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Your guide to Penang
All About Penang
The state of Penang comprises a strip of Malaysia’s mainland and Penang Island, directly off the coast of western Malaysia. Ornate, gold-brushed temples are dotted throughout the state, with the hilltop Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam as a prime example with its giant Buddhist statues and colorful lanterns. Penang Island’s capital, George Town, is the state’s cultural hub; its historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage City. At its busy night markets, street vendors cook up delicious local dishes like the classic char koay teow (shrimp fried with flat noodles) and Indian snacks like putu mayong (rice vermicelli topped with shredded coconut and sugar). Wander through the heart of George Town and you’ll find dozens of giant murals by local and international artists. Some 3D paintings are optical illusions, while others support local causes.
Penang is home to dozens of museums highlighting its history and contemporary life. The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery in George Town, in an 1817 former school, houses artifacts including traditional instruments, weapons, and photos; the art gallery has permanent and rotating exhibitions of contemporary sculpture, photography, film, and painting.
When is the best time to stay in a vacation rental in Penang?
Penang has tropical, hot, and humid weather year-round. The rainiest time of year usually lasts from April to November. In winter, the three-day Hindu festival of Thaipusam sees colorful processions from George Town’s historic center to the more than 500 steps leading to Arulmigu Sri Balathandayuthapani Waterfall Hilltop Temple. Throughout the summer, Penang celebrates public holidays like Malaysia’s Independence Day on August 31 with parades, food, and local performances.
In the fall, Deepavali, known as the Festival of Lights, recognizes the Hindu new year, when local Hindu temples and homes are illuminated to represent the start of a positive new year. For weeks leading up to Deepavali, you can shop from local vendors selling handmade saris, home decor, and sweets throughout the Little India neighborhood in George Town.
In the spring, all of Malaysia celebrates Wesak Day, a national public holiday and vibrant festival where extravagant floats are adorned with lights, flowers, and Buddhist symbols to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.
What are the top things to do in Penang?
Temple of Nine Emperor
The Chinese Temple of Nine Emperor in Butterworth on Penang’s mainland is an elaborately decorated Taoist temple resembling ancient architecture with carved dragons along its pagoda roofs. The best time to visit is at night, when the archways to the temple are lit and embellished with hanging red lanterns. Leading up to Chinese New Year, the temple hosts night markets with vegetarian versions of typical Chinese dishes like pork char siew and roast duck, as is the custom at this time of year.
Penang National Park
The 3,000-acre Penang National Park is one of the world’s smallest national parks, packed with dense rainforest and two palm-tree-lined beaches. You might spot dusky leaf monkeys or long-tailed macaques on your trek through heavy jungle bush along the 4.5-mile Pantai Kerachut Trail to Turtle Beach, named for the turtles that nest on its shores.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion
This 19th-century mansion turned museum in George Town houses thousands of artifacts detailing Peranakan history — the mix of Chinese, Malay, and Indonesian heritage — in Malaysia over the last 200 years. The building’s dramatic facades and balcony-adorned courtyards conceal ornate rooms filled with European and Chinese antique furniture, traditional clothing, and dishware.