on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular

Enlarge Map


Story and photos by

When people say Penang they usually mean Penang Island, rather than the State of Penang, which also includes Seberang Perai (previously Province Wellesley), a strip of land along the Malaysia west coast.

Khoo Kongsi Clan Temple
Khoo Kongsi Clan Temple
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Also called Pulau Pinang (Betel Nut Island) and Pearl of the Orient, Penang Island is located off the northwest coast of Malaysia, at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca.

Georgetown attractions

Many people travel to Georgetown, on the northeast coast, for cheap food at the Gurney Drive hawker stalls, New World Park Food Court and Esplanade Food Center.

Georgetown, Malaysia, is as multicultural as its food. In Chinatown (located between Lebuh Pantai and Jln Penang), we visited the Khoo Kongsi Clan Temple or Dragon Mountain Hall (address: 18 Cannon Square).

Porcelain dragons adorn the upturned edges of the pagoda roof on this meeting place and temple for Chinese with the surname Khoo. Chinese opera performances take place on the stage across the street.

A gilded sign marks the entranceway. Inside, a golden altar supports gold ancestral tablets with the names of Khoos, their professions and countries.

Little India

We found Bollywood music, sari and spice shops in Georgetown's Little India, located around Lebuh Pasar. Sri Mariamman Temple (address: Lebuh Pitt) has a 23.5-foot (seven-meter)-high entrance tower adorned with statues of Hindu deities. Built in 1883, it is Georgetown's oldest Hindu Temple.

Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple
Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Before leaving the capital of the State of Penang, we did a walking tour to see the colonial architecture in the oldest British settlement in Malaysia. Georgetown became a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2008.

What else to see and do

Kek Lok Si Temple is located at Air Itam, three miles (five kilometers) west of Georgetown. It is the most beautiful and largest Buddhist temple complex in Malaysia.

Thirty acres (12 hectares) in size, Kek Lok Si contains several temples, a vegetarian restaurant, souvenir stands and a cable car. The tiled temple roofs, long rows of Buddha statues with saffron robes and brass pots of smoking incense captured our attention for a half-day.

The seven-story 10,000 Buddhas Pagoda towers over fountains and statues of Buddha. The bottom tiers are Chinese architecture, the middle sections are Thai and the top dome is Burmese-style.

Moon Gate in Kek Lok Si Temple
Moon Gate in Kek Lok Si Temple
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

We walked through an elaborately decorated moon gate with a circular entranceway to more temples. Inside the temples, visitors lit incense sticks, which smoldered in front of gold Buddha statues on altars.

Less than two miles (three kilometers) away is Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera (Flag Hill). It takes two hours to walk up to the peak, which is 2,694 feet (821 meters) high.

A funicular train brought us up Penang Hill in 30 minutes. From here, we enjoyed the cool air, bird's-eye views of Georgetown and several hiking trails.

Penang State Mosque
Penang State Mosque
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Also located at Air Itam is the modern State Mosque or Masjid Negari, which has space for 5,000 people. Its golden dome-topped minaret is 164 feet (50 meters) in height.

Penang tour

Although Penang is only 112 square miles (290 square kilometers) in size, it took us a few days to circle the turtle-shaped island. We began our driving tour on the north coast, where several Batu Ferringhi hotels and resorts line the beaches.

Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort easily rivals top-notch hotels in Hawaii. From our room, we viewed palms and plumeria trees silhouetted against the sunset.

At Telok Bahang, a fishing village on the northwest coast of Penang, we watched fishermen return in the evening and unload their catches. After scooping fish from the hold, they dumped them into baskets, which they carried off the boat using shoulder poles.

Fishermen sort fish on boat in Telok Bahang.
Fishermen sort fish on boat in Telok Bahang.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Some of the fishermen sold their catches to seafood restaurants and hawker stalls. Others mended nets next to colorful fishing boats on the Straits of Malacca beach.

Butterfly Farm

Nearby, are hiking trails in Penang National Park and Teluk Bahang Forest Reserve. We stopped at the Penang Butterfly Farm, located 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) west of Georgetown.

The world's first tropical live butterfly exhibition houses up to 5,000 butterflies, comprising more than 150 species. The best time to see the butterflies is before or after noon, when they are very active.

We walked on a bridge over a pond in the greenhouse as a worker released butterflies after breeding. A large Atlas Moth landed like broach on a visitor's blouse.

Atlas Moth on orange flower at Penang Butterfly Farm.
Atlas Moth on orange flower at Penang Butterfly Farm.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Caterpillars eat two potted plants before becoming butterflies, so we need 8,000 new plants every two weeks," explained the employee. "Butterflies only live for two weeks."

Woman prays with joss sticks in Penang Snake Temple.
Woman prays with joss sticks in Penang Snake Temple.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Snake Temple

Southwest of Georgetown, at Sungai Kluang near Bayan Lepas Airport, is the Snake Temple or Pure Cloud Temple. As worshipers prayed, poisonous pit vipers draped themselves over branches on the altar, dazed by burning incense. More vipers slithered over tree branches in the interior courtyard.

The Wagler's pit vipers (scientific name: Tropidolaemus wagleri) arrived after the temple was built in 1850. They grow up to three feet (one meter) in length and live for up to 15 years. After visitors leave, the snakes eat the offerings left on the altar.

How do you get to Penang Island?

You can travel to Penang by car, bus, train, taxi, boat and flights to Bayan Lepas International Airport (code PEN). The ferry between Butterworth and Penang is 15 minutes long.

We drove from the Malaysia mainland on the toll bridge to Gelugor, Penang. Its length is 8.4 miles (13.5 kilometers), making it one of the longest bridges in the world.


Tourism Malaysia

Malaysia Airlines

More things to see & do in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur (KL) Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour

Day Trips from KL Malaysia to Batu Caves, Melaka and Genting Highlands

Cameron Highlands Resort — Green Roses and Boh Tea

Ramadan, Hari Raya, Eid — Muslim New Year in Malaysia

Lonely Planet Penang Guidebook