It was our first time to Penang and we did not know what to expect, but we were blown away by the sheer beauty of this island. It has such lush green vegetation, plentiful fruits and spices, lots of quiet corners to explore – and on the other hand, bustling Georgetown with its Chinese/Indian/Malay mix. We had a great holiday and can’t wait to return to this Malaysian island.
1/ How to get there:
We flew direct from Hong Kong with Cathay Dragon to Penang airport. The airport is in the south of the island, and while you might be quick to disembark the plane, the queues at immigration could slow you down a bit – and then there is the car ride to your hotel. You can either book an (expensive) transfer or use grab to hire a driver. But either way, be prepared that the traffic to and from the airport is slow. It might easily take you an hour to reach your hotel in Georgetown.
2/ Where to stay:
So far our only experience is the Shangri-la’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa in Batu Feringghi, but what an experience it has been! The garden is such a beauty, of course, the rooms are spacious, the spa is relaxing – and they have a nice big family pool, a shallow baby pool and if needed, an adults only pool.
The location was good for us, but it does take 25-30 mins into Georgetown so if you want to be in the UNESCO heritage city you might want to book something more central. However, for us, it was important to have space, access to the beach (which is public, and compared to places like Phuket the water was not that clean and there is a risk of jelly fish in the sea) and to be able to use the kids facilities at the sister hotel Golden Sands.
The Golden Sands is also a Shangri-la hotel, but a low budget option – more like a Holiday Inn. While there are some drawbacks like old rooms (the hotel seems to be undergoing some renovation), the plus points of the Golden Sands are the kids pool with the splash zone and the water slides, the Adventure Zone with plenty of slides and a toddler area, and also the Sigi’s Bar & Grill restaurant, which is nice for a family dinner, as you are sitting almost at the beach and can listen to some live music. Our kids loved that they could play in the sand before/after dinner and the Western food was ok.
3/ What to do:
We have had a long list of things that we wanted to do, but it was hot and humid, and with two toddlers in tow, we limited ourselves to mainly kid-friendly activities. Our favourites were:
Entopia Butterfly Park – this is more than just a garden full of butterflies, it has several zones with plenty of insect, reptiles and birds to explore. There are many hands-on activities, the children can get very close to the nature and while we did not even eat the restaurant (the food looked yummy but we were too full from breakfast) we easily spend 2.5 hours at the Park and could have stayed longer!
Penang Hill – check the weather before you head up and try to go during the week. We went around lunchtime on a Thursday and did not have to queue for the Penang Hill Funicular Railway. This is one of the (if not the) steepest tunnel track in the world and a fun way to travel up/down the hill. We went for a short stroll around the hill and were lucky with the weather, so we could take some nice pictures. There is plenty more to do, including an owl museum, a dinosaur garden and The Habitat – a canopy tree walk. We did not try any of those, as one of our children was sleeping, but we might be back for more adventures the next time!
The Penang Botanical Garden might be easily overlooked, but it is just a short ride away from the Penang Hill back to Batu Feringgi and what we loved about it was that you can take a trolley ride, so you do not have to walk through the heat with the little ones. Some parts are old and the glass houses overgrown, but it is fun to see the monkeys roaming around widely and sitting next to the lily water pond. I was a bit scared of them, but they did stay away from us and most of the time we just watched them from inside the trolley. The park itself is free of charge, but the trolley ride is about 10 MYR for an adult.
Georgetown – a place that we only briefly visited and strolled around. It was a quiet but hot Sunday afternoon, and I enjoyed strolling through the old town with the mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay architecture. Unfortunately everyone else was tired and keen to head back to the pool, so we only got to see a small area around Lebuh Armenian and also further North-East around Love Lane.
We stopped at the Pit Stop Cafe, which was quirky but lovely, but we did not get to try any food stalls / hawker centres. Something to try when we visit again!
Adventure Zone – an indoor playroom that is part of the Golden Sands hotel, but is accessible to non-hotel guests. You just pay 33 MYR (non-hotel guest) / 22.50 MYR (hotel-guest) and play for two hours, but do not forget to bring your socks and wear long-sleeves if you want to go on the slides. There is a toddler area for the under four year olds, but if you supervise them, they can also access the big slides – and that is what my kids wanted to do. We spent plenty of time riding the rainbow slide together, and my little daredevils even went down the big blue and the really high red slides and had a blast!
There are plenty of recommendations of what and where to eat – and as we stayed in the Batu Ferringhi area, we also tried the famous Long Beach food centre – and while it is not cheap (it is next to the hotels full of tourists) there is a wide range of food and we had our share of Satay, Popiah, Murtabak, Char Koay Teow and chicken wings.