Pulau Penang, this little island to the northeast of Malaysia, has a fascinating history and some of the best Malaysia hotels. Originally uninhabited, the British colonized it to compete with the Dutch in the spice market. People from all over Southeast Asia, especially China, flocked to the newly colonized port and created an interesting melting pot of culture and wealth that remains to this day. A must-see during your tour of Malaysia, here’s our top 5 attractions on the island!
5. Kek Lok Si Temple
This Buddhist temple (the largest in Malaysia) represents best the amazing cultural melting pot of Pulau Penang. The architecture is mind-boggling: it starts with Chinese architecture at the bottom, the second layer being Thai and the top tier Burmese. A shrine close by houses a Thai Buddha, and there’s bronze statue of a Chinese goddess towering above the temple. Somehow, all these religious and styles mix together into an impressively beautiful temple.
4. Toy Museum
This one is great for families with kids (or for consummate collectors). This museum houses over 100,000 toys from all over the world, including a 1.80 meters tall Gundam Robot replica worth quite a lot of money. Toys are separated in thematic rooms like Cartoons (anyone up for a Scooby Doo revival?), Comic Book Heroes (lots and lot of action figures) and Beauties (among the biggest Barbie collections in the world). The only sad thing is that none of these toys are ever going to be played with…
3. Penang War Museum
For lovers of history, the Penang War Museum is the perfect spot. The British built the fort at the top of the Bukit Batu Maung hill, for its outlook on the port. When the Japanese invaded Malaysia during the Second World War, they used the fort as a prison and torture chamber. The building has been restored and now houses a museum that’s all about how the war affected Malaysia, and all the information is available in English, too.
2. Penang Hill
Locals and tourists alike go to the top of Penang Hill to escape the humidity and heat of the lower levels of the island, usually using a Swiss-built, 110-year-old funicular built for the British officials who lived and travelled between top and bottom. From the top, you can take in the breathtaking views of the surrounding city and island, even getting a peek of the bay and strait. Bird lovers will find an amazing variety of species to observe (the hill is still mostly jungle) and you can even stay at the Bellevue Hotel for the night.
1. Tropical Spice Garden
This unusual attraction is probably the best-kept secret of Pulau Penang. After a tour of a beautiful spice plant garden in the hills of Pulau Penang (guided or self-guided), you spend a few hours in the kitchen trying out the spices and making delicious Malay food (that you can bring with you after). You’d never know there were so many varieties of ginger! Spices are an important part of the history of Malaysia and you get to learn a little more about them during this visit. Highly recommended.
Do add some of these sights to your next trip to Pulau Penang, and don’t forget your travel insurance! Are there any other activities you would recommend? Share them with us in the comments!