If you are visiting Malaysia, please go to Penang.
Penang is the heart and soul of Malaysia; it is a melting pot of culture with beautiful people, interesting attractions and is a foodies paradise! (Locals will tell you it is the food capital of Malaysia!)
The first question you will want to know is
Where to Stay in Penang?
This depends on what you want. Most people choose to stay at Batu Ferringhi. (The locals call it ‘foreigners rock’).
This is where you will find all the big name resorts with kids clubs, buffet breakfasts and most of them are right on the beach. While it is a beach and you will find many water sports, be aware that it is not really a swimming beach – the water is not as clean as you may expect it to be.
Batu Ferringhi comes alive at night. The main street is transformed into a bustling market place, with every type of ware (including genuine fakes) available. Feel free to haggle and barter for your best bargain.
Don’t eat at your over-priced hotel restaurant, walk to the Long Beach Hawker Centre with some spare change and you will experience some of Penang’s best food.
If you do choose to stay at Batu Ferringhi, please leave your resort to explore Penang. There are attractions easily accessed from the bus stop in front of your hotel.
If you are after something less ‘foreigners rock’ then George Town is the place to stay. It is the capital of Penang and has something for everyone. It is a place where there is a Catholic Church next to a Mosque next to a Temple.
In George Town, there is a range of accommodations available for families from large hotels, home stays, and self-catering apartments. You won’t find a resort here, but there is something about living amongst locals that really does it for me.
What to do in Penang with kids?
Regardless of where you stay and how luxurious it may be, please get out and explore Penang.
We have been there twice with our children; both times we had a baby who was welcomed by every local.
Here is a list of things to do in Penang with kids in no particular order.
Georgetown is now a bustling and vibrant city with more motorbikes, buses and cars than you can imagine.
Getting around is easy. Taxis are plentiful and quite cheap. If you jump in a taxi make sure you haggle your ride before you get in. The taxis have signs saying “haggling prohibited” but no one seems to take any notice. A good rule of thumb is to take off five ringgit from what is offered to you.
A great way to see Penang is to hop on the free shuttle bus. Every 15 minutes you can hop on a bus which does a circuit of the main tourist sites of Georgetown. Special bus stops around the city are specially marked to help you navigate and explore.
It is crowded with locals hitching a lift to work or to shop; be friendly and say hello, they will love the chance to chat with you!
Penang Butterfly Farm
Kids of all ages will love it here. You can get up close and personal with so many different kinds of butterflies, they flutter by freely and if you keep still – one might just land on you.
The farm is filled with stone paths leading around ponds and up bridges where beautiful orchids are home to even more butterflies. Allow 2 hours for a relaxing visit here. It is the last stop on the bus, so very easy to find.
Not far from the Butterfly farm (a quick taxi or bus trip) you will find the Spice Garden. We had Grandpa with us who loved reading all about the Spice trading history, looking at all the signed plants and smelling the spices.
Hubby and the little kids didn’t bother so much with that, but had a ball running along the beautiful paths and roaming freely amongst the gorgeous gardens.
There is a giant swing which swings you out over the edge of the rainforest. There are numerous waterfalls, ponds and bridges to find. It is a lovely place to stop for an hour or two. Nice tree top cafe too!
Penang Hill and Funicular Railway
Penang is hot and very humid. A great way to escape the heat is to head to the top of Penang Hill.
Catch the funicular all the way to the top; in just a few minutes you will be at the top to have a gorgeous view of Penang. It is much cooler up here.
If it is a rainy morning, don’t bother as you will be unlikely to see much at all. You are best waiting until later in the day when the rain clears. There are a few cafes and exhibitions to looks at also. (If you have little ones, avoid the owl museum – found out the hard way – lots of little breakable things in there!)
Top Tip: When you are ready to return, line up so you are first in line to board the funicular…then race to get to the front carriage. (Speeding down the track with front seat view is awesome!)
Penang Botanical Gardens
When travelling with kids, sometimes you need to let them loose.
The botanical gardens are a must for energetic kids. They can run along set paths, climb bridges and watch waterfalls. For one ringgit you can jump aboard the mini train for a ride around the gardens.
There are lots of monkeys to spot – be careful to hide your food!
Kek Lok Si Temple
This is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. It is open to the public and a worthwhile experience for you and the kids. There are lots of steps and narrow columns to climb, so leave the stroller behind.
The temple grounds are beautiful; there are sacred ponds and manicured plants to admire. The kids will love climbing the seven tiered Pagoda of King Rama VI and will be awed by a massive bronze statue of the goddess of mercy.
There are also glass elevators to ride in and turtles to feed. A great 2 hours of exploring and learning!
Eat – Then Eat Some More
I could seriously write thousands of words here, but I won’t. Try something new everyday, there is so much for your tastebuds to learn.
By far our favourite place to eat is Gurney Drive Hawker Centre. I am drooling as I remember it. From 6pm until late there will be hundreds of Penang’s finest foods for you to sample – and will cost you a few ringgits only.
This place will be buzzing with locals; don’t be afraid to ask them for a recommendation, or follow behind and order the same. When buying food for the little ones, remember to ask the cook to not put any chilli on their food.
My favourite food: Char Kway Teow (flat noodles fried with seafood) and Nasi Kandar: aromatic rice with curry or whatever.
We also caught the free shuttle bus to Little India. You will have a great time exploring lane ways and finding the perfect curry. The restaurateurs will delight in making your kids feel at home.
Shop Till You Drop
You need to take advantage of great shopping and cheap prices.
Shops generally open after 10am and are open till late at night. Gurney Plaza is one of many upmarket modern shopping centres where you will find your brand name stores with great savings.
If you want to shop with the locals, head to the Komtar (biggest building in Penang) or Prangin Mall which is across the road. Here you will find a myriad of interesting shops and boutique stalls. You’ll find lots of cool gadgets and knick knacks for the kids to have fun with.
Catch the Ferry
If you head to the ferry terminal in Georgetown, wander along the pier and food stalls and jump on a ferry – just because you can.
You will most likely be the only foreigners on it, but it is so much fun for the kids. They can sit and watch other giant ferries pass by and after about 20 minutes you will be at Butterworth, the mainland.
When you get here, it is up to you. You can turn around and go back – return trip is free – or you can stay and explore.
The Penang Bird Park is a short taxi ride away and there is a Temple next door worthy of a look.
You could also take the bus to Sunway Carnival Mall for some retail therapy. From here you can catch a bus back to Georgetown which takes you across the bridge which links the mainland (quite a long journey, our kids fell asleep!)
Organised Tours or Independent travel?
Personally, I wouldn’t bother with organised tours. You can get package deals through various operators who will pick you up from your hotel and take you to three attractions on one day – Easy!
But the thing is; Penang is easy and much cheaper to do yourself.
When you have kids you need that flexibility to stay longer or leave earlier. It is very easy to flag down a taxi driver and negotiate his services for the day.
This way you can see two or three attractions in one day and your driver will be waiting patiently until you are ready for the next one or to return you to your hotel. He’ll let you leave the stroller and umbrellas in the boot too.
The bus system is so fantastic and cheap. You can reach most destinations by bus and the drivers are happy to point you in the right direction. You can buy prepaid bus tickets to give you unlimited hassle free travel.
I love Penang, it is my spiritual home. I do hope you visit and love it as much as we have. Make sure you stay for at least one week, more if you are able.
There is so much more to see – and eat!
More Resources for Penang
Check out these helpful travel guides:
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Malaysia and Singapore
- Lonely Planet Discover Malaysia & Singapore (Full Color Travel Guide)