Malaysia Island of Penang: Indian Food, Chinese Temples, and Japanese Cosplay

Last Updated on 22 June 2024 by Cycloscope

penang island what to see

Explore Penang, Malaysia, where Indian food, Chinese temples, and Japanese cosplay festivals create a unique cultural experience. Discover George Town, taste the local cuisine and enjoy the island’s vibrant atmosphere.

Easily obtaining a 60-day visa for Thailand, our next destination, we set off towards the border with Malaysia, but first, we decided to explore the beautiful island of Penang.

Located just a 5-minute ferry ride from the west coast of Malaysia, Penang is a treasure trove of culture and history. The island’s capital, George Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its rich heritage and vibrant multicultural atmosphere.

Historical Background

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penang travel guide

Penang was a British colony until Malaysia gained independence in 1957. Back in the late 1700s, the island’s population was less than 100 people; today, it is home to about 1.5 million residents.

The population is diverse, comprising approximately 40% Malays and other indigenous groups, 40% Chinese from various ethnic backgrounds, 10% Indians, and 6% from other ethnicities. Additionally, there are immigrants from India, Vietnam, and across Southeast Asia, contributing to the island’s unique blend of cultures, architecture, cuisines, and religions.


We found a hostel with a yellow sign called “Budget Hotel.” A room costs 35 ringgit, equivalent to about 7.50 euros. While it wasn’t the cleanest place we’ve stayed, it was decent enough for a few nights.

The rooms were basic but functional, with essential amenities like air conditioning and Wi-Fi. The staff is friendly and helpful, providing tips on local attractions and dining spots.

For those looking for more comfort, Penang offers a range of accommodations, from luxury hotels to boutique guesthouses.

Exploring George Town

penang travel guide

During our stay in George Town, we took time to explore the city and relax in the hot weather. The city is filled with Chinese temples from various sects and surprising murals that appear around every corner.

The vibrant street art scene adds a modern twist to the historical cityscape. We also indulged in the local cuisine, which is both delicious and affordable, although slightly more expensive than in Kuala Lumpur.

Cultural Experience

penang travel guide

We met up with an Italian friend of ours who is also traveling through Asia on foot. Together, we attended the Anime Matsuri, a festival celebrating Japanese pop culture. The festival attracts many young people, especially Chinese, who participate in cosplay.

The highlight of the event was a concert by Japanese idols, though we only stayed for the first performance before heading out. While we felt a bit out of place among the younger crowd and had seen better events in Japan, the festival is an integral part of Penang’s cultural mosaic, showcasing the island’s diverse influences and contemporary interests.

Things to Do in Penang

Visit the Temples

  • Kek Lok Si Temple: One of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, offering stunning views and intricate architecture.
  • Khoo Kongsi: A well-preserved clan house that provides insight into Chinese heritage and craftsmanship.

Explore the Street Art

  • Take a self-guided tour around George Town to discover the numerous murals and sculptures that tell the story of Penang’s culture and history.

Enjoy the Local Cuisine

  • Gurney Drive: A famous food street where you can sample a variety of local dishes like Char Kway Teow, Assam Laksa, and Hokkien Mee.
  • Little India: A vibrant area where you can find delicious Indian food and sweets.

Relax at the Beaches

  • Batu Ferringhi: A popular beach destination known for its water sports and night market.
  • Tanjung Bungah: A quieter beach ideal for a more relaxed day by the sea.

Discover the Museums

  • Penang Peranakan Mansion: A museum showcasing the opulent lifestyle of the Peranakans (Straits Chinese).
  • Penang State Museum: Offers a comprehensive look at the island’s history and culture.


Penang is a beautiful destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and modern attractions. Whether you’re exploring its historical sites, enjoying its diverse cuisine, or immersing yourself in contemporary events like the Anime Matsuri, the island promises a rich and unforgettable travel experience.

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