Discovering the lively vibes of Penang
Penang, a world-famous tourist destination known once as Pulau Pinang or “Isle of Betel Nut” is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008 and this paradise has no shortage of cultural attractions and natural landscapes. In its heart lies the cosmopolitan Georgetown, the main city of the island of Penang as well as the urban center that offers traditional elements of this part of Asia, from the trishaws pedalling to the Chinese shophouses, to name a few. Even the most modern aspects of Asian culture are visible, especially in the exceptional art scene and in its funny parties, all fed by a captivating local enthusiasm for the long history of Penang and its kaleidoscope of cultures.
To get to Penang you can fly on the Penang International Airport, formerly known as Bayan Lepas International Airport, which is located in the Bayan Lepas area of Penang. The airport is located 16 kilometers south of Georgetown, the capital of the district of Penang. Passengers arriving or departing from the north direction of the airport can have a fabulous view of Georgetown, Butterworth and the Penang Bridge.
The best time to visit the island and the district of Penang is the relatively dry period between December and March. This is located about 5° north of the equator and is therefore characterized by a warm and humid climate, with frequent downpours especially in spring, summer and autumn. This last season usually sees abundant rainfall with more than a thousand millimeters of rain falling in the mere 3 months of September, October and November. In terms of temperature, the maximum is kept constantly above 30° C throughout the year, with peaks of 32-33° C in spring. The minimums are usually maintained at values above 20-22° C.
Where to stay
G Hotel Gurney
Ideally located in Georgetown is the G Hotel Gurney. This 312-room property is situated between two renowned shopping centers, Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon, right next to the famous restaurants of Gurney Drive. From inside the G Hotel Gurney, you will not have the feeling of being in a city but rather in a metropolis. The atmosphere is cosmopolitan and the style is contemporary, the rooms are modern and are certainly more than comfortable.
The third floor of G Hotel Gurney is the place of the outdoor pool deck, which takes up a good part of guests’ stay, as well as the gym and SPA. Add 4 bars and restaurants, an executive lounge, a hair salon and a new conference center and you will get an extraordinarily complete package, an exceptional starting point to enjoy Georgetown. Thanks to its location you will have exclusive access to its best restaurants and shops as well as to the city’s financial district. For booking and requests, please visit www.ghotel.com.my
G Hotel Kelawai
G Hotel Kelawai is the sister hotel of the G Hotel Gurney and is just within 5 minutes walking distance away. A brilliant feature of G Hotels is that you can access all the services and privileges of both hotels. The 208-room G-Hotel Kelawai is the place where the iconic design and the avant-garde lifestyle create the conditions for an exclusive and extraordinary stay. The appeal of the hotel is more based on privacy and exclusivity than the G Hotel Gurney. Guests can enjoy the most precious modern luxury, more precisely peace and quiet, even if you are in the lively city of Penang.
This is a charming hotel with a modernity suffused in terms of bold and innovative approach and design. Visitors will find designer furniture everywhere, from the lobby to the functional and hotel rooms. G Hotel Kelawai offers 3 on-site dining options, each with a different atmosphere. There’s the Spoon Café, a great all-day dining option that serves a variety of fresh food from all over the world. The 2PM Lounge has an option for outdoor dining, perfect for afternoon tea. At the hotel’s pool bar, you can stop for a nice drink as well as at Gravity, rooftop bar that spectacular views aside, the real deal here is the myriad of mouthwatering shots prepared by well-trained mixologists. Just enjoy the outdoor pool, 24-hour fitness center, steam bath and pool loungers to complete a great stay in Georgetown. Located on the 24th floor, G Hotel Kelawai Executive Lounge offers incredible views of Georgetown. The space is perfect for business meetings or simply for relaxing with a glass of wine. For booking and requests, please visit www.ghotel.com.my
What to see in Penang
Georgetown is the capital of the island of Penang, with a long and important colonial history under British rule. It is also one of the largest cities in terms of population and size of Malaysia, despite being located on a small island. Founded in 1786 by the British merchant Francis Light, Georgetown has progressively grown to become a modern and vibrant cosmopolitan center, where old buildings are combined with the modern and natural heritage of the island. A long bridge, the Penang Bridge (Jambatan Pulau Pinang) connects Georgetown with the mainland. It is the third largest bridge in the world, certainly the most conspicuous in all of Southeast Asia. The most beautiful beaches of Penang are located on the northern coast of the island. Despite the large population and rapid urbanization, Penang still has some magic to offer with its beaches and islands.
Batu Feringghi has come a long way, starting from its Portuguese port roots for operators from India in the 14th century. The stretch of beach is now well developed and is full of tourist villages, restaurants and stalls that have sprung up specifically to satisfy the tourist market. The beach is clean and is a place that attracts large crowds on weekends. Batu Feringghi makes the atmosphere feel comparable to the best places in Southeast Asia. There are excellent international restaurants and local cuisine that flock all around the beach. At night, all the way along the beach is transformed into a hive of activity and turns into a large night market.
On the opposite side of the Pearl of the East, life takes a much quieter approach. Balik Pulau does not have the reputation it deserves as a place worthy of a visit. Of course, it could not be developed like Georgetown and certainly does not give off a charm similar to that of Batu Ferringhi but it compensates all this with its tranquility. Therefore, for those looking for a slower pace of life and wanting to get close to unspoiled nature, go and visit Balik Pulau without a doubt. The city center, or better known as Kongsi, which means “sharing” in Malay, embodies an image of rural charm. Long ago, people of all races worked mostly in the surrounding plantations and stayed together in the municipal wooden houses, hence the name. Days can be spent scouring its streets in search of fermented fruit, local sweets, spices and dry goods, as well as historic buildings like shops and an old empty market, built in 1904. Spiritual shrines are a fascinating testimony to the multicultural remake, Masjid Daerah is elegantly assembled with the architecture of the Middle East, facing large rice fields is the newly renovated Sri Manalmedu Muthu Mariamman Temple, Xuan Wu Chinese Temple, built in the 1800s, is located behind the School of St. George and the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus which is a colonial style church in the heart of the city. The gently shaded rice fields, green and yellow, are a dominant part of the scenery. But these are only half the fun. Get comfortable shoes and walk around the area to meet the farmers and see their skills in the cultivation of the fields.
It is not a secret that Balik Pulau is famous for being the home of delicious durian, and between May to August, the orchards are a magnet for tourists. These fruits never lack in variety, each with a characteristic taste and smell. In fact, specific tours are organized for the Durian devotees. Among the renowned farms, there are Lim Brothers Farm and FCS Durian Orchard. The Lim Brothers also sells durian kuih in sticky-sweet, while the FCS Durian has a wooden opener that could open a durian in less than 30 seconds. Don’t forget to leave space in your stomach for other tropical fruits such as cempedak, duku langsat, petai, machang, longkong and ciku. Enjoy!
Driving out Georgetown, head first towards the center of Penang Island to the lively Ayer Itam. This friendly town has few tourists and its colorful market is worth a stop, even if the tourist buses of the nearby Kek Lok Si Temple, marked with a 30-meter statue of the goddess Kuan Yin, are not too far away. The Buddhist temple is always crowded, and the nearby Penang Hill is actually more Zen, with a nature trail to follow through the rainforest after descending from the funicular that brings visitors up and down daily.
The scenic beach of Teluk Bahang is quiet and shady. Offering a serene and pleasant climate, the Teluk Bahang is perfect for a weekend retreat without the stress of big crowds like in Batu Ferringhi. Those who crave isolated beaches should go to Teluk Duyung, Monkey Beach, Pantai Kerachut or Pantai Mas, all sandy shores that are only accessible via trails through the Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve at Teluk Bahang.
One hour away from the beach of Kerachut at Teluk Bahang is Teluk Kampi, which is the longest stretch of beach in Penang National Park. Here you can do a variety of leisure activities including swimming, camping, bird watching and much more. Between February and April, Teluk Kampi becomes a special place for the presence of sea turtles that come to nest.
Pulau Aman means “Island of Peace” in the Malay language. Its location is between Penang and the Seberang Perai district. As the name suggests, the island is a quiet place, with a population of about 300 people living in a quaint village. Here tourists can devote themselves to fishing, engage in water sports or go trekking in the woods that surrounds all of Aman. This stunning place can be easily reachable by a boat ride from the city of Tambun. As for day trippers, the focal point would be the well-known mee udang at the wooden restaurant on stilts that extends out into the sea with a gorgeous panoramic view of the coast. The restaurant has been around for almost than 20 years serving up a limited menu of mee udang, mee goreng udang (fried prawn noodles) and nasi goreng udang (fried prawn rice). However the seafood at Pulau Aman is famous for its freshness and price. At the wooden jetty leading to the restaurant is a small stall manned by fishermen selling fresh caught seafood, from flower crabs to fishes to large mantis prawns. Visitors have the option of buying these sea creatures to bring home or they can take the bucket full of fresh seafood to the restaurant and have them clean and cook it for a small fee. Please remember that there will be a lot of people lining up to get their hands on those delights!