Malaysia, a beautiful country, is a culmination of three dominant cultures: Malay, Chinese, and Indian. With three such different and distinct cultures, you can only imagine how food, religion, and culture can come together and harmonize in a way that I have only seen in Malaysia. You probably are in Kuala Lumpur (KL as most pople call it), but you want to explore outside and perhaps Penang is on your list. A Penang weekend is actually very feasible and a great way to explore another part of Malaysia.
My weekend in Penang (~3 days) began with a long bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. Roughly a 6 hour bus ride, I would have to say that I do not recommend this route, but seeing the countryside of Malaysia is an experience. This guide focuses on the historical part of Penang (George Town on Pulau Pinang) and not the more other part on Peninsular Malaysia.
Bus: I mean, if you have time and want to look outside, bus is an option to get to Penang from KL. We did this coming from KL and would have to say that it was actually a pretty uncomfortable experience. I would not actually recommend taking the bus unless you have a lot of time and want to really take it slow, looking at the rubber trees along the side of the highway. If you are able to invest the time and are OK with the not punctual buses, the bus is a viable option, but seeing that we want in a Penang weekend, I would recommend the next option. When going to Penang, you will take the bus to Butterworth (in a Malay accent, does not sound like what people in the States would pronounce Butterworth). From there, follow the signs at the bus depot to the ferry to take you across the river to George Town.
Flying: With many direct flights, flying seems to be the fastest and is an affordable option with AirAsia (Malaysia’s budget airline), Malindo Air, or Malaysia Airlines. Penang Airport is available and then from there, you are able to take a cab or a bus to the city center.
With only a Penang weekend, here are a few activities that are available, but there are many more. Here are some highlights.
Street Art: Acquire a map from the hotel/hostel that you are staying at to identify the location of the famous street art. It’s a great way to spend a half day to familiarize yourself with the beautiful city of George Town. Much of the street art is very good, but you have to keep a keen eye out to find the art. Typically though, there are tourists around the art, so you can wait your turn to get a photo opportunity.
Kek Lok Si – One of Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temples, Kek Lok Si is a religious site for many Chinese Malay people to worship the Guan Yin statue (Goddess of Mercy). You can admire the local people’s time and commitment to building this religious monument and at the top, you can get a nice view of George Town. Only a half day needs to be devoted to Kek Lok Si, which gives you plenty of time to explore other great places on your Penang weekend.
Getting to Kek Lok Si is actually very simple and does not require taking a taxi or the like. You can take the bus from the city center and then get to Kek Lok Si and luckily, Mark Wiens explains in detail how to get there. No tour or gimmicks, but go early to avoid the people selling gimmicks and go for the peace and tranquility.
Walking through the temple is surreal. You can follow the signs to get to the steel statue of Guan Yin at the top. At the top, you can get a close look at the statue like this.
Remember that this place is a place of worship for many Chinese Malays who have devoted a lot of money and time into this whole facility. Upon entering the temples, remember to take off your shoes as a sign of courtesy!
Clan Jetties: The Jetties along the river in George Town are a great visit. A quick history can be found here that explains the beauty of these jetties. Remember that people who belong to the clans do live in the Jetty still and have lived there for many generations. It’s a great cultural site and gives a great view, and has an ambiance that can transport you back to once upon a time. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a place not to be missed!
As you go walking on the wooden planks of these Jetties, you can take a peek into the lives of the people who have been living there. This place has seen some change over the time, but still retains a true character of that when Chinese immigrants came to Penang and settled down on the harbor.
With just a Penang weekend, you may find yourself wondering why there is not more time to spend in such a beautiful place. The food is delicious with great variety like Malaysia has, but also engrained with lots of Chinese influenced culture. Penang can be enjoyed in a weekend, but perhaps you need more time.
Goh Thew Chik Chicken Rice (338-A Culia Street, 10200 GEorge Town, Penang Malaysia)
Chicken and Rice … wait, that’s New York. This place does a traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice dish that is to die for because of its great texture and delicious soy sauce base. With the addition of green onion and slightly seasoned rice, it’s simple, pure, and amazing. Sure, there are purists who believe that the best Hainanese Chicken Rice is in Singapore, but here in Penang, this place serves up a mean Hainanese Chicken Rice dish. You can read my yelp review about how to properly dine here. It is a little confusing, but honestly, the struggles are worth it to enjoy this dish that is loved by many locals!
Pro Tip: One order per person is a very satisfying meal and do not forget to get a drink as well to help cool you off! The drink menu is on the far wall and can help you wash down this delicious meal.
Restoran Kimberly (Lebuh Kimberley, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia)
Kimberly Street is where the locals go out and eat on the street for some great hawker food. To some, it may seem scary, but don’t let the experience scare you and go for it. I really mean it and you will find this gem: Restoran Kimberly. Here, migrationology explains Restoran Kimberly so well and is so thorough with its review! A definite cannot miss on a Penang weekend trip because this place does kway chap with duck. A Teochow style noodle but this one has the twist of duck inside. It definitely does not have that game taste and is cooked really well. It truly is a great bowl of deliciousness ready to be consumed.
There are lines, but as with anything worth having, this is definitely worth the wait!
Pro Tip: Order a large bowl. You won’t regret it!
Penang Road Famous Teochow Chendul (27 Lebuh Keng Kwee, Penang Road, George Town, Malaysia)
Now you have been walking around tirelessly in the 95 degree Fahrenheit, 100% humidity of Malaysia and a little ice would not hurt to help cool you down on your very eventful Penang weekend. This little cart is probably as great as it gets. This is the original cart, but is now a chain in Malaysia! Their backstory can be found on their website, but to actually go to the original one from their humble beginnings is quite amazing.
Here, definitely order the Chendul (as the name implies). Essentially, there is a base of ice that is topped with coconut milk, red bean, kidney beans, cendol (the green stuff that is actually rice flour, coconut milk, and palm sugar). You can get more stuff on it as well as seen, but honestly, the whole experience is that it is sweet goodness and ice. Something anybody can enjoy in the heat and humidity of Malaysia.
Have you been to Penang or Malaysia? How else do you think you would spend your Penang weekend? Tell me what you think in the comments below!