Penang Island is one of those rare places in the world that I would like to revisit, at least twice. There are beaches, laid-back towns, delicious street food, all with a beautiful mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese culture, and speaking of the tourist attractions in number, don’t even ask. I stayed in Georgetown, one of the many small towns in Penang and also a UNESCO heritage city, which, in itself, had over 80 street art murals, temples, a Clan Jetty area and everything else you can think of!
One can stay in Penang for more than a month, and still not need to repeat the same spot they explored yesterday. But if you’ve only 3 days to uncover Penang, and want to make the most of your visit follow this Penang travel guide.
I expect you to be an urban backpacker with a good taste of travel. But first thing first…
Recommended Read: How To Travel From Kuala Lumpur To Penang
Where To Stay
If you only have about three days in Penang, I’ll suggest you make Georgetown your base. Though tucked to a side, Georgetown is the centre of attraction on the entire island. Other areas of interest like Monkey beach and Penang Hill can easily be visited on a full or half day trip from Georgetown.
Another reason why I recommend Georgetown, is because of its ease of availability. From food to transport, great experiences to a rich accommodation scene, Georgetown has enough of everything.
I stayed at a place called ‘Heritage sixteen’, a boutique hotel built on an ancient Chinese property and there couldn’t be a better place. Two steps on the right was a daily fresh market. The ferry & bus station was a 7-minute walk away. Evening street food stalls were right across the street. And if I wanted to get to go to any location in Penang, I could travel on a bus or ride a motorcycle and be anywhere in under 90 minutes.
How To See Penang In 3 Days. Your Ideal Penang Travel Guide
DAY 1: DEDICATED TO GEORGETOWN
Street Art In Georgetown & Other Prominent Sites
Street art in Georgetown is one of the highlights and the very reason why I would call Georgetown a modern heritage town. The way how the city has infused new art forms into its decade-old architecture is definitely worth appreciating. Every 20 metres you can find a beautiful graffiti art or a metal sculpture retelling the story of Penang in the form of its many local characters. To date, the town has 52 steel-rod-sculptures and over 40 graffiti sites, out of which some were created by a popular international artist Ernest Zacharevic.
While most of the murals are located at Labuh Armenian and Gat Lebuh Armenia, a few popular ones may require you to go a little offbeat. But if you’re short on time, just stick only to Labuh Armenian and Gat Lebuh Armenia, and you will uncover most of the prominent street art designs that the town has to offer. Visit the local information centre, located at Lebuh Pantai to find a walking tour map, if you want to explore street art beyond the two streets.
Tip: If you’re staying in Georgetown, and are only covering a few popular streets, you can finish your hunt for the Street Art in under half a day.
Other Prominent Sites In Georgetown
Georgetown gained its title of World Heritage town back in 2008, and since then attracted an overwhelming flow of foreign tourists. There are more than 1,700 historic buildings within its core zone, aligned on four main streets namely Pengkalan Weld, Lebuh Pantai, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Harmony Street.
Some of the top attractions, I will recommend you will be, Kapitan Keling Mosque on Jalan Kapitan Keling, The Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Teng) on Harmony Street, the Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple with its back facing Harmony Street, St George’s Church on Harmony Street, and colonial buildings of the Penang Town Hall and the Penang City Hall located right in the waterfront area of Esplanade Padang. Please note that all the attractions mentioned above, moreover have free admission.
Tip: To find some intense backpacking action, and find coolest cafes & guest houses, head to Love Lane.
Spend Your Evening Exploring Little India & Dining There
Though you can find Little India practically in every town in Malaysia, the one in Penang is a little intense and takes you to some 7,000 kilometres away, and in another part of the continent. A colourful and vibrant mix of the Indian community, filled with multi-colored shop houses selling fabrics, sarees, jewelry and even Tamil magazines, the Little India of Penang is congested and crisp and is made up of 3 main streets, which includes Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Queen, and Jalan Pasar.
And if you are looking for some good Indian food, you’ve come to the right place. There are a number of places serving dishes including Briyani rice, Nasi Kandar, Tandoori, Roti Canai, you name it. You will also find numerous stalls selling Indian sweets and biri (a version of Indian cigarette).
Day 2: A BIT OF GEORGETOWN & OUTSIDE OF IT
Early Morning Visit To The Clan Jetties
The Clan Jetties in Georgetown, Penang, are unique Chinese settlements that have been around since the 19th century. Immigrants initially came here to find new job opportunities, with most of them ended up working as porters and fishermen. But with changing time and need, most of them today are making money by catering to tourists. Out of the many clan jetties that initially resided back, six clan jetties remained, where you can visit and see stilt houses built along the jetties over the water. The homes were originally built over the water and in the seas, in order to avoid paying tax, and the interesting thing is, all the families living in Clan Jetties are, even today, are not required to pay any taxes. Each jetty is named after a specific Chinese clan, who settled in houses built along the jetties. The Chew Jetty is the most popular one to visit, but it is worth taking the time to see the other jetties as well.
Tip: Early morning is the best time to explore the area when locals are busy with their day to day work and tourists are rare to find.
Out of the many clan jetties that initially resided back, six clan jetties remained, where you can visit and see stilt houses built along the jetties over the water. The homes were originally built over the water and in the seas, in order to avoid paying tax, and the interesting thing is, all the families living in Clan Jetties are, even today, are not required to pay any taxes. Each jetty is named after a specific Chinese clan, who settled in houses built along the jetties. The Chew Jetty is the most popular one to visit, but it is worth taking the time to see the other jetties as well.
Half Day Tour To Kek Lok Si And Penang Hill
Take bus number 203 from Komtar to Kek Lok Si, which is the biggest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. The huge temple is stunning, peaceful, and impressive, with some great spot to take some photos. The bus takes nearly half an hour from Komtar to Kek Lok Si.
Not too far from Kek Lok Si (2.5 Km), is located the Penang Hill. You can either hike the 5.1 km or take bus number 204. But for those, short in time, perhaps hiking isn’t an option. It’s moreover rare to find people walking when you can cover the journey in a bus for 2Rm.
Standing at 833 meters high, Penang Hill is the oldest British hill station in Southeast Asia, dating back its foundation to the 1700s. The main highlight here is the funicular train ride that transports visitors to the Skyway, which has a stunning 360° view of the surrounding area. The train to go up the hill costs RM30/person for foreigners, RM8/person for Malaysian, opens 6:30 – 9:00 pm daily.
Tip: Try to team up with another person for Penang Hill train ride if you’re travelling solo. One person should go get the tickets while the other person stands in the entry queue for the train. This will save you a lot of time.
Day 3: DAY TREK TO MONKEY BEACH, AND BACK
Located on the other side of Penang National park, the Monkey beach in Penang is a tourist highlight and one of the top beaches in Malaysia, where you’re allowed (and moreover expected) to swim in swim-suits and even camp in the night. Getting to the entry of the Penang National Park, from Georgetown, is very easy. Just take bus number 101 (from Komtar bus station) to the end of the line and you’re there. In nearly 45 minutes you get to the starting point of Penang National Park, from where your trek to Monkey beach starts.
Now, there are three ways to get to Monkey Beach: One by hiring a personal boat, which can cost around 100-150Rm for a return ticket. Option two is, you hike one way and return by boat (something that I ended up doing). And three, you hike both ways. Depending upon your fitness level, you can reach Monkey beach in 1.5 to 3 hours. So if you hike one way and return by boat, you still invest nearly 5 hours for the monkey beach, plus 1.5 hours of bus journey from the town.
Admissions to the national park are free, you only pay for any boat services you opt for.
Be warned that hiking through the national park is going to be much more involved than you may initially anticipate. Before long you may be clambering over rocks, ducking under tree trunks, scrambling down steep ledges and circumnavigating a maze of branches and roots. In short, you will be walking through a dense forest, so dress appropriately. And then, there will be heat. So don’t forget to carry enough water and food with you. There is absolutely nothing to buy anything along the way. However, once you reach Monkey Beach you may find some shot, but with everyone charging at least 25% extra of the retail price.
Hike to monkey beach is going to take a good share of your day. But if you still find some time and a bit of energy left in you, I’ll recommend exploring Gurney drive and perhaps even dining there, at Gurney Drive evening street food market.