Penang (rhymes with tang) is Malaysia’s Chiang Mai so if you’re having Northern Thailand withdrawals, Penang is the next best alternative. With 7/11s around every corner and more travel agencies and street food than you could ask for, after a while, you’d never know the difference. Though both cities have a similar vibe, Penang is bigger and more spread out. That being said, 72 hours is nowhere near enough time to experience everything Penang has to offer.
Catching a bus from KL to Penang is very easy. Buses leave every 30 minutes or so from Puduraya Bus Terminal, they cost 35 RM, and the journey takes roughly 4 hours. The long distance buses are some of the nicest I’ve come across. The seats are one notch down from full-on reclining lazy boy chairs with more legroom than you know what to do with. The bus will either drop you off at Butterworth Bus Station on the mainland or Komtar Bus Station in Georgetown. My advice would be to get off at Butterworth so you can have the experience of taking the ferry across the strait. It’s 1.20 RM, the ride takes 20 minutes, and you get a lovely view of Georgetown’s east coastline along the way.
Plus, the ferries carry both cars and people. Bet you don’t have that option where YOU live, hmm?
What To Do With 72 Hours
On your first day in town, spend some time walking around, getting to know the temples, buddha statues, and markets. Additionally, all of the side streets that extend off of Lebuh Chulia and Campbell Street are well known for street stalls and an overdosage of market vendors trying to sell you things you don’t need.
Venture up to Penang Hill that overlooks the water and main island. You can take a tram to the top (30 RM) or hike. Once you’ve reached the peak, there are various trails on which to wander off at your heart’s desire. As you mosey along, enjoy the odd nature all around you, maybe stop in at the tiger temple, or buy some souvenirs at the owl sanctuary. Personally speaking, I ended up spending a good few hours just walking along the main trail, which I assume circles the entire hill, but I only covered a small portion of it before I realized the sun was going down. Penang Hill is a photographer’s paradise and is not to be missed.
Walk to the Penang Bridge. The bridge is closed to pedestrians and simply serves as a main link between the main island and Georgetown. However, the city holds an annual marathon every October where the bridge is overtaken by runners instead of cars. When you take the bus back to KL, you’ll have a chance to take some pictures over the water as you go.
Spend a day at Batu Ferringhi beach where you can simply relax or unleash the adventurer in you with parasailing, jet skis, a ride on a long tail boat, volleyball, or swimming. The beach is easily accessible by bus number 101 (takes about 1 hour to get there), and they have dirt cheap chinese food there as well. Before you head back into the city center, be sure to make a pit stop at the floating mosque.
For dinner or drinks, try Upper Penang Road, but maybe only once or twice. Restaurant and bar prices are higher than normal because it’s a tourist hotspot. Little India is a much more vibrant and upbeat scene, especially at night, and the food is cheaper too. You know how almost every major city has its own version of Chinatown? Well, it’s a nice change of pace and scenery to dine, dance, and enjoy an evening out in Little India.
After Penang Hill, try your second dose of nature at the National Park where you can spend a day or two hiking the trails or even try out the canopy walk running through the foliage of the park. Bring your tennis shoes, water, a camera, and your nerves of steel as some of the rocky paths are known to be a bit strenuous with tree roots looking to trip you up when you get tired.
Penang is a charming little town, and if you’re not careful, it may just sweep you off your feet. But would that be such a bad thing?