Malaysia’s oldest British settlement, the charming island of Penang is easy to navigate and houses a number of fascinating sites, including Chinese and South Indian-style temples. Attractions are located a short hop from the cruise piers. The port is often included on quickie one-week (or less) cruises that sail round-trip from Singapore, and occasionally on longer voyages that may also stop at points in Myanmar.
What We Love
Hike up Penang Hill. For sweeping views of the island and sea beyond, trek three miles up a little-used mountainside road that's mostly shaded by the jungle canopy. After climbing to a height of nearly 3,000 feet, you can take the century-old funicular tram to the bottom. Tip: You can make that a round-trip ride if the prospect of a hike doesn't excite you.
The Food. Malaysia's history as a rich trade hub and even richer cultural melting pot has influenced the cuisine. Malay foods include an exciting blend of flavors and preparations informed by the diversity of the inhabitants’ traditions.
Best Known For
George Town. Penang’s old town and capital city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates to the late 18th century, when it was established as a British trading post. It also served as a strategic defense point against French and Dutch expansion in the region. Today, you can see the seaside ruins of the star-shaped British-built Fort Cornwallis.
Shop Houses. George Town’s classic two- and three-story shop houses, with stores below and living quarters above, evolved from the architectural traditions of India and China, which is where the builders originated. Many retain orange tile roofs and street-facing covered arcades that shelter pedestrians from the tropical sun and rain.
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Who It's Best For
History Buffs. If you’re into World War II, the British Empire, or Chinese stories of migration, Penang’s a great place to get a taste of it all. Of special note is a chance to experience the traditions of the Peranakan — descendants of Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
It's Hot. No matter when you go it’ll be sizzling, with temperatures straddling the upper 80s to low 90s. And the sun is powerful — wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen, and have a bottle of water handy.
Mediocre beaches. You've seen better. There are a lot of jellyfish and the water is murky. Plus, Jet Skis and other motorized watercrafts amp up the noise level at popular spots like Ferringhi Beach.
Heidi Sarna is a Singapore-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.