What to do in Penang

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First published 29th July, 2009

Whether you are in Penang on your way to Thailand or you've just popped out to renew your Thai visa, you're in for a treat as there's a lot more to Penang than just hanging around waiting for a stamp. Penang boils over with culture and history, amazing buildings, great food and good shopping, there are even wildlife treks and cinemas showing the latest movie releases in English too. Whatever of these you fancy you can pack into the time it takes for your Thai visa application to be processed.

Your first priority though is the paperwork and luckily enough it's all very simple. For a small fee any guesthouse, backpacker lodging or licensed money changer in the Chulia Street area will be able to process your visa application for you. There's nothing really to choose between any of them and it's all quite safe and the well accepted way of things. Most places stay open quite late so even if you arrive after dark you will still be able to get your application in for the next day.

If you prefer the DIY approach, you'll find the Thai consulate at 1 Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman (T: (04) 226 8029) and it is open Monday to Friday from 09:00-12.00 and 14:00-16:30. Remember to check for Thai and Malay holidays, there are a lot of them, and the consulate will be closed for most of them. The consulate only accepts visa applications in the morning -- between 09:00 and 11:00. Tourist visas may be ready the same day but other types of visas may take longer.

Burmese Temple, Penang

Kapitan Keling Mosque, Penang

If some culture and history is what you fancy then put on some comfy shoes, grab a tourist map and hit Georgetown's pavement. First stop, The Penang Museum, will give you a taster of all things passed in Penang and a great overview of other historical sites too. The museum lies close to the waterfront amongst some other notable buildings; on either side you will find The Church of the Assumption and St Georges Church. Meander towards Fort Cornwallis and the imposing and official structures of The Town Hall, City Hall and Supreme Court stand fast at the opposite end of the green where Fort Cornwallis watches the water.

Leaving the waterfront behind, follow Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling into Little India and watch British Colonialism melt away. Ornate temples like The Goddess of Mercy and Sri Maha Mariamman with their intricate design will delight the eye. The brilliant white of Kapitan Keling Mosque will draw you into its story too. The Chinese influence to the city shows its splendour through their clan houses which lie close to the jetties and Khoo Kongsi is by far the most ornate. This whole area is rife with so many cultural sites it's easy to believe you are in a living museum.

If you've been travelling for a while though your hunger might be for some more modern pastimes. If you fall into the shop-til-you drop category then you could do a lot worse than prowling the five floors of the Komtar complex; stock up on toiletries, update your travelling wardrobe or blow some cash on electronics. Make it to the top with some money left then treat yourself to a well earnt sit down in the cinema. Feeling just a tad guilty that you've spent the whole day shopping and seen none of Penangs sites? Cheat and console yourself with a visit to the viewing deck of the Komtar Tower next door where you will get a 360 degrees birds eye view of the whole city.

If the concrete jungle is not your thing then the real jungle is only a bus ride away. Penang National Park is actually the world's smallest but the views along the treks are stunning and bring you to some lovely beaches too. Long tailed macaques, huge water monitor lizards, slow loris and flying lemurs all make their home here and the lucky will see turtle hatchlings sharing the beach with horse shoe crabs too.

A visit to Penang Hill or Kek Lok Si will also get you out of town and are perfect half day trips for those who fancy a lie in. Penang Hill was the original hill station set up by the British, enjoy the cooler air and fantastic views too. For a bit a peace and quiet head to the Bellevue Hotel for afternoon tea and watch the city light up as dusk falls. A funicular built in 1921 still operates today and will take you up the hillside in around half an hour and there are some good walking trails around the hill too. Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and comprises of many buildings and structures stretching over the hill at Air Itam. A cable car will whisk you to the very top to see more temples and the representation of the Zodiac but they all fade away next to the massive statue of Kuan Yin -- The Goddess of Mercy. This statue stands 120 feet tall, is made of bronze and surrounded by 16 Dragon pillars all 200 feet tall. The representation is not complete and is still surrounded by scaffolding yet even whilst under construction it's certainly impressive.

Maybe this all sounds far too energetic, so why not sleep late, have brunch in Little India, wander to Chulia Street and shoot the breeze with your fellow travellers, browse the second hand book stores, and spend some time on the net until it's time for food again and repeat until it's time for bed -- don't forget to pick up your duly visa-stamped passport before heading back to Thailand!

About the author:
Ayesha ditched her power suit in favour of a wetsuit and ventured to Ko Tao to indulge in her passion for scuba diving. Apart from writing for Travelfish.org she manages the Master Divers Blog and whenever possible is underwater with her camera shooting fish!

Read 2 comment(s)

  • now Penang is feature as one of the UNESCO world heritage places, a lot more than 200years old temples, churches, and multi-cultured buildings, and don`t miss the Kek-Lok-Si pagoda temple, it is one of the granded temple in Asia, it worth your time to go around, remember to taste the local street or restaurant foods, it is one of the well-known "Food Paradise" in Asia.

    Posted by Lee on 29th November, 2010

  • Komtar has since died as a shopping haven with most of the shops now gone. A better place would be the newer Queensbay or Greenlane malls. Also, one should take note that the chinese coffee shop food in Penang is widely regarded as the best street food in Malaysia.

    Posted by Friedbeef on 1st January, 2011

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