to do in Penang
What to do in Penang; Batu Ferringhi

7) EAT!

Ask any Malaysian, and they’ll tell you Penang is most famous for its food. It’s most famous for its Char Kway Teow, Nasi Kandar and Penang Laksa. They have some posh restaurants but it’s the street food and the hawker food courts that Penang is amazing for. If you want a famous Char Kway Teow check out ‘Sister’s Char Koay Teow’ in Georgetown. Also, Gurney Drive Hawker Centre is an awesome cheap eat too.

Food can be a tough one to navigate, so for $60 spend the evening with an expert!

Things to do in Penang
Things to do in Penang; Eat! Gurney Drive Hawker Centre is great!

8) Fort Cornwallis

Britain’s largest remaining fort in Malaysia, established back in 1786 when the Brits first arrived. Just $5 entry and a nice place to wander around, and an important piece of history for the history buffs. To be honest, this is the one I’d skip if I was pushed for time though. Especially if you’ve been to other forts!

What to do in Penang
What to do in Penang

How To Get To Penang?

Penang is an island on the West Coast of Malaysia, right next to both Malaysia mainland and Thailand’s mainland. 

AIR: You can fly from Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore directly to Penang. Other than that you have to connect in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s Capital and connect on a domestic flight (often only about $40 for the flight though!)

LAND: You can take a bus from Kuala Lumpur (5hours), or from Bangkok (18 hours) or Krabi $8 hours).

BOAT: Ferries are available from Butterworth, Malaysia every morning, or to Langkawi through the day.

Personally, I always fly from either Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. Cheap and easy. 

Best Time to Visit Penang?

Peak season is December and January, the best time is probably February or November, March and April also great. It’s hot all year. May to October is rainy season (Still ok to go, but it’ll rain for an hour or two each day).

Do You Need A Visa for Penang?

You need a Malaysian visa. It’s visa-on-arrival for almost everyone, and Penang Airport also has immigration.

How Long Should You Stay in Penang?

Penang is beautiful. I’d recommend AT LEAST 3 days, but if you’re staying in a resort, you could easily extend that to a week. Ideally I’d say maybe 2 nights in Georgetown, and then 2/3 nights in a resort, then think about taking the ferry to Langkawi and spending a few days there too.

Is Penang Expensive?

Nope, super cheap.

You 2 Day Penang Itinerary

I’ve been to Penang a few times, as a backpacker, in a couple, with some money to spend, so I feel as I have a good grasp of what to do in Penang with your time! If I had just 2 days, this would be my simple Penang Itinerary:

DAY 1: 

On Day 1 I would spend my time in Georgetown. An easy day without too much transport, you can just hail local taxis to and from each place for a few pennies. 

10am: Georgetown Street Old Town and Street Art walk, lunch in the city on the street.

2pm: Penang Hill

5pm: Dinner in Georgetown Night Market, and eating at Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

  • If you have time to spare, check out Fort Cornwallis in Georgetown, and the Botanical Gardens at the bottom of Penang Hill. 

DAY 2:

Day 2, I’d either book a tour, or hire a car or scooter and explore some of the island. Starting with the Snake Temple, and then Kek Lok Si Temple. Mid to late afternoon on the beach, then a night market for dinner. You can also book your transport online in advance if you’re more comfortable with that too

10am: Snake Temple

Midday: Kek Lok Si Temple of Pure Bliss

2.30pm: Batu Ferringhi

5pm: Dinner at Batu Ferringhi Night Market

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11 thoughts on “What to do in Penang; A 2 Day Penang Itinerary

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  3. if you want to book a hotel in penang i recommend to book one hotel next to the beach , not in the downtown

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