Rediscovering Penang

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This post was written by Chad Merchant

“Why in the world would I fly to Penang??”

That was my first thought when I was afforded the opportunity to take a trip to Penang with the award-winning Firefly Airlines. After all, I had been to Penang numerous times before, and had always driven. It seemed odd to me to consider flying to a place I could reach by car in three hours or so. Surprisingly, the short flight aboard Firefly’s beautiful ATR-72 turboprop aircraft made a believer out of me. Flying from Subang Skypark is always a delight, anyway… easy to get to, modern, clean, and efficient. Moreover, the flight is an extremely popular one. Firefly has no fewer than eight flights a day to Penang (and back), and on some days, as many as ten. In fact, if you’re reading this between 7am and 10pm, there’s a very good chance that a Firefly flight is in the air between Subang and Penang!

Once in Penang, I headed to the shores of Batu Ferringhi on the north coast of the island and checked in to the chic Hard Rock Hotel. Though I didn’t score one of their signature Lagoon Deluxe rooms with the pool immediately off the room’s balcony, I did enjoy a posh top-floor room overlooking the sea. Though the room’s furnishings naturally run a bit towards the modern and hip rather than traditional and opulent, there can be no doubt that this is one of the swankier resorts on the island; guests will want for nothing in their rooms.

But few memorable vacations are spent holed up in one’s hotel room, and as I had been to Penang quite a few times already, I was craving something new. For that, I turned to the professionals at Discovery Overland Holidays, one of Malaysia’s most well-respected travel and tour operators. They arranged wonderful trips to Penang Hill – an obvious tourist destination, but nevertheless one I hadn’t visited. We rode the amazing funicular railway to the top and the views and the weather were fantastic… significantly cooler than the lowlands. It’s a delightful area to explore, and it’s replete with history, as well. As you wander amid the forested lanes and see the stately old colonial bungalows, it’s easy to imagine a bygone era with the lords and ladies of the gentry strolling about, looking down (literally and figuratively) on the hustle and bustle of the city below them.

We also spent some time at the stunning temple complex of Kek Lok Si, among the most well-known of Penang’s “must-see” sites and indeed one of the largest Buddhist temples in Asia, but once again, something I had somehow failed to experience. We got to see the soaring pavilion housing the magnificent statue of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. At over 30 metres high, the statue is certainly imposing.

There was also a tour of the heritage area of George Town, a couple of delightful meals – local hawker food for lunch and Nyonya cuisine by the sea for dinner – and even an impromptu stop at Tean Ean, the well-known manufacturer of tasty biscuits and purveyor of Chinese herbs.

All in all, though there was nothing apparently extraordinary about the itinerary, it was, for me, like seeing Penang for the first time, and something about having arrived by plane made it feel more like a getaway. When we checked out of the Hard Rock Hotel and made our way back to Penang International for that short Firefly flight back to Subang, I felt like I had finally really seen the best of Penang.
Firefly passengers enjoy complimentary 20-kg checked baggage allowance, inflight refreshments, assigned seating, and a relaxed 30-minute check-in requirement at the airport.

For booking and information, please visit

Source: The Expat August 2012
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