When I started planning my destinations for Malaysia, Penang was at the top of the list. The island and has a little bit of everything I love: street art, street food, culture, architecture, and more. I’ve spent just over a month in Penang, Malaysia with trips in 2017 and 2019. This is everything I adore about the “Pearl of the Orient”, from exploring the UNESCO Culture Heritage Site of George Town, to eating my body weight in Nyonya dishes and street food. Here’s my Penang travel guide with where to explore, eat, and stay.
HOW TO GET TO PENANG
I arrived in Penang from Cameron Highlands via the 8 AM fast bus. Reserve your seat using either of the Baolau or 12Go.Asia booking platforms which accept foreign cards and work with a wide range of Malaysian bus companies in order to provide travelers as many options as possible from reliable, comfortable, and efficient bus operators. There are many routes to Penang from other parts of Malaysia, such as Kuala Lumpur. Using the bus system is much cheaper than taking a private taxi and safer than taking the minibusses.
WHERE TO STAY IN GEORGE TOWN, PENANG
I was invited to stay at the awesome boutique hotel, B Street Hotel. The team at B Street Hotel helped me customize a local map by marking all the best murals and hawker centers which really helped make my time in Penang so memorable. Of course, it’s located on B Street, aka Beach Street. Beach Street is one of the many roads in George Town that has a fascinating history.
It’s one of the oldest streets in Penang and was founded around the beginning of the city back in 1786. At the time, it was the street nearest to the water, hence the coastal name, Beach Street! Since then the land has been reclaimed and extended the shoreline so now there are two more roads before the Malacca Strait. In the 19th century, the street was lined with financial institutions and bank headquarters, making the road the central finance hub in northern Malaysia. Unfortunately, most of the historic buildings on Beach Street were destroyed during World War II but many others can be seen from the time period in other areas of George Town.
Beach Street is still central in George Town today making the location of B Street Hotel just a stone’s throw away from the area’s historic buildings, famous food markets, and fascinating street art. The contemporary B Street Hotel has cozy rooms with my favorite decor color combo–citrus and grey. Complete with ultra-modern amenities and a super soft bed I adored our comfortable room. The toiletries were pine with soothing oatmeal soap and white tea lotion.
B Street Hotel actually has one of my favorite murals that I saw in George Town, a cone with a dripping bouquet of colorful flowers instead of ice cream. I was really lucky and even had a view of this mural from my lovely room.
No hip hotel would be complete without an awesome rooftop terrace and B Street Hotel has one of my favorites. The panoramic views from B’Roof are incredible as you can see many temples, mosques, street art murals, and more. There’s 24/7 coffee, tea, and biscuit service in the reception and I often took my refreshments to the roof in the early evening to enjoy the sunset over George Town, a spectacular sight that’s not to be missed.
Browse available rooms make a reservation at DoubleTree by Hilton Melaka on Booking.com.
WHAT TO DO IN PENANG
CHECK OUT THE WORLD-FAMOUS STREET ART
It’s no secret that I love to find street art wherever I go and Penang is literally exploding with murals. I wrote about a few of my favorites so don’t miss the George Town Penang street art guide.
GO TEMPLE HOPPING
The most extraordinary temple to see in Penang is Kek Lok Si Temple (GoogleMaps). I was fortunate enough to visit during the Lunar New Year festivities and got to see fireworks from Kek Lok Si which kicked off the celebrations and return during the day to observe how people worship during this time. Throughout the year the gigantic temple complex is worth a visit.
Kek Lok Si is a Chinese Buddhist temple that was built in 1891 and is one of the largest and finest temples complexes in Southeast Asia. Plan a half-day to explore the grounds, preferably in the morning while the heat is bearable. You’ll come across the gigantic 120-foot bronze statue of the Goddes of Mercy, Kuan Kin, surrounded by countless replicas. Another major site to see within the Kek Lok Si temple complex is the seven-story Pagoda of Rama VI.
In many of the prayer areas, there are cabinets with wishing ribbons. For a small donation of about 25 cents, you can hang a ribbon for the issue or personal matter of your choice such as auspicious wishes or world peace. Some of the prayer halls are adorned in incredible colorful carvings with various Buddha statues on display.
TEMPLES IN GEORGE TOWN
If you don’t love street art as much as I do there are still plenty of beautiful things to discover. The temples are fantastic and stand out like gems among the shabby buildings with paint chipping off.
ENJOY NATURE AT THE PENANG BOTANICAL GARDENS
The Penang Botanical Gardens (GoogleMaps) is the closest thing you can get to nature on the island of Penang. The park is free to enter and there’s always a crowd of playful monkeys and tourists enjoying the shade of the trees. Most of the trails are paved and not too strenuous.
CHECK OUT THE HERITAGE HOUSE FACADES
There are 1,700 protected historic buildings in the UNESCO core zone. Stroll around the different neighborhoods to enjoy architecture. The doorways of the homes of Penang were darling, from the intricate tile floorings, grand doors, and shrubbery accents, I wanted each and everyone to be the entrance to my home.
FIND AN ART EXHIBIT
There are also many exhibits to enjoy in the city. I happened to be visiting during the George Town Festival and saw many fantastic galleries such as Before They Pass Away, a gallery of photos by Jimmy Nelson capturing stills of indigenous tribes in Asia and around the globe. Nearby was a textile exhibit where native women were showcasing the process of creating the Ikat fabrics that are customary in Borneo, Malaysia.
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Have you been to George Town? What were your favorite activities? Tell us in the comments as I plan to go back again someday!
I was a guest at B Street Hotel. All opinions and photos are my own. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.