The timeless island of Penang has a wealth of impressive attractions for sightseeing that more than justifies its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Such is the breadth of cultural attractions in Penang, that a sightseeing tour of the island can feel like visiting many different countries all at once. There are also countless opportunities for sporting activities on or under the ocean and cultural pursuits as well.
Many of the most popular attractions are situated in central Georgetown making sightseeing in Penang a breeze. But getting out of town to Penang Hill for the breathtaking views or out to the deserted beaches of the national park is a great way to spend an afternoon. Other than the Chinese clanhouses, Buddhist pagodas and colonial forts, there are also many fascinating museums in Penang which chart the development of this colourful island.
Kek Lok Si Temple
An enormous 120ft bronze statue of Kuan Yin dominates this century-old temple complex in Air Itam with exotic Buddha statues and representations of the Four Heavenly Kings. (Open: 09:00-18:00 (daily); Admission: free; No. 1, Tokong Kek Lok Si, 11500, Georgetown, tel: +60 4 828 3317).
Many people who come to the island like to get an aerial perspective of the area from Penang Hill upon arrival. Elevated at 821 metres above sea level and with stunning vistas of the entire territory, Penang Hill is easily reachable via cablecar.
There is plenty to see and do at the summit with a church, Hindu temple, mosque, restaurants and snake show awaiting visitors.
This 18th century British fort is built in a strange star shape and is teeming with contrasting rooms and prison cells to explore. The Dutch cannon ‘Seri Rambai’ is housed here and curiously revered by local women who believe that it aids fertility.
St George’s Church
This Anglican Church features huge Grecian columns and was built in 1816 by prisoners of the British Army. Remarkably well-preserved despite horrific Second World War bombing, a grand memorial to Penang’s founding father Captain Francis Light is still found in front of the church.
Penang Museum and Art Gallery
With without doubt the most impressive collection of historic and cultural exhibits on the island,the Penang Museum and Art Gallery contains an awe-inspiring collection of maps, antiques and artefacts dating back from the inception of the state.
The Khoo Kongsi were one of five big Chinese clans that settled on Penang with each having their own strictly regimented ‘neighbourhoods’ with communal buildings. The clanhouse of the Khoo Kongsi is particularly grand and acted as the centre of this branch of the Hokkien community.
Penang activities and sports
Many people come to Penang simply to lie on the beach but also want to try their hand at watersports as well. In Batu Ferringhi there are countless vendors wandering up and down the sand offering parasailing, jet skis, windsurfing or banana boat excursions. Ask about snorkelling trips to Pulau Song, Pulau Bidan or Song Pulau Telur which are all an untouched slice of pure paradise.
Golf is an extremely popular activity in Penang with some truly world class courses on offer with reasonable green fees. Many are also plush country clubs with swimming pools and sports facilities for all the family. Favourites include Bukit Jambul Golf and Country Club, in Jalan Bukit Jambul, and Kristal Golf Resort, in Jalan Valdor.
Penang is home to a gorgeous national park where hiking and birdwatching are extremely rewarding, but horseback riding is arguably the best way of exploring the majestic countryside. There are many stables which offer excursions and tuition. Scuba diving is very popular and Batu Ferringhi is littered with dive shops offering courses and trips to outlying reefs. Fishing and sailing outings are also popular with most hotel lobbies able to arrange the charter of boats.