If you are ready to explore the food, culture and history of Malaysia in one place, Georgetown Penang is the place to visit. This beautiful Island is located at Nother-Western end of Malaysia and is accessible by road, ferry and aeroplane. Driving distance of Georgetown from Kuala Lumpur is around 300 km and driving time is around 4 to 5 hours depending on the road condition. The intercity freeway network is amazing across Malaysia and driving to these destinations is the best way to enjoy the trip and explore places on the way. Penang is connected with mainland Malaysia with a 13.5 km long suspension bridge.
The easiest way to rent a car is book online from KL Airport. You can get amazing weekly or long-term rates with advance booking. The average rental for a standard sedan is around RM150 including insurance cover.
Alternatively, catch a shuttle to TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan) main bus station in Kuala Lumpur and book a luxury bus ticket to Penang. The ticket costs around 38 RM. Various services operate from TBS and you will be able to book a ticket round the clock.
If you plan to catch a plane to Penang Airport the average ticket costs around RM 125 return fare. This is possibly the quickest way to get to Penang if you have limited time to explore this destination.
Explore the rich cultural history of Malaysia
Affluent Chinese settled in Penang at the beginning of the 19th century. Inter-marriage of upper-class Malays and Chinese settlers created a whole new cultural called Baba Nyonya.
The distinct style of living is evident in the architecture of that era and a unique cooking style called Nyonya Cooking. The shop housed built-in old quarters of the town are remnants of rich cultural traditions. Baba Nyonya Museum and Fatt Tze Mansion are must-visit locations if you want to explore the rich history of Penang.
Brightly coloured building typical of early 19th-century construction and style
Walking through the old part of the town takes you back in time, with narrow alleys, hidden cafes and bars and amazing colourful murals on the walls capturing rich cultural traditions of the bygone era.
During my visit to Penang, I visited several authentic Nonya restaurants like Little Kitchen (in Noor-ud-din Alley). The food is cooked by ladies of the house and served by men in the dining area. The dishes are served in small servings and recommendations are made based on your choice of meat or vegetable dishes. Nyonya or Peranakan restaurants must be on the list for all foodies visiting Penang.
Typical Nyonya dishes capture the culinary history of Penang
Most of the Nyonya restaurants are decorated with unique furniture dating back to the early 20th century. The wooden furniture is decorated with metal and stone inlays. The houses are designed with two-story structures with the ground floor as a shopfront and the first floor used for living. You will observe this architecture across Melaka, Kuching and other places across the country.
Following into the footsteps of the famous celebrity chef and explorer Anthony Bourdain I also visited the famous Nasi Kandar Restaurant "Line Clear" . The street-side cafe attracts large crowds of office workers an and locals who want to enjoy the mix of Indian and Arab food. A large platter of rice is served with a number of spicy curries of your choice including goat meat, fish head curry, chicken curry, fish cake and a number of vegetables cooked in traditional style. I enjoyed the food and the vibrant atmosphere of this cafe.
Sarkies is another great buffet place in Eastern & Oriental Hotel. This is a modern uptown cafe with a great mix of Malay and continental food of your choice. Finish the meal off with a large collection of desserts. Cost is RM 100 per person.
Prangin Mall in Penang is a bargain hunter’s paradise while 1st Avenue Mall houses big fashion brands, cinemas and karaoke lounges. Little Penang Market every last Sunday of the month is for locals to showcase homemade items from arts and crafts to eatables and accessories.
Gurney Drive is a must-visit for a feel of the ultramodern waterfront shopping, food and nightlife experience. Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon Mall house some of the biggest fashion labels from around the world. Gurney Drive area hosts night market where you can eat local delights and local seafood.
Gurney Plaza is a massive shopping Center with international food chains, fashion outlets and cafes. I parked my car at the waterfront area and did not notice a no-parking sign on the roadside. On my return from exploring this area, the car was being towed by a towing truck. I was lucky enough to find the police offers on the spot and got away with paying a 60RM fine on the spot. PLEASE WATCH OUT FOR THE TRAFFIC SIGNS WHILE DRIVING IN MALAYSIA.
Driving at night time on a weekend night is fun in Penang as the weekend bring plenty of people to the city and street-side restaurants and cafes are packed. Jalan Chulia and Lebuah Queen are marked with hundreds of restaurants and bars serving a wide mix of food local to Penang.
Some more interesting things to do in Penang
Batu Ferringhi is a popular beach area with a number of high-end resorts including Bayview Resort, Hard Rock Resort and Hilton Doubletree that are quite popular with families.
Batu Ferringhi is popular for watersports, seafood restaurants and night markets on the weekend. The driving distance of Batu Ferringhi fro Gurney Drive is approximately 20 minutes. The winding road passes through seaside development and Floating Mosque of Tunjung Bunga. The drive is very scenic and you will observe a number of seaside resorts and residential homes.
Batu Ferringhi has a number of cheap hotel and resorts as well as this area is quite popular with local crowds.
Visit Peranakan Musuem in Penang
The Peranakan Museum reflects the colourful and rich cultural history of early settlers on Penang. A good mix of painting, historical artifacts, furniture and rich decoration of the building reflect rich sensibilities of 19th century Malay and Chinese. The richness of Nyonya culture is evident in the mural, designs, colourful building and heavily inlaid furniture.
Visit Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosqe
The beautiful mosque is visible on from the road connecting Gurney Drive and Batu Ferringhi. The beautiful architecture of this mosque is representative of motifs and murals of designs used in the middle east and other parts of the Muslim world. I stopped at this mosque in 2018 to say my asr prayers. The atmosphere of the mosque is very relaxing and the location commands an amazing view of the Penang coastline.
A tram service will take you to the to Penang Hill that commands the amazing views of the Island. This area can also be explored by a number of walking tracks leading up the botanical gardens. The Penang Hills area is locally known as Bukit Bendera which consist of a number of hills. The Flagstaff hill is the most developed area with a number of tourist attractions. Other hills include Haliburton Hill, Government Hill and Tiger Hill. The Flagstaff hill has an altitude of 833m above the sea level.
The funicular railway system is one of its kind in Malaysia. The train operates from 635am to 11 pm and the ride takes approximately 5 minutes to reach the station on the top of the hill. The observation point on the top of the hill is a great location to observe the scenic views of Penang at sunrise and sunset.
The hills are rich in greenery and home to some of the unique and exotic plants in the region. You can spot some unique species of animals including Leaf Monkey, Giant Black Squirrel and Racket-Tailed Drongo along the walking tracks in the rainforest.
Georgetown has a number of quality hotels and serviced apartments catering to all budget groups. During my first visit to the Island, I stayed at Eastern & Oriental Hotel which is one of the oldest hotels was build during the colonial era. This beautifully preserved hotel has a large number of celebrity guests through history including Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham. The architecture, furniture and decor of the old wing take you down the memory lane. Even the doorman is dressed in the outfit from the previous century. Enjoy lunch or dinner buffet at Sarkies or drop by the cafe near the pool for a hot expresso. This establishment must be on your list if you want to explore the colonial history of Penang.
The hotel is ideally located near 1 Penang Road which is the heart of nightlife with a number of quality bars and clubs including Slippery Senoritas and Mois Club.
Staying in Gurney Drive Area
If you want to enjoy shopping and be close to nights markets and fast food joints, I suggest booking a hotel in Gurney Drive Area in Penang. The recommended hotels include G Hotel Gurney and Vouk Hotel Suites .
Overall, Georgetown is a great location for a day trip or a weekend break from Kuala Lumpur. You can also catch a ferry from Georgetown to Langkawi. Most international cruises on West Coast Malaysia pass by this interesting Island destination.
If you are planning a family holiday from Pakistan, Penang should definitely e on your list.