Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown beach on Penang island, northwest Malaysia

Georgetown on Penang island, northwest Malaysia, where some old cultures hang grimly on in the face of rising opposition. Also know as Pulau Pinang the island is in the state of Penang. Photo by Adrian Loader.

Best things to do on Penang Island

A gorgeous original Chinese shop front in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

A gorgeous original Chinese shop front in Georgetown. One of the reasons for Penang’s new World Heritage Site status. Photo by Adrian Loader.

• stroll the Pinang Perankan Museum in George Town, the beautiful and lavishly furnished home of a wealthy Chinese/Malay family; see how they lived and all their well preserved knick-knacks. A guided tour is probably worth the extra cost to get a lot more detail and history.

• flutter into the small Penang Butterfly Farm for an hour or two and share space with hundreds of spectacular and often strange wing critters (that may settle on you), along with some other beasts such as snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, turtles and fish. Best to go first thing in the morning when it’s reasonably cool. There’s no public transport nearby so it may be a taxi job or a bit of a walk. Entry fee is a little pricey.

• wander in wonder at the tranquil ambience of the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple, Georgetown, and its gloriously over-the-top gold buddhas, stupas, shrines and intricate reliefs. It’s very different from the usual Chinese Buddhist temples. Dharmikarama is just opposite a Thai Buddhist temple so you could have a two-in-one religious experience! And there’s a bus stop nearby.

• take the kids to Adventure Zone in the Golden Sands Resort, Batu Feringgi Beach. AZ is a huge indoor playground with massive slides, obstacle course, toddler area and other play equipment that kids love. It’s air conditioned and got wifi, snacks and drinks so parents are well sorted. Socks and long-sleeve T shirts mandatory!

• Khoo Kongsi Chinese temple in Georgetown is one of the most spectacular of this genre, absolutely packed with carvings, murals and paintings, but lacking in much explanatory data.

• Another possibly interesting old house/museum is the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion in Georgetown, but only visitable with a guided tour three or four times a day and the experience very much depends on the knowledge, enthusiasm and humour of the guide.

Kek Lok Si temple/monastery in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Kek Lok Si temple/monastery in Georgetown, Penang. Photo by D. Berthold.

• Kek Lok Si temple/monastery is an elaborate, interesting and free-to-enter attraction with magnificent stupas and statues and terrific views over Penang but it’s a bit run-down, lacking useful information and loaded with tacky gift shops. It’s on Crane Hill and with no public transport nearby it’s a half hour walk from the nearest bus or a taxi ride.

Monkey beach, Penang, Malaysia

Monkey Beach, Penang Island. Photo by Asiadetailfeed.

• Penang National Park in the island’s northwest features a quite unspoilt jungle (aka rainforest! ), wild monkeys, and decent though slightly uncared-for stretches of sand but well-organised trails with occasional tricky sections. It’s a good place for a hike, a swim or fishing but also boasts a Turtle Sanctuary. Don’t show the monkeys on Monkey Beach food unless you want them to go bananas! Camping at Monkey Beach is possible but bring food and water though there are sometimes vendors there.
Get there by bus in about an hour from Georgetown. Tired hikers often catch a boat ride back to Georgetown, while tourists who don’t fancy a 3. 5km hike from the entrance can take a boat to Monkey beach.