Tourist arrivals to Penang have ebbed and flow in the past few decades much like the tides along its beaches. In the 1970s and 80s, it was one of the must visit destinations for travellers from Europe and Australia, however, it was passed by the likes of Koh Samui in Thailand and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam during the 90s.
The historical core of the islandâ€™s capital, George Town, was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and this saw international tourists return to Penang in droves. If you havenâ€™t been, it is a great place to spend a weekend, and if you have visited the island, why not check it out again? Here are eight unique things you can do in Penang.
1) Cook the Penang way
Penang has some of the best food in the world and is a melting pot of flavours and cooking traditions. Many people fall in love with the cuisine and want to take it home with them. Thanks to Nazlina Hussin and her Nazlina Spice Station, you can learn how to make your favourite Penang dishes at home. Nazlina will teach you the origins of Malay spices, their significance in Malaysian cuisine and how to use the old methods to cook Penang cuisine.
2) Take a trishaw ride
While not the most efficient means of transportation, there is something charming about taking a trishaw ride through the streets of historic George Town. A trishaw is like a rickshaw but instead of being pulled by a person on foot, you are shuttled around by a driver on a bicycle. If you are looking to check out a bunch of sites in one go, rent one for an hour or more with a driver who can show you around.
3) Visit a camera museum
The Penang Camera Museum has more than 1,000 vintage cameras on display as well as a dark room and special exhibitions. There is also a pinhole room at the museum that lets you see how a camera works from the inside out. Located in a refurbished shop house in Penang, itâ€™s safe to say the museum has captured the imagination of photography enthusiasts.
4) Record setting reclining Buddha
The reclining Buddha at Wat Chaiyamangkalaram happens to be the third longest in the entire world, measuring in at 33 metres. It is part of a Thai Buddhist temple that was built in 1845 and highlights Penangâ€™s multicultural flair. The reclining Buddha would be constructed 100 years later at the temple amid great fanfare. The late King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, and Queen Sirikit would even visit Penang in 1963 to see the temple and statue.
5) Explore a fort
First built more than 200 years ago, Fort Cornwallis remains the largest standing fort in Malaysia. It was designed to protect the island from pirates and other enemies and massive cannons can still be seen facing out to the sea. In reality, the fort never saw much in the way of action, but remains an interesting and unique structure to explore.
6) Sip a rare coffee
Part cafÃ© and part laboratory, Full of Beans has just about every type of coffee bean you could dream of from the rare Jamaica Blue Mountain to exclusive single-origin African offerings. Found in the Straits Quay Marina, the shop is peaceful and provides an authentic coffee house experience. The skilled baristas craft each beverage by hand and you can even watch them make it should you order a pour over. It really is a sight to behold. The only thing better is sipping your delicious drink.
7) Bug out
It has been over 30 years since the Penang Butterfly Farm first opened, giving visitors a chance to see these beautiful creatures up close. It has since been reimagined as Entopia, a place where the butterflies and insects are free to come out and play. Even if bugs arenâ€™t your thing, Entopia is a cool place to learn about insects and discover how they help the world we live in. Itâ€™s also a destination the whole family can enjoy.
8) Buy food souvenirs
Penang is a great place to buy unique food souvenirs for everyone back home or at the office to enjoy. There are countless foodstuffs on hand, including popular biscuits and dried meats, as well as rojak, a shrimp-based sauce usually eaten with fruit. If youâ€™re looking for something truly unique, go with the Tau Sar Piah, a flaky bun-shaped pastry filled with ground mung bean. You can find it being made fresh on the streets of George Town during the day.
9) Rock out
Deep down inside, everyone wants to live the rock â€˜nâ€™ roll lifestyle, even if itâ€™s only for a couple days. Hard Rock Hotel Penang is one of the few places where this fantasy can become a reality. Not only does the property offer the cool vibe youâ€™d expect from the Hard Rock brand, but itâ€™s the winner of Best Hotel Development at The Dot Property Malaysia Awards 2017.