Food, temples, beaches and trishaws in Penang!
Malaysia is a fascinating country; it is a melting pot of cultures and is rich in history. On the small island of Penang the infusion of cultures and colourful history is visible everywhere. Just off the west coast of the Malaysian Peninsula, the island is easily accessible from the mainland via the iconic Penang Bridge or by the ferry; alternatively you can fly to the island.
Penang is of course a tropical island getaway with idyllic beaches; but the island’s main city, George Town, is bustling and full of interesting sights. George Town was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, when it was acknowledged as having developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. These years of trading have brought both European and Asian heritages to the island, from the architecture and temples to the food served on the street and in the restaurants.
A great way to get around the George Town is by trishaw. My driver must have been about 80 years old! I could not get over it, but he was a fit as a fiddle. He swiftly took me around the city, weaving through all of the traffic. It was pretty hair-raising at times, but an excellent experience!
Because of Penang’s mix of cultures you will find temples from all religions in George Town. One of the most impressive is Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia standing on the hilltop at Air Itam. Khoo Kongsi was built over 650 years ago; it is one of the island’s most lavishly decorated kongsis. Penang Snake Temple is another interesting place; a Buddhist place of worship, the temple is home to a number of green tree snakes and Wagler’s pit vipers. Not recommended for people with a phobia of snakes! Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple on the island. Its façade is beautifully adorned with precious stones.
If you are a foodie, then Penang is the place for you! Penang Tourism have produced an excellent guide to food in Penang, click here. In Penang you’ll find a blend of Indian, Chinese, European and of course Malay food available. Some of the best meals can be found at the hawker stands on the street. Tuck into a spicy bowl of Malay laksa soup, steaming noodles served in a sweet and spicy coconut broth, usually topped with seafood, chicken and egg. Yum, this is my favourite! Nyonya cuisine is also a ‘must try’ whilst on the island. Nyonya cuisine is a blend of Chinese and Malay cooking styles, and in Penang it also has Thai influences. For dessert you should try an Ais Kacang, a refreshing shaved ice dessert served with red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly, syrup and condensed milk.
After all of this action and food in the city it is definitely a good idea to take a few days to relax on the coast. The most popular beach destination is Batu Ferringhi, where there is plenty going on day and night. If you want something on the quieter side then Teluk Behang and Penang National Park are a good choice. At Penang National Park you can walk through virgin rainforest and relax on quiet beaches. Pure heaven!
Where to stay?
Hostelling International Malaysia has one hostel on Penang. The hostel is located in George Town. Click here for more details >>
Image credit: Flickr user_mikecogh