Penang is one of thirteen states in the Malaysian Federation. It is located on the western-northern cost of the country and is dotted with attractive beaches. The state of Kedah lies to the eastern and the northern side of the island and the Straits of Malacca and Sumatra are located to the west. The State of Perak lies to the south of the state.
Penang is one of the smallest states of Malaysia and it enjoys an equatorial climate. The weather remains humid and warm at almost all times of the year. There are no particular cold or hot seasons in the state. Rainfall happens throughout the year, but the period from September to November receives the maximum amount of it. The climate is at its best from the months of April to September because of the southwest monsoon. The climate is very much moderated by the wind system and the sea.
Penang is spread over an area of 293 sq KM and is divided into two sections – the Seberang Perai and the Penang Island. The Seberang region is also known by the name of Province Wellesley. Some of the most famous islands in Penag are listed below:
Penang consists of some famous islets located in the outlying areas of the coast. The biggest islet is the Pulau Jerejak, which is located between the narrow channel of the mainland and the Penang Island. The island was used as a penal and a leper colony for thousands of years, but is now a major tourist attraction. Some of the other islets of Penang are:
When to go there
Penang can be visited throughout the year so deciding on the time is a bit difficult. As mentioned before, it remains hot and humid through out the year but the plenty of rainfall makes up for the warm climate. A great idea is to visit the state during one of its numerous festivals. Some of them are listed below:
Chinese New Year
This festival is celebrated either in January or at the start of February. It signifies the beginning of the Chinese New Year and is celebrated with great pomp and gusto.
Chap Goh Meh
Although difficult to pronounce, this festival features a unique ceremony where people throw oranges at each other! It is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the Chinese year first month.
This day celebrates the birthday of Lord Buddha and all the temples in the state are fully crowded during this time.
This a festival dedicated to the Hindu god, Lord Subramaniam. The highlight of this festival is the ceremony where all the devotees carry kavadis for fulfilling their promises.
Saint Anne’s Feast
This festival is celebrated by the Christian community of Penang from the 26th to the 28th day of July. Various mass processions are carried out from all the churches.
One of the best ways to stay on your budget and for exploring Penang is to walk whenever possible. Start out early in the morning and remember to wear light clothes all the time. Penang has a hot and humid climate and many people do not realize just how hot it can get during the period from noon to 3 pm. Apply a lot of sun-screen and set out on your mission of seeing Penang. Remember to look at both the sides while crossing a road. Do not forget to do that even when the street is marked as a “one way street”.
Now let us talk about the best public transportation that is available in Penang. The Rapid Penang bus service is very popular with tourists and has a great fleet of new buses. All the stops and stations that are serviced by their buses are clearly marked for avoiding any confusion. Buses are quite frequent in all the cities of Penang, especially in Batu Ferringhi. The Bus number 101 goes to Teluk Bahang from Batu Ferringhi via Pulau Tikus. It also stops at Gurney Drive, Tanjung Bungah, Tanjung Tokong. The bus finally finishes its journey at the airport entrance. The Penang Shuttle Bus is another great service for exploring Georgetown. It is totally free and takes you to some of the most popular attractions of the city. Always avoid the “minibuses” because they are usually in poor shape and do not cover a lot of stops and stations.
Always hand over the exact fare while riding the bus because most of the time the drivers do not have any change on them. You will end up paying more for nothing or you will have to look for change. So for example, if you are arriving at the Georgwtown from some other country, then you will have to pay RM 2.70 for a ride to Komtar (the tallest building and a popular tourist attraction). Having a RM 50 note with you will not help you with getting a bus at all. Buy some food items or some water as soon as you come out of the airport for gathering changes. Another great idea is to get a pass known as “Rapid Passport” for just RM 30. It gives you the benefit of travelling to unlimited destinations on all buses run by Rapid Penang.
These are powered by humans and have three wheels. They are a good for taking a calm and quiet tour of Penang. You can stop anywhere for buying souvenirs and gifts or for taking photos. Many of the trishaw drivers also offer you a lot of information and that makes them kind of like a tourist guide with lots of knowledge. Always decide the fare before hopping on the vehicle or you may have to pay extra later on.
Cars are a viable choice for exploring Penang, especially if you want to visit the southern or the western coast of the island. The island consists of a lot of narrow lanes and one-way roads so keep a careful eye on the road signs. Avoid driving from 7:30 to 9:30 am in the morning, as the roads are busiest during that time.
Penang remains hot throughout the year and so care must be taken against sunburns and heat strokes. The heat and humidity can get quite unbearable for tourists coming from western countries as the island has an equatorial climate. It is important to drink lots of water because dehydration is a very common problem for tourists in Penang. The loss of salt through sweat is another problem. Keep yourself well replenished with water and fruit juices at all times. Pack clothes that are suitable for a hot climate.
Mosquitoes are common in Penang because of the climate. They are res0ponsible for diseases like Dengue Fever, Japanese B Encephalitis and Malaria. Make sure to buy an insect repellent containing DEET before getting into thee country for keeping away ticks, mosquitoes and other insects.
You need to carry your Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate if you are coming from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa or from South America.
The local food and water
The food available in Penang is usually high in hygienic and it is safe to consume food from roadside stalls and hawker stalls. However, caution must be exercised while eating or drinking anything while being on the island. Drink only boiled or bottled water. Avoid drinking water from ice cubes, fountain drinks and tap water. Bring a water purifier or iodine tablets with you for purifying the water before drinking.
Following are a few more things to remember while being in Penang
Do not accept offers of rides from unlicensed taxis and passenger vehicles
Do not carry any valuables with you if you hire a motorcycle for exploring Penang
Do not leave behind your valuable things in the room of your hotel
Do not carry valuables to restaurants and bars
Do not attempt to walk alone in roads that are not well-lit.
Be careful of thieves who snatch your jewelry and run away. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry while you are out touring the island. Some of these thieves can also come in motorcycles and snatch away your handbag, so do not carry one if you do not really need it.
Be careful in the beaches of Batu Feringhi. There have been instances of tourists being harassed by unregulated boat ski, Jet Ski and other such water sports.
Handshakes are quite acceptable in the island but should only be initiated by a female. The traditional greeting of Penang is the “salaam” which signifies a handshake without any physical contact between two persons. If anybody greets you with a salaam, you should reciprocate it immediately.
Always remove your shoes before entering any temple or mosque. There are some mosques, which do not let you enter without wearing a scarf or a robe. Both the clothing items are offered by the mosques so wear them if you want to enter their premises. Taking photos at religious places is usually permissible but always ask the authority before doing so. The rule of removal of shoes is also applicable to Malaysian homes and you must remove yours before entering any.
Travelling through Penang can be quite budget-friendly if you have knowledge about some of the various incentives the state offers to its tourists. Accommodation in Penang costs just around $10 and there are a lot of budget guesthouses and hotels offering that price for a room with all the basic facilities and amenities required by a guest.
Eating out is another great budget activity in Penang. You can get a dish like Chee Cheong Fun and Hokkien mee at just 80 cents! If you want to grab a drink along with your breakfast, then it will cost you just about 40 cents.
The Free Penang Shuttle Bus
Georgetown is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Penang because of the various sightseeing and budget activities it offers. The biggest of them is the Penang Shuttle Bus that takes you on a free ride throughout the city. It stops at all the major tourist attractions and you get to read guides and brochures while sitting inside the bus. Travelling from Georgetown to cities like Kuala Lumpur and others comes for just about $1.50.
Lunch on a budget
Feeling hungry after exploring the city? No problem at all. Lunch at Penang is a very tourist friendly and cheap option. A plate of Masi Kandar comes for just about $1.50. Along with tasting delicious, it also fills up your stomach quite a lot. If you go for drinks along with your lunch then that will cost you a meager 40 cents.
Free tourist spots
Now, let us talk about visiting the various tourist destinations and let us explore them within your budget. The good thing is that various tourist spots in Penang charge no entry fee whatsoever. You get to see places like the Butterfly Farm, the Khoo Kongsi temple, the tropical spice garden and The Penang Museum for free! Other places that do not have any entrance fees include the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Pinang Peranakan.
Inexpensive dining out
Want go out for dinner after a long day in the city? It will cost you just about $2 to try the various offerings from Penang. Some of the cheapest and the tasty items are available at the hawker stalls.
Other important budget tips while travelling in Penang
Do not go for a taxi ride. As is the case with other cities, a taxi ride in Penang is not exactly budget friendly. The best options are buses. They are always on time and are cheap as well. For getting into a city after arriving at the airport, you can take the Rapid Penang Bus, which offers economic services for tourists.
As mentioned above, make the most of the shuttle bus while exploring the city of Georgetown. It will cost you nothing and you will get to see some of the most amazing sights. Do not use the trishaw, as that is also quite expensive.
Whenever you get the chance, get walking. Penang has more than 300 tourist attractions and all of them are easily searchable on guide maps. Get a print out of the maps before travelling to Penang.
Cigarettes and beer are costly in Penang so avoid buying them while shopping.