Penang is little more than an hour away by air, and a great spot for beach lovers and budding foodies alike!
A riveting blend of fine Peranakan culture, beautiful streets beaming with art and lip-smacking food, Penang is one of my favourite spots for a long-weekend getaway from Singapore.
Georgetown – the capital of Penang and a UNESCO World Heritage Zone – is a potpourri of contrasts. From colourful Peranakan houses to modern skyscrapers, from streets lined with hawker food stalls to modern eclectic cafes, from beaming luxury cars to trishaws… this is an experience that is better seen than described!
On our first girlie holiday (mama-daughter, without the hubby), I was looking forward to some culture trails with my 6-year-old daughter (although before we got there, all she seemed to care about was the trishaw rides that she’d seen in the guide book)!
Here’s a list of the Top 10 things to do in Penang when you’re traveling with little explorers:
1. Go on a Street Art Trail Treasure Hunt
Street art murals have now become a cultural landmark of Penang and depict everyday Malaysian life with interesting props like bicycles, trishaws and swings. Grab a street art trail map, a hat, and your child’s hand (since traffic is not as disciplined as in Singapore!) and set out to ‘find’ the murals. It’s almost like a treasure hunt for the kids – hand them a map, too!
2. Penang Hill Funicular
Head to the Air Itam area in Penang to catch the funicular tram to Penang Hill (we took a local bus to get there from Georgetown). At the top, Penang Hill offers panoramic views of the city, but the ride on the funicular is just as exciting!
3. Riding a Trishaw
Get a trishaw ride across the streets of Georgetown (actually a ride can be a bit tricky; my daughter loved it and ended up taking several trishaw rides in the 4 days). Experience the heritage core zone with this open top ride (soak the sights and the smells) and get a free history lesson from the Trishaw Uncle!
4. Performances at the Khoo Khongsi
Khoo Kongsi Clan House is a magnificent house and temple on Lebuh Cannon in the core zone that often hosts traditional lion and dragon dance performances in the evenings; definitely look up their events calendar before you go. The ‘lions’ and ‘dragons’ are pretty interactive and usually pose with the kids after the performances!
5. Busking on Armenian Street
Musicians and street entertainers are frequently busking on Armenian Street in the UNESCO core zone on weekends. There are drummers, guitarists, singers and also artists playing instruments like the ocarina (an instrument I hadn’t heard of before!). Buskers coupled with colourful art galleries, trinket shops and the fact that busking evenings have no vehicular traffic on the street make it a perfect and lively stroll to take with kids.
6. Lip smacking street food
A walk down the streets of Georgetown in the evening makes it easy to see why Penang is called the ‘Food Capital of Malaysia’! Come sundown, locals and tourists alike flock to hawker food stalls lining the streets. Stalls – mostly family run – serve finger food freshly cooked/ barbecued/ stirred in front of you – barbecued meats, noodles, steamed fish balls, the sweet and sour rojak…you’ll be spoilt for choice!
7. Batu Ferringhi
Spend a day lazing (with kids? what was I thinking?!) at the white sandy beach of Batu Ferringhi — the second most popular destination in Penang after Georgetown. If you don’t want stay in the Georgetown area, this is the next best accommodation option with luxury and branded resort chains. There are great dining options and popular water sports, too.
8. Gurney Drive
This is a beautiful esplanade in Georgetown with hawker stalls and seaside restaurants, ideal for an evening stroll. It’s a short trishaw ride form the core zone of Georgetown.
9. Peranakan Museum (Baba Nyonya House)
Visit this heritage Peranakan mansion which gives a great overview of the Baba-Nyonya culture. The mansion is colourful and eclectic, and kids will love to see what dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms looked like in the 19th century.
10. Ferry to Butterworth
While Georgetown on Penang Island and Butterworth on the mainland are connected by a drive-through bridge, kids will enjoy a ferry ride over to Butterworth (the journey being more exciting than the destination). You’ll get great views of the Straits of Malacca while soaking up the cool sea breeze (at less than RM2 a ride).
I think we could have easily spent over a week in Penang, but even a long weekend is great to soak in the old world charm at this eclectic and charismatic island. Just be sure to visit on an empty stomach!