Penang: The Modern Island Life

By Nikita Shankar | Places in Malaysia

When most people think of Malaysia, chances are they’re thinking of the Petronas Towers, the luscious rainforests and wildlife in the country or the island of Penang.

Today, it’s Penang we’re going to talk about, and why so many people call this beautiful state their home and holiday getaway.

Penang is an eclectic mix of cultures and lifestyles, and this is something that makes it a very unique place to experience. Also known as the ‘Silicon Valley of the East’, the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ and ‘Food Paradise’, Penang’s description in a few phrases would include ‘diverse cultural heritage’, ‘amazing food options’, ‘tranquil beaches’ and ‘a tropical nirvana’.

Credit: Ah Wei (Lung Wei)

Popular Locales in Penang

So let’s break it down this way. Penang is a state in Malaysia, and it’s divided into two halves - Penang Island and Seberang Perai, a narrow stretch of mainland. Within these two halves lies the true beauty of Penang, and some of the well-known areas include:

George Town

George Town, the capital of the state, is a city that houses historic charm with a decidedly quirky atmosphere. Steeped with hundreds of years of history, the British colonial architecture perfectly complements the many Chinese-style shop-lots in the city.

In 2008, UNESCO named George Town a World Heritage Site, and the best way to witness this heritage would be to roam around the streets of this city. The one thing that makes this city so unique is the modern street art you can find in the nooks and crannies of the streets. These murals are always the talk of the town, and you can find many tourists (and even locals!) strolling around George Town’s by-lanes in search of these artistic wonders. If walking is not up your alley, then you can grab a trishaw and have a thrilling ride around the city.

Credit: roman korzh

Butterworth

Butterworth is situated opposite Georgetown, and the Penang Ferry Service and the Penang Bridge connect the two.

Butterworth plays an important role in acting as the main transportation hub between Penang Island and the rest of Malaysia. It even houses the main railway station in the state, and offers easy access to catch a train to Thailand.

This side of the land is highly industrialised, and you can find many oils refineries, manufacturing plants and factories. However there has been development of residential areas such as Sebarang Jaya nearby.

Batu Ferringhi

This part of Penang is the perfect holiday destination for many. Essentially, Batu Ferringhi is a stretch of land running adjacent to the Indian Ocean, and you can find a whole bunch of hotels, restaurants, and other tourist attractions along the coast. Recently, there has been rapid construction of condos in the area as well. Here you can perform all your water sport activities from para-sailing to fishing, eat at some of the best local sea-food joints and enjoy a relaxing day by the beach.

Penang - The Food Paradise

In Penang, food is a religion cherished by all. From western culinary delights to local, authentic dishes, there’s no dearth of food options in Penang.

Long Beach Cafe

Long Beach Cafe in Batu Ferringhi offers a wide range of cuisines all under one roof. Akin to a food court, this outdoor cafe has food stalls lined up next to each other, creating a chaotic atmosphere rich with local and continental specialties.

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

The Gurney Drive Hawker Centre accumulates Malaysia’s best dishes and presents it to you in a crowded street teeming with food-stalls, people and the aroma of local delicacies. Be prepared to play a bit of musical chairs trying to find a table since this place is always crowded, but the lively ambience and great food options make up for the din.

Credit: phuiyin

The Best Bakeries Around

It might sound absurd but on this island you can eat some of the best baked goods in the country! From patisseries, boulangeries and local cafes, you can find some great artisan bread right here in Penang. Head on down to Yin's Sourdough Bakery & Cafe, Love A Loaf Bakery Cafe or Mon Delice Patisserie for your carb cravings!

PropertyLife Tip: When you’re in George Town and craving some dessert, look no further than Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul. This small food cart is located in the by-lane of Jalan Penang and you can always find a queue here for the coconut milk dessert.

Penang - The Economic Hub

Penang is certainly not the sleepy island one might imagine. While tourism is still one of it’s major industries, Penang specialises in manufacturing as well. Various international brands, particularly in the electronics sector such as Motorola, Bosch and Dell, have set up their plants in Butterworth and Bayan Lepas.

Penang is seeing a whole lot of foreign investment into the state, and this will only help this island grow and prosper. One of the reasons why Penang has become so industrialised is because of its convenient infrastructure and location. Back in the day, Penang acted as a gateway between Europe, Middle East and Asia, with the Penang Port still being an important spot for trade today.

What To Do When You’re On The Island

Penang Butterfly Farm

Penang Butterfly Farm is not only a major tourist attraction in the state, but also acts as a primary educational hub for the study of insects. On par with international standards, this butterfly farm is home to some very exotic butterfly species. This is one attraction that the children love, where you can personally interact and play with butterflies and other insects.

This tropical ecosystem also breeds various butterfly species, and offers a fun interactive and educational experience! Edutainment at it’s best!

Penang Hill

One of the oldest hill-stations in South East Asia (it dates back to the 1700s!), Penang Hill is a lovely resort getaway from the city life of George Town.

At the peak of this hill you’ll find restaurants, an owl museum, a Hindu temple and a wonderful viewing deck that gives you a 360-degree view of George Town, Penang Bridge and the rest of the island.

While you can drive up to the top, the fastest (and frankly the most exciting) way to get up would be to make use of the Penang Hill train. This train ride takes you about half an hour to reach the peak from the base, and the thirty minutes is spent viewing the magnificent scenery as you ascend. You can also try your hand at trekking up the hill, and witness the amazing flora and fauna that resides in Penang Hill.

The Beaches

Being an island, Penang is host to numerous beaches, each with it’s own merits and demerits. Batu Feringghi is one of the more popular and commercialised seaside attractions where you can find water sports, night markets and local hawkers on the sandy shore. Tanjung Bungah is another famous beach that offers a more rocky landscape. Starting off as a fishing village back in the day, nowadays Tanjung Bungah beach has provisions for kayaking, canoeing and other water activities.

For a more serene experience at the beach, you can visit the island of Jerejak. Jerajak Island, once a prison island (Penang’s very own Alcatraz, maybe?), has been converted into a recreational facility with a resort and spa set in the midst of a thriving rainforest.

You can also try Monkey Beach, a remote beach on the northwest of the island accessible by boat. If you’re lucky, you can come across the crab eating Macques monkey among other wildlife at this beach.

Snake Temple

Located in Bayan Lepas, this snake temple is certainly not for the faint of heart. While you won’t find pythons and cobras running (slithering?) amok all over the temple walls and floor, you will find poisonous pit vipers tangled in branches and nestled in corners.

None-the-less, this is a visit worth experiencing, with the temple’s ornate structure and history. You can also see some pythons further into the temple and have some snakes wrapped around you for a picture. Lucky for us, there haven’t been any reports of visitors being bitten!

Credit: Suhaimi Hassan

Gurney Drive

This waterfront walkway is one of the most popular attractions in Penang, and is a favourite haunt for locals and tourists. Gurney Drive comes alive at nighttime, where you’ll find local hawkers, shopping centres, restaurants and arcades lining this promenade. Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon are two of the well-known shopping malls in Penang. Other than the great nightlife, you’ll also find some very beautifully decorated temples such as Dharmikarama Burmese Temple and Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Temple in the vicinity.

Penang Bridge

While the ferry ride to get to Penang Island may sound more attractive, the Penang Bridge connecting Seberang Perai and George Town might change your mind. This 13.5 km stretch is built over the strait of Penang and is the second longest bridge in Malaysia! Driving across seems like an endless journey, one that’s pronounced with the wonderful views of the water on either side.

Top Hotels in Penang

With tourism as its major front, Penang is home to some of the best beach resorts. Some of the favoured hotels include:

  • Hard Rock Hotel
  • Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort
  • Lone Pine Hotel
  • G Hotel Kelawai
  • Eastin Hotel
  • Park Royal Hotel
  • Holiday Inn Resort
  • Le Dream Boutique Hotel
  • Seven Terraces

Make Penang Your Home

Relocating to Penang for local Malaysians and even foreigners is quite a popular and attractive choice. The great food, relatively low cost of living, the natural landscape, the strategic location and infrastructure of Penang all make it a very viable option for many.

One downside to investing in Mainland Penang would be the higher minimum purchasing price as a foreigner. It’s double the price (RM 2 million) compared to other parts of Malaysia. You can check out our article on buying restrictions for foreigners here.

Even-though most of Penang is an island; it’s very well connected by road, rail, sea and air. The Penang Bridge 1 connects Georgetown and Seberang Perai while Penang Bridge 2 connects from Batu Muang to Batu Kawan. You can catch the ferry from the Penang Port between Mainlaind and the island, or you can hop on to a train taking you to the rest of Malaysia and neighbouring countries from the Butterworth railway station. Lastly, you can always take a flight from the Penang International Airport that is around 16 kilometres away from George Town.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring Penang! Penang is the perfect cocktail of diverse cultures and experiences, and the streets of this state always have a story to offer its visitors.

A mere article would do no justice to the island that is Penang, so be sure to head out here and let us know what you think of this wonderful place!

About the Author

Born in India, raised all over the world, I’m currently based here in Malaysia, truly enjoying this Asian enclave. Starting off as a fiction writer for many online publishing sites, I’ve moved on to following one of my major passions: Copywriting. For more than a few years now I’ve worked with companies to create some great web content, particularly in the real-estate field. From reviewing property developments to writing home improvement articles, I do believe the property world is my calling. When I’m not holed up behind a computer screen, you can find me reading a good book, gallivanting across the globe or merely listening to some tunes on my iPod.