Penang, Malaysia cruises
Your guide to Penang.
Caressing Malaysia’s northwest coast, Penang is a vibrant blend of cultures, religions and architecture, unfurling in an explosion of colors, sounds and scents. Split across mainland Malaysia and Penang island, its colonial capital George Town is a contradictory blend of historic buildings and glossy skyscrapers that’s earned UNESCO world heritage status. Fringed by dense jungle and opal sea, Penang’s sand beaches are things of beauty while its flavorsome street food is among the finest in Asia. Hit the mural trail to discover the city’s 50+ outdoor artworks, walk the Clan Jetty and tantalize your taste buds with a heady array of fusion flavors.
There’s so much to love about Penang, from traditional Thai and Buddhist temples to British Colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses and a hip local arts scene. Cruises call in the capital, George Town, and from here it’s just a case of deciding what to see first. Open-air buses offer insightful tours of the city, allowing you to hop on and off at various attractions. If visiting the Botanic Garden you’ll encounter troupes of monkeys living natively among the flora, while by the ferry port you’ll find the picturesque Clan Jetty - a series of stilted houses seemingly floating above the water’s swell.
Eating and drinking.
Penang’s kitchens are yet another example of the diverse cultural influences defining this part of Asia. You’ll recognize flavors from Thailand, China and India in Malaysian cooking and Penang’s reputation as a foodie destination is richly deserved. While it might go against all your natural instincts to eat at roadside stalls, street food is what Penang is all about. Standout dishes include Char Kway Teow (flat rice noodles stir-fried with prawns and cockles), Popiah (a kind of crepe-like spring roll) and Laska, a spicy and sour noodle soup. If you’re keen to dive in, a street food tour is a great way to experience Penang’s kaleidoscopic flavors.
There’s no shortage of glossy shopping centers in Penang but, unless you’re specifically looking for international brands, opt for a more authentic Penang shopping experience at George Town’s bustling bazaars and street markets instead. You’ll find stalls abundant with native crafts, island fashions and pungent spices, while the atmosphere is palpably electric. In markets haggling is the norm, so don’t be timid about negotiating on the opening price. If you’re less comfortable with bartering you’ll find some characterful boutiques in KOMTAR mall, which also boasts an incredible viewing deck on the 58th floor.
On the outskirts of George Town in a suburb called Air Itam, you’ll find Penang Upper Hill Station, home to a funicular railway that ascends to the top of Penang Hill. While the views across the province from here are out of this world, the journey to the top is an experience in itself to savor. Penang’s Hill Railway first opened in 1923 and was initially constructed for the British colonial community as means of escaping the city humidity for the cooler uphill climate. Today, this short scenic journey offers the same respite from George Town’s frenetic energy, while revealing far-reaching panoramas of Penang’s sprawling coastline and luminous jungle.