This is a complete travel guide about Penang Island, which is attracts tourists, travelers and expat to the island. Traveling refreshes one’s mindset and gives a brand new strength to conquer life’s challenges. Traveling and enjoying the Penang nightlife is more exciting especially if spent in a paradise like Penang Island in Malaysia. The term Penang was taken from the modern Malay name Pulau Penang which is literally translated as the “Isle of the Betel Nut.” This name was given to the island because of the large number of betel nut palms along its shores. Penang Island’s inhabitants are a mix of Chinese, Malay, Siamese, and Indians, making Penang Island a diverse community.
Penang’s Historic Past
Captain Francis Light founded the Penang Island in Malaysia in 1786 together with its capital city, George Town. Penang Island’s old name was “Prince of Wales Island” and was one of the early British settlements in Southeast Asia. During the British regime, Penang Island was the center of spice production in the region and thus attracted people from other countries.
The mix of food, cultures, languages, and architectural styles earned for George Town the inclusion in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008. Penang Island is also considered as Malaysia’s most livable city and was ranked eighth in the list of most livable cities in Asia by ECA International in 2010. Penang Island received its city status in 2015.
Penang Island has a lot to offer apart from its rich culture and history. This island-state is famous for popular attractions that offer its visitors non-stop nightlife and great bonding experiences with friends. There are also night markets seen all throughout the city where various local food and merchandise can be found.
Penang Island is the only “island state” in Malaysia situated along the northwestern coast. It has a total area of 293 sq. km or just 1/3 size of Singapore. It has an estimated population of 2 million.
Before heading out to this amazing destination, make sure to read about travel tips and plan the travel accordingly. There are several options to get to Penang Island from the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. There are direct domestic flights to Penang Island. Travel time usually takes about an hour by plane. The best way to reach Penang, however, is by car. The road trip will take visitors through a scenic route where they can enjoy nature views. For those who would like to opt for public transportation, the most accessible mode is by bus. The travel time will be quite longer, but the views are enjoyable nonetheless.
Penang Tourist Attractions
When you get to Penang, here are the top 10 popular attractions that should be on your must-see list:
- Bukit Bendera or Penang Hill – located in Ayer Itam, roughly around 6 km from George Town, this hill resort is 821 meters above sea level and 5 degrees cooler than George Town. The highlights in the peak include the harmonious neighborhood of the Hindu Temple, Church, and Mosque, and the snake-show where a tamed python is available for picture-taking.
The whole city is visible from the top of the Penang Hill where the top ridge is now called the Strawberry Hill. The best time to enjoy the George Town view is at night-time where the lights illuminate the skyline. Penang Hill is also home to the last patch of tropical rainforest where the flora and fauna are well protected since the 1960s.
To get to Penang Hill, visitors can take the Penang Railway at the foot of the hill and travel all the way to the top. There’s also a 5km private road that drives up to the top, but it is accessible only to local residents.
- Persiaran Gurney – this place is also called Gurney Drive, a name that takes after a Malayan High Commissioner who was killed in the early 50s by guerillas of the Malayan Communist Party. It is also known as “The New Esplanade” where restaurants come alive during night-time. There are bars lined up along the Esplanade for party goers who want to experience the island’s night life.
- Kek Lok Si Temple – also located in Ayer Itam, this Buddhist Temple was constructed over a hundred years ago. It is magnificently landscaped with gardens and temples. The “Pagoda of 1000 Buddhas” combines Chinese, Burmese, and Thai deities in a seven-tiered structure that houses a one of a kind Buddha collection. This was built in 1890 by Beow Lean, a devout Chinese Buddhist immigrant who later became a prominent icon in this temple.
- Penang Botanic Gardens – this is also referred to as the “Waterfalls Gardens.” It is located in Jalan Kebun Bunga valley. It was first set up by Charles Curtis of the British Gardens and Forests Department. It was a quarry site divided into 12 sections that contained a variety of indigenous and exotic plant species. Some garden areas like the waterfalls are cordoned off for visitor safety. These areas, however, can be seen through a guided tour. This attraction is open from 7 am to 7 pm. Private and public travel groups can be scheduled.
- Penang War Museum – this museum used to be a fort in the 1930s. It was built in Bukit Batu Maung by the British. The museum houses war memorabilia, barracks, cookhouses, and artifacts. It opened in 2002. Quite interesting to visit are the military tunnels that lead to the sea for submarine access during the war.
- Kota Cornwallis – this is the largest standing fort in Malaysia. This is located close to the Esplanade and the Penang Clock tower. This fort named after Marquis Charles Cornwallis was built in 1786 for the Royal artillery troops. The fort was used more for administrative functions rather than for defense purposes. It stands on the site where Captain Francis Light first set foot in Penang.
- Batik Painting Museum – this museum is an old house in the George Town Heritage area that features beautiful Batik creations produced throughout the past decades. It is interesting to note that the Batik painting technique that began in the 50s was enhanced by Penang’s own Chuah Thean Teng. He infused his own style into the art and came up with diverse new Batik painting techniques. The evolution of such techniques is showcased in works that are exhibited at the Batik Painting Museum. Along with Chuah Thean Teng’s works, works from other local artists can also be found in this museum.
- Taman Negara Pulau Pinang – this is also known as the Penang National Park. It is located in the northwestern part of the island. This park has rainforests and beaches where visitors can go camping, fishing, trekking, bird watching, and boating.
- Butterfly Farm – built in Teluk Bahang in 1986, this butterfly farm is the most popular tourist destination in Penang Island. It is an 8-hectare butterfly sanctuary that houses more than 4,000 butterflies from 120 groups. Owner David Goh aims to promote public awareness about these colorful species in Malaysia. The farm has since received various accreditations and awards worldwide for the awareness and protection of insect and reptiles species. There are also organic fruits inside the farm where tourists can enjoy eating while on tours.
- Snake Temple – this temple is just 3km away from the airport in Sungai Kluang Bayang Lepas. It was built in honor of the Buddhist priest and healer, Chor Soo Kong. This monk was believed to have given shelter to jungle snakes while he was living. When the temple was built after his death, the snakes were said to have moved into the temple. It is also believed that the incense smoke that fills the temple renders the snakes harmless. Still, it is not advisable to touch or pick up any one of the many snakes that slither around in the temple.
Penang Street art – There are many places to spot street art around Penang town and has became a tourist hotspot for years. Many local tourists and visitors will look around for old buildings and take photos at these popular wall painting location in Penang. Among the popular street arts you can find in Penang are Love Me Like Your Fortune Cat, The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This, Here’s Ahmah and Ahsoon and many more.
The party begins when the sun goes down at Penang Island where its unique charm and beauty capture every tourist. The Penang nightlife is not only about clubbing or bar hopping. There are also shopping districts and resto-bars where you can enjoy the nightlife.
When it comes to nightlife in Malaysia, some of the best things to do in Penang can be enjoyed at the Upper Penang Road bars and night clubs, best check out our ultimate Penang nightlife guide for the best places to visit at night and the do and don’t party tips below. In these places, party goers, youngsters, and tourists come together for a one of a kind nightclub experience in Penang.
Here are the best night clubs where you can party the night away:
- Farquhar’s Bar – located in George Town, this bar is famous for its signature drink, the “Eastern and Oriental Sling.”
- Slippery Señoritas – this bar first opened in 2001 and has grown in popularity as a Latin dance club. It is also known for its bartenders’ flaring skills. It also has its own resident deejays, mixing class, and styles.
- Momo – this bar offers an exotic Mediterranean twist with unique flavors and aromatic senses of the Middle East. It is located in The Bungalow in Upper Penang.
- 360 Rooftop Bar – this bar located at the rooftop of the Bay View Hotel in George Town specializes in cocktails. While sipping your margaritas with your friends, you can enjoy the spectacular view of the Penang Island from this rooftop bar.
- Uptown Pub & Bistro – having a beer in the open can be relaxing after a day of exploring Penang. Have a drink while listening to live music performances at this pub. Aside from popular genres, the performers also feature Chinese songs and Cato-pops.
- Night Shopping – just as in many Asian destinations, night markets are really popular. In Penang, the Jalan Batu Ferringhi wakes up at night with stalls of food and merchandise line the streets every evening. This night market is located at the northern part of Penang and has become a very popular tourist attraction. For better bargains, you have to remember that haggling is one of the skills you have to make good use of when visiting this night market.
- Hawker Food – trying out the hawker food scene is one of Penang’s best food experiences. Food stalls that offer various street food and drinks line the streets at night. The best spots are in Gurney Drive and the New Lane Hawker Centre. Penang is locally tagged as the “Food Paradise” of Malaysia.
- Beach Bars – Bora Bora by Sunset, The Beach Bar, and Beach Blanket Babylon are the top 3 beach bars in Penang that stand out from the rest. They offer great food, a variety of beers, and the perfect locations for happy hour.
- Penang Island Jazz Festival – This is one of the biggest music festivals in Malaysia held yearly for a three-day non-stop jazz music. Check your calendar and see if your visit coincides with this festival.
- Soju Room – Music and drinks come together in this most-voted nightclub in Penang. It has urban music and laser lights that pump up every beat. Perfect for chilling, this bar no doubt deserves being voted as the best nightclub in Penang.
While enjoying a great vacation in Penang Island, always be extra cautious of your surroundings. It is always better stay safe while enjoying the attractions and local culture of a foreign land. Here are some travel tips for a great vacation and nightlife in Penang:
- Never get drunk – unless you are traveling with family or trusted friends who can take care of you when you get drunk, it is better to stay sober while you enjoy your adventure in Penang. Have a few drinks but make sure that you stay within your tolerance level. You will enjoy Penang better when your mind is clear and not muddled with an overdose of alcohol.
- Travel light – it is better to leave your things at the hotel or the place where you are staying. Bring a compact bag or sling bag or a purse to keep your essentials. Stick to something simple so you do not stand out as a target for pick-pockets or thieves.
- Do not get too comfortable – this might seem to be contradictory to the idea of having an enjoyable vacation, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Especially if you are in a foreign land, you do not know if someone is truly being nice or if someone is out to take advantage of you. Be gracious and nice. Be friendly, but do not let your guard down. Always be wary of people who might try to put one over you.
Penang Island can be visited all year round but the best time to explore it is from November to January. During this time, the weather in Penang is good and nature is at its peak. Book that next trip and prepare for some great booze and adventure.