The Pearl of Orient is blessed with an abundance of things to do and see, hence only 48 hours on the clock may sound quite overwhelming. Here’s an itinerary that rounds up some of the best that the island has to offer.
A Momentary Step Back in Time
Kick-off your day in the state’s capital, Georgetown. Put up in any boutique hotels with an impressive storied past. Worthy mentions include East Indies Mansion, Jawi Peranakan Mansion, and The Edison. If you’re not in the mood to splurge, there are hotels and homestays for all budgets as well.
Most travellers fill up with a heavy breakfast before brushing up on the city’s history and you could well do the same. Head to Transfer Road Roti Canai for freshly made roti canai (Indian-style flatbreads) topped with a mixture of curries, tender chicken and a fried egg, and wash down the heat with a glass of teh tarik. Or ease into a classic combo of charcoal-toasted bread with kaya (coconut jam) and butter, soft boiled eggs and aromatic Kopi O at Toh Soon Cafe. Apart from the good food, the full-of-life atmosphere will leave you lingering around longer.
Despite Penang’s urban development, it also has a palpable passion for history and heritage, considering the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Status, and it only takes a quick walk to The Street of Harmony to gather proof. Begin your trial at the St. George Church, which was built by the British East India Company in 1819 with Greek architecture in mind, then be lured by the sight and scent of joss sticks and bright lamps at the Goddess of Mercy Temple.
Next would be the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, which brims with colours and characters at every sight. Your final stop would be Kapitan Keling Mosque, named after the head of the Indian Muslim community in the late 1700s. The Moghul-inspired designs and white-washed building appear straight out of a postcard. The symphony of cultures also translates a sense of bonding among the locals. Conquer more cobbles to discover more timeworn traces scattered in and around town.
If you still got fuel for more on Penang’s memorable past, hop on a trishaw to Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion, a restored 19th-century mansion which is lauded as an architectural masterpiece. The imposing building is named after its former owner, a self-made tycoon with love for Feng Shui, intricate designs, antiques and furniture. Be carried away by the yesteryear’s grandeur and if you’re lucky enough, join their daily guided tour.
All that walking will most surely result in a prodigious appetite. No doubt Penang’s local food is the go-to but never discount its booming cafe scene. In the vicinity is Junk Cafe, a serious contender for some of the best gourmet burgers in the city. Equally exciting is the cafe’s interior, filled with rustic, old-schooled ornaments and decorations. Lobster sandwiches and unique spaghetti dishes dominate the conversations at The Book Sandwich Cafe and for an unforgettable fine dining experience, look no further than Arte Restaurant. Even better, while cafe hopping, you’ll discover numerous murals and famous street art that beg to be photographed.
If a hearty plate of nasi kandar or briyani is what you crave, Hameediyah Restaurant, Penang’s oldest nasi kandar restaurant is less than a 10-minute walk away. Their chicken briyani, murtabak (stuffed pancake), and spice-laden curries are worth your patience in the queue.
Make your way to the Clan Jetties as the evening wears on. Part of the Penang Heritage Trail, you’ll find a series of six water villages that remain as homes to seven different Chinese clans. The ‘floating’ houses, which are made of wood and aluminium, are a beauty of its own and at Chew Jetty, there’s a small temple and a long walkway. Dangle your feet over the edge and catch the jaw-dropping sunset while listening to the ocean’s pulse.
Dinner at Esplanade is the perfect way to wrap up your first day. The food court forms the west part of the waterfront that’s not far away from the famous Fort Cornwallis. Kick off with spicy Char Koey Teow, followed by grilled seafood, or Penang Pasembur. Add up a few sticks of satay and a plateful of Penang Rojak and finish with a bowl of ice kacang. Done with dinner, walk down the waterfront, take a photo of the iconic Penang City Hall, get an outdoor foot massage, tip a street performer, and buy a souvenir from one of the many pop-up stalls.
Activities as Nature Intended
On your second day, leave behind the buzz of the city and make a 40-minute drive to Balik Pulau, which translates as “the back of the island”. The short trip itself is a boon for your senses. Along the way, many stop-off points open up to panoramic views of the island and its surrounding ocean. But the real deal is upon reaching this agriculture-centric town. Be welcomed by swaying paddy fields, rolling hills, countryside homes and fishing villages that instil a sense of calm in you. Spend some time exploring the green hectares on foot or rent a bicycle to uncover a nexus of village routes. Later, gobble up some of the best local snacks such as pisang goreng (fried banana) and cucur udang (prawn fritters) at local stalls.
No visit to Balik Pulau is complete without durian. Well-stocked fruit stalls are a common sight in town, yet for a true-blue experience, visit a durian orchard. Be amazed by the variety of durians and put your taste buds to test. The orchard owners will also teach you how to choose a proper fruit and the skills to open them effortlessly. Under a canopy of trees and accompanied by the forest orchestra, it could well be your favourite food venture ever. Famous orchard names include Soon Huat Durian Farm, Bao Sheng Durian Farm and FCS Durian Orchard.
If you see yourself more as an animal person, a trip to Saanen Dairy Goat Farm or Countryside Stables Penang is highly recommended. The former is goat farm where not only you can pat and pamper the amiable creatures but also savour some of the freshest produce such as ice cream, cheese, pudding, and yoghurt.
At the stables, get closer with horses and ponies of different breeds and countries. Unleash your inner Zorro with a guided horse riding session, or simply feed the beautiful animals to your heart’s content.
When hunger comes calling, the options are never-ending. Make your way to Kim Seng Kopitiam to solve an on-going debate, Asam Laksa or Siam Laksa, each with their own fan following. Get their resoundingly crispy spring rolls, Chinese-style Pasembur and fresh nutmeg juice as well. Another hotspot is Uncle Seng Sotong Kangkung, who has been in operations for more than 30 years. The medley of boiled octopus and greens generously topped with homemade chilli paste and sesame seeds may appear deceptively simple but delicious. If you’re lucky enough, you might be in time to witness Uncle Seng put on an adroit knife show, giving the squid its desired texture.
Books or Beach, You Decide
Dense greenery, checked. Breezy beach next. Another 40-minute drive on the Teluk Bahang route would get you to Batu Ferringhi beach.
If you feel there’s still some room for another activity before turning into a beach bum, visit BookXcess at Gurney Paragon Mall. The two-level bookstore is one of Penang’s latest attractions and is nicknamed “The House of a Million Stories”. Browse through the never-ending reading materials, pick your favourite and get comfortable on the bright seating space or with a coffee in the in-house cafe. If you call yourself a bookworm, chances are you might not want to leave.
At the beach, the scenic strips of white sand being overlapped by the blue waters would keep your eyes peeled for some time. If you’re here before the sunset, hop on a jet-ski, banana boat or a kayak for some splashing good fun. Or simply soak up the breathtaking views with a cocktail in hand at any of the open beach bars.
Don’t miss the night market which adds much colour and character to the streets of Batu Ferringhi. Check out an array of colourful souvenirs, local artworks, printed T-shirts, bags and more, amidst a cacophony of bargaining conversations.
At dinner time, you will be spoilt with both local and international options. If you’re eyeing a romantic dinner with your partner, book a table at Ferringhi Garden Restaurant’s al-fresco space. Ringed by lush greenery and lit with oil lamps, enjoy delectable seafood and meat platters with wines to match.
Butter chicken with fluffy naans and fish and chips are must orders at Enca Cafe while mouth-watering, giant burgers and classic American rock vibe are the draws at Hard Rock Hotel.
Where there are desire and destinations, there are always plans to be made, and this sums up your two-day trip in the food capital of Malaysia.