Penang, the Pearl of the Orient and one of the most amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites
During my three weeks visit to Malaysia I decided to explore Penang, my main interest was to discover the wonders of Georgetown, one of the most visited cities in the country and a Unesco World Heritage site since 2007; since my plan was to stay for three days in these beautiful but small colonial town I decided to include in my itinerary a few other places; after some research and suggestions from friends I was inclined to visit a few temples, the botanic garden and at least one of the many beaches that the island in the Northwest Peninsula of Malaysia offers.
The easiest way to get there from KL is by airplane; it is convenient (the flight takes less than an hour) and cheap if you flight with Air Asia; I actually paid $35 for my flight; do your research and you might be surprised by how affordable the flights are. Now, once you get to the airport in Penang, it is a completely different story; you have to be careful with the taxi drivers as they will try to charge you three or four times more just because you are a foreigner; do ask them to use the taxi meter; I even got out of a cab once they told me the fare, it was not a lot of money but the principle of “knowing you are” being ripped off was too much; I even asked the driver to use the meter but he said it was not working; the good thing is that there is a bus that runs from the airport to Georgetown, and if you decide to stop in the “Snake Temple” as I did, it is absolutely perfect.
The Snake Temple
This usual and interesting temple (I doubt you will find a similar temple) should be your first stop as it is on the way to Georgetown and just a few minutes away from the airport; it was built in 1850 to honour a Chinese Buddhist monk (Chor Soo Kong) however the main attraction nowadays are snakes; yes, poisonous and alive snakes; they are considered angels of the temple (holy and harmless); it is indeed an interesting experience that you will enjoy; do not worry about the snakes, they will tell you that no one has being bitten before (I did believe them or at least wanted to believe them); you can spend around an hour exploring the temple and taking a few photos of the snakes.
Kek Lok Si Temple
Since I was luckier with the taxi driver this time, I took a cab ride from the Snake Temple to the Kek Lok Si Temple (sits at the hills of Ayer Itams). I was extremely surprised by its magnificent and beauty; this temple is truly impressive and now I do understand why it is one of the biggest, famous and most celebrated Buddhist temple in the island. The striking and one-hundred feet Pagoda of Rama VI is the main attraction (collection of Alabaster and Bronze Buddha); but you will also be fascinated by the gardens and the Liberation Pond or the Sacred Turtle Pond. Since you might spend a few hours in this remarkable gift that Penang offers to the locals, as well as the tourist, it might be a good idea to head to your hotel; the best place to stay for convenience is in Georgetown or Batu Ferringhi.
My hotel was in the middle of the town, beautiful and with really helpful staff. Georgetown is a remarkable colonial town full of history, culture and tradition that are easy to observe in the major heritage buildings with their charming and unique colonial architecture. The UNESCO’s heritage site listing has being earned not only by the beauty of the city but for the invaluable religious and cultural legacy. Although small, Georgetown has many attractions and will keep you busy for the day; the places you should not miss are:
1) Fort Cornwallis
2) Little India
3) China Town
4) Penang Museum and Art Gallery
5) Masjid Kapitan Mosque
6) Syed Alatas Mansion
7) Kuan Yin Temple
8) Khoo Kongsi Temple
In my opinion the best example of colonial architecture in the town are represented by the Town Hall, the City Hall and the Government Building.
Now, even if you enjoy fine dining, you must try the street food, this is unique to the island state and an experience that you will only enjoy in Penang; each hawker stall is unique and offers something different to the public.
Penang Botanic Gardens
On the outskirts of Georgetown you will find the marvellously landscaped Penang Botanic Gardens; this is one of the finest and most attractive gardens in the country; it has a waterfall, an area covered by a rain-forest and a small but pretty river; the monkeys in the garden are also an attraction, especially for the little ones, there is a small train that will take you around the place for a very small fee. The park is open daily from 5am until 8pm.
On my last day in this Northwest Island I decided to visit Batu Ferringhi; you can take the bus from the city centre as it is only 14km away from Georgetown. I have to admit that I was expecting a beautiful white-sanded beach with crystal-clear water but instead I found a beach full of jellyfish; my disappointment quickly disappeared with all water-sports activities, the jet skis, parasailing, great and cheap food and the quiet and hassle-free sea front; I had a wonderful day in this beautiful coast-line and clearly understood why it is one of Penang’s premier beachside.
Very few regions in the country offer the variety of attractions found in Penang; this is a place you should visit to enjoy good food, culture, traditions and a quiet time.
If you want to visit the Batu Caves, just minutes away from the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, do not forget to read my article Places to visit in Malaysia - Batu Caves for more details.
I have also prepared guides for other destinations:
- Visit London; top 10 places to visit in the city of London
- Places to visit in Spain - Andalusia
- Places to see in Manchester
- Bogota; top 10 places to visit in the city of Bogota