A lot of people just head to Georgetown if they travel to Penang Island in Malaysia. That’s what we did eight years ago. We stayed in the city, ate a lot of food and wandered about the beautiful streets. Georgetown is amazing and we have included it in our top things to do, but it is definitely worth exploring the rest of the island.
So here are our top things to do in Penang. Plus tips for doing them on a budget and with small kids in case that’s useful!
This is the oldest British Hill Station in the area and is a fantastic day out. The main way to get to the top is to use the funicular train line and that is one of the best parts of the trip too. Trains run from around 6.30am to 11pm and return tickets cost 30rm (15rm for kids age 4-12). There is some history information to have a look at and the ride takes about 10 minutes. The hill is pretty steep and it feels like the little train is shooting up the track! When you reach the top there are a few walks you can do around the hill, taking in some historical sights and some nature trails that take you past the resident Dusky Leaf Monkeys and Giant Black Squirrels. There is also a viewpoint looking out over the island, across to Georgetown and you can even see the bridges connecting the island with the mainland. There are hiking trails up the hill, if you are into that sort of thing (click here for the routes)! Although the distance isn’t too far, the hill is steep and the humidity/heat are high, so it’s not massively child friendly unless you hike regularly as a family. We didn’t hike, we are too lazy, we had afternoon tea instead!! At the top of Penang Hill is Strawberry Hill, charmingly named because Captain Francis Light (the founder of the Penang colony) cleared some of this area to plant, you guessed it, strawberries! On the hill is David Brown’s Restaurant, a colonial style British restaurant that holds functions and serves lovely food. Their afternoon tea was outstanding. They serve a range of savory treats, scones and tiny cakes and each item was perfect. We ordered two of the children’s meals as well and they were really generous and delicious. There is also a bar on the route to David Brown’s, that does decent snack food and drinks with a great view, at a lower price than the main restaurant. The train up the hill, monkey sightings and afternoon tea, is perfect for a family with young kids and made this one of our best days out so far!
More info here!
Kek Lok Si Temple
This is a bit of an odd one. If you search the temple online, or especially on Instagram, it looks absolutely amazing; serene and colourful, with prime photo taking locations. In reality, these parts exist but mixed up in a bit of a confusing jumble. There is construction going on, tourist and religious souvenirs/offerings to buy and different tickets needed for access to various parts. Weirdly, wikipedia says construction finished in 1930 but that is clearly not the case and they are obviously adding to it all the time. It is still definitely worth a visit and we had fun, but be prepared for a bit of bewilderment! It is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and pilgrims come from all over South East Asia. The temple is built over different levels, with a funicular to access them. Tickets for the lifts are not expensive but don’t cover entrance to all of the parts of the temple. Technically the temple is free, and we didn’t go into any of the ticketed areas (like the seven-story pagoda). If you are on a budget or going with small children it probably isn’t worth it, as the free areas are big enough to spend a long time going around. The garden area with the Gate to Nirvana (of Insta-fame) is really pretty and we were impressed with the enormous (37m) bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. The children’s favourite parts, predictably, were the funicular rides, the pond of turtles you can feed and when a nice monk gave the lollipops!
The internet and any guide book will be full of information about the town and it is easy enough to find lots to do. We think the best way to see it is to head for a start point, like Love Lane, then either wander and lose yourself in the streets or use google maps to check off some of the famous murals and UNESCO World Heritage architecture. We really recommend breakfast at Wheelers. You can enjoy an amazing breakfast, Malay coffee and see some of the backpacker side of Penang mixed up with the historical parts. Here you can also have a look at some of the wrought iron caricatures created by SCULPTUREATWORK, that poke a bit of fun at some of the history of the area. Any guesses as to the origins of Love Lane’s name? A clue: the sculpture here features a ‘cheating husband’! Our other recommendation has got to be Passions of Kerala, a banana leaf curry restaurant that we loved when we came alone, all those years ago, and wanted to take the kids to this time. The vegetable rice/curry set is fantastic on it’s own, but the mutton curry and fried chicken are wonderful. Wear lose fitting clothes!
ESCAPE Adventure and Water Park
You can read our full review of the park here. ESCAPE is built on the idea that we should all switch off and get back to nature and just have fun.! There is an ‘adventure and gravity’ side with zip wires, climbing ropes, trampolines etc and a ‘water’ side with slides, splash areas, lazy river and so on. This would need to be a treat if you were on a strict budget, but it is absolutely amazing and we would recommend it for all ages. There is just so much to do here!