My name is Kenny Ng. I’m a true-blue island boy from a laid-back coastal state of Malaysia called Penang. I enjoy the occasional run of exploring creative arts, namely: visual photography. My interest was sparked early on in life with the influence of my late-father who used to delve into different photography dimensions such as films and analog cameras.
As for myself, the era of Instagram (follow me here: @_kengky) got me hooked on mobile photography and subsequently on more serious mediums like DSLR’s and drones. Through this passion of mine, I was blessed to have the opportunity to meet new people and exchange ideas.
Why Visit Penang in Malaysia
Whenever I think of Penang I always associate it with warm, colourful and vibrant characters. In many ways, this extraordinary Malaysian state has always reminded me of a blank canvas with a mix of colours – where every tone has a story to tell yet everything seems to gel together cohesively.
As a destination, it’s a melting-pot waiting to tell its story in every nook and cranny. Living here full time also means I get to explore and listen to these stories, which is something travellers can experience too. The only catch is that travellers will have to slow down and listen to the locals mindfully.
There are many places I love in Penang and the state offers endless opportunities for photography – whether it be in the city with colonial and new buildings, coastal areas with amazing beaches, paddy fields where you can shoot the ‘kampong life’ and mountains where you can go hiking.
My favourite icon, although difficult to choose, would be the Penang Bridge connecting the island to the mainland. Throughout my photography years, I have shot the Penang Bridge at different times and these photos are always close to my heart. They remind me of the concepts of bridging differences, merging ideas and respecting cultures.
Amazing Things To Do in Penang
I would recommend that all travellers to Penang visit the inner parts of George Town (capital of Penang) where they can explore the old streets by foot to see the amazing street murals, taste the hawker food prepared by different cultures and experience a fun rickshaw ride through the city.
George Town was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site back in 2008 and is even famous for a harmonious street called Pitt Street (Malay: Jalan Kapitan Keling) which houses an Islamic mosque, a Taoist temple, an Anglican church and also an Indian temple. It’s a melting-pot of culture.
Visitors should also check out the Pinang Peranakan Mansion to learn the history of the Baba and Nyonya culture which are prominent only in the Straits settlements: Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Then I would recommend the soft sandy beaches of Batu Ferringhi for total relaxation.
If travellers are seeking an adventure then taking a hike in Penang National Park is recommended. Here you can discover another beautiful beach at the end of your journey called Kerachut Beach. It offers stunning views of the ocean and is regarded as one of Penang’s best.
A trip to Balik Pulau is another must-do in the state of Penang. This is the most laid-back town in Penang where travellers can experience the ‘kampong life’ with lush paddy fields in sight while riding an ATV quad bike, durian estates to visit, a sheep farm and the nutmeg factory to experience.
Then there is the Penang Hill where you can view the island from the highest point. On the hill itself, pay a visit to The Habitat to immerse in nature and look out for the Langur Monkey and Black Giant Squirrel. Travellers can also take a ride on the tram to visit the Kek Lok Si Temple.
In the evenings, one can experience the cafe-lifestyle and go bar-hopping around the streets of Love Lane or Chulia Street in George Town. These are just some of the highlights and attractions of Penang but the state offers many more hidden gems and local secrets just waiting to be discovered.
Mixing with the Locals of Penang
The local people of Penang are friendly, helpful and easy to mingle with. Never ones to shy away from questions, travellers are always welcome to ask about the history of the state and the next best place to visit. You can also ask us about where to find the best local places to eat, drink and shop.
As Penangites grow up in a multi-racial culture, most local people are polyglots who are fluent in at least three languages: English, Malay and the local dialect of Hokkien. So you should have no problems conversing with the majority of people in English if that is your native tongue.
The best way to immerse in the culture would be to stay for a few nights in the heart of George Town. Here you can explore the city on foot, try out the hawker-style food passed down from generation to generation, ask questions to the locals and listen to their stories. There is also the option of going on the Hop On/Hop Off City Tour to go around the island.
Explosive and Vibrant Food Culture
Penang is known to be a state where you can eat five times a day from dusk until dawn and even more in the wee hours! Most dishes are explosive in taste and vibrant in colour. There are simply too many options to choose from. Chinese food from various ethnicities can be explored here while Nasi Kandar (native to Penang) can be spotted on every corner.
There are also other street food delights like the Nyonya Laksa, Char Kway Teow, Nasi Lemak, Hokkien Mee and desserts like Ais Kacang and Cendol to spoil your taste buds. Not to forget, a visit to Penang is never complete without braving the smell and taste of the king of fruits – the Durian!
Best Accommodation Options
Depending on your plans, I would recommend beachside hotels like the Hard Rock Hotel or even Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa which entitles guests to a butler service if they choose the Rasa Wing.
In the inner district of George Town, I would advise to stay in one of the heritage buildings for a night like the Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion, Seven Terraces or Eastern & Oriental Hotel for something luxurious.
For a stay up Penang Hill, one may consider staying in a colonial lodge previously owned by the British. To experience a night in an eco-lodge you could also consider Bao Sheng Durian Farm guesthouse in Balik Pulau where a self-proclaimed Durian sommelier readily introduces the different types of durians to his guests for an incredible taste-testing journey.
Experience Thaipusam in Penang
One of my favourite memories of Penang was the time my father brought my family downtown to see a Thaipusam festival (celebrated by the Indian community). There were people of different cultures praying to the Indian deities, and carrying the Kavadi (ceremonial act of devotion through dance, food and offerings) and chariots up towards the famous Hilltop Temple.
The festival lasted three days in which, on the last day, there was a coconut smashing ceremony through the streets of Penang. It was not only a grand sight but also an incredible sound to hear. For my ten year old self, it was the best experience of my life so far. I highly recommend this festival and street procession if you are in Penang while the festival is on.
Need to Know Before you Go
I have two major tips for your trip to Penang. Firstly, check the Malaysian calendar and ensure you bring sunscreen, bug spray and wet weather gear. My second tip is to check for any public holidays for a chance to catch a local festival. There are four major religions represented in Penang.
This Malaysian state holds many local religious and cultural festivals throughout the year. You may just be in luck to experience one of them during your visit. Thanks for reading my Penang travel guide. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or would like more information!