Hidden Gems in Penang You Must Visit

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This post was written by Kat Fatland

Don’t just stick to the well-worn routes of George Town when exploring Penang: Kat Fatland discovers the treats to be enjoyed on the less-visited southern half of the island.

Unlike the fair majority of expats in Penang, who choose to live near George Town or Batu Ferringhi, my partner and I reside on the south side of the island, in Bayan Lepas.The location was chosen for work reasons but, over the last year or so, we’ve both found ourselves charmed by the experiences unique to our area.

Away from the more touristy areas of Penang, the south has much to offer those willing to look. From unconventional temples and village views to delicious local and international fare, a trip off the beaten path to the island’s south makes for a wonderful weekend outing, and may just leave you coming back for more.

Sam Poh Footprint Temple

On the southeastern corner of Penang island, rather obscured from view behind one of the island’s most ambitious new housing development projects, there rests a very special rock. Surrounded by a small Chinese temple, the rock bears an almost 1m-long imprint that Chinese locals believe is an ancient footprint of Captain Zheng He, a legendary 15thcentury explorer and adventurer from China’s Yunnan province.

With his fleet of ships, Zheng He (whose local name is Sam Poh) is said to have conquered pirates, waged wars, and made China’s presence known all over Asia, as far as the holy city of Mecca. As the footprint would suggest, the man was said to be of giant proportions. Although he covered much ground during his seven expeditions, the question of whether he was ever actually in

Penang remains unanswered: the footprint seems to be symbolic proof enough for some.

However, Indian Penangites believe this to be the footprint of Hanuman, an Indian deity legendary for his role in the Ramayana, one of India’s great epic stories. In the tale, King Rama’s wife Sita is abducted by the demon king, Ravana. During his search, he enlists the help of Hanuman, but their journey is seemingly put to an end upon encountering the uncrossable sea until Hanuman remembers that, long ago, the god Shiva gave him the power to jump over the ocean. Upon his recollection, Hanuman leaps over the sea and eventually saves the queen, and the footprint is a mark of Hanuman’s great leap.


Malay Penangites believe yet another story: that this is the footprint of the terrible Gedembai, a giant who walked the forests of Penang hundreds of years ago, wreaking havoc on the local population. One day, as a villager was chopping timber, a piece of wood hit his blade the wrong way and went flying into the air.Thinking it was another giant, Gedembai ran away terrifi ed, leaving only his giant footprints.

The footprint may not be the most visually spectacular sight on the island, but the multiple legends behind its origins, which represent each of Malaysia’s three distinct cultural traditions, are reason enough to take a drive to this sacred site.

Driving the Southern Coast

With its dense, largely uninhabited patches of jungle and the small kampung villages lining the road, here on the southernmost part of the island Gurney Drive feels worlds, if not years, away.

There are a few main roads in the area, and two that are particularly worth exploring. The first is road P10, which takes visitors from the Sam Poh Temple straight into the jungle towards the sea.The road is dotted here and there with traditional Malay stilted houses, populated with families enjoying the cool shade of the jungle canopy above them while cows graze in beds of fl owers and villagers passing on their bikes. Just a handful of footpaths extend from the road itself, making the area traversable for those adventurous enough to head into the jungle itself.

The second is road is P224, which runs parallel to the southern coast of Penang.The road takes visitors past several small fishing villages facing the coast. Drivers can explore the villages either by car or by parking and walking. Fresh fish restaurants situated right on the water can be found in every village, a few of which have gained a kind of cult status among Penangites willing to take the drive south. Several tiny beaches line the coast, and are often frequented by villagers who swim near its shores in their shorts and shirts, with women in their baju melayus.Stopping towards the end of the road for a picnic or a drink on the beach and soaking in the peaceful atmosphere of the fi shing villages is a singular pleasure.

Hidden Gems in Bayan Lepas

Just twenty minutes’ drive from the centre of George Town, Bayan Lepas is positioned to be “the next big thing” in Penang, with two massive developments underway:The Light and Penang World City.Thanks to its free trade zone status, the area has become fairly international and boasts a population of around 150,000.

The area is sure to develop further in the coming years but, for now, Bayan Lepas remains a peaceful, very walkable part of the island.There are plenty of green spaces and stretches of coastline to enjoy and while the main draw may be Queensbay mall, there are a few hidden gems worth a visit.

One of my favourite secret hideouts in the area is a fresh fish stall, or ikan bakar, just a block away from the mall. Nestled between two giant apartment complexes along the Bayan Lepas coastline, Hammer Bay serves up giant portions of fresh fish any way you want it, including barbequed in a banana leaf, sauteed with ginger and garlic, or with lemongrass.They serve some of the best seafood Tom Yam I’ve had anywhere as well as fried rice, and freshly-squeezed juice, all for a dirt-cheap price.


But the food is just one of the wonderful aspects at this fish stall. Located right on the coast, visitors can enjoy wonderful views of Pulau Jerejak if they come before sunset. Given how few non-locals populate this joint, the servers here are likely to remember foreign faces when you return, which only adds to this wonderfully Malaysian experience.

For a more international flavour, visitors can head to the Bayan Bay stripmall for some of the island’s best Japanese food, accompanied by a fine selection of wines from all over the world.Vino Vino may look unassuming from the outside, but the interior of the cosy restaurant is quite impressive, with a good-sized bar and entire wall of wine and fine whiskeys.The menu serves all the classic Japanese fare for a reasonable price, including soba noodles in miso broth, sushi, and sashimi, as well as a few superb grilled items including beef-wrapped asparagus and grilled chicken meatballs. It’s a wonderful place to sit back and relax.

Southern Penang offers visitors another view of the island that is charming in a different way to the larger neighbourhoods up north, and it’s certainly an area worthy of exploration.


Source: Penang International June 2013 – July 2013
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