Experience Penang in 24 Hours
Travel Guides & Tips

Experience Penang in 24 Hours

Penang island (Pulau Pinang) is a city I like making pilgrimages to, whenever I’m homebound from Europe or anywhere else in the world. It doesn’t matter where my eventual destination after that lies–Bangkok, Bali or Bagan–but first, Penang. That itself says a lot. The city seduces me like no other. Her vibrant patchwork of cultures, the everyday hustle and bustle of her contemporary present supported by her old-fashioned past  and her glorious variety of local cuisine are worth the stopover, even if it’s as short as 24 hours. Challenging but doable-here’s what you can do in Penang if you only have a day to spend.

EARLY MORNING: PAD YOUR STOMACH WELL AND GO STREET ART HUNTING

Street Art Hunting in Penang
Source: Shutterstock.com

Check out Lebuh Carnavon, especially the stretch close to Campbell Street Market for the morning market’s vendors that pepper the sidewalk. Here you’ll get to pick a hot meal you like to start your day with. Order a hot plate of char kuey teow off the wok or unpack a humble triangle of nasi lemak; let the heat and the spices jolt your senses awake. If you’re one who prefers something sweet for breakfast, there is a wide assortment of freshly baked pastries and puffs to choose from, like flaky egg tarts and candy-coloured nyonya kuih.  Fill your stomach well and wash it down with a mug of sweet teh-tarik or kopi panas.

Eat nyonya kuih in Penang
Source: Shutterstock.com

After breakfast, be sure to pack your camera along. Whether by bicycle or on foot, explore the neighbouring heritage streets of Lebuh Armenian, Lebuh Muntri, Lebuh Chulia and around. Here you’ll not only find colourful facades and well-preserved temples, mosques and clan-houses, but also drab walls adorned with murals by Ernest Zacharevi, a Lithunian artist and other local creatives. You’ll also learn something about the streets, like how Love Lane got its name, through the fascinating steel artwork that the town council has constructed in certain areas. If you don’t want to miss any of the street art, pick up a detailed brochure from your guesthouse or hostel. The brochure should contain a map that details where you can find each artwork.

After breakfast, be sure to pack your camera along. Whether by bicycle or on foot, explore the neighbouring heritage streets of Lebuh Armenian, Lebuh Muntri, Lebuh Chulia and around. Here you’ll not only find colourful facades and well-preserved temples, mosques and clan-houses, but also drab walls adorned with murals by Ernest Zacharevi, a Lithunian artist and other local creatives. You’ll also learn something about the streets, like how Love Lane got its name, through the fascinating steel artwork that the town council has constructed in certain areas. If you don’t want to miss any of the street art, pick up a detailed brochure from your guesthouse or hostel. The brochure should contain a map that details where you can find each artwork.

Street Art in Penang
Source: filmlandscape / Shutterstock.com

MID-MORNING: EXPLORE PENANG’S HISTORY AND HAVE A COFFEE IN BETWEEN

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Source: Shutterstock.com

When you’re done photographing artwork, step into the electric-blue historical mansion of Cheong Fatt Tze and admire the building’s ornate architecture that features both Eastern and Western design. Built in the 1880s in traditional Hakka-Teochew style with art nouveau stained glass windows and gorgeous floor tilework, the estate now operates as a 16-room boutique hotel and also doubles as a museum.

Have a coffee in Penang

If exploring tires you out, head towards the nearby Moontree 47 on Muntri Street. Part cafe, part art gallery and part homestay, it’s an excellent place to rest your weary feet and enjoy a cup of flat white. The place exudes a genuine old-school vibe without appearing too hipsterish or contrived. The garden out in the back offers a laid-back atmosphere, an ideal solitude to relax and also to pen postcards home. Don’t have postcards? Don’t worry–you can pick up a few at the entrance of the building. There are even cute rubber stamps available that you can use at no cost to make your postcards look cooler.

Postcards in Penang

NOON: MAKE A PILGRIMAGE TO THE TEMPLE OF SUPREME BLISS AND LUNCH

Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang
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Before hunger pangs kick in around midday, rent a motorbike and ride out to Air Itam for a glimpse of Kek Lok Si, one of the largest and most famous Buddhist temples in Malaysia. Perched on a hilltop that has been regarded geomantically significant by the spiritual, the temple was constructed in 1893 by a devout Chinese immigrant. The temple comprises of a series of monasteries, gilded prayer halls, towering pagodas and beautifully-landscaped gardens. The main attraction of the temple is a towering seven-storey Pagoda of Rama VI that boasts 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha. A recent addition of a 30.2 m bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy is also another highlight worth catching. When you make it to the top of the temple, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of the island city.

Assam Laksa Penang
Source: Tey Kher Ying

Air Itam isn’t just known for Kek Lok Si temple, it’s also known for its Assam Laksa. It’s a must-have when you visit Penang. You can smell the fishy broth from a mile away but don’t let that turn you off. The dish may look like noodles swimming in murky brown fish soup but it tastes absolutely delicious. Look out for the Pasar Air Itam Assam Laksa stall, where lines form due to the wait for vacant tables. However, if you go after 1.30pm, chances of finding seats are higher. To balance out the spicy meal, there’s a dessert stall next to it where you can have something icy and sweet.

LATE AFTERNOON: ESCAPE TO BEACH AND VISIT A FLOATING MOSQUE

Floating Mosque in Penang
Source: Shutterstock.com

For the rest of the day, catch some sea breeze and take a stroll along the coast of Tanjung Bungah. A highlight nearby is the Tengku Tengah Zaharah mosque, built on stilts across the water, hence its famous moniker the Floating Mosque. The most breathtaking moment to visit the mosque is during sunset.

EVENING: DINNER AND DRINKS

Penang Dim Sum
Source: Tey Kher Ying

For novelty’s sake, have some piping hot dimsum for dinner at De Tai Thong Restaurant, Lebuh Cintra. The traditional pushcart system still works here so you won’t have to get up from your seat to make an order. They have a wide selection of savoury and sweet platters and the prices are affordable. It gets full quickly over dinner so get there early.

Hawker stall at Lebuh Chulia Penang
Source: Gwoeii / Shutterstock.com

If you’re still feeling peckish and feeling up for a second dinner, head to the hawker area along Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Kimberly. Here you’ll find everything from local desserts like Cendol and Ais Kacang to local favourites like Satay, Mee Goreng and Wan Tan Noodles.

Finish the day with an exquisite cocktail at the Eastern & Oriental’s Farquhar Bar.

It’s a colonial British pub that offers nostalgia and old world charm through its plush armchairs and dark wooden panels. If not for the drinks, visit for the experience.

Give yourself a pat on the back if you managed to fit all these activities into a day! There’s more of Penang to discover but you’ve already covered the main highlights through the suggested itinerary. Come back to stay for another few more days and you won’t want to leave after!

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