Pulau Pinang (Penang)
The food and culture paradise.
As vibrant as it is diverse, Penang is the culmination of mouthwatering foods and multifaceted cultures, with some natural wonders thrown in too.
Pulau Pinang, or more affectionately known as Penang, is a charmingly eclectic mix of Asian and European influences. A melting pot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian living together in harmony for centuries, many famous Malaysian dishes were born in Penang, rightfully earning its reputation as the “food capital” of the country.
Separated from the mainland by an 11-kilometre wide strait, Penang Island bustles with energy and soul. For the history buffs, take a stroll down the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site Georgetown to see old churches, temples, mosques, forts, and houses built by the Europeans, Chinese, and Indians. Foodies will be tempted left and right by the myriad of food stalls and restaurants all over the island, while nature lovers should head over to Penang National Park for some serious hikes through the lush rainforests. Whether you are on a budget or want the luxury treatment, you will surely find something in Penang.
Penang is easily accessible in a variety of ways. Flying into the Penang Bayan Lepas International Airport is the fastest and easiest. The island is also connected to the mainland via the Penang Bridge with a number of buses running between Georgetown and Kuala Lumpur. Trains from the capital cities of both Malaysia and Thailand are available to Butterworth, a town on the mainland side of Penang state, where you can walk to the ferry terminal and catch a boat to Penang Island. Three times a week, you can also catch the ferry from Belwan Port in Medan, Indonesia going directly to Penang.
With plenty of ATMs that accept any Cirrus and Visa cards all over Penang, you do not have to always carry a lot of cash with you. However, many local stores do not have a credit card processor and will only accept the local currency – Ringgit (RM) for purchases. Money changing service providers can also be found all over Georgetown and main shopping areas.
Penang is a popular destination for both local and international tourists alike. It is great to visit all year round though the leanest time is from May to October, which is the wet season. The peak season runs from November to January, with hordes of crowds during the holiday seasons. After Chinese New Year ends, Penang tends to quiet down a bit and starts its summer season from February to April.
Georgetown is great to explore on foot and you can always hop into a trishaw if you start to feel tired from all that walking. Buses are rather frequent around the main artery of the island but ensure that you have the exact fare amount as drivers will usually not give you any change. You can also rent a car or hire a taxi should you want to head outside of the city centre. However, taxi drivers tend to refuse to use metres and overcharge so your best bet is to call for an Uber driver.
You know your palate is certainly in for a treat when you are in Penang, often nicknamed “the food capital of Malaysia” or “food paradise.” Food courts and hawker stalls are the best places to sample the tantalising plethora of local delicacies at amazingly affordable prices. Penang is one of the birthplaces of “nyonya” food, a fusion of Malay and Chinese cuisine from centuries ago, which has perfected the art of blending Chinese ingredients with Malay food preparation techniques. If you have the budget to splurge, then dine in style at a number of 5-star restaurants, some in tastefully restored colonial-era mansions. Other food options are restaurants serving Western cuisine, popular fast food chains, and other Asian cuisines.
Penang is an exciting and stimulating destination with its unique mix of cultures, history, and food. Nature is not too far away should you seek a peaceful place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Easily reachable and convenient to travel in, Penang certainly should not be missed.