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Penang, Malaysia

Penang, renowned as the Pearl of the Orient, is a state on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Geographically, the state consists of Pulau Pinang, or Penang Island, and Seberang Perai, the mainland strip facing the island, which are separated by a small stretch of the Strait of Malacca.

Penang is rich in culture and history, with a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and British influences. Visitors will find Penang brimming with charming historic buildings, ornate religious sites, sandy beaches, kampungs surrounded by rice paddies, vast unbeaten jungles, all topped with a splash of bustling city life. Hailed as the food capital of Malaysia and sometimes likened to Singapore fifty years ago, Penang has become a popular destination with plenty on offer for those who visit.


Penang Island (Pulau Pinang)

Penang, Malaysia


Penang, renowned as the Pearl of the Orient, is a state on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Geographically, the state consists of Pulau Pinang, or Penang Island, and Seberang Perai, the mainland strip facing the island, which are separated by a small stretch of the Strait of Malacca.

Penang is rich in culture and history, with a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and British influences. Visitors will find Penang brimming with charming historic buildings, ornate religious sites, sandy beaches, kampungs surrounded by rice paddies, vast unbeaten jungles, all topped with a splash of bustling city life. Hailed as the food capital of Malaysia and sometimes likened to Singapore fifty years ago, Penang has become a popular destination with plenty on offer for those who visit.


Penang Island (Pulau Pinang)

  • George Town – The capital of Penang; a favorite spot for tourists as it has many attractive pre-Second World War houses and shophouses, as well as 19th-century churches, temples, mosques, and colonial buildings. George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site (it was inscribed as one of the Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca together with the city of Melaka).
  • Air Itam – A largely residential town just west of the capital. The area is often visited by tourists heading to Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple but is also home to some exceptional local food.
  • Batu Ferringhi – Located on the northern coast of Pulau Pinang, this area is home to white sandy beaches and luxurious hotels. A favorite spot for both locals & tourists. The nearby resort town of Tanjung Bungah and the fishing village of Teluk Bahang are also included here.
  • Balik Pulau – literally "Back of The Island" in Malay; a small town nestled among Malay villages, fruit orchards, and padi fields. Popular for its assam laksa, durian, and nutmeg. Favorite spot for countryside cycling.
  • Bayan Lepas – Penang's main electronic manufacturing area and location of its international airport. George Town's satellite town.

Mainland (Seberang Perai)

  • Butterworth – mainland gateway to Penang, directly across the Straits of Malacca from George Town
  • Bukit Mertajam – capital of Seberang Perai Tengah district
  • Bandar Perda – 20 minutes from Butterworth and 15min from Penang Bridge
  • Nibong Tebal – capital of Seberang Perai Selatan district
  • Simpang Ampat – a small town famous for its nearby seafood at Bukit Tambun and Batu Kawan. The nearby island of Pulau Aman is a popular weekend getaway and also famous for its seafood.
  • Seberang Jaya – satellite township
  • Tasek Gelugor – a small town 20 minutes from Butterworth

Penang was part of the Malay sultanate of Kedah until 1786 when Captain Francis Light built a fort at the site of present-day George Town and managed to get the island ceded to the British East India Company. The island, along with Malacca and Singapore, was one of the three British Straits Settlements.

The name Penang comes from the Malay word Pinang, which means betel nut (槟榔) (Areca catechu). The name Pulau Pinang translated literally from Malay means "betel nut island". The original name of Penang was Pulau Ka-satu or "First Island", it was renamed to Prince of Wales Island on 12 Aug 1786 to commemorate the birthday of the Prince of Wales, later, George IV. During the early and middle part of the last century, Penang Island was also known as "The Pearl of the Orient".

The capital, George Town, was named after King George III of Great Britain. Today, Penang has the highest population density in Malaysia and is the only state where ethnic Chinese are in the majority. The state of Penang today has the third-largest economy amongst the states of Malaysia, after Selangor and Johor.

The cargo trade has largely shifted down to Port Klang and Singapore since Penang lost its free-port status in 1969, but now Penang makes a good living off tourism and electronics manufacturing. The multi-national corporations that operate factories in Penang's Free Trade Zones include Intel, AMD, BBraun, Dell, Flextronics, Agilent, Osram, Motorola, Seagate, and Jabil Circuit. Penang was granted Cyber-City status on 21 June 2004. At the World Heritage Committee Session in July 2008, George Town and Malacca were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


The state of Penang is made up of two parts, Penang Island, a turtle-shaped island in the Straits of Malacca 8km west of Peninsular Malaysia, and Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley), a rectangular-shaped district that is part of the mainland.

George Town is Penang's largest city. Development of the eastern coast of the island is slowly linking George Town, in the northeast, to the city of Bayan Lepas in the southeast. The northern coast, including Batu Ferringhi, is also being heavily developed and features the island's best beaches and resorts. The island's western side is still relatively undeveloped and has a serene "kampung" (village) lifestyle and feel about it.

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Penang, Malaysia: Port Information

Swettenham Pier in George Town is the cruise terminal of Penang, with many cruises calling here from other cities in the region. Star Cruises is a primary operator at this port with common itineraries including a 1-night cruise on the high seas or a 3-night cruise to Krabi and Phuket before returning to George Town. The port is also a frequent stop for round-the-world and major regional cruises often originating from Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Europe, and North America. Typically these cruises allow a port visit in George Town for several hours before continuing to another destination.
Cruise terminal has good facilities and is situated right in the city center.
If there are more than two large cruise ships at a time, the liner anchor offshore, and passengers are transported ashore by tender boats. 

Get around Penang, Malaysia


One of the best ways to sight see is to walk around George Town; but wear light clothes, start early in the morning, and put on plenty of sun-block during the daytime. When crossing the roads, remember to look both ways, even on a one-way street.

By bus

RapidPenang, the local bus service, features new buses. All bus stations and bus stops which are serviced by the RapidPenang buses are labeled with proper signboards to ensure user-friendliness. Buses are somewhat frequent on the main artery to Batu Ferringhi. Rapid Penang bus 101 bound for Teluk Bahang goes through midtown Pulau Tikus, (northwest end of) Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi and terminates at the Penang National Park entrance. Avoid so-called 'minibusses' because they usually go as far as Tanjung Bungah and can be poorly maintained.

Rapid Penang bus 203 and 204 to Air Itam departs westward on Lebuh Chulia (the main backpacker hotel road) or southbound from the KOMTAR building are handy for visiting both Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) Funiciular Base Station, approximately 30mins south west of the city center. The driver will inform you of when to alight. Bus 204 departs from the funicular base station to return to Komtar and onward.

The main hub for buses in George Town is KOMTAR, the tallest building in town. The secondary hub is located at the Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay) ferry terminal. All buses depart from the ferry terminal will stopover at KOMTAR, but downtown-bound buses destined for KOMTAR may not go all the way to the ferry terminal; ask the bus operator. There is a new long-distance bus terminal at Sungai Nibong, refer to by bus entry.

Municipal Council of Penang Island provides a free shuttle bus service in George Town which runs approximately between the Pengkalan Weld ferry terminal and KOMTAR every 20 min daily 6 AM-12 AM, (including Sundays & public holidays). 

By trishaw

These three-wheeled human-powered vehicles might be the best idea for a pleasant city tour. One can stop at any point to take a photo or buy souvenirs. Many trishaw riders are also excellent 'tour guides'. Negotiate the fare first before getting on a trishaw; it is advisable to hire them by the hour for extended sightseeing.

By boat

If you wish to travel between the mainland and Penang Island then the Penang Ferry Service is a cheap and unique option to take. The ferry operates between Butterworth at Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal on the mainland and George Town's Raja Tun Uda ferry terminal at Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld) on Penang Island. Ferries depart every 10-20 minutes between 05:20–00:40 daily. The fare to Butterworth is free. From both ports, Rapid Penang Buses are nearby to help connect you to the rest of the mainland or Island.

By car

Car rentals may be a viable option, especially if you are planning to get off the beaten track and explore the western or southern coast of the island. Take note that Penang Island has quite a number of one-way streets and narrow roads. Many Penangites ride motorbikes and a minority of them have disregard for pedestrians, cars, and even their own lives, so you must be very careful when driving on the roads. Avoid driving during the rush hours 07:30-09:30 and 17:30-19:30. Motorcycle riders can be undisciplined and tourists should be extra vigilant of them.

By taxi

Taxis in Penang are equipped with meters and by law, they are mandated to use them, but practically all drivers will refuse to turn them on. Always haggle with the taxi driver and agree on a price beforehand.

At some high-end hotels, particularly on Batu Ferringhi, you may find blue SUVs marked "Teksi Executif" (Executive Taxi). These taxis do use the meter but are hard to find on the streets.

What to see in Penang, Malaysia

UNESCO World Heritage Zone & Armenian Street, old historical area in the heart of the UNESCO Heritage Zone in downtown Georgetown. The area contains a melange of late 19th-century colonial and settler architecture, texturized by a community that still maintains a traditional way of urban life. For walking, highlights include Armenian Street, Pitt Street, Love Lane, Little India, the esplanade and Beach Road. Within this area, the Khoo Kongsi clan temple, Kapitan Keling Mosque, and Pinang Peranakan Mansion are highlights. A small flea market starts every evening at the park near the Armenian Street & Lebuh Acheh junction (pickpocket alert). Mostly, it used second-hand junk for sale, but there may be the occasional find. Further towards Penang Road, the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion on Leith Street that exemplifies early Chinese courtyard houses is also a favorite.

  • Penang Street Art, In conjunction with Penang’s Georgetown Festival, certain old walls within our dear capital has gained a new lease of life, thanks to the awesome efforts of Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, Penang Street Art artist. The artworks are funny, fascinating, and very much open to everyone’s interpretations.
  • Penang Hill / Bukit Bendera (升旗山), "Penang. Probably has the best view of Georgetown, especially at night. Go up via the Penang Hill Railway. The train takes 5 minutes to reach the summit. The service runs from 6:30AM-9PM daily, accessible by taxi or Rapid Penang bus no. 204 to the last stop. The train, which was upgraded in 2011, is a fascinating little cable train service that lifts you out of the heat and humidity of the coastal plain and up to a fabulous view and cool breezes. The 19th-century English travel writer, Isabella Bird, called the temperature on the hill 'delicious' because it can be very much cooler than at sea level. More than a century later, Ms. Bird's statement still holds true. The more adventurous (and fit) may want to hike up the hill (800m elevation, bring water). Starting points for a trek up the hill is from the tarred road at the entrance of the Botanic Gardens (the more adventurous can start from the Moon Gate 300m from the entrance of the Botanic Gardens but trails are not well marked so best to follow a local during weekends/evenings). The hike takes about 2-3 hrs depending on fitness level. At the summit, you can take a leisurely stroll, or ride a buggy, along a track that runs for about 1km into residences built around the turn of the 20th century. Food and refreshments can be found in the David Brown restaurant, which commands a nice view of Georgetown, or the food court. 
  • Penang Botanic Gardens, Jl Kebun Bunga, ☎ +60 4 227-0428 (for group tour arrangement), Fax:+60 4 228-6075 Open daily, 5 AM-8 PM. Take Rapid Penang bus no.10 from KOMTAR. The gardens were established by Charles Curtis of Britain way back in 1884; it's generally known as the Waterfall Gardens by the local community because of a little waterfall located within it. Many locals will come to the gardens to perform their daily exercises like walking, jogging, jungle trekking, aerobic dance, and to practice Tai Chi, (太极) or Qi Gong, (气功). The garden hosts an annual international floral fest as well as a world music festival. Free admission.
  • Kek Lok Si-Temple of Supreme Bliss (极乐寺). A sprawling hillside structure that is reputed to be the largest Buddhist temple in South-East Asia, with the Khmer/Thai/Chinese style Ban Po Thar (Ten Thousand Buddhas Tower) and various Buddha images in the main temple complex. Furthermore, a mini-funicular train connects to the summit of the hill featuring a giant 36.5m high statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. The current bronze version was completed after donations from mainland Chinese in 2003. Photographers will find it well worth the inclined elevator ride up. During the Chinese New Year period, the temple is decorated with hundreds of lanterns which turns it into a night-time wonderland. Located near the village of Air Itam. The complex reeks of commercialism with shops at every level and Buddhists may find little sacred at this site. Try to avoid busy weekends. During the fifteen days of Chinese New Year, the temple is colorfully lit and opened to the throngs of tourist and worshippers till 11 pm.
  • Tropical Spice Garden - The Tropical Spice Garden, which is in an 8-acre valley fronting the shores of Teluk Bahang showcases a landscaped garden that consists of tropical plant collections from all over the world. The garden has over 100 varieties of tropical spice and herb plants and a huge collection of other exotic flora.
  • Entopia Penang, 830 Jalan Teluk Bahang, ☎ +60 4 885-1253. Opens 365 days a year, 9 AM-6 PM daily (last entry at 5 pm). The first tropical butterfly farm ever set up in the tropical world, with an average flying population of 7000 butterflies. Stepping in, you will be surrounded by a myriad of fluttering butterflies within a seemingly natural setting, giving the feel of being in an enchanted forest bejeweled with colorful gems of nature. Its modern enclosure also houses an assortment of other invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians. Also features a souvenir outlet and a cafe.
  • Pulau Jerejak Resort, (Jerejak Island), ☎ +60 4 658-7111, Fax:+60 4 659-7700, This 362-hectare tropical island is located directly across the channel from the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, on the southeastern coast of Penang island. The island is now open to the public as a recreational resort. Numerous outdoor activities including nature & historical trekking, mountain biking, and archery are available; personal care such as aromatherapy massage, foot treatment, body scrub are also available. Unfortunately, swimming around the area is not advised given the pollution. Ferries to the island start at 6:30 AM and continue until 12:30 PM.
  • Tropical Fruit Farm, - 25-acre farm lies in the scenic hills near Balik Pulau. You can view the many kinds of fruit trees there and sample fresh fruit at a reasonable price. A small stall near the entrance sells fresh fruit juice and fruit dishes. You can also enjoy a great view of the north-western coastline of the island.
  • Bao Sheng Durian Farm - Located about 10 min from the Teluk Bahang Dam, the farm offers a durian buffet (early reservation required) and a variety of tropical fruits during the local fruit & durian season (May - Aug).
  • Snake Temple, (蛇庙), built in 1850 in memory of the renowned Chinese monk Chor Soo Kong. The Snake Temple is situated in the small town of Bayan Lepas on the edge of a highway and is famous for the fact that it has pit vipers living within the temple grounds. Legend has it that Chor Soo Kong, who was also a healer, gave shelter to the snakes of jungle. After the completion of the temple, snakes appeared on their own accord. Today, the snake population of the Temple of the Azure Cloud is very small, due to the urbanization of the area, but you can still see them coiled up on the altar tables, and you can touch them if you are brave enough. Originally, the snakes were said to be rendered harmless by the smell of the burning incense, but today, to be safe, the resident vipers are devenomed. There is a snake museum beside the temple where there are snakes galore and you can see a staff member occasionally handling an albino Burmese python. Take Rapid Penang bus 401 or 401E from KOMTAR or 102 from Lebuh Chulia.
  • War Museum Lot 1350, Mukim 12, Batu Maung, ☎ +60 4 626-5142, 391-0067 Fax:+60 4 626-4142, +60 4 644-8015. Daily 9 AM-7 PM (last admission). Located at southeastern tip of Penang, it is a large military fortress built in the 1930s by the British to protect the southern approaches to the island. The British Royal Engineers and a workforce of local laborers blasted and dug into the hill to create a fort with underground military tunnels, an intelligence and logistic center, halls, offices, ventilation shafts, artillery firing bays, sleeping quarters, cook houses as well as an infirmary. The site lay abandoned for 60 years before it was reopened by a private entrepreneur. Historical accuracy should not be the prime motivation for visitors, with the attraction being quite kitschy and generous with self-researched "facts".
  • Toy Museum, Jl Tanjung Bungah, (10 km northwest of Georgtown beside the Copthorne Hotel, take Rapid Penang bus 101 or 103 from KOMTAR) - there are more than 100,000 toys on display. open daily 9 AM-8 PM.
  • Penang Bird Park, Jl Todak (near the Sunway Carnival Mall), Bandar Seberang Jaya, ☎ +60 4 399-1899. - A small bird park located on the mainland (Seberang Perai) about 10 min from the Penang Bridge. Take a walk under nice shady trees and view dozens of kinds of birds including ostriches, sea eagles, peafowls, hornbills, flamingos, macaws, and grey parrots. There are also two walk-through aviaries and a fish pond. Some of the enclosures do need a touch of paint, but kids should love this place. Open daily from 9 AM-7 PM
  • Amazing Nibong Tebal. See the synchronized flashes of light gently hovering over mangrove trees that line the river bank. The specific species of mangrove tree which attracts these fireflies is the berembang (sonneratia caseolaris). Firefly watching at Sungai Kerian is increasingly drawing visitors and the firefly is an icon of Nibong Tebal. The fireflies emit light at the lower abdomen not only to attract mates but also to scare away predators. Their abdomens are filled with a chemical called lucibufagens which in fact tastes pretty nasty.
  • Penang Peranakan Heritage. this is where you can find the remaining peranakan home used to be lived by a rich family.

What to do in Penang, Malaysia

Beaches - The secluded beaches of Pantai Kerachut, Muka Head, and Teluk Kampi are located on the northern coast. There is an old lighthouse at Muka Head beach. You can reach these beaches by either hiking (1 - 3 hours) or by hiring a fisherman's "sampan" (boat) from the small village of Teluk Bahang. The village itself has a kilometer-long beach and a small Scout campsite.

  • Jungle Trekking & Camping - Enjoy walking through the reserve forest in Teluk Bahang, go to the northwestern cape of the island where there are unspoiled beaches and an old lighthouse. For a quicker and more relaxed way to reach the secluded beaches there, approach the locals at Kampung Nelayan for boat rides to beaches like Muka Head, Pantai Kerachut, and Teluk Kampi. Kampung Nelayan is located less than 1km down the road northwest of the small roundabout located at Teluk Bahang.
  • Golfing
    • Bukit Jambul (Golf & Country Club), ☎ +60 4 644-2255, fax: +60 4 644-2400, e-mail: 2 Jl Bukit Jambul, . Course designer: Robert Trent Jones Jr.
    • Pearl Island Country Club, ☎ +60 4 642-7888, fax: +60 4 646-6999. 8 Persiaran Kelicap. Course design: Pacific Coast Design (Aust).
    • Bukit Jawi Golf Resort, ☎ +60 4 582-0759, fax: +60 4 582-2613, e-mail: Lot 414, Mlk6 Jl Paya Kemian Sempayi, Sungai Jawi, Seberang Prai Selatan.
  • Watersports are on the agenda for many visitors, although the waters are a bit too murky for scuba diving and a bit too calm for surfing or more extreme pursuits. Swimming is OK along most of the northern coast especially near the international-class hotels as they do their best to keep the beaches and water clean. You can also try out jet skis and parasailing near most of the hotels along Batu Ferringhi beach.
  • Cycling, included guided cycling tours in Balik Pulau.
  • Night Activities can be found in Upper Penang Rd or UPR. It is a very popular place to be at night among locals and tourists alike. It is located just opposite the famed Eastern And Oriental Hotel and beside the City Bayview Hotel.

What to eat and drink in Penang, Malaysia


Penang is widely considered the food capital of Malaysia and is a melting pot of cuisines. The obvious mix of Malay, Chinese, Peranakan/Nonya and Indian cuisine has a strong presence along with a variety of another international fare. Penangites live to eat and will eat anywhere, provided the food is exceptional. Often some of the best food can be found along the side of a busy road or even down an inconspicuous alleyway. The rule of thumb is to be adventurous with your tongue, look at the condition of the stall and its surroundings. If in doubt where to eat, go where the locals eat and ask around for recommendations.

Local delicacies

If you have been to Singapore or other parts of Malaysia you may see some familiar names, but don't be fooled as some dishes in Penang are quite different from what you may get elsewhere. With that in mind, many dishes that are common throughout Malaysia are also present in Penang, which can be found under Malaysian cuisine. The following is a list of some, but not all, common and popular Penang dishes.


  • Assam Laksa is a far cry from the sweet, coconut Singapore version. The broth of this noodle soup is packed with tamarind (assam), Lemongrass, galangal and flaked fish and is typically garnished with pineapple, mint, onion, prawn paste and a generous helping of chili. The combination is utterly unique, powerful and will have the uninitiated breathing fire. The coconut variety, called Curry Mee, is also available in Penang.
  • Char Hor Fun (炒河粉) is a local dish with flat rice noodles (kway teow) in a delicious broth of beaten eggs and seafood bits. Goes best with pickled green chilies.
  • Char Kway Teow (炒馃条) is the ever-popular stir-fried (char) flat rice noodle (kway teow) dish found throughout Malaysia and Singapore, often mixed with prawns, cockles, bean sprouts, and vegetables, with an egg mixed in on request. Exceptional versions of this dish can be found all over Penang, with the best typically coming from roadside stalls, Hawker centers, and coffee shops, or Kopitiams.
  • Hokkien Mee (福建面) in Penang bears little resemblance to the stir-fried dish of the same name found in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. It is a soup based dish filled with rice and egg noodles, pork, prawns, vegetables, bean sprouts, a hard-boiled egg, and fried shallots. Mee Udang is the Malay version of Hokkien Mee.
  • Kway Teow Th'ng (粿条汤) contains flat rice noodles (kway teow) in clear chicken soup (th'ng) with slices of chicken, pork, fish cake and garnished with chopped spring onions. Some also include duck meat or even offal, but you can request for them to leave it out.
  • Lobak, or Lor bak (卤肉), comprises minced pork wrapped in tofu skin and is very famous in Penang. Similar to sausage, you can also choose the accompanying servings of prawn fritters, tofu, fish cakes, Taiwan sausages or even century eggs. They are all fried up and served with chili sauce. At street stalls, you just grab what you want and give to the chef to cook.
  • Lor Mee (鹵麵) is a dish unique to Penang comprising of yellow noodles in sticky brown colored gravy and commonly served with sliced chicken breast and pork. Some vendors may also include offal in the in their lor mee, but as always you can request for it to be left out.
  • Mee Sotong is a popular local dish found specifically at the Kota Selera Hawker Center, near Fort Cornwallis. The dish contains egg noodles served squid, shallots and a fishy, spicy sauce. A wedge of lime is usually given to add extra zing to the dish. You can also find this dish at several other hawker centers.
  • Nasi Kandar is literally white rice (nasi) with anything else you want with it. Although these days it is sold in virtually every Malaysian city, Penang is the where the dish originated from, and according to many Malaysians is still where the best ones are. Typical side dishes to add include curries, fried chicken or fish, prawns, squid, hardboiled eggs and vegetables and it's often completed with splashes of various curry sauces. It may not be a particularly pretty dish, but it is loved by Malaysians. Be warned that adding too many sides can make the dish quite expensive. Many Penangites have their own favorite stall, and some stalls are open 24 hours, so ask around for their recommendation.
  • Oh Chien, or Or Chen, is simply an oyster omelet, is a very popular dish among Penangites. You can find it all over at hawker centers, Chinese coffee shops, and some seafood restaurants. It is typically mixed with chives, radish and dash of soy sauce, fish sauce and white pepper before cooking.
  • Rojak can refer to two different dishes. Chinese rojak (or just rojak at hawker stalls) is a salad of raw mango, pineapple, cucumber, white turnip, fried bean curd and topped with peanuts a dark thick sauce of shrimp paste and sugar. The ingredients do vary slightly between stalls. Pasembor, also called Indian rojak, is found mostly at Mamak stalls. It consists of cucumbers, fried dough fritters, bean curds, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and topped with a sweet thick, spicy peanut sauce.
  • Satay, or Sate, obviously is the famous meat-on-a-stick that is found all over Malaysia. Often you can find chicken or beef satay, but what makes Penang different is that the Chinese vendors also serve up pork satay. Once cooked over hot coals they are served with a fresh salad of cucumbers, onions and a spicy-sweet peanut dipping sauce. Some place will also serve it with compressed rice.
  • Seafood is not exactly a dish, but considering much of the state lined by the coastline, it is no surprise that it is a big player in Penang cuisine. Seafood is used in all local cuisines, from Indian tandoori prawns to Chinese black pepper crab or even the Malay grilled fish (ikan bakar). Seafood restaurants are common along the coastline, particularly around Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang along the north coast or Batu Maung to the south.

Snacks and sweets

  • Ais Kacang, also known as ABC or Air Batu Campur, is a concoction of shaved ice, red beans, grass jelly, sweet corn, and attap palm seed. It is finished with lashings of coconut milk or evaporated milk, palm sugar syrup (gula melaka) and other colored syrups.
  • Biscuits and Pastries - Traditional biscuits such as Tambun Pneah (淡文饼), Beh Teh Sor (马蹄酥), Heong Pneah (香饼), Pong Pneah (清糖饼) and Tau Sar Pneah (豆沙饼). Coconut tart, If you have eaten egg tart before then instead of the egg put in some coconut and voila! You get coconut tart and definitely the best is at Cintra Lane.
  • Cendol, or Chendol, is somewhat like ais kacang. Shaved ice is topped with mushy red beans, green colored rice flour noodles, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup (gula melaka). It is simple, sweet and satisfying, particularly on a hot sunny day.
  • Durian is a popular local fruit that is much loved or much hated depending on your taste. The odor of the fruit is distinctive and pungent with the flesh often described as rich, sweet and creamy by some while others liken it to warm garlic ice cream. Stalls in markets and by the roadside often sell pre-packaged flesh or the whole fruit itself. There are several fruit farms located around Balik Pulau which are good places to sample the fruit and to find out about the various durian varieties. You can also find durian in various sweets including ice creams, cakes and biscuits, with the flavor being much more subtle than the fruit itself.
  • Kaya is a jam-like spread made of eggs and coconut milk. Can really be spread on anything, but is often eaten for breakfast on toast. To impress the locals, order some kaya toast with runny eggs and a strong cup of coffee (kopi). You can also find kaya in many pastries and sweets.
  • Nutmeg (豆蔻) is commonly grown in Penang and a favorite among locals. Preserved nutmeg strips, either in dry or wet form, are eaten as a snack and the rind is used to make nutmeg juice or Lau Hau Peng. It is also used in traditional medicine, with nutmeg oil or balm used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems.


Penang is famous throughout the country for its Chinese bakeries. For ethnic Chinese tourists from Singapore or elsewhere in Malaysia, a visit to one of these bakeries is a must, and friends and office colleagues would generally be expecting some pastries as souvenirs from someone returning from a trip to Penang.

  • Don't carry valuables in motorbike-baskets.
  • Don't leave valuables in hotel rooms.
  • Don't place valuables on restaurant tables.
  • Do be wary of snatch-thieves - especially when wearing jewelry and/or carrying bags. Some of these felons practice the art of 'ride-by' snatching of ladies' handbags which can result in serious injury to the victim. So ladies: walk against traffic and keep the handbag on the side away from the road or better still, don't carry one.
  • Do be wary of the sometimes aggressive long-tail macaques at the botanical gardens.
  • Be careful about your surroundings in waters off Batu Ferringhi beach, where you may be harmed by unregulated jet skis or other water activities.

Shopping in Penang, Malaysia

Shopping malls

  • Bukit Jambul Complex, (Bukit Jambul area ). 414 shops, Mydin-hypermarket, food court, an amusement center, 6 cineplexes, and a 40-lane bowling alley.
  • Sunway Carnival Mall. On Mainland.

Outdoor markets

  • Flea Market at Lorong Kulit.
  • Pasar Malam (Night Market) (along Batu Ferringhi). 8 PM-12 midnight.
  • Little Penang Street Market (at Upper Penang Rd, near the E&O Hotel). 10 AM-5 PM. Held on the last Sunday of each month, the Little Penang Street Market has some unique wares, foods and souvenirs to purchase and is also a local arts and music event.

Safety in Penang, Malaysia

Penang is relatively a very safe place for travelers. However, as in most other places, Penang has its share of crime, so common precautions must be taken against snatch-thieves and scammers. Some other precautions:
  • Don't walk alone in dark and deserted places.
  • Don't accept rides from Kereta Sapu (passenger cars/unlicensed taxis).
  • Don't carry valuables in motorbike-baskets.
  • Don't leave valuables in hotel rooms.
  • Don't place valuables on restaurant tables.
  • Do be wary of snatch-thieves - especially when wearing jewelry and/or carrying bags. Some of these felons practice the art of 'ride-by' snatching of ladies' handbags which can result in serious injury to the victim. So ladies: walk against traffic and keep the handbag on the side away from the road or better still, don't carry one.
  • Do be wary of the sometimes aggressive long-tail macaques at the botanical gardens.
  • Be careful about your surroundings in waters off Batu Ferringhi beach, where you may be harmed by unregulated jet skis or other water activities.
Emergency numbers:
  • Ambulance - Police - Fire: ☎ 999
  • Rescue (Civil Defense): 991
  • All the abovementioned numbers: ☎ 112 from mobile phones
  • Tourist police:, ☎ +60 4 222-1522
  • Telegram service: ☎ 100
  • International and domestic operator assisted service: ☎ 101
  • Directory enquiry service: ☎ 103
  • Multilingual international service: ☎ 198

Language spoken in Penang, Malaysia

Almost all locals in Penang are able to speak Malay, the national language of Malaysia. The ethnic Chinese in Penang (who form the majority) usually speak a localized variant of Hokkien known as Penang Hokkien, which Minnan speakers from Taiwan and Fujian may have some difficulty understanding due to the slang and some loan words from Malay. Most ethnic Chinese are also able to speak Mandarin, and many are also able to speak Cantonese. Ethnic Indians usually converse with each other in Tamil and ethnic Malays usually converse with each other in Malay, but quite a good number of Indian and Malay Penangites can converse in Hokkien.

English is spoken fluently by most professionals and businessmen, as well as by service staff working in hotels and tourist attractions. Most other locals under the age of 50 will be able to communicate in broken English, supplemented by non-verbal forms of communication such as pointing and gesturing. When in doubt, gravitate toward younger locals, as the Commonwealth variety of English is a required subject in Malaysian schools. Nearly all teenagers or adults in their 20s or 30s should be able to speak reasonably fluent English.


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