Once known as Betel Nut Island, Penang has been a melting pot of traders and artisans since the British East India Company discovered the charms of this spice island back in 1786. A Malaysian state, Penang is on the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, on the Malaccan Strait. The capital George Town is so unique it’s been made a World Heritage site. From straits architecture to food and shopping, our three-day itinerary shows there’s plenty to discover in Penang.
Day 1: Penang Temples
Buddhist temples, Christian churches, Hindu temples and mosques – Penang’s multicultural history is evident at every turn. The largest Buddhist complex of temples and pagodas in Southeast Asia is Kek Lok Si , while one of the world’s largest reclining Buddhas stretches out at the Thai Wat Chayamankalaram. A standing Buddha peers over the Burmese Dharmmikarama Temple nearby. Chinese traditions are preserved at Khoo Kongsi, and Kapitan Keling Mosque rubs shoulders with St George’s Anglican Church and the Sri Mariamman Hindu temple.
Day 2: Eat Street
Malaysian hawker food is a highlight of any visit to Penang. To discover the traditions of Nyonya (or Peranakan) cuisine, start with a spicy bowl of assam laksa soup, choosing from tangy tamarind or creamy coconut milk. A blend of Chinese ingredients and Malay spices, Nyonya cuisine features lemongrass, kaffir lime, shallots, rice and galangal. Char koay teow noodles are a popular street dish, wok-frying seafood and chicken, and hokkien mee combines noodles and prawns with memorable results. For the best choice, head to the Gurney Drive Hawker Center or Chew Jetty floating market.
Day 3: Marine Park Snorkel
Pulau Payar Marine Park protects the waters surrounding Peninsular Malaysia’s west coast, for perfect snorkeling in pristine conditions. Catch a speedy catamaran from Penang to dive into waters thronged with parrotfish and damselfish swimming amongst the coral. You can hire jet skis and canoes on Penang’s beaches, from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, or take an offshore excursion to the white-sand Monkey Beach for fun, sea and sand.