Overview of Penang

Most visitors to Penang will find themselves staying in Georgetown, the region's biggest city and cultural center.
Most visitors to Penang will find themselves staying in Georgetown, the region's biggest city and cultural center.

A unique destination offering a combination of tropical beauty and modern technology, Penang is one of Malaysia's top tourist destinations for good reason. The island state, known as the country's food capital, is a dream vacation destination for beach lovers, keen shoppers, culture buffs, foodies, and fans of exotic tropical landscapes from all around the world.

Located just south of Malaysia's border with Thailand, Penang has a warm tropical climate that's significantly less harsh than the weather in many of Malaysia's cities. Most days are fairly warm and rain-free, particularly during the period around the new year. Thanks to its traveler-friendly temperature and moderate level of development, Penang is both a tourist spot and a major city.

The state of Penang is made up of both coastal peninsula land and the island itself, although it's Penang Island that's of most interest to tourists. Connected to Peninsular Malaysia by one of the longest bridges in Southeast Asia, Penang Island is the tourist hotspot of the region, with a huge range of hotels, beaches, and historical attractions bringing in visitors throughout the year.

Once on the island, visitors are well catered to. From the cramped streets of Georgetown to the beautiful coastal areas of Tanjung Bungah, Penang is home to a wide range of hotels and great places to stay. With some of the cheapest five-star hotels in the world, many of which back onto private beaches and gorgeous coastline, Penang is a budget paradise for beach and culture fans.

Most visitors to Penang will find themselves staying in Georgetown, the region's biggest city and cultural center, or the beachside areas of Tanjung Bungah or Batu Ferringhi. Georgetown itself is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historic buildings and beautiful Malay Taoist temples. It's also the island's world famous food capital, home to hundreds of hawker stands.

Batu Ferringhi is Penang's beach tourism capital, hosting many of the island's adventure tourism outlets and much of its adrenaline-filled activities.
Batu Ferringhi is Penang's beach tourism capital, hosting many of the island's adventure tourism outlets and much of its adrenaline-filled activities.

Batu Ferringhi is Penang's beach tourism capital, hosting many of the island's adventure tourism outlets and much of its adrenaline-filled activities. While the beach itself has been ruined by the island's rapidly expanding tourism industry, it's still a fun place to hang out for visitors that don't mind the hustle and bustle and mass tourism that's quickly moving in.

Tanjung Bungah, located to the south of Batu Ferringhi, is a more quiet and family-focused beach destination. With several high-rise condominiums and many of the island's most exclusive hotels, it's the postcard Penang as most visitors imagine it. Tanjung Bungah is home to many of Penang's best beaches, although jellyfish render its waters somewhat dangerous and swimmer-unfriendly.

Throughout the southern half of Penang, you'll find smaller settlements and manufacturing zones, as well as many of the island's rainforest areas. Although Penang is fairly developed, the southern half of the island is significantly quieter than Georgetown's bustling city streets. Picturesque farms and untouched beaches dot the southern coastline, and are a great attraction for adventurous visitors.

Penang's main attraction is its incredible culture and stunning local food scene, which brings many of Malaysia's best dishes and cuisines together. From the small alleys of Georgetown to the seaside lanes of Gurney Drive, Penang's hawker stands are legendary and incredibly popular amongst locals and visitors to the island alike.

Likewise, Penang's incredible history makes it a jewel in Malaysia. With colonial buildings from its time as a British colony to beautiful Taoist temples courtesy of the island's large Chinese population and vibrant religious community, Penang is full of beautiful historic and cultural sites. The alleys of Georgetown are lined by gorgeous colonial buildings, many of which house local businesses.

At the same time, Penang is a surprisingly modern and shopper-friendly destination. Local favorites like the Prangin Mall blend with high-end shopping centers like Gurney Plaza to make Penang one of the best shopping destinations in Malaysia. From cheap local fare to international brands, Penang has something to offer every shopper, regardless of their style or budget.

Finally, Penang is located close to Langkawi – one of Malaysia's most gorgeous island archipelagos. Boat trips depart to the islands on a daily basis, bringing visitors from Penang over to the islands for beachside relaxation and adventure. With some of the world's best SCUBA diving spots in the area, Penang acts as a great 'hub' for travelers interested in exploring Malaysia's top coastal dive spots.

Whether you're visiting for the beaches or the shopping, the food or the culture, Penang remains one of Malaysia's best tourist destinations. Despite heavy development and growing industry, the island remains largely unspoiled and certainly unique for visitors. A 'food heaven,' explorers' paradise, and modern city all in one, Penang is undoubtedly Malaysia's top coastal destination.