GEORGE TOWN, PENANG / PULAU PERHENTIAN BESAR / REDANG / KUALA LUMPUR
- When: 3 August 2022 – 14 August 2022
- Where (accommodations): George Town, Penang: Eastern & Oriental Hotel; Pulau Perhentian Besar: Tuna Bay Island Resort; Redang: Laguna Redang Island Resort; Kuala Lumpur: Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur
- Transportation: Flight from Singapore (SIN) to Penang (PEN) on Scoot airlines; Penang (PEN) to Kota Bharu (KBR) on Malaysia airlines (operated by Firefly), Kuala Terengganu (TGG) to Kuala Lumpur (Sepang, SZB airport) on Malaysia airlines (operated by Firefly), Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Boston via Doha, Qatar on Qatar Airways
- Sights/attractions: George Town, Penang: Street art (Armenian street, Lebuh Pantai, Lebuh Ah Quee, Lebuh Chulia), Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Choo Chay Keong Temple, Lebuh Aceh Mosque, Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Chew Jetty, Khoo Kongsi Clan house, Kapitan Kelig Mosque, Penang Hill, Kek Lok Si temple, Komtar; Kuala Lupur: Petronas Towers, Sultan Abdul Samad building, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Batu Caves, Thean Hou Temple, KL TV Tower, Suria KLCC and Pavilion Malls
- Food/drinks: George Town, Penang: Chee Cheong Fun St Genting Cafe; Kunafa King, Street food at Kimberley Street Market or Chulia Food Night Market; Redang: Redang Moon- Vitamin Sea Kitchen; Kuala Lumpur: Din Tai Fung, Lot 10, Alor Street, Horizon Grill, Vertigo Bar, Ebisu at Altitude
We did not know what to expect out of Malaysia, because quite frankly it’s not a super popular travel destination, at least not from the USA. We met a lot of Europeans here, but no Americans. Well, we were in for a VERY pleasant surprise. It was not at all chaotic as I have experience in other Asian countries, and a lot cleaner than I expected as well (I don’t know why I had an idea it somehow would be similar to India). Overall, we were very much impressed! It did not hurt that the exchange rate was around 1 USD to 5 MYR and coming from the neighboring Singapore we felt rich like kings 🙂 .
The country consists of the mainland (where the capital Kuala Lumpur is located) and over 800 islands. To narrow down what to visit on a basically ten day trip was a bit challenging. Malaysia is rich with Chinese, Indian, Malay and European cultural influences, which reflects in basically everything- food, religion and architecture- possibilities are endless. For history and food we narrowed it down to George Town, Penang – after all it’s a UNESCO Heritage site. For the beaches we chose Perhentian Besar and Redang– the islands located on the eastern side of the mainland. More popular Langawi is on the west and we read that in August it’s quite rainy on that side of the country, hence decided on the Perhentian. We ended at the capital Kuala Lumpur, which we flew back home from. Each part was special in it’s own way and I am glad we jumped around. It’s a bit more complicated and adds the inconvenience of repacking, flying, changing hotels, but it’s truly worth it at the end.
GEORGE TOWN, PENANG
This multicultural city is the capital of the island Penang and easily reachable from Singapore (just over one hour flight). We spent two nights here and barely scratched the surface. To feel the history we stayed in Old Town- UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. For the accommodations (and there are plenty!) we chose Eastern & Oriental – or as locals refer to it – ‘E&O’ hotel.
One of our favorite hotels we’ve ever stayed at and we’ve stayed at many. Elegance, history, views, two pools, every little detail that just looks timeless- we really did not want to leave when the time came for it. Oh and remember I mentioned the conversion rate and the prices in Malaysia? This hotel was by far more beautiful than MBS in Singapore (minus the largest infinity pool of course), but it cost about a third of what MBS was.
I don’t know when, but Sean is convinced we’ll be back to Malaysia and stay at E&O again. Fingers crossed.
As much as we’d liked to spend the whole time in this hotel, we came to explore, so this is what we’ve managed to see and do in just about 1.5 days in Penang.
Admire the Street Art
It sounds strange to go see the street art in a UNESCO protected city, but the murals in George Town are one of the main tourist attractions and for me it was even more special. I learned that some of the most famous installations were done by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic! Being Lithuanian, this is a proud moment, so we walked around dripping in sweat and looking for the famous murals. And found most of them!
The very cool part of these pieces is that the kids were actually from Penang and now they are all grown up (initial murals were done in 2012). Also, the art on the wall is accompanied by an actual object- bicycle, swing, bike – making these pieces not just a painting on a wall, but more interactive art.
There are special walking tours you can take, but most of the murals can be found around the Armenian street, Lebuh Pantai, Lebuh Ah Quee, Lebuh Chulia. UK newspaper, The Guardian, even declared Zacharevic’s “Little Children on a Bicycle” one of the world’s best pieces of street art in 2013.
Visit Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Historical attraction as well as a boutique hotel this Blue Mansion is not to be missed while in George Town, Penang. There are a few guided tours per day, but we chose self guided one to save the time. We bought the tickets upon arrival and after downloading the app listened to the audio guide.
Besides the rich history, vibrant colors and intricate courtyards- ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was also filmed here, so we just HAD to visit 🙂 .
Experience different religions
Malaysia is a melting pot of religions and the places of worship are all over George Town. Kapitan Keling Mosque was built in 19th century by the Indian Muslim traders and is welcome for visitors (covering up is required and they lend you the robes).
Not a far walk from the mosque you’ll find a small Taoist Chinese temple- Choo Chay Keong with an intricate designs and a free entry.
Keep on going and you’ll find yourself near Lebuh Aceh Mosque Malay Central Mosque. Another beautiful 19th century building.
How about a Hindu temple? Of course there is one around!
Built in 1833, the Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple in George Town is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, Malaysia.
The most impressive though (there is a small fee to enter) from the Old Town buildings was Khoo Kongsi Clan House. In fact that is the grandest clan house in the entire country!
The Khoos were the wealthy Chinese traders back in the 17th century. The clan house and the temple was built in 1851, burnt down allegedly struck by lightening, and rebuilt in 1906. It has retained its authentic historic setting and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in George Town. There was nobody there when we visited, we had it all to ourselves.
One more temple worth visiting in the Old Town of George Town is Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple.
That is a Taoist temple dedicated to the Taoist God of Prosperity of Tudigong which is the main deity of the Hokkien People in Penang.
Take a trishaw ride
Yes, it might be a touristy thing to do, but it was so fun! Also, after walking in the hot weather, we were tired and the ride back to the hotel was a real treat for our tired feet.
Shop at the Chew Jetty market
Chew Jetty is one of six wooden Clan Jetties in George Town, Penang. Stilted houses on the water are interesting to see and the market has some inexpensive souvenirs, clothes and trinkets.
I got a cute sun hat that lasted the whole trip, and successfully made it back home without getting ruined 🙂 .
Explore Penang Hill
They say you have not been to Penang if you’ve not gone to Penang Hill. It’s a short drive by Grab or taxi form George Town center, and then a funicular railway up the steep hill.
We went in the morning and about half way up the hill we saw that the top is covered in fog. It also was about 10 degrees cooler than in the city. Initially we thought we won’t get to see any views, but an hour or so later the fog evaporated and the sweeping views opened up.
It is definitely a beautiful rain forest to visit. The plants, the flowers, even a cafe up top.
Explore Penang Hill’s The Habitat slowly walking on the well maintained pathways and bridges. Any fitness levels/kids can do the walk, it’s really easy and pleasant. You could spend half a day here taking in nature, we had a couple of hours and it was a very enjoyable, calm experience. Oh, and there are monkeys!
Visit Kek Lok Si temple
It would be a shame to be this close and miss the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. You could walk there from the bottom of the Penang Hill in about 20 minutes, but because we were short on time, we grabbed a taxi.
Built in 19th century this temple and monastery is a work of art. There is a funicular to get closer to a giant God of Mercy statue and more sweeping fews from above.
Truly majestic place and well worth visiting.
Load up on adrenalin at the Rainbow Skywalk
Located at Komtar– the tallest skyscraper in Penang, The Top is a rooftop viewing platform with the Rainbow Skywalk attached to it. We went in the evening and it was a bit scary at first to step on the curved glass walk, but once you get over the fear of going through it, it’s kind of a cool attraction.
Excellent views of Penang at night too! On the way back we got the foot massages at the Asiatika Venture Reflexology Centre. The unique thing was that most of the masseuses were blind. Reviews were excellent and we can confirm they did a great job!
Eat your way through town
Penang is famous for it’s delicious food, though we liked the food everywhere we went in Malaysia. Nasi Kandar, Char Kway Teow, Nasi Lemak- those are just a few popular Malaysian dishes to try. We had lunch at Chee Cheong Fun St Genting Cafe and a whole table of food was just around $8 USD.
We had dessert at Kunafa King and even though not Malaysian, it was delicious.
Even Mexican food was amazing here!
We did book a 4 hour food tour via Viator and that was a disappointment. Elderly gentleman was VERY knowledgeable about the history, architecture and overall Penang, but the places he took us to eat was Indian food. Ok, it was very good Indian, but nothing that we have not tried before while in India or even in the USA. We wanted authentic Malaysian meals and instead were stuffed from the Indian. So when he offered one more place we politely declined.
Also, had we not walked the same streets of the Old Town a day prior, maybe the history/architecture tour would have been a lot more valuable. But because we came expecting food and food only, we had no patience to sightsee again. Three hours into the tour we thanked him and let him go. We paid 170+ USD for the two of us and the food he took us to eat probably amounted to no more than $20. We went to have ice cream instead 🙂 . Self organized tours had proven to be best so far.
Penang overall was a hit. Lots to see and do and that hotel alone is worth coming here. But now it’s time to relax after a busy few days sightseeing. We’re off to enjoy some island life!
PULAU PERHENTIAN BESAR
It took an hour flight from Penang to Kota Bharu, then about and hour drive to Kuala Besut Jetty and another 40 minute boat ride to reach Pulau Perhentian Besar island.
Our hotel Tuna Bay Island Resort sent a driver to greet us at the airport, but forgot to mention that detail to us 🙂 . We did not even consider looking for our name on the boards of a bunch of people waiting at the airport and jumped in a cab. I don’t know why or how Sean thought to message the resort on Whatsapp (maybe because nobody was answering the phone when he called), but they told us that there was a person waiting to greet us…We were half way to the jetty, so continued in the taxi and met the representative at the hotel’s office in Kota Bharu. It was actually helpful to have someone guide us to the boat, because it was leaving soon, and there was a fee to pay when entering the dock, so we needed to be quick.
The resort, just like the whole island turned out to be a true ‘island life’ vibes- simple, laid back, no shoes and no rush anywhere. Even wifi was only at the restaurant/reception, while the little bungalows were internet free. We got the room facing the ocean, pushed two beds together and enjoyed blissful three nights without any real plans.
Well, actually we had plans- two snorkeling excursions that came with our package, massages (if Rusland is there, book him every day- 90 MYR ($20 USD) for a full body massage for two hours on the beach), swimming, walking along the shore to the neighboring beaches- that was days well spent.
I have to mention- it is a lot better snorkeling if it’s not done on the weekend. There are a lot of locals that come by boats (boatloads of people) to do the excursions in the same snorkeling spots, so if you can avoid that, it will be a lot more enjoyable. We got lucky with one of the excursions when we were the only ones at the site and it was a completely different experience.
There is no night life on this island, so we made friends with the travelers from Netherlands, played table game, chatted about travels and had lot of laughs. When we got bored of the food at our resort, we tried near by Cozy Chalet and their fresh grilled fish and prawns were wonderful! Island life is simply magical.
PULAU PERHENTIAN KECIL
There are two main Perhentian Islands- Perhentian Besar (the one we stayed at) and Perhentian Kecil– the smaller of the two. We read that Kecil has a sort of a backpacker vibe with some night life, while Besar is more quiet, family oriented island.
Either way I think both are very very calm. We took a quick water taxi to Kecil for lunch. The village street looked very quiet, locals living their life. There is a mosque right near the water, some shops and little restaurants (with even cheaper prices than our island, which was already inexpensive). We ate at Dinie’s Cafe and it was great!
I think there is more action near the Long Beach- the most popular beach in Kecil, but some people that stayed at our hotel visited it and said that the beach in front of the Tuna Bay resort is much better. We had no regrets- our resort was not a definition of luxury, but we had all we needed and the quiet island time was perfect during the busy trip.
I still miss these views…
According to Wikipedia: Redang Island is an island in Kuala Nerus District, Terengganu, Malaysia. It is one of the largest islands off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and as well as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. We are not going to argue with that!
To get to Redang Pulau Perhentian Besar you have a few options. One, very inconvenient one, would be to take the ferry back to the mainland, drive for an hour and get on another boat. Second- to hire a boat and go straight from Besar to Redang, which takes less than an hour! Guess what we picked?
It actually was even better, THIRD option. When we talked to our hotel in Besar and asked to book a boat transfer, they quoted us 800 MYR (180 USD). Not cheap, but it would save us a lot of time and hassle. However, as we were reading about the available excursions, we noticed that there was a snorkeling trip to Redang, ending at the same beach that our next hotel is at! The trip was either for multiple people costing 120 MYR pp, or 700 MYR for the whole boat going alone.
We signed up for this tour, nobody else joined, so we had the boat for ourselves with two stops for snorkeling and a little island/sand bar for some fun photos! It was fantastic! For the same price as what would’ve been to just drop us off at the hotel, we got to enjoy all morning snorkeling and arrived in time for lunch/check in.
Laguna Redang Island Resort was bigger, fancier, and busier than our little place in the Perhentian island. We booked a suite, which was massive (I told you, we felt like kings in Malaysia with our USD 🙂 ) .
The first room we had was near the diving/activity center and though we liked the view, it was way too noisy. Not even foot traffic, but mostly motorized little trucks that the workers kept zooming by in. So we asked to switch to the opposite side of the complex, room 107 and that was perfect. No noise, no buzzing, just a magical view from the second floor balcony.
Buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner were included in the stay and there were plenty of options. It was also a lot of people, so it felt more commercial and not as quiet tropical island vibes as the previous stay. However, the water color, the beach sand and of course the resort amenities were a lot nicer, so it’s a give and take. Coming from a quiet place, initially I thought we might not like it, but it grew on us very quickly.
We didn’t do much. Having done the snorkeling on the way over eliminated the need to book another excursion. We got massages (admittedly not as good as Rusland on the sand), ran during sunrise, swam, read, Sean even played some volleyball with the locals one evening- we were very glad we came here.
There are plenty of things to do and we saw a lot of people booking water activities, but we were just as content petting island cats and doing nothing for a change.
There was a pool, jacuzzi, nightly entertainment and a special hot pot dinner on our last night.
The sunrises were spectacular and the fresh coconuts were sweet and refreshing (as well as the cold beer). One evening we went for a dinner at the Redang Moon- Vitamin Sea Kitchen– a short walk down the beach on a hill. The view and the food was amazing (we even got a lightning show in the distance). They only take cash and do two seatings per night. It’s pricey, but we were bored with the buffet and it was well worth it. Fresh fish, grilled prawns, decadent dessert- an absolute must try place.
Last but not least stop on our whirlwind trip- the capital of Malaysia.
Typically we end with the beach, so I was not sure if we’ll like it going back to the city, but KL pleasantly surprised us. It was a lot less busy than what I expected, weather was good and the hotel we stayed at was wonderful! In fact, we had a hard time deciding which luxury hotel to book, because they all were SO reasonably priced. Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur attracted us with their tub near the window, perfect location and the spa. The rain shower even had changing colors and Sean sang “Purple Rain” with the purple lights on 🙂 . It was a vibe!
We got a direct view of KL Tower and a side view of the Petronas Towers, and a view of the second tallest building in the world, Merdeka 118, which was a lovely surprise. The service was impeccable and their caffe downstairs had excellent food and pastries. The pool was not very warm, though refreshing on a hot day.
We booked 1.5 hour long massages right before the flights home and that was the best idea. This hotel also have a rooftop restaurant Horizon Grill, which we enjoyed on the first night. Great views, wonderful service and excellent meal.
For even more views, lounge music and a drink we went up to the Vertigo bar.
Another great place right at the Banyan tree is a Japanese restaurant Ebisu at Altitude. We had High Tea there one day and last dinner before taking a 2am flight home. Both were great!
We even ordered room service one morning- talk about not wanting to leave the hotel 🙂 !
So what is worth leaving the comforts of Banyan Tree for? Here are the highlights of Kuala Lumpur.
Only around 20 min drive from the hotel, these caves are a sight worth seeing! A hill with a series of limestone caves and cave temples, this place is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India.
Free to enter, they asked to cover up the legs, so I wrapped the scarf and made it into a long skirt, but otherwise there were no other restrictions. The steps are steep and there are lots of monkeys running around, so beware of the loose items and don’t hold food. Mostly they were keeping to themselves, but when we got a bit too close, one barred it’s teeth and scared the crap out of me.
It’s cooler in the caves and when we went before noon the stairs were still in the shade. It would be pretty hot and uncomfortable to climb with the sun blazing, so definitely visit this place before the heat of the day.
THEAN HOU TEMPLE
We took a Grab straight from the Batu Caves to this temple and it was definitely a nice one. Granted we’ve seen a lot of temples on this trip, so it was not life changing, but if you’re in KL, I think it’s worth a stop.
It was completed in 1987 and officially opened in 1989, so it’s not very old, though still impressive.
Also known as the Petronas Twin Towers and the KLCC Twin Towers these buildings are 451.9 meters (88 stories) and are the world’s tallest twin skyscrapers. To come to KL and not see them would be kind of like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. There is a connecting glass bridge between the two and a limited amount of visitors can go each day, but we didn’t care enough to go early and try to score tickets. Our hotel was higher than the bridge, we saw the towers from different angles and that was really enough.
There is a nightly fountain show near the Suria KLCC mall and it makes a good ‘foredrop’ for the towers.
We went up to this tower, because it was a super easy access, no lines or ticket limitations. Also, we stared at it from our hotel window/bath, so figured we should at least check it out 🙂 .
Great views from the Observation deck and two Sky Boxes. You get 1 min and 40 seconds in each Sky Box to take pictures- even though it seems like a short time, but it was enough. A little bit scary to look down, but it’s sturdy glass, we did not fall through 🙂 .
If the weather is good and the visibility is decent, this is a fun activity in the city.
WANDER AROUND DOWNTOWN
Sultan Abdul Samad building, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Masjid Jamek of Kuala Lumpur, Dataran Merdeka square, Guan Di Temple Chinatown- those are just a few stops we made while wondering around the first day in KL.
Luckily it’s a walking city and surprisingly clean and calm for almost 2 million population.
Lots of street art and cozy little alleys to explore.
GO TO THE MALL
That does not mean for only shopping. Food, spa treatments, entertainment- malls are big here just like in Singapore. Banyan Tree Hotel is connected to the Pavilion, which we preferred over the KLCC (near the Petronas Towers).
We got a great mani/pedi with a foot massage at the Bmic spa in the Pavilion- a lot better and by far cheaper than in Boston.
EAT EAT EAT
Whether you go to a fancy restaurant, choose a table at the place in the mall, or grab a bite from the street vendor, you can’t really go wrong here. We sampled all of the above and now are trying to lose vacation weight 🙂 . From the places at the Pavilion mall we liked the Din Tai Fung– amazing dumplings. At Lot 10 we got ramen. On Alor Street lined with vendors and restaurants we tried our first durian fruit.
It’s eaten with gloves, so that the distinctive smell does not linger on your hands afterwards. In fact, there are signs all over the indoor places (including our hotel) that this fruit is not allowed 🙂 .
Sean really hated it (he spit it out). He said it smells like dirty feet and at the same time reminds him a texture of chicken. I actually quite enjoyed it and didn’t find it repulsive at all. Not my favorite fruit, but not the worst either. All in all- food in Malaysia was probably one of the top five best experiences.
Incredible country, warm people, gorgeous nature and delicious food. We really couldn’t find anything to not like in Malaysia. I even managed to forget my phone in the Grab car on the way to the airport and the driver came back, despite it being middle of the night. So not only warm, but also honest (at least that’s what was our experience, I am sure there are all kinds of people everywhere). It’s a big country and we only sampled a small piece of it, but would definitely be happy to return to see and explore more!