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Welcome to Life Images by Jill.........Stepping into the light and bringing together the images and stories of our world.
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I am a Freelance Journalist and Photographer based in Bunbury, Western Australia. My published work specialises in Western Australian travel articles and stories about inspiring everyday people. My passion is photography, writing, travel, wildflower and food photography.
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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Penang travel tips for first timer

I don’t profess to be a Penang travel authority. Far from it.

The last time we visited was in 1995. We were there as part of a Western Australian team competing at the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival along Gurney Drive.  We didn’t do a lot of touristy things, mainly went for long sweaty runs along the roads and beaches, and paddled madly at the regatta, although we did have a few days after the regatta finished to have a look around.

Please click on "read more" to keeping reading!



Below are some pics from 1995. That's me far left in the front row of the group pic.  I was a lot younger and fitter in those days!


 Gurney Drive is nothing like this today. Although I think where we paddled (in the pic above) was further along than this new pic below. Now a main road runs along the waterfront and high rise condominiums dominate the skyline.  The International Dragon Boat Festivals are now held at Teluk Bahang Dam in the north west of the island. You can read about the festival here - Penang Dragon Boat Festival
 I rather liked this sea-gull sculpture along Gurney Drive you can see below. 



In early October 2014 we visited Penang again this time as a tourist. A lot had changed in the last 20 years as you would expect. You can see my blog post last week about some of Penang’s amazing tropical plants by clicking here – Penang in Bloom



We stayed at the Park Royal Hotel along the tourist strip along Batu Feringi in the north of the island. Here hotels cluster along the beach front, and shops and restaurants huddle together on either side of the main road. In the evenings hawker stalls set up along the narrow footpath along Batu Feringi selling everything from thongs and TShirts to watches and camera gear. It is a great place to buy gifts to take home.
To be fair, on this last visit we did a lot of laying by the pool. It is what we needed after the last few months. So there was a lot we didn't see. Next time. 

But it was a nice pool.....



 Remember when you read on below I am not a Penang travel authority, but here are my tips from an almost first timer Penang tourist.

  • Buses – Local buses are easy to use. The buses into the capital, Georgetown, from Batu Feringi are very frequent. Catch a 101 bus. Have correct change as they don’t give change. Should cost approx. 2.70 ringgit to get to Komtar tower in Central Georgetown.
·    Ask at your hotel desk how much you should expect to pay on the bus.
There is a bus interchange underneath Komtar Tower.  Or you can go down to the main bus terminal on the Georgetown waterfront. You can buy a weekly ticket.
  •         Komtar used to be the main shopping hub, but now there are several major shopping complexes interconnected to Komtar particularly if you are looking for western goods.  Komtar is a very tall round building - 65 stories high - so it is a good landmark if you get a bit lost walking around.  You can see Komtar in the image below.  Across the water you can see mainland Malaysia.



  •       Gurney Plaza – there is an upmarket shopping plaza along Gurney Drive.
  • ATM machines may not be readily available outside of Georgetown (look for a bank or ask at your hotel). Some places don’t accept a credit card for less than 50RM or don't accept credit cards at all, so always carry cash. We found that a travel card loaded with funds before we left Australia worked well for us, especially as it wasn’t connected to our main credit card. We used this card for paying for some purchases such as tours or entrance fees, and shopping in the major shopping malls, as well as for taking money from an ATM. You could also purchase some ringgit from your bank before you leave home.  Both of these methods avoid using a money changer. You can now buy security wallets and sleeves that protect your credit card from fraud while you are carrying them. 
  •          Cash – you will always need cash at markets, hawker stalls, food halls and local restaurants.   Preferably carry smaller notes ie 1, 5, 10, 20 ringgit.  Please carry your wallet securely in your front pocket. 


     
  •  Taxes - generally add 16% taxes to the advertised price. 
  • Food halls – a big open air food hall, Long Beach Cafe, on Batu Feringi was excellent for evening meals and much cheaper than restaurants. You can't go wrong if you pick a place that looks popular and this food hall certainly was. They open around 6pm in the evening and is great for families. There are plenty of choices from local favourites to western food and the food is fast, good, and cheap. 
The Sizzling prawn plate, you can see below, though a little more expensive (30RM or approx. $10 Australian) was excellent, also the Kashmiri curry and the satay and for a different dessert to share try the Tissue Roti. (it is the cone you can see lower LH corner here) There are good reviews for Long Beach on Trip Advisor. Long Beach, Penang

  • Night markets are a good place to buy cheap goods or gifts to take home. But the big shopping complexes in Georgetown may generally be better quality. Walking back to the hotel, if you stay along Batu Feringi, you have to make your way through the hawker stalls but the sellers don’t pester you if you say no, though I did feel pressured to buy if I stopped to look. They are all trying to make a living from the tourist trade.
  •      Taxis – always ask for the price before you get in. They might say the taxi is metered but generally you ask for a price first. You can book a taxi for several hours for approx. 40RM an hour which will take you where you want to go and then wait for you.  You can design your own tour like this.
  •      Toilet paper – for some reason I can’t fathom they don’t seem to have toilet paper in Penang toilets. So I suggest you take a roll with you in your bag.  

    *  Georgetown - you can do a walking tour around the old Colonial buildings of Georgetown.  I love old shutters. So many stories to tell behind them I am sure.
  • We also took a stroll to see the street art. Some of these are starting to fade due to weathering.  They are mostly clustered around one area and you can get a map from the Tourist Information Centre. I liked the way some incorporated actual pieces like a bike and a chair into the art.  This is also a good opportunity to see some of the older parts of Georgetown, shopfronts, and shuttered windows. 
You can find out more information here - Penang street art
and more great info here from the Occasional Traveller - Where to find Penang street art
  •  Penang Hill - is the coolest place in Penang is Penang Hill, affectionately known by locals as "Bukit Bendara", because it is also the highest place. The easiest way to get to the top is via the Funicular train which leaves the terminal every 20 to 25 minutes. Take a bus to the terminal from Komtar. The Funicular train takes you up to the top of the hill where there is a food hall and other attractions and panoramic views over Georgetown to mainland Malaysia.  The cost of the train includes admission to the hill. You can buy an audio guide when you get to the top.  If you are up to it, you might enjoy the walk paths through the jungle. You might even see monkeys and tree schrews as well as many birds.  
  You can find out more about Penang Hill by clicking here - Penang Hill


  •      Ke Lok Si Temple - The Temple of Supreme Bliss.   You can take a bus from Komtar Tower but it drops you a distance from the temple and you will have to walk up a steep winding road, or up the steps. In the tropical heat I wouldn’t suggest this. We took a taxi from our hotel which took us right to the entrance for 45RM. Ask for the price from the driver before getting into the taxi. We were able to get a return taxi by asking one of the taxi drivers waiting for his pick up at Ke Lok Si. 
     Entry to Ke Lok Si is free but there is a small cost to go into some sections - ie to go up the Incline Lift to the Kuan Yin statue, the highest point from where you have views over the city. There are  also great views from the top of The Pagoda of Rama V1 - The Pagoda of 10, 000 Buddhas. Towering over one hundred feet and seven storeys high, The Pagoda is currently the largest of its kind in Malaysia.

 Please respect requests to take shoes off, be silent, or not take photos.  When you have finished viewing the temples and gardens, there are many shops waiting to sell you souvenirs or a cold drink.
  •     Tropical Spice Gardens – Take a bus for about 2-3RM from your hotel along Batu Feringi.  It is too dangerous to walk as the narrow road winds around the mountain side and there is no footpath. Entry cost includes audio guide. The 8 acre garden displays over 500 species of tropical flora and fauna.  There is even a cooking school.  For more information click here - Tropical Spice Garden
Unfortunately the day we visited it rained, lucky we had umbrellas, but because of the rain we didn't give the Spice Garden the attention it deserved. But what we saw was lovely.


I wanted this old door for my garden at home

  •  Durian.  You can't take Durian on the bus - when you see and smell one you will know why. They put nets under the trees to catch the durians as picking them before they are ripe ruins them. You wouldn't want one to hit you on the head!  They smell awful but evidently are quite sweet to eat but are an acquired taste. We were told that eating too much Durian will cause you to become ill as the fruit heats you up. For this reason drinking coffee or alcohol is not advised when eating Durian.
     We were advised that the best time to visit the fruit farms is June-July, but this is also    the very busy tourist time.

       
     Although Nancy at Budget Traveller's Sandbox and Travel Photo Thursdays says she was recommended December to February. You can see her post about the Tropical Fruit Farm here  - Penang Tropical Fruit Farm 

  •      Some tourist attractions like the Spice Gardens and Penang Hill are FREE for disabled people - well done Penang!
  •      Walking – Always wear a hat and carry water. It is very hot in the humidity. An umbrella is useful for shelter from both rain and sunshine. Sneakers are recommended if you are walking. Be careful as often footpaths are non existent or cluttered with goods and you may need to walk out on the road to pass parked cars.
    An umbrella is even good on the beach in the rain or sun!


  •         Local mini parts – you can buy drinks and basic supplies. Buy your own drinks and put them in your hotel mini bar.
  •        There are water sports along Batu Ferringi beach such as jet skis, parasailing etc. How about this parsailer's sunset view!


  •      Friday afternoon traffic is very bad. It can take 2 hours to get from Batu Ferringi to the airport (usually 45-50 minutes). Our taxi driver instead took us around the top of the island via Teluk Bahang Dam and Balik Pulau which only took 1 hour. It was a scenic route, and much less hassle than through the city traffic. We had an informative driver so it was a really enjoyable drive back to the airport.
  •      There are plenty of business where you can buy a tour to places of interest in Penang or to the Malaysian mainland across the bridge. Or hire a taxi and design your own tour.

  Thinking of visiting and want more information?


 This looks like a great website for Penang information - Penang Vacations
    
     Another good place for Penang information from an expat who lived in Penang, is to visit Michelle at her Malaysian Meanders blog - Things to do with kids in Penang 
Thank you Michelle for sending me your travel tips before I left home. 


 I hope you have enjoyed this little trip to Penang. Have you been to Penang? Do you have some travel tips? Please share them in the comments. 


    ps - sorry about the font and formatting in this post - I don't know why it is doing it and my computer won't let me fix it!      
   
   I think I need to sit on this stool and have a moment of quiet solitude.


Thanks for stopping by. I value your comments and look forward to hearing from you. Have a wonderful week.

I am linking up to Mosaic Monday, Travel Photos Monday, Our World Tuesday, Wednesday Around the World, Travel Photo Thursday, and What's It Wednesday.  Please click on the links to see fabulous contributions from around the world - virtual touring at its best!

Mosaic Monday
Travel Photo Mondays
Our World Tuesday
Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global
What's It Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday

 


      

      Would you like another look at those sizzling prawns? Delicious!



24 comments:

  1. Haven't we all changed over the last 20 years! :-) I really like the sculpture in the second mosaic, bottom right.
    As for the prawns, yes, I am drooling over them and the vegetables on the side. Yummy.
    Thank you for linking to Mosaic Monday.

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  2. Hi Jill ... You've captured the vibrancy and colour of this amazing place and what a pity you couldn't transport that old door across the seas ... it's a real treasure.
    Sizzling prawns ...Yum!!

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    1. I must say the prawns were super delicious and well worth the $10 Aussie dollars!

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    2. ps - now I am on the lookout for an old door!

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  3. Wonderful post, Jill! I enjoyed your tips and photos on Penang.. I am not sure if I would ever get there, but I thank you for all the info.. Have a happy week!

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  4. Penang looks very interesting. I have only been to Kuala Lumpur which is a massive sprawling city with high rises and huge shopping malls. But I think I would now like to go to Penang after seeing your wonderful photos. George Town looks interesting as does Penang Hill. By the way, It don't think you have changed one bit since your dragon boating racing days!

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    1. yes we went to Kuala Lumpur a few years ago on route to Langkawi Too big and busy for me. I much preferred Langkawi! Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Oh please lend me the stool for some quiet solitude, I can never catch up with myself ;) What a great post. Loved seeing the images at top of you with your team and that had to have been fun days. You still look marvelous, BTW. The bright colours, the train ride to the top of the mountain would be so amazing and fun. The food looks too scrumptious! Now to the really important stuff, that door, oh my goodness, I think I need that door here too. I wonder if anyone that does stained window glass, could make one similar to that. So much packed in and I enjoyed the journey as always Jill~

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    1. I could have moved the stool, but I think it actually says something.
      And yes that door.....a new one would never capture the appeal of this old weathered one.

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  6. Looks like an interesting place! Thanks for sharing!!

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  7. Oh my, looking through these pics and reading your post brought back memories of my short stay in Penang over 10 years ago! I think apart from the satay sticks, the thing I love most about Penang is George Town.

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  8. Gorgeous shots. Would love to visit Malaysia some day.

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  9. Wow - so many wonderful shots!

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  10. What a lovely place! The street art and the architecture is quite interesting.

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  11. It's changed even more since I went in 1988!! I'd love to go back, such a vibrant multi-cultural place.

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    1. thanks for stopping by! it was lovely to go over to your French blog and meet you over there. I loved France when we were there in 2005 and would love to go back.

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  12. Between you and Nancie you've got me almost shoving Penang to the top of the 'must do' list! Great photos and recommendations. We've not been there since the 80's so it would be great to visit there again.

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  13. This really makes me want to go to Penang even more. How long do you recommend spending there?

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    1. Hi Denise, thanks for stopping by. It was lovely to meet you on your blog today. I would suggest at least a week in Penang. There is a lot we didn't do and see. Mainly because we mostly wanted to just relax by the pool - which was just lovely and what we needed right now. Still lots more to explore next time.

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  14. I am so glad that you had a good time in Penang. I am missing parts of life there like watching the parasailers on the beaches and the lush tropical flowers, but I do not miss the constant fear of being run over by a car or motor scooter while walking around George Town. Many Penangites mourn the change along Gurney Drive. When land was reclaimed to build Straits Quay Marina Mall and the surrounding housing development, it changed the currents so that the area along Gurney Drive started filling in and turning into wide mud flats at low tide. Thank you for helping out on my mission to convince people what a great place Penang is.

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  15. Hi Jill! Some great tips here. Thanks for including a link to my Tropical Fruit Farm post. Fruit was definitely in season when I was in Penang, and it was the owner of the farm that told Dec - Feb. However, it could be that there are two fruit season. Who knows? :) Thanks for linking up this week! :)

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  16. What an interesting place, so much to see. I love the street art and what a great view from way up high.

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  17. I've been to Malaysian Borneo but never Penang - those sunsets looks just gorgeous and the prawns sound absolutely delicious! I'd love to visit there one day and lots of ideas of what to see and do here :)

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  18. Sophie @ Sophie's World4 November 2014 at 16:32

    Penang looks intriguing, and Georgetown much bigger - more of a city - than I had imagined. Loads of useful info; thanks :)

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