This unique tropical island off the north-west coast of Malaysia is without doubt one of the world capitals of avenue meals, with a stunning array of cuisines from the island’s Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. But after consuming my means by means of the whole lot from Hokkien black noodles, succulent large prawns steamed in rice wine and spicy assam laksa, to roti canai dunked in a wealthy lamb curry, I found that Penang is much more than only a foodie paradise.
For most guests, the large attraction at present is the island’s capital, George Town; reworked because it was awarded Unesco world heritage standing into one among south-east Asia’s hottest locations, the place a once-crumbling Chinatown now options heritage motels, galleries, boutiques, bars and eating places. But don’t accept that, rent a automobile or organise a day journey with a nature information and uncover the opposite facet of this verdant island, with lush jungle and sandy seashores at Penang’s nationwide park, conventional fishing villages and rural Malay kampongs.
What to see and do
Kapitan Keling Mosque at dawn. Photograph: Alamy
Exploring is finest carried out within the morning and early night, earlier than the 35C warmth and 95% humidity kicks in. Everything will be carried out on foot, although there are bikes for rent and trishaw peddlers do a very good business ferrying vacationers round. For successful of Penang’s multicultural society and three of its primary religions, begin off on the ornate swirling domes of the 1803 Kapitan Keling Mosque. Nearby is an Indian pavement shrine whose worshippers depart aromatic jasmine flowers and crack open coconuts, and in addition the Goddess of Mercy Temple, Penang’s foremost Chinese temple, the place Buddhists gentle large incense sticks and burn ritual choices of hand-crafted paper “hell” cash.
Then plunge into town’s maze of slender, bustling streets whose names evoke Penang’s cosmopolitan historical past, resembling Lebuh Light, named after the island’s colonial founder, Francis Light, and lined with a grand Victorian city corridor, the colonnaded Supreme Court and Fort Cornwallis, constructed by Light in 1786. There is a superb strolling tour round all of the Unesco sights, however a extra enjoyable map, Marking George Town, follows a more moderen heritage of placing 3D avenue murals created by the Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, which attracts hordes of tourists, all intent on taking selfies alongside the murals.
Peranakan Mansion. Photograph: Alamy
Two contrasting cultural venues to not be missed are the Peranakan Mansion and Hin Bus Depot. The mansion is an immaculately preserved, late 19th-century millionaire’s residence, which supplies a vivid snapshot of the approach to life of regionally born Chinese who assimilated Malay and European influences to create their Peranakan tradition and beautiful Nyonya delicacies. The depot is an thrilling metamorphosis of an deserted bus terminal right into a artistic hub of multimedia exhibition areas, creative workshops, cinema screenings, live shows, cafes and a pop-up craft market on Sundays.
Where to eat
Street meals vendor at an evening market. Photograph: Alamy
Street meals is in all places: with stalls cooking 24 hours a day, from dim sum for breakfast on the seething Chowrastra market to becoming a member of the after-midnight queue of clubbers and foodies for aromatic bak kut teh (pork innards soup) and stingray roasted in banana leaf at Old Green House (223 Jalan Burma, dishes from about £1.50). Kick off the night trawling the legendary Kimberley Street hawker stalls, stopping off for scrumptious char koay teow stir-fried noodles, then transfer on to the 50-odd rickety foodcarts lining New Lane, promoting the whole lot from juicy satay to a fragile teochew oyster omelette (dishes from about £1). Seafood is a Penang speciality and on the beachside Ocean Green (48f Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, dishes from £5) select from prawns baked in salt, chilli crabs, regionally fished garupa and pomfret steamed in ginger and garlic.
Dish of bak kut teh, a favorite at Old Green House on Jalan Burma. Photograph: Alamy
Shing Kheang Aun (2 Chulia Lane) is a splendidly quaint restaurant serving excellent Hainanese and Nyonya delicacies (dishes from £2), resembling bitter gourd with salted egg or a wealthy assam fish curry. Vegetarians have a terrific choice throughout city, from a dozen totally different south Indian curries served on banana leaves at Sri Ananda Bahwan to the self-service conventional Chinese vegetarian meals of Hui Sin (11 Lebuh China, dishes from about 50p) or the extra new age delicacies at Leaf Healthy House (dishes from £1).
Where to drink
China House. Photograph: Jino Lee Photography
Penangites are mad about their barista espresso and, for the very best flat whites, drop in on the eclectic Mugshot, which additionally hosts Rainforest Bakery and Spark, a cool optician, or be part of locals on the huge communal desk in Gudang Cafe, a cavernous outdated “godown” warehouse. The Bayview (25a Lebuh Farquhar) is a towering, kitsch 70s resort however its rooftop Three Sixty Skybar is the spot for sundown aperitifs, with a stunning panorama over George Town. The bartenders at Mish Mash might simply work in a London speakeasy, recreating the traditional negroni with herb-infused bitters. And sooner or later within the night, everybody finally ends up at China House: chocolate-lovers will die for the muffins displayed within the Kopi C; wines from across the world are served within the romantic outside Courtyard Cafe; whereas dwell bands blast out blues, rock and reggae within the Canteen.
Where to buy
George Town is a goldmine of offbeat artisan boutiques. Jonathan Yun’s atelier/showroom is stuffed along with his beautiful, sculptural gold and silver jewelry and, not far away, Bon Ton The Shop is an is an Aladdin’s cave of silk sarongs, delicate Chinese porcelain and vintage posters. Studio Howard showcases the work of two native artists: the emotive George Town pictures of Howard Tan, and placing fused-glass sculptures and bowls by Wong Keng Fuan. Sam’s Batik House is a neighborhood establishment, stocking each form of batik shirt conceivable, whereas newly- opened Sixth Sense presents the most recent designs of Malaysian stylists in addition to modern trend from Thailand and Korea.
Where to remain
Eastern and Oriental Hotel
George Town’s lodging choices vary from luxurious motels to flashpacker hostels – and with sterling robust in Malaysia, costs are reasonably priced for UK travellers. The final splash out is a palatial night time within the Victorian-era Eastern and Oriental Hotel (doubles from £100 B&B), proper on the waterfront. Many historic Chinese villas and store homes have been transformed into boutique motels, such because the Blue Mansion (doubles from £69), embellished with a sublime mixture of antiques and artwork deco furnishings, and Muntri Mews (doubles from £55 B&B), initially constructed to deal with picket carriages and horses, which now presents 9 rooms overlooking a tropical backyard plus a cool cocktail bar and restaurant. The latest price range tackle is the minimalist Container Hotel (single pod from £10), with self-contained dorm pods in sustainably renewed freight containers, stacked inside an outdated delivery warehouse. For a style of the previous, keep on the Paramount Hotel (doubles from £11, +60 four 227 3649, no web site), on the fringe of city: enormous rooms in a grand beachside Chinese mansion that hasn’t modified in a century.
What to see and do
Kek Lok Si Temple, Ayer Itam. Photograph: Alamy
Driving out of George Town, head first in the direction of the centre of Penang island to bustling Ayer Itam. The pleasant city is freed from vacationers and its vibrant market is value a stop-off, although the tour buses on the close by Kek Lok Si Temple, marked by a towering 30-metre statue of the goddess Kuan Yin, aren’t far-off. The Buddhist temple is all the time packed, and close by Penang Hill is definitely extra Zen, with a nature path to comply with by means of the rainforest after getting out of the funicular practice that ferries guests up and down. The funicular will reopen on the finish of the month following latest flooding.
After getting again on the coast highway, hit the seashores and resorts of Batu Ferringhi, adopted by the must-see Tropical Spice Garden. Paths lead by means of landscaped jungle, previous tons of of species of unique crops, flowers and spice terraces, by means of water gardens and bamboo groves. But that is only a style of what awaits at Penang nationwide park in Balik Pulau, the north-western tip of the island. From the park headquarters, both trek by means of this dense jungle and marine reserve, or take a ship that hugs the coast, stopping off at idyllic Monkey Beach for a swim earlier than arriving on the turtle hatchery and unusual meromictic lake at Kerachut Beach. Hiring a information is advisable.
Around the remainder of Balik Pulau, go to the Entopia Butterfly Farm, the Escape journey park for youths, durian farms and the Ghee Hup Nutmeg Factory, a reminder of how necessary the spice commerce as soon as was to Penang.
Where to eat
Floating Mosque at Tanjung Bungah. Photograph: Linda Whitwam/Getty Images
Heading out from George Town within the morning, flip into Medan Selera meals courtroom close to the floating mosque at Tanjung Bungah, about 6km away. At breakfast time, Pak Lan’s stall makes the very best roti canai flatbread for about 40p, then from 11am, Lidiana Ekonomi Rice lays out a buffet of 20 spicy Malay curries, fried fish and vegetable dishes (about £1). To the south, round Ayer Itam’s moist market both order a bowl of tasty assam laksa (90p) on the well-known Air Itam Laksa stall, or a plate of tender roast pork and crackling at Ah Joo’s hawker stand. Head for spicy Thai delicacies at Tree Monkey contained in the Tropical Spice Garden or wait until you get to the fishing village of Pulau Betong on the tip of Balik Pulau for seafood straight from the boats at Kedai Kopi Hai Ching restaurant (dishes from £2). Fishermen and villagers hang around all day right here, taking part in mah-jong, speaking politics and consuming plates of steaming lala clams with spring onion and ginger, fish poached in lemon grass, chilli and lime, or crabs cooked in belacan, a pungent fermented shrimp paste made in an artisan manufacturing unit up the highway. Not surprisingly, Anthony Bourdain “discovered” it for one among his TV reveals.
Where to remain
Lone Pine Hotel
Outside George Town, a well-liked base, particularly for household holidays, is the seashore resort of Batu Ferringhi. With its sandy seafront, Rasa Sayang (doubles from £95 room-only) is without doubt one of the earliest Shangri-La resorts, whereas down the highway, the quaint Lone Pine (doubles from £80 B&B) has been fashionably restored to its 1950s glory. Up within the rural Balik Pulau area, Bao Sheng Durian Farm (doubles from £33 room solely) is the place to remain for visiting Penang’s nature and journey parks. It has tatami rooms and pool villas, and a vast provide of durians, so company uncover the wonders of the world’s strangest, however most addictive, fruit.
• For extra info, see Penang Global Tourism. Malaysia Airlines flies from Heathrow to Penang through Kuala Lumpur from £500 return