After spending 10 days in Malaysia’s busy capital, Kuala Lumpur, we were really looking forward to moving on to the much quieter island of Penang.
One thing we struggled with in KL was hostility from locals in some of the more traditional areas and so we were really hoping for a warmer reception on the Island.
We were so excited to find that foreigners are much more welcome in Penang and rather than simply tolerating us, we found that people were actually pleased to see us which makes such a a difference when you’re travelling through a foreign country.
Despite the fact that there are plenty of travellers around, we found that everywhere we went people would take sneaky photographs of us when they thought we weren’t looking!
Groups of people would regularly set upon us and ask us to pose for multiple pics with them whilst they would clutch our hands and talk excitedly in a language we sadly couldn’t understand.
We’re still not quite sure why we were so popular but it was all good fun pretending to be famous for a couple of weeks!
Glen becoming a pro at posing
Travelling from KL to Penang
It’s very cheap to fly from KL to Penang (Air Asia are currently selling tickets for just £7) and with a flight time of just 50 minutes, the Island is really easy to access.
We get a bit sick of flying everywhere and are not huge fans of hanging around in airports and so we opted to take the bus instead.
It’s a short trip from KL to Penang
With buses leaving regularly all day every day it’s really easy to get a seat even if you just show up at the bus stop on the day you want to leave.
We booked our tickets in advance with Bus Online Ticket and we opted to travel with Plusliner as they were cheapest.
You can opt to travel on a VIP bus which will include Wifi, TV’s, plug sockets and a meal, however seeing as the journey time is only 4 hours, we decided to skip the luxuries and book a standard commuter bus ticket.
Price: £7 per person.
You board the bus at KTM old Railway Station and then stop half way up at a really nice market area where you can use the toilets or buy food before you complete the final leg of the journey and disembark in Penang.
You’ll then be able to get a bus or cab to your accommodation (both are readily available).
- If there is not enough room on the bus for you to keep you whole bag with you, make sure you put all of your valuables into a day bag and keep that with you. Never leave it unattended.
- It’s common for buses to be swapped at the half way point and so make sure you check with the driver before you wander off. We stayed on the same bus and the driver notified us of this before we stopped for the comfort break.
- If you are able to print your ticket in advance for free make sure you do otherwise you have to pay to print your tickets at the bus station (though it only costs around 40p)
- Carry a packet of tissues – toilets don’t routinely have them in Malaysia and there weren’t any in the service station we stopped at
Where to stay in Penang
The heart of Penang and the reason most people visit is UNESCO World Heritage Site, Georgetown. It has incredible street art, beautiful British era buildings and great local food but it can be a pain to navigate as there are no pavements and the roads are constantly busy. It’s also really hot and all the crowds can be pretty annoying.
Because of this we would recommend staying further along the coast where you can enjoy a quieter trip with good beaches and just take a bus into Georgetown to explore.
We stayed in Hotel Sentral Seaview in Tanjung Bungah and were provided with a free shuttle bus to Georgetown twice a day. The trip is only 15 minutes and once you see all the hustle and bustle, you’ll be glad you stayed further out!
The awesome pool Hotel Sentral, Penang
If you would rather be closer to Georgetown then we really liked the price and location of the 1926 Heritage Hotel (it has big rooms and a huge pool) or for the ultimate budget accommodation in Penang without staying in a hostel, you can’t beat the new Tune hotel.
- The Wifi in Malaysia is awful in general but some places are worse than others. Make sure you check reviews on internet speed before you book if this is important to you.
- Food can be pretty pricey and so if your hotel includes breakfast, book it. Our hotel breakfast was delicious!
- Make sure you pre-book. Our hotel had around 130 rooms but was fully booked during our stay
Not a bad view for breakfast!
Things to do in Penang
Penang is pretty small but it has loads to keep you occupied. The main attraction is Georgetown where you’ll be content to wander with camera in hand whilst you snap pictures of colonial buildings and street art but when you’ve had enough of the crowds, you have other options;
- Visit Fort Cornwallis (RM2)
- Learn about Penang’s varied history at The Penang State Museum (RM1)
- Try some delicious food in Little India
- Check out the gorgeous Kek Lok Si Temple (RM5)
- Take a trip to the highest point in Penang, Penang Hill
- Lounge on Batu Ferringhi Beach
- Walk the promenade in Gurney Drive
- Hike in the national park
- Visit Monkey Island
Beautiful Gurney Drive
Batu Ferringhi Beach
Where to eat in Penang
If you’ve read about our trip to Kuala Lumpur you’ll know that we were underwhelmed by the food offerings and ended up mostly eating at expensive western restaurants.
Our experience in Penang couldn’t have been more different and we were so happy to find incredible street food everywhere! With a mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese nationals, your choice of food is huge and everything tastes delicious.
There are literally food markets everywhere you look and the most popular option by far is national dish Nasi Lemak (coconut rice served with a curry sauce and crushed peanuts). If you’re feeling adventurous the Muslim community offer fish head curry, the Chinese snails and the Malay serve frog in a variety of ways!
We stuck to curries, stir frys and fried rice dishes and didn’t eat one bad meal.
Average price for street food: RM 5 (£1)
Getting around in Penang
Penang has an incredible bus route which is really easy to use and is very cheap.
The 101 bus travels along the whole East coast and if you rode the route from start to finish it would still cost you less than £1!
The 102 bus is useful if you need to get to the airport and we used it to travel from our hotel to the airport at the end of our stay. It took about 90 minutes but we had seats and got to take in a load more of Penang before we boarded our flight back to Kuala Lumpur.
- Make sure you carry small notes / change for the bus. The driver won’t be able to change big notes.
- If the driver doesn’t give you a ticket make sure you ask for one. Inspectors get on regularly to check tickets and if you don’t have one you’ll be hit with a fine.
- If you can’t get a seat make sure you stand somewhere with a railing. The driving is pretty haphazard and you’ll definitely need to stabilise yourself!
Need to knows
- The incredibly dangerous box jellyfish are prominent in the waters of Penang. If you do decide to enter the water then know the risk (a sting is quickly fatal if not treated fast) and if you do get stung, get help immediately.
- Even though Penang is more laid back than KL, don’t forget that you are in a Muslim country. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, as is risque dressing and so make sure you cover up whilst you are visiting. As a minimum ladies should cover shoulders, chest and thighs.
- There are thunderstorms and torrential rain almost every day. Be sure to bring a waterproof cover for your backpack if you’ll be moving around with it and a lightweight waterproof jacket would be helpful too.
Hows this for a storm?
We had such a great time in Penang and would definitely recommend that you tag it on to your trip if you’re nearby. Just make sure that you’re ready for your close up!