5 Days on Penang Island: Malaysia's Cultural Melting Pot

Penang Island has been Asia’s hostess with the mostess for some time now. Most of its population are either Chinese, Indian or Malay; but lane names like Armenian Street reveal the unexpected influences beyond Malaysia’s most immediate borders. The result? Visiting Penang Island can often feel like walking through a living museum. Although its temples and courtyard mansions are near indescribable, you will be just as charmed by the street art and Hawker centres. And with Malaysia’s largest theme park only 1 hour away, this island never takes itself too seriously.

Penang Hill Railway.

Day 1: Explore the vibrant streets of George Town

Use this 1st day of your trip as a chance to settle in and give in to your wanderlust.

Colourful inside and out, George Town fuses eclectic architecture with thought-provoking or witty murals. Taking a self-guided street art tour here is a must, especially when most of these artworks can be found on Armenian Street. The murals will tell you everything you need to know about George Town. This relaxed capital is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a cheeky streak.

After all that exploring you will have worked up quite the appetite. Needless to say, you are spoiled for choice. Although George Town has quite the range of restaurants, you will have more fun exploring the city’s sumptuous street food.

Hawker centres and food courts are not only a great way to save money whilst travelling, but perfectly capture the city’s spirit through taste. There are so many to choose from, but we heard a rumour that the late culinary legend Anthony Bourdain recommended the Wanton Mee served at the Jetty Food Court.

‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ mural.

Day 2: See Penang from above

It’s an early rise today, as you will want to see Penang’s best attraction before the crowds and heat kicks in.

Catch the 204 bus from the Komtar Bus Terminal in Georgetown for 2 RM (€0.40) which should take you to the bottom of Penang Hill. Here you will need to buy a ticket for RM 12 normal lane, or RM 40 fast lane (€2 and €8). The funicular service runs from 6:30am to 8pm (with the last trip from upper station to lower at 10pm) everyday. Find out further ticket information here.

With a long history as the oldest British hill station in Southeast Asia, Penang Hill has undergone quite the transformation in the past few decades. For one, the speedy train service now takes you to the top in just under 5 minutes. But once you reach the peak, there is a whole world awaiting exploration. Take in that mesmerising cityscape from either the panoramic sky walk, or the more intimate viewing deck — where you can also find Penang’s take on the love lock bridge.

If you ever grow tired of that view, then venture into the Habitat for a change of scenery. Malaysia has some of the most breath-taking rainforests in the world, and Penang is no exception. Over 2500 creatures have been documented in the Habitat alone, demonstrating the potential for humanity and nature to peacefully coexist. There are 12 points of interest here, including a giant swing, tree top walk and a zipline.

Once you have arrived back in Georgetown, spend the afternoon wandering around Penang’s most luxurious mansions. Our top recommendation is Blue Mansion, once owned by Cheong Fatt Tze: more famously known as the Rockefeller of the East. In ode to his riches, part of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) was filmed here.

If all that azure has you yearning for extravagance, then end your night by the sea at Orinea Restaurant: where you can overlook that mesmerising cityscape one last time.

Love lock bridge atop of Penang Hill — located at the open air observation deck of the Penang Hill Food Centre.

Day 3: Visit Penang’s most famous temple

Many choose to see both Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill in 1 day, but we have spread it across 2 days for a more leisurely experience. If you want a 2-for-1 type of deal, you may be interested in this half-day English guide tour on Klook (€47).

Hop onto the 204 bus once more and get off at the Air Itam suburb, before walking for 10 minutes until you reach this attraction which you can enter for free. Malaysia's largest Buddhist temple is as spell-binding as it is serene. Its pagodas and pavilions are almost like a rainbow, with each colour bringing out the next.

Take your time admiring all the details of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, from the sacred paintings and statues to the surrounding gardens. The architecture alone is so varied: an incredible accomplishment for such an enormous site. One of the temple’s most iconic buildings has to be Ban Po Thar, the 7-tiered ivory pagoda which you can go inside (so long as you do not mind an endless flight of stairs).

Spend your afternoon in the shade at Penang Municipal Park before round 2 of George Town’s best street food. Once you’re full and satisfied, enjoy a more intimate evening at one of George Town’s old speakeasies: such as vintage Chinese hotspot Magazine 63.

Kek Lok Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Day 4: Make your way to Batu Ferringhi

It takes just under an hour by bus (101 or 102) to get from George Town to Batu Ferringhi: a white sand paradise. Whilst you could stick to your George Town accommodation, staying in Batu Ferringhi for days 4 and 5 will make these activities a little easier. Hop back onto the 101 or 102 bus for 20 more minutes, which will take you to Entopia in Teluk Bahang.

A true haven for butterflies, Entopia has tripled in size since its creation. Butterflies and insects fly freely here, and the abundance of tropical plants and flowers is more than enough to keep them satisfied. See how many different creatures you can spot with the daily butterfly race, or take it all in at a more leisurely pace. For a more educational experience, the ‘indoor’ discovery section will guide you through everything you need to know about a butterfly’s circle of life.

Although there is a restaurant on-site, our recommendation for tonight is to head back into Batu Ferringhi and check out Penang’s own Hard Rock Café. Maybe it’s not the most traditional choice, but this is an unique opportunity to pick up quirky travel memorabilia.

Inside Entopia.

Day 5: Ride the world’s longest slide

Penang Island is just as enthralling as it is enriching. This destination has something for everyone, including Malaysia’s largest theme park which encourages people of all ages to take part in the magic. Aside from the astonishing 1,111 metres slide, you can compete with your friends on the speed racer, or play hide and seek in the gigantic playhouse.

There are enough water activities to keep you busy all day, but there is no better way to take it all in than from up high. From the 1 kilometre long zip coaster that whisks you into the jungle, to the adults-only slingshot which launches you in the air, these activities capture Escape Penang’s adventurous spirit. But if you have had enough adrenaline for 1 day, then Malaysia’s only chairlift might be more your thing.

Escape Penang is open everyday except Mondays from 10am to 6pm, and day passes for adults start at RM 116.90 (€23). You are welcome to pack your own food and drink to the park so long as you clean up afterwards, and there are water fountains for you to use free of charge. There are also lockers where you can store your belongings for 10 RM each.

Birds eye shot of Escape Penang, including the world’s longest slide.

Honourable mention: a purr-fect beach day at the Cat Beach Sanctuary

When the island council imposed a zero stray animals policy back in 2014, a small team of volunteers banded together to save the stray cat population and to provide them a safe home. Thus, the Cat Beach Sanctuary was born. This safe haven is open to the public from 9am to 9pm daily, but visiting on the weekends is encouraged by the volunteers.

You are welcome to befriend the local cats and kittens as well as feed them (with the food provided), or even treat them a toy in the sanctuary’s craft making workshop! If you love to paint, then why not make a pet portrait in the style of George Town’s murals?

A mother cat with her kittens by the sea.

Getting there & around

Home to an international airport, reaching Penang Island is easier than you might expect. Depending on where you are on the world, you will likely have a transfer flight from either Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

Ferry is another popular mode of arrival, as Penang Island is just a 10-minute boat ride from Butterworth. You can find Butterworth’s train station right next to its ferry terminal. Although Butterworth has its own airport, it is not open to international flights — and so your best bet would be flying in to Kuala Lumpur. The train ride from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth takes roughly 4 and a half hours.

Finally if you are planning to self-drive around Penang Island, you could arrive via Penang Bridge. A drive along the sea makes a stunning start and end to a trip like this. It should only take you 15 minutes to reach either end.

George Town is a 50 minute drive away from the Penang International Airport (PEN). There are 2 bus services operated by Rapid Penang, the 401E or 102, which can take you there. Equally, an average taxi fare will cost under €20. Penang’s tourism board encourages travellers to agree on a price with the driver before boarding, and not being afraid to negotiate if you feel it is too high.

Public transportation is widely available in Penang, particularly the reliable and cost-effective Rapid Penang bus service. You can pay for each ticket up-front (from as low as €0.40), or pick up a MyCity Pass for 1 day, 3 days or 30 days at any of the following stations: LRT, MRT, Monorail, and BRT.

Whilst you will have to pay for bus fare in order to reach sights like Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple, you can get around most of George Town for free on the CAT shuttle service. Here you can reach sights like Little India and Fort Cornwallis.

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Cars driving on Penang bridge.
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Penang Island — Facts before you go


🇲🇾 As a former British colony, many locals speak ‘Manglish’ (Malaysian-English).


💰Malaysian ringgit (RM)


👌Not customary but appreciated.


  • Georgetown’s street art & street food
  • Blue Mansion
  • Penang Hill & Kek Lok Si Temple
  • Entopia butterfly farm
  • Escape Penang
  • Cat Sanctuary Beach

Famous for…

🍲Hawker food


🏖️White sand beaches

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Hannah Douch
September 15, 2023

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