Solo Travel Tips: Penang, Malaysia

What are the best places to visit in Penang, aside from Georgetown? I know there are a lot of things to do there, but when I went, it was so hot I just went around looking for the cat street art in Penang and then stayed in my hostel the rest of my visit.

Thankfully, Ryan O’Rourke from Treksplorer contributed this guest post and has some more tips on things to do in Penang. Read, bookmark, and use when you visit this charming Malaysian city!

Welcome to George Town in Penang!

With popular destinations like Thailand and Vietnam just around the bend, Malaysia doesn’t often get the love it deserves from travelers on the Southeast Asia backpacker trail.

As much as the urban delights of its capital, Kuala Lumpur, seem to be front of mind for most first-timers to Malaysia, there’s one destination here that’s bound to convert even the fussiest of wayfarers: Penang.

Penang’s got a little of everything—from Southeast Asia’s most interesting colonial architecture to secluded beaches to hiking trails through dense jungles. Oh, and food — lots of mouthwatering food!

Not sure where to get started? Plan your complete Penang itinerary with these useful tips for solo travelers.

Arriving in Penang, Malaysia

Refreshing chendol, a popular dessert in Malaysia
Have some chendol when you arrive in Penang.

Even if you’re starting in Kuala Lumpur and only have a few days spare for Malaysia, it’s not so difficult to get to Penang.

Although there are frequent buses between
KL and Penang, I’d recommend hopping on a short flight instead. AirAsia flies
several times a day between Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) and Penang
International Airport (PEN).

If you book your flight a little ahead of
time, you’ll find that the cost isn’t much more expensive than a bus. (Plus,
it’ll save you several hours in transit.)

From Penang International Airport, you can easily catch a bus to Komtar in George Town, Penang’s main urban center. For a quicker and more convenient trip into town, download Grab, a ride-hailing app that’s über-popular in Malaysia.

Where to Stay in Penang

The facade of Kimberley House in George Town.
Aleah stayed in this hostel in Penang.

There are plenty of excellent options for accommodations on Penang Island. For most travelers, George Town is the top choice as most of Penang’s top attractions are easily accessible from here, including the city’s unforgettable UNESCO World Heritage area.

Accommodations in George Town range between
everything from dorms to swanky historical luxury hotels with postcard-worthy
sea views.

Some budget-friendly choices for rooms in the center of town include the WeLuv Travel Guesthouse (private rooms from US$18 up) and B Street Hotel (private rooms from US$23 up).

Aleah stayed at Kimberley House in George Town (dorm beds from US$3 up). While the dorm rooms aren’t that big (and no windows!), the hostel itself looks really lovely and location is great.

Things to Do in Penang for Solo Travelers

Beautiful house in Penang
Lots of houses like this in Penang!

Whatever your travel style, you’ll find something compelling to match in Penang. George Town’s an absolute nirvana for culture lovers & foodies while the island’s less urbanized quarters are blissful for hikers, wildlife watchers, and sun worshipers.

Here are a few of the best places to visit in Penang.

Enjoy the Atmosphere of George Town

Among one of Southeast Asia’s most compelling attractions, George Town‘s UNESCO World Heritage Old Town is a brilliant place to start exploring the city (and, of course, one of the best places to stay in Penang).

Get dazzled by its crumbling colonial architecture, indulge your tastebuds, and allow the area’s quirky street art (cats and more cats!) to bring a smile to your face.

Visit Lebuh Armenia, One of the Most Popular Penang Attractions

Ernest Zacharevic 3D street art in George Town
Penang is full of wonderful street art like this.

One of the most famous streets in Old Town lined with temples, small restaurants, and souvenir shops rustled into old Chinese merchant houses.

Don’t miss Lebuh Armenia‘s most popular attraction, Ernest Zacharevic’s famous 3D street art depicting two children riding a bicycle through Penang.

Visit Penang National Park

Penang National Park, the smallest of its kind in the entire world, is among the best places on the island to get away from the buzz of George Town. For an active adventure, choose between one of the two main hiking trails to hike between the park entrance and Monkey Beach or the even quieter & more serene Turtle Sanctuary at Pantai Kerachut.

An alternative option is to hire a boat captain near the entrance and travel to the park’s top beaches by water.

Go on a Food Trip in Lebuh Kimberley

If you’ve chosen Penang as a destination for your next Southeast Asia trip, I assume that you’re in it (at least partially) for the food. One of the best places to eat in Penang is Lebuh Kimberley.

Show up after sundown and watch as vendors push their carts onto the streets to serve up yummy Penang food like char kway teow, Hokkien mee, and assam laksa.

You can also go on a half-day food tour of Penang (US$19) if you want something more organized.

Check Out the Clan Jetties

Among Penang’s most unique places to visit, these water “villages,” clinging to George Town’s eastern shores, glean into Penang’s maritime past with their stilted houses jutting up from the strait.

Although they’ve become quite the tourist attraction, the Clan Jetties are still home to many families. Be sure to obey the “no photography” signs when posted and stay respectful to the area’s residents.

For the most tourist-friendly, visit Chew Jetty.

Shop at Batu Ferringhi Night Market

Carve out some time for the 30- to 40-minute trip along the coast to Batu Ferringhi, a beachside town that’s a wonderful place to relax among the sea breeze. Although there are certainly better beaches in Penang, time your trip in the evening to experience the island’s best night market (pasar malam).

You’ll find everything there from knock-off clothing & fashion accessories to some of the tastiest food in Penang.

Hike Penang Hill

The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This street art
“The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This” street art by the 101 Lost Kittens art project.

Escape the heat of George Town and head for the breezy heights of Penang Hill. Among Malaysia’s most famous former British hill stations, Penang Hill delivers some top-notch views over George Town from its summit.

Although taking the funicular railway is the most popular route up, test your endurance with the Penang Hill Heritage Trail just around the bend. Bring plenty of water, and of course, don’t forget the hat or umbrella!

Tips for Solo Travelers in Penang

Compared to other destinations in Southeast Asia, Penang’s an absolute delight for solo travelers for many reasons.

Thanks to its British colonial past, it’s
unlikely that you’ll encounter significant language barriers in Penang as you
might elsewhere on the continent. Whether you’re checking into your hotel,
ordering food, getting directions, or buying something, it usually goes
relatively smoothly.

The costs of traveling in Penang are also friendly to solo travelers. Even if you decide to skip out on dorm rooms, you can grab a private room with a private bathroom for the price of a cramped hostel in other travel destinations like Western Europe or North America.

Since Penang’s the most popular travel destination in Malaysia, as a solo traveler, you’ll rarely be all alone. As you wander through the hawker stalls of George Town or trudge through the island’s hiking trails, there’s a good chance you’ll meet other like-minded travelers to share a meal or a drink with.

Have you been to Malaysia? What other Penang solo travel tips can you add?

Text by Ryan O’Rourke, all photos by Aleah Taboclaon.

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