One thing I’m pretty useless at is checking the weather. I’ll get dressed before looking out the window. And realise that instead of a warm day there is a storm rolling in. This is exactly what I’ve done both times I’ve been to Penang. The random downpour and humid days did nothing to waiver the obsession that I have with this Island.
There’s a charm to Penang that makes me feel like I’ve been there a million times before. Like it’s a second home. Between my trip last year and this one it felt like nothing changed, within minutes I remembered how to get to most places (code for my favourite spot for India sweets – Thali NR).
If you have ever met someone who has been to Penang, before they talk about temples or beaches they will talk about the Food! There’s so much to try whether its Nyonya Cuisine (local food), the best Indian you’ll ever eat or even Thai food. I’ve never had a disappointing meal here.
There are two key places for tourism on the Island, Batu Ferringhi and George Town. We had five nights so we split out stay across the two places.
We started out at the Holiday Inn (Beach Wing) for a couple of days of relaxation, sunshine and cocktails. Arriving to a very loud reception due to ongoing construction made me doubt the choice. But all my fears dissipated by that evening – the staff were fantastic and I thought the hotel dealt well with minimising the disruption. The worst noise over the two days was during our check in. By sunset the noise had stopped and we were treated to a spectacular Penang sunset over the beach with a Pina Colada in hand – it was serenity.
And then it was dinner time. This meant a visit to two of my favourite places in the area. Outside the main strip of hotels there are these great night markets – the perfect spot to buy some gifts for people back home or a little something for yourself. I got very close to buying some cute earrings but then I found hat (finally!). I’d been looking for one for a few weeks and this one was perfect for Island exploring.
After walking through the shops we ended up at place number one – Long Beach Café. One thing people worry about when eating Hawker or street food is that it might not be clean. But looking at the selection of hawker stalls at Long Beach (or anywhere we ate like this) those concerns disappear. The food is amazing and there is so much variety (including western options) but I have two favourites that I was craving. We got a bowl of Asam Laksa and a fish biryani – it’s hands down some of the best Indian I’ve ever had.
The next stop was Bora Bora, a beach front bar. Is there anything better than having your feet in the sand, a cocktail and the sound of the waves? I don’t think so. Bora Bora is a favourite both with locals and tourists for a chill night filled with drinks and great vibes. It was also a short walk along the beach back to the Holiday Inn.
Our second day passed as most days pool side do and I managed to get some reading done as well (Check out this post to see what I was reading). A note about Holiday Inn, I was quite impressed with the food. It was reasonably priced and quite good.
For dinner we tried something different, instead of heading back to the hawker stalls we decided to turn the other direction from our hotel to what that had to offer. We ended up at Living Room bar and café where I finally found some Hainanese Spring Rolls. The atmosphere here was great, and they had someone performing random rock songs with his guitar and the staff were so friendly.
We ended up relaxing by the beach at our hotel when I was spotted dancing along to the performers at our hotel – apparently they were happy to have some enjoying themselves and dedicated their next song to me and Seb – so we danced in the hotel café for a couple of songs.
Our last morning in the area was spent at Penang National Park. Seb is a complete nature freak and loves hiking so we added in this little stop. Entrance is free to the park, you only have to register at the office but if you don’t want to hike there are boat options as well. We decided to hike one way and the boat back with a stop to another part of the park.
The hike to Turtle beach was actually a lot of the fun. The trail isn’t particularly hard expect trying to figure out the map. It was super pretty along the way and then at the end there is the gorgeous beach!
Instead of chilling at the beach we went to the turtle sanctuary before catching our boat to Monkey Beach. Sadly, I couldn’t find any monkeys hanging around. But I did find a coconut and a hammock which was more than enough to make me happy.
In my opinion the best way to see George Town is to pick a direction and walk. The area is a UNESCO Heritage zone so you’ll stumble on hundreds of amazing things and learn so much about Penang’s history. Never mind the street art – almost everything street in the area has some kind of art. Also a tip for seeing the more popular pieces of street art – go late at night or early morning. It’s much easier than waiting in line to get a look and your picture – we went for a stroll around 10pm one night.
For out time in George Town I booked the Reunion Heritage Hotel, a new boutique hotel. I loved the space, the rooms were beautifully decorated, with a bathroom that I hope I’ll have in my home one day! Also the breakfast was great – they have a small al a carte menu (recommend the waffles) and then toast, fruit and juice/tea that you can help yourself to.
After checking in and cleaning off the hike we headed out to explore. Our first stop was one of the clan jetties (Lee Jetty). The view was great and we arrived in time to watch the beginnings of the sunset.
Our next stop was Little India where we stopped for some snacks at the street stall of savoury Indian nibbles. We ended up grabbing drinks and walking through a market and art installation for the Hot Air Balloon Festival.
In the months before the trip I became obsessed with Anthony Bourdain, particularly No Reservations, all I wanted was to be able to go to the places he went and do the things he did. So when I landed in Penang I had a list of places that I had to go see and/or eat at. Which is how I ended up at CF Hawker Centre eating noodles while watching a band preform Rasputin by Boney M. It was quite odd in the most fabulous way to be eating crispy noddles and watching this trio in their army themed outfits singing.
The next day we spent the morning wandering around town to with the goal of finding the blue mansion and a quick stop in at the chocolate museum (and indulged in some free samples). Our greatest discovery of the morning was the Rainforest Bakery home to delicious cream puffs and mango smoothies. We loved it so much we came back the next day!
Our afternoon was spent hitting all the key temples in Penang. First we headed to Dharmikarama Burmese Temple and Wat Chaiyamangalaran Thai temple. Both so these are interesting temples to visit. The Thai temple is home to a reclining Buddha, while the Burmese temple is more education but also had pretty grounds to walk through.
After that we headed to Kek Lok Si Temple where we spent the most time. Not only is the temple stunning the Pagoda offers a spectacular view of Penang.
There is also a giant statue of Quan Yin to have a look at. Plus a garden filled with statues from the Chinese Zodiac. It’s a must visit in Penang.
Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple (A Hindu temple) was up next and required a climb up 512 stairs which seems to be a common theme in Hindu temples in Malaysia (Batu Caves?). I don’t know if the temple is essential visiting but if you have the time it’s pretty and the view isn’t bad either. Also being a Hindu temple the architecture is quite different to the other temples.
We stopped for an early dinner at Red Garden where we tried an oyster omelette (highly recommended it). The rest of the evening was spent hunting down the other temples or religious sites within George Town itself such as St George Church. To end our night we stopped in Love Lane to have a few drinks during happy hour. We got a table outside the bar so we could people watch while we enjoyed our Tiger Beer. A quick stop at the Chulia Street stalls for takeaway Char Kway Teow and we were ready for bed.
Our final day was a bit more relaxed and we started the day by getting our laundry done, luckily coin laundries are easy to find in George Town. We spent most of our time looking for street art we missed and I made a mess while eating this delicious flavoured ice ball. This was the only day where we were affected by the stormy weather as it started to rain and we retreated to the hotel for the afternoon.
That night I discovered my favourite Penang dish – Nasi Kandar. It’s amazing, and despite not understanding how to order I ended up with food that blew my mind.
We chose the place because as a rule if the locals are lining up the food will be worth it. And Liyaqat Ali Nasi Kandar was definitely worth it. For mine, I ordered chicken, fish, cabbage and it came with rice and a mixture of gravies. I ate everything on my plate and was very tempted to get seconds.
And that was it, the next morning we packed our bags and flew to Vietnam. It took me 11 months between my last two trips to Penang. I wonder how long I’ll be able to stay away….