A fascinating fusion of the East and West, Penang embraces modernity while retaining its traditions and old world charm. These are reflected in its harmonious multiracial populace and well-preserved heritage buildings which led to George Town being accorded a listing as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site recently.
Long regarded as the food capital of Malaysia, Penang also entices visitors with its beautiful coasts and scrumptious cuisines.
Things to do
Butterfly Farm Come home to one of Penang’s most visited eco tourism gems, the tropical butterfly farm in Teluk Bahang. Watch a riot of winged beauties fluttering around, some gently nestling on your shoulders. Idyllic?
Peranakan Mansion in Penang provides a fascinating history of Nonya Baba heritage (Mixture of Immigrant Chinese assimilated into Malay culture). The house belonged to a wealthy Nonya family and passed through generations. You are able to catch a glimpse of their lifestyles and the architecture of a Chinese house with European and Malay influence. It is actually very beautiful and well preserved up to even the cosmetics used during those days. It is located in 29 Church Street in Georgetown Penang and was one of the pit stops for the Amazing Race 2009 or 2010. Google Peranakan Mansion Penang. Admission is RM$10 per person but is well worth it.
Kek Lok Si – Monastery on Crane Hill
The Buddhist temple of Kek Lok Si is situated in (H)Air Itam, a suburb of Georgetown. You can make that by local bus from the Komtar, but you can also make it by taxi.
Taxi ride from the Komtar in Georgetown will cost you about RM20
The temple was begun in 1890 and, from all appearances, construction really hasn’t ever stopped. And it’s still going on! The temple is supposedly the largest in Malaysia.The Kek Lok Si project was inspired by the chief monk of the Goddess of Mercy Temple of Pitt Street. With the support of the consular representative of China in Penang, the project received the sanction of the Manchu Emperor Kuang Hsi, who bestowed a tablet and gift of 70,000 volumes of the Imperial Edition of the Buddhist Sutras.
Without doubt the largest and best known temple in Penang, the Temple of Supreme Bliss, better known as Kek Lok Si, staggered on the hillside overlooking the town of Ayer Itam.
Known as He San, or Crane Hill, they are recommended as a retreat for Taoist practitioners striving for immortality.
The latest addition to the temple complex is the 30.2m bronze statue of the Avalokitesvara – Goddess of Mercy or Kuan Yin – on the hillside above the pagoda. This statue was completed and open to the public at the end of 2002.
If you want to get a close-up look of the Kuan Yin statue, then go left as you get to the furthest hall, which is also the largest and look for the signs for the ‘incline lift’ to the goddess.
The incline lift is more of a tram — an elevator-sized glass box mounted on rails which goes up to the terrace above the existing temple where the goddess stands.
Use of the lift costs RM 2 each way.
The route up to the ‘main’ prayer hall of the Kek Lok Si and the pagoda is on the other side of the large prayer hall. From the ‘incline lift’ you need to cross the hall and go through the souvenir stands to find the desk where you must pay a ‘voluntary’ donation of another RM 2 to go up to the new prayer hall and the pagoda. Don’t worry: you’ll receive a ticket!
If you haven’t visited the “Goddess of Mercy”, then this is the moment to do it now!
The Kek Lok Si Temple is a Buddhist temple situated in Air Itam in Penang and is one of the best known temples on the island. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.
Fort Cornwallis – Grorgetown Far off in the corner of the British empire, this small military outpost guarded British interests against pirates, thieves & local fisherman. The original fort built by Sir Francis Light & his men, used rocks & branches, was considered extremely useless so in 1804 the British forced none other than Indian convicts to build a proper one using solid brick & stone.
Today the fort is a run down tourist attraction with photo opportunities of rusty cannons, barracks & sea views from atop the old walls. There is a lighthouse erected in 1882 but is basically a ship’s mast stuck into the ground. Inside the barracks are information boards hawking the achievements of Sir Francis Light, the top English cat who gained the sultan of Kedah’s trust by helping him against his enemies. When the poo hit the fan, the British persuaded the sultan to let them build a British garrison which is the fort. They gained access to the whole region all while kicking back watching the sunset. He was awarded a beautiful local princess for his trouble with whom he didn’t have to marry & had several children with. There is a famous old metal cast statue of Sir Francis Light at the fort looking very dashing in his uniform with his son’s face instead of his own scarred & ugly, this son, who’s face is on the statute, went on to design the plans for the Australian city of Adelaide.
The most interesting thing in the fort of course are the cannons, mostly captured from pirates. The coolest one is a 400 year old beast named the Seri Rambai Cannon that had seen life under several colonial navies & pirates. A mysterious aura surrounds it as it was famous for reigning terror upon sailors being a huge cannon in its day. Lost for years & believed to have disappeared under the waves until it reappeared from the sea to continue its reign of terror as legend has it. It was finally captured & gifted to the governor of Penang by the Dutch who stamped their ‘VOC’ Dutch East India Company logo on it to use the cannon’s reputation to instil fear. Fortunately, it’s too heavy for anyone to steal nowadays.
Where we stayed
Yeng Keng Hotel is a 20-room newly restored 19th century building on Chulia Street, arguably the most colourful and happening street in the World Heritage site of George Town. Street hawkers, budget hotels, coffee shop bars and antique shop houses line this vibrant and bustling street, so there’s never a dull moment day or night.
The location is perfect to venture out and enjoy the historical city walk and the city’s best nightlife on Upper Penang Road is also a short walk away. The hotel also houses a restaurant that serves excellent Hainanese food.