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Penang, Malaysia – The Ultimate Guide

I have to be totally honest. The city that I looked forward most during my 2018 road trip was Penang. I heard so much about the fascinating sights to see, and the superb tasting food and desserts. I tried as many as possible, and share about all that and more in this article – Penang, Malaysia – The Ultimate Guide.

Before I continue, let me share this beautiful video about Penang, Malaysia. It is from a local’s perspective. And is a great watch.

Wasn’t that lovely? Now, let’s continue this journey of Penang. You will be learning about where this city is located? Also, about the people, culture, religion, and more.

More importantly, you will find out which hotel to stay at? What good food to enjoy? What are the things to see and do? And many more useful and helpful information.

Where is Penang, Malaysia?

After our adventure in Ipoh, we drove up the western coast to the northern part of Malaysia. Then we crossed a bridge that brought us to the island that is called Penang.

I really liked crossing the bridge. It reminded me of the time when I crossed the bridge from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.

The capital of Penang called George Town is located on the island. Therer is also a part of Penang that is on the mainland. That is where the popular place called Butterworth is situated.

Butterworth. Isn’t that a delicous name? When I was a child, I loved sayiing this name – Butterworth. For some reason, it reminded me of butter, and its lovely salted and milky taste.

Who are the People in Penang, Malaysia?

During my time at Penang, I found the people to be quite cordial. I mean, they are not unfriendly. At the same time, they are not warm.

It could be they are shy? To be fair, I did not have that much time or close engagement with them. Still, I find this video a charming representation of the people in Penang.

What is the Culture in Penang, Malaysia?

Like many other cities in Malaysia, Penang is a hot mix of various cultures. There are the Chinese, the Malay, Indians and many other races that add to a vibrant culture there.

One point I did note is that there is a heavy influence of Chinese culture here. The arts, culture, and even architecture exhibited some Chinese style.

Travel Tip: Please respect their culture.

What are the Religions in Penang, Malaysia?

As with any city in Malaysia, the major religion is Islam. And yet, because of the strong Chinese influence, the religions like Buddhism and Taoism are more apparent here.

Below is a cute video by three lovely ladies who share with us about the religions and cultures in Penang.

What is the Common Language Spoken  in Penang, Malaysia?

While Malay is still the dominant and national language in Malaysia, I did notice that most Chinese in Penang speak a Chinese dialect called Hokkien.

English is still a popular language, and commonly spoken here. As a tourist, I found it easy to communicate as most Penang people speak English.

What are the Festivals and Public Holidays in Penang, Malaysia?

Here are the public holidays and festivals that are celebrated in Penang. They are basically the same as the national holidays celebrated throughout Malaysia.

  • January 1 – New Year’s Day
  • Chinese New Year
  • Thaipusam
  • May 1 – Labour Day
  • Vesak Day
  • Nuzul Al-Quran Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • Hari Raya Adilfitri
  • Agong’s Birthday
  • George Town World Heritage Day
  • Birthday of the Governor of Penang
  • Father’s Day
  • Hari Raya Haji
  • Awal Muharram
  • August 31 – National Day
  • September 9 – Birthday of SPB Yang di Pertuan Agong
  • September 16 – Malaysia Day
  • Maulidur Rasul
  • Deepavali
  • December 25 – Christmas Day

To learn more about the above public holidays and festivals, please do visit my article about Malaysia. I cover it in more depth there.

Below are some of the festivals unique to Penang. They look like so much fun! Next time when I plan to visit Penang, I will make sure to plan and visit during one of the festivals. I recommend you do the same, too!

George Town Festival

I was so impressed when I found out that George Town has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kudos to Penang!

And of course there must be a festival to celebrate this. The month long festival has a wide variety of arts, dance and theatre performances, exhibitions, food, drinks, arts, crafts and more.

This is a very popular festival. Tourists from all over the world come to experience this heritage site. Book your hotel room and flight early to avoid disappointment.

Bon Odori Festival

Love Japanese food, arts, dance and culture? So do the people in Penang!

Join them for an enchanting time where they celebrate all things Japanese. Don’t forget to stay for the fireworks in the evening. I heard it is breath taking!

Nine Emperor God Festival

Near my home, there is a temple that celebrates the Nine Emperor God Festival. While I do not follow this event, I am always awed by the parade and the practice of mediums in a trance, being possessed by the spirits of the Nine Emperor God.

The festival lasts for nine days, during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month. It is believed that the spirit of the Nine Emperor God returns to Earth during this period.

Penang International Dragon Boat Race

I find dragon boat races exciting and exhilarating. And it is awesome they have it in many Asian cities. At Penang, the annual event is held at Teluk Bahang dam near George Town.

Competitors from different parts of Malaysia and all over the world come to race for the coveted first prize. Colorful traditional boats. Sounds of drums pounding to get your heart pounding. All this makes this one of the most exciting festivals in this city.

St Anne’s Festival

This is surely an experience that will be beautiful and uplifting. It is a homage to the patron saint, Saint Anne.

Every year, on July 29, the pilgrims flock to Bukit Mertajam. One of the highlights is the beautiful procession of devotees with each holding a lit candle.

Can you imagine the sight of this from above? So pretty, I am sure.

Penang International Food Festival

And of course, what is Penang without experiencing all the delicious food. This is a much looked forward annual 16-day event. Rows and rows of delectable choices. You will be in food paradise.

* Note – sadly this festival is canceled in 2020 due to Covid-19

What is the Dress Code in Penang, Malaysia?

When my friend and I visited Penang, the weather was hot! And I mean really hot!!!

So, it was a blessing to be able to walk all around town in casual wear. We were in shorts and t-shirt. And we noticed most tourists were in the same gear.

So, pack light. Have a great time in Penang!

What is the National Dress in Penang, Malaysia?

The National Dress is the same as for the entire country. You can see what it looks like in my Malaysia article.

What is the Popular Sport in Penang, Malaysia?

I am not much into sports. I did swim in the past but have not done that in a while. Nowadays, I prefer to do yoga.

Penang is much like the rest of Malaysia. The favored sports is football. The other sports that are popular are badminton, tennis, squash, golf, horse riding, sailing and martial arts.

What Currency Can I Use in Penang, Malaysia?

Holidays in Malaysia - Ringgit

All throughout Malaysia, the currency used is the Malaysian Ringgit.

How is the Weather in Penang, Malaysia?

I have found out that the weather in Penang is much like the weather in the rest of Malaysia. To find out more about the weather, please refer to my Malaysia article.

How is the Haze Situation in Penang, Malaysia?

I was very fortunate to visit Penang when there was no haze at all. I did find out that when there was haze, the situation was quite bad. Here is a video from a news channel about it.

The haze has been known to occur during the hot season. This is from May to October.

Travel Tip: Check the haze situation for Penang before traveling to this city.

Which are the Hotels to Stay in Penang, Malaysia?

We figured that we would be out most of the days, to see the sights and enjoy the great tasting food in Penang. Many Penang Hotels to choose from. So, we chose a budget hotel to suit the main purpose of simply a place to rest after a tired day of tourist duties.

Click the image below to read more about the Cititel Express Penang. There is also a short video in the review, for you to see what the room looks like.

Penang Hotels - Cititel Express
Penang Hotels – Cititel Express. Click image above to Read More

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What are the Things to Do in Penang, Malaysia?

Besides yummy food, there are many Things To Do in Penang. Here are a few of them.

Entopia Butterfly Farm

When I first heard of Entopia Butterfly Farm, my first thought was – what is the big deal? Just a place with many butterflies flitting everywhere, right? Boy, was I wrong!

This is one of the things you must do when you visit Penang. Click on the image below to find out why?

Yellow Glassy Tiger Butterfly
Yellow Glassy Tiger Butterfly at Entopia. Click image above to Read More

Kek Lok Si Temple

I love visiting religious sites. But what is there to see at Kek Lok Si Temple that can capture hours of attention? Click the image below to find out.

View of Circular Pavilion garden and Middle Prayer Hall
Kek Lok Si Temple – Click image above to read about this awesome attraction.

Penang Street Art

What is the fascination with street art? Who was the famous artist? Where are the street murals? All this, and more information when you click on the image below.

One of the famous Street Art in Penang - Children on Bicycle
Penang Street Art – Click image above to read about this awesome attraction.

What Food to Eat in Penang, Malaysia?

When you visit this island, you must try the Penang Food! A whole vacation can be planned around this theme. In fact, this was the part I looked forward most to for this adventure.

Assam Laksa at Air Itam

Assam Laksa has gained popularity in Penang. The locals enjoy it. The tourists flock to this island to get a taste of this piquant dish. Click the image below to find out what the fuss is all about?

The Delicious Bowl of Assam Laksa - really good!
Assam Laksa at Air Itam. Click image above to read my review.

Cendol at Penang Road

Some people say this is still the best cendol in Malaysia. Some people say the one in Malacca is better. Click the image below to get more details from my review before you head to this popular place to try it.

The Famous Chendul aka Cendol, Chendol or Cendul
Cendol at Penang Road. Click image above to read my review.

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

When I was a young boy, I remember my parents brought me to this famous eating place. It was charming and exciting for a lad like me back then. There was a wide variety of cuisine, and they were all delectable.

Is it all the same since then? Click the image below to find out.

Famous Indian Rojak stall at Gurney Drive
Gurney Drive Hawker Centre. Click image above to read my review.

Tiger Char Koay Teow

There are many food stalls that serve char koay teow in Penang. Many claim to be the best. What about Tiger Char Koay Teow? Is it as great as they purported? Click the image below to find out.

The famous Tiger Char Koay Teow from George Town, Penang
The famous Tiger Char Koay Teow from George Town, Penang. Click image above to read my review

Where To Go Shopping in Penang, Malaysia?

We only had time to visit one mall. And that was only because we were at Gurney Drive Hawker Centre.

It was Gurney Plaza, which was near the hawker centre. My friend parked our car there. It was convenient.

After dinner, we shopped around the mall. It was all right. Just like any shopping centre. Almost all the same brands and stores.

If markets are more your style, here are a few suggestions in this video.

Best Time to Visit Penang, Malaysia?

There are high season and low season to visit Malaysia. The same goes for visiting Penang. Each season has its pros and cons. For me, I prefer the low season so that I do not jostle with large crowds. Also, the hotel room rates are lower during this season.

To find out more about the two seasons, please go to my Malaysia article.

How To Get To Penang, Malaysia?

By Airplane

You can arrive at the Penang International Airport located in Bayan Lepas. Many airlines fly direct there.

Some of the airlines that can take you to Penang are the Malaysian Airlines, Air Asia, JetStar, Firefly and more.

I prefer JetStar. It is one of the safest budget airlines, according to airlineratings .com

By Train

There are no trains to the island side of Penang. But you can take the KTMB from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth. Then catch a cab to ride across the bridge to the island.

By Bus

There are buses from Singapore, and other cities in Malaysia such as Kuala Lumpur to Penang. Do check for various transport providers for individual pricing and schedule.

By Road

I look back fondly at the road trip with my friend in 2018. We drove along the west coast of West Malaysia. And visited Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang.

From Ipoh to Penang, it took us about 2 hours, including a rest stop. We took the Lebuhraya Utara – Selatan/E1 highway.

Do You Need a Visa to Go to Penang?

Visitors from some countries can visit Malaysia, and all her cities without a visa. Some will need a visa. It is best to check the immigration websites to find out if you need a visa to enter.

How To Get Around Penang, Malaysia?

By Bus

This is a convenient and one of the cheapest way to explore Penang. The buses go to most main attractions, too. Check out the bus time table and routes.

There is also the Rapid Penang (RapidPG) bus that offers travel throughout Penang. It includes free onboard WIFI.

By Taxi

There are plenty of taxis in Penang. But, just like everywhere in Malaysia, please do negotiate the price, and agree on it before you board the cab.

By law, the taxis are supposed to go by meter. But many will claim otherwise and negotiate for a fixed rate.

By Grab

Private Hire Vehicles like Grab is available in Penang, Malaysia. I recommend using this service because it is so convenient. Also, prices are fixed before you confirm the ride. So, there is no problem with haggling or sudden increase in fare.

By Car

You have the choice to rent a car. Rental of cars is quite affordable. Just make sure the rental service is legit, and get insurance.

Alternatively, if you own a car, and drive to Penang, you can get around quite easily. My friend owned a car. And I found it very convenient.

We could choose where we would like to go, how long to stay at each attraction, cafe or restaurant. Some hotels even provide free parking. I highly recommend this choice of transport if you can have it.

By Motorcycle

It is cheap to rent a motocycle. And very convenient, too. Plus, you can enjoy a better view of the scenery as you ride around the island.

But, please be careful. There are many deaths due to riding on a motorcycle without a helmet. So, please do wear a helmet. Be safe.

By Trishaw

A trishaw is a tricycle with a front seat. The passenger sits on the front seat. The driver pedals the tricycle to transport the passenger around.

This is a charming way to explore Penang. But really slow. Do it only for the fun of it.

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If you have ANY questions about Penang, Malaysia – The Ultimate Guide, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.

Thank you for reading this.

Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels,


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