Hi – we are back from our first trip to Penang and wanted to thank all those who helped with our questions prior to the trip – we had an amazing time in Penang and look forward to going back to continue exploring!
I thought I would outline our experiences – hopefully they help others with planning their Penang adventures – sorry if it’s too long.
My husband and I visited for 8 nights (17-26th April). 3 nights ParkRoyal BF + 5 nights Traders GT. Malaysian Airlines from Brisbane-KL & KL-Penang arriving about 8.30am at Penang airport.
Bags were checked all the way to Penang, we transferred to the domestic terminal in KL(10mins) then went through immigration/passport control as we entered the domestic terminal (no queues at that time of day, no forms to fill in – just fingerprints taken on scanner).
On arrival at Penang we collected our bags and put them through the x-ray machines – very quick and easy – and out the arrival door.
Found the taxi counter very easily and they directed us upstairs to the money changer to change some AUD to MYR (rate 2.66) for the taxi fare. Paid for the taxi back at the taxi counter and they handed over a receipt which we passed to the man at the taxi rank, right outside from the taxi counter. Easy, and all the rates to different destinations are clearly shown.
74MYR - Airport to ParkRoyal BF – no queues at the taxi stand – straight on the road and the traffic was free-flowing all the way – 1 hour trip.
We arrived at ParkRoyal just after 10am. We left our bags and walked along the road to find some breakfast and luckily they had a room ready for us when we returned at 11am.
Will post a separate review for the ParkRoyal, but we were very happy with our stay there.
Breaking the stay between BF & GT was perfect for us. It gave us a few days of relaxing time before we hit the hustle & bustle of GT. It also meant that we reduced travel time to various sights by doing the north from BF and then once we got to GT we didn’t need to travel north again.
BF beach (at least close to ParkRoyal) is in better condition than we were expecting from what we’d read. Certainly I wouldn’t swim in the ocean (although plenty of people were swimming in the enclosure in front of the hotel), but it was pretty to look at & I also enjoyed watching the para-sailing and banana boat riders. Yes there is some noise from those activities but it didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the grounds at ParkRoyal. Sunset is lovely.
We converted AUD cash to MYR at the little booth (Ruhanmas Forex) opposite ParkRoyal. Go directly over the road from the hotel, up the slight driveway and it’s in that little group of shops. Rate 2.97 – efficient service.
Our 3 days in BF were mainly for relaxing and checking out the night markets. We also did the following:
Local Bus to Tropical Spice Garden: We waited about 10 minutes for the bus (stop right over the road from ParkRoyal) and the trip was a quick 5 minutes to be dropped at the front of Spice Garden.
Bus fare 1.40MYR pp each way (We had 3RM so didn’t get any change – ok by us). Entry to the garden is either 27MYR pp with an Audio Guide, or 35pp for a Guided Tour. We chose the guided tour, but they do only go about 4 or 5 times a day (sorry I didn’t record the actual times). We did the 1.30pm tour – we had arrived at 12.30 so we went up to Tree Monkey for lunch first (highly recommend doing this – if you don’t want a meal at least go up for a drink – it’s a lovely setting amongst the trees looking down to the sea).
We started the tour with only the guide and ourselves but after about 10 minutes another group joined us. I enjoyed having the guide to answer questions – worth the extra $$. It seemed a bit rushed towards the end, so ideally we should have had a bit of a look around by ourselves too – but it was pretty hot so we were happy to leave at the end of the tour and head back to the pool!
Bus back to ParkRoyal – we waited across the road from the Spice Garden entrance for about 15 minutes for the bus to come past.
Explore Balik Pulau Cycling Tour (60MYR pp including transport to & from Balik Pulau): The guy that runs the cycling tour picked us up at 7am and drove us to Balik Pulau – about 45min along a winding mountain road which I really enjoyed just for the views. Highly recommend this tour – we cycled for 2 ½ hours (all flat) – through rural Malay & Chinese Villages, fruit orchards, mangrove areas (saw wild monkeys), out to the river mouth, past a fishing village& rice paddies. Lots of stops to enjoy the surrounds & take photos. The guide was really interesting – telling us about the rural lifestyles on this side of the island. The cool breeze as you cycle along quiet lanes & bush makes it a really pleasant time. I understand there is soon to be major development in this area so get there and experience it while you can! It is just a small business and I think they really deserve all the business they can get.
After we finished cycling our guide took us to the Nutmeg Farm on the way back to BF. The owners here go out of their way to tell you all about their product & you can try Nutmeg in all its guises. Worth a stop.
After 3 nights in BF we were heading to GT and Traders Hotel. We booked a driver for the day (Morgan – one of the drivers highly recommended on Trip Advisor @ 25MYR/hr) as my husband wanted to go over to the mainland to see the Harley Davidson Showroom. Morgan picked us up promptly at 10am and on our drive to the Ferry terminal he pointed out places of interest & we had a good chat about the area. We took the car ferry over to the mainland – I enjoyed the 15 minutes out on the water – you get a great perspective of the city – the old & new. Even if you aren’t heading to the mainland I would say it’s a nice little trip out on the water. On our drive to the Harley shop we talked about possible things we wanted to see and put together a plan with Morgan to drive us the next day too. We drove back to Penang via the “New” bridge – about 25kms long! The fish farms off to the side of the new bridge looked interesting – I wonder if you can take a tour out there to look around?
Once off the bridge we were close to Batu Maung so made a stop at the little temple famous for its giant footprint over-looking the fishermen’s port. This beach and the temple perched over it are being invaded with new development, so it is no longer the sleepy fishing village atmosphere we were expecting. Each culture in Penang has its own story as to who or what the footprint belongs to. There’s not much else to see there, but it was fun to stop by & the fishing port was interesting to watch too.
Then a stop at the War Museum (35MYR pp) as it was also close to the new bridge. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea but if you enjoy history in its rawest state give it a try (don’t forget your mozzie repellant). Essentially these are the old fortifications built before WW2 that were abandoned after the war and the jungle had taken the area back, until it was partially cleared for tourism use. I loved walking in & around the old ruins with the jungle still creeping in around the edges. A few pictures & descriptions are placed around – but go & let your imagination take you back in time – don’t expect a slick historical lesson.
So that took us to about 2pm and Morgan dropped us at Trader’s for our check-in. I will do a review for Trader’s separately, but again we were really happy with our stay here.
Next day Morgan picked us up at 8am. I wanted to see the Air Itam wet market so he dropped us there first so we could have a good look around while the market was still in full swing. I love to wander among the fresh produce – meat, seafood, vegies & fruit of every description. The seafood hall just smelled of the sea – so fresh. The stall-holders all seemed happy for us to be there, we got lots of smiles.
Then to Penang Hill (30MYR pp) – walked straight to the ticket counter and got on the next train up the hill. NO wait/queue whatsoever – it was about 9.30am on a Tuesday. The ride up is very fast and very steep – even if you don’t have much time the ride up and the view at the top is worth the 10 bucks I think. We thought we’d do a bit of a walk, initially got lost and I think we started walking down the hill!! Then we actually looked at the map we had and worked out where the main paths were. We both loved the walking trails up there & could have easily spent most of the day. Next visit will put aside a day for the hill – go up early and walk some trails then have some lunch up there too. If you like bush-walking maybe allow more time (don’t forget water & mozzie repellant). We saw some monkeys on one of the side trails we walked (not sure how common that is). The paths are very well laid concrete surfaces, but there are plenty of steep up & downs if you go off the main “road”.
No queues for the train down either, but we noticed it was getting busier with arrivals when we were leaving. Nice to have the trails to yourselves earlier in the day.
Then to Kek Lok Si – Morgan suggested he drive us all the way up to the very top – he dropped us right at the massive Goddess Statue and then we were able to amble our way down the various levels. Great way to do this temple & we only had to pay for the escalator thing one-way (3MYR pp). The architecture & grounds are amazing in places – but just far too commercial for our enjoyment.
Made a stop for the famous Assam Laksa at Air Itam but it was closed for the day (Tuesday).
I had read about an old family business that makes Soya Sauce (Thin Seng Factory), and Morgan was able to take us to their house. The daughter could speak English and she explained the process involved with the big vats of soya beans fermenting in the sun. We got to taste a couple of different soy’s (dark & light) straight from the big barrels, and I brought 2 bottles to take home. A real high-light seeing this cottage industry still alive & well.
We also stopped at the Coffee & Chocolate factory – all Malaysian made products. If you like coffee there are about 30 different varieties to try (eg coconut, tiramisu). Also numerous types of chocolate. A bit touristy but air-conditioned comfort is nice after sweating it out at the temples, and a good souvenir to bring home of a taste of Malaysia.
Then we visited the Burmese & Thai temples (across the road from one another). The reclining Buddha is impressive and the gardens of the Burmese temple are interesting to wander around. A short stop at these two was worthwhile but Hubby pleaded “templed out” after this.
Lunch at New World Food Park on the way back to the hotel and that was a busy 6 hours done & dusted! For other first timers I think my number one tip would be to allow more time than you think to get through your list of sights – don’t try to cram too much into one day – you under-estimate the amount of time it takes to get from place to place and also how much the heat slows you down too.
I also think a good guide is a god-send – Morgan really helped us to maximize our time & make the most of our two days with him.
Our final “organized” day was a 4 hour food tour with “Food Tour Malaysia/Food Tour Penang” (160MYRpp): 10am – 2pm of food glorious food! It was just our food guide (Zoe) & the two of us. Zoe drove us around her favorite food haunts & taught us about the people & history behind the food. We had a walk around Pilau Tikus markets first thing then made 4 different stops around the general GT area and tried probably 20 different dishes! Zoe customized the day & food she ordered for us based on our food preferences & flavor interests. It is an absolute must-do day. We went to little stalls that we would never have gone by ourselves, and finished the day with a real understanding of the food of Penang. You can also book this tour as a breakfast tour or a dinner tour so next time we visit I think we will book again for a dinner tour. Do this!
We then had two days to walk GeorgeTown: I think I could keep exploring for a week & still be fascinated by the streets, history, people & architecture. We had a map showing the route for the free CAT bus and made good use of that to jump between places when it suited. Never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. Some of the things we saw:
We really enjoyed Fort Cornwallis – 2MYR pp entry: (similar to the war museum in that it is raw history, not a theme-park attraction) & the old protestant cemetery. Both of these are just calling out for you to wander around and imagine them in their day. I guess you are either into that stuff or not!
We did a tour of the Cheong Fat Tze Mansion (16MYR pp). It lasted an hour and the tour guide was really into the history & stories of the mansion. It was a good tour & a beautiful mansion – I would actually like to spend a night there in their BnB.
We mapped out a route for the Street Art & Wrought Iron Sculptures – great way to see little parts of the city that you might not otherwise go to. We were impressed with all the art & enjoyed reading the stories that went with the sculptures.
We walked around Chowrasta market one morning & found the old man that still makes the spring roll wrappers from his shop –front.
We walked up & down about 4 of the Clan Jetties. The big one (?Chew) was very commercial/lined with stalls so make sure you walk a few of the others too to experience the quiet serenity of life over the water.
So between all the sights – yes – we ate plenty too! I enjoyed looking at the food being prepped by the artisans on their carts almost as much as I enjoyed eating my way around! I can do a separate report on the places & things we ate if people are interested, but honestly there is just so much out there & it’s so cheap you really can’t go wrong!
We took Ethical Nutrients Travel Bug before & during our trip and had no form of tummy upset whatsoever. Usually when we travel I get an upset tummy at some stage so I am forever a convert to this magic tablet.
The mozzies were pretty ferocious in many places we visited, so make sure you carry mozzie repellant when you are out & about.
We usually took a taxi at night to where we wanted to eat, then wandered back to the hotel after. From Traders it seemed to be 10MYR to go anywhere we were headed. Most expensive cab was 18MYR which was from Gurney Plaza back to Traders one afternoon.
The best rate for exchange we got was 3.00 in GT. The hotel was exchanging for 2.90 so you’re only talking 10MYR (3AUD) difference per $100 AUD converted.
We live in Queensland so we think we are used to the humid heat, but we still found it really hot – especially as we enjoy walking. Having a hotel in GT with a pool was a life-saver.
We did not get to see (or eat) everything we had planned to so we hope to visit again (sooner rather than later) – so for those trying to work out how long to spend in Penang I would say – longer than you think!
Happy to answer any questions if I can.