Monday 8 February 2016

Three Days in Penang, Malaysia : What to Do and Where to Go

I decided to take a yearly birthday trip in 2012. I guess I have already reached that point when huge parties and celebrations aren’t big deal anymore. When I hit the big three-O, I found myself more in love with travelling than I ever was. Three years ago, I went to Palawan and then to Phuket Thailand two years back. Last year, I felt like I travelled back in time when I visited Yangon and Bagan in Myanmar. I have read a lot of beautiful stories about Georgetown so I decided to spend my birthday weekend in Penang this year. It was just a three-day fulfilling journey around the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to Do in Penang

Day 1.
My flight departed at 8:30 in the morning. After one hour and ten minutes, the plane landed at Penang International Airport and from the bus station just outside the airport, I took bus number 401E to Komtar (RM 2.70). Personally, I think that bus fare in Penang is relatively cheap. The buses looked new and they were also clean and well-maintained. An hour of bus ride took me to Komtar. I went straight to my guesthouse because it was starting to get really hot. I was carrying my luggage and I wasn’t familiar with the town yet so I opted to take a taxi even if the guesthouse was just 10 minutes walk away from Komtar. In Penang, taxi drivers don’t normally use taxi meters. It cost me RM 12.00 to get to Kampong Malabar from Komtar, which was only a five-minute drive. Travel tip: haggle!

  1. Penang Hill. My first stop was Penang Hill. I was informed in the guesthouse that there are free shuttle buses which run around Georgetown. How to get to Penang Hill : I walked to the bus stop, took the Free Shuttle Bus going to Komtar and then from there, I took bus 204 and got off at Bukit Bendera (RM2.70). The travel time was about 1.5 hours. (You may also want to visit Kek Lok Si Temple before heading to Bukit Bendera. I didn’t do this however because there were a lot of people during the time of my visit. Perhaps because it was almost the Lunar New Year so a lot of Chinese people were there to give some offerings and prayers.) The normal ticket for the Penang Hill funicular train costs RM 30.00 (for foreigners). A lot of reviews about Penang Hill said that the place is crowded most of the time so my initial plan was to buy a fast lane ticket but it wasn’t available that day. I was surprised though because it wasn’t what I expected. There were only a few people around, mostly foreigners, and I was able to board the train without queuing up. The view was really amazing! I also went to see Bel Retiro and the Mosque which also had a very beautiful view of Penang on the hill. I spent around 3 hours wandering around before heading back to Georgetown. It was disappointing to see the sign saying “No need to queue” at the train station though. I guess it shouldn’t be done that way because it invites everyone to barge into the train. I really think that there should be a proper crowd management especially for a touristy place like Penang Hill. When I arrived at the bus station down the hill, I took bus number 204 going back to Geogetown (RM2.70).
  2. Walked around Georgetown. At around 6:00 pm, I started the hunt for the best food on the streets of Penang. There was a small café called Ho Ping Cafe at the corner of the street where I stayed at. I love their fried rice and lemon tea! It was a fun experience trying to be local!
Day 2.
  1. Cycled around Georgetown. It was scorching hot in Penang so I woke up early the following day and started my journey at around 6:00 am. It also made me avoid the touristy crowd. I walked from my hotel to Georgetown and then had breakfast at CF Foodcourt located at Gat Lebuh Armenian. I hired a bicycle and cycled around the UNESCO Heritage Site on my second day. There were a lot of shops which offer bicycle rental in Georgetown. I hired my bicycle from a shop called Zhang Trading which was located along Armenian Street. The normal cost of bicycle rental in Penang is RM 10 (unlimited use within the day), so I was a bit surprised when the owner said it was only RM 8. He didn’t even ask for deposit. I guess it was because I was the first customer that day! After having a delicious breakfast, I crossed the street and spent an hour watching sunrise at Chew Jetty and then continued cycling to see more about the gorgeous town.
  2. Fort Cornwallis. I paid an entrance fee of RM 20 to visit Fort Cornwallis. It is the largest standing fort in Malaysia. It is a preserved historical landmark in Penang and is located in the core zone of the Georgetown UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  3. Batu Ferringhi Beach. After a busy morning, I had char kway teow (which is a really popular food in Penang) from a street seller along Lebuh Campbell for late lunch. How to get to Batu Ferringhi Beach : Komtar was just a few minutes walk away from Lebuh Campbell and from there, I took bus number 101 going to Batu Ferringhi Beach (RM 2.70). After 1.50 hours, I arrived at the beach. Personally, I don’t think there is something really special about Batu Ferringhi. However if you love water sports, you might consider spending half day on the beach to try jet ski, banana boat, or parasailing. I didn’t spend so much time in there and decided to go back to Georgetown before sunset. There was a window seat available on the bus so I sat there and was amazed by the beautiful view on my way back to Georgetown.

There are actually a lot of places you could visit in Batu Ferringhi. You may want to visit Penang National Park, the tropical Spice Garden, the Botanic Gardens or the Tropical Fruit Farm.

Day 3.

  1. Balik Pulau. How to get to Balik Pulau : From Kampong Malabar, I walked to Komtar and waited for bus number 401E which took me to Balik Pulau. I wanted to experience something different so I decided to take a short trip to the countryside. Balik Pulau means “on the other side of the island” and it is totally  different from the bustling and modern area of Georgetown. It took me almost an hour to get there (RM 4.00). The bus left Komtar at 6:15 (I supposed that was the first bus) and I arrived at the town of Balik Pulau around 7:10 am. I was the only passenger on the bus and the journey creeped me out because of the unfamiliar place and the zigzag road. I met a middle-aged woman at the station and asked her how to get to Audi Dream Farm. I read online that there is a cycling tour there which starts every morning at 8:00 am. The woman helped me out by speaking to the driver and told him where I wanted to go. I was lucky because the first bus (403) leaves at 7:30 and the interval of buses which run around Balik Pulau is two hours. I was ecstatic! But then, the driver dropped me off at Audi Guesthouse. I was lucky because the owner of the guesthouse was really nice. She told me that the only way for me to get to Audi Dream Farm is to go back to the Bus Station at the town (which is around 30 minutes bus ride) and then take again another bus (503) which will take me to Sungei Rusa. She then rang her husband and then he drove me to Audi Dream Farm for free!

I arrived at Audi Dream Farm at 8:30 and as expected, the cycling tour had started. Without second thought, I rented a bicycle and cycled around Balik Pulau on my own. It wasn’t a mistake because it was fun though but after a few attempts to find the fishing village, I realised that a DIY trip is not possible in Balik Pulau. Since the place is not yet popular to tourists, there were no signs and that made it hard for me to locate the places I wanted to go to. However, there is one company which offers a tour and this is the best way to discover the countryside of Penang up close. I went back to Audi Dream Farm instead, paid RM 7 for the entrance fee, wandered around and took some photos of the animals in the farm. Before lunch time, Eddie (the caretaker of the farm) drove me back to the Bus Station. We dropped by the Nutmeg Factory for a few minutes and there I’ve met the owner of one of the only two factories in Balik Pulau which makes Nutmeg oil. It was still a fun experience after all.
For a shorter trip going back to Georgetown, I took bus number 502 (RM 3.40). I didn’t have anything planned later that day so I just walked around Georgetown again. It was a different experience roaming around by foot. When I cycled around Georgetown on my second day, I didn’t realise that there were some small alleys I could walk through and found some hidden art there too. I tried the famous coconut ice cream at Busy Bodhi Cafe and I am not surprised why it became really popular. I also tried iced green milk tea from Cha-Yen (located along the busy street of Armenian) and I really loved it! I spent my last day in Penang eating gluttonously and that was one of the highlights of my trip! If you are a cat lover, you may also want to visit Purrfect Cat Cafe located along Jalan Muntri! Before heading back to my guesthouse, I went to Chowrasta Market to buy some souvenir for friends and then rewarded myself with a one-hour foot massage. At about 5:00 pm, I went back to the guesthouse to check out and get ready for my flight. I took the Free Shuttle Bus from the bus stop nearby to Komtar and then took bus number 401E at Komtar (RM 2.70) going to the airport. The travel time was almost two hours because of the traffic situation and I think it was good that I anticipated it. I made it just on time for my 9:25 pm flight going back to Singapore.

I had a really great time in Penang. The people were nice and approachable even if most of them don’t know how to speak my language. The whole experience was spontaneous and that was what I love most about it! I stayed in a guesthouse called Weluv Travel located at Kampong Malabar. The location was perfect, there was a bus stop located a few steps away from it, and the hosts were really friendly. On the other hand, I wish someone cleans the guesthouse regularly. The common area for the guests, especially the toilet, was dirty and no one bothered to get rid of the rubbish. The room was small and there was no enough space to put the luggage. I could hear footsteps because of the thin wall and the ceiling was made of wood too. I booked the guesthouse online (via and to be honest, I expected too much from the place because of the reviews. It was disappointing and I don’t think I would recommend it.

Where to Go in Penang

Here's a list of the places you can visit for when you plan to travel in Penang :
  1. Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clocktower (King Edward's Place, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 10)
  2. Fort Cornwallis (Light Street, 9am to 6pm, Mon to Sat, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 10, 103, 204, 502
  3. The Cenotaph and Esplanade (Esplanade Road, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 10, 103, 204, 502)
  4. Penang Time Tunnel (Jalan Green Hall, 9:15 am to 7:00 pm on Mon to Fri, to 9 pm on Sat, Sun and PH, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 10, 103, 204, 502)
  5. Church of the Assumption (Farquhar St., 11am to 7pm, Mon to Sat, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 204, 502)
  6. St. George's Church (Farquhar St., 9am to 5pm, Daily, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 204, 502)
  7. Goddess of Mercy Temple (Pitt St., 9am to 6pm, Daily, Bus No. 101, 104, 201, 206)
  8. Kapitan Keiling Mosque (Pitt St., 1pm to 5pm Sat to Thurs, 3pm to 5pm Fri, *Visitors are required to wear robes which are provided at the mosque, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 301, 302, 303, 401)
  9. Sri Maha Mariamman Temple (Queen St., 8am to 12pm / 4:30pm to 9pm Daily, *remove your footwear before entering the temple grounds, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 10, 11, 101, 201,202, 203, 204, 206, 302, 303, 306, 401, 502)
  10. Little India (Queen St., Chulia St., and Market St., Dawn to Dusk daily, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 11, 101, 201, 203, 206, 301, 302, 303)
  11. Upside Down Museum (Lebuh Kimberly, Mon to Fri 8:45am to 6:30pm, Sat, Sun and PH 8:45am to 7:30pm, All buses)
  12. Church Street Pier (Weld Quay, Daily, All buses)
  13. Khoo Kongsi (Cannon Square, 9am to 5 pm, Daily, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 301, 302, 303, 401 + walking distance)
  14. Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple (Armenian St., Daytime, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 10, 12, 103, 301, 401)
  15. Clan Jetties Along Weld Quay (Daily, All buses)
  16. Teochew Temple (Chulia St., 9am to 5pm Daily, Bus No. 12, 101, 201, 302)
  17. Campbell Street Market (8am to 11am, Daily, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 10, 11, 101, 103, 104, 201, 202, 203, 204, 301, 302)
  18. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Leith St., Fully conducted heritage tours 11am, 1:30pm, 3pm Daily, Free Shuttle Bus, Bus No. 104, 204, 502)
  19. St. Francis Xavier Church (Penang Road, 8am to 6pm Sunday, Bus No. 101, 103, 104, 201, 202, 203)
The map below gives information about Rapid Penang Free Shuttle Bus Service (CAT).

And these maps show the points of interest around Georgetown, including the points where you could find street arts! The street art started off with a project called Mirrors George Town by George Town festival in 2012. Since then, street art has been popping up all over the inner city. Make sure you'd find them all!

As what I have mentioned before, I stayed in a guesthouse located at Kampong Malabar and those three points (labelled 7, 8, and 9) were the nearest bus stops where the Free Shuttle Service Buses stop to pick up or drop off passengers. The Free Shuttle Bus stop locations are shown in green dots and the Free Shuttle Bus route is shown in green line.

If you have some free time, you may also want to explore Balik Pulau. Here's a glimpse of what you may experience there!

And here are the photos I took during my three-day escapade around Penang!

Happy travels!

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