We rarely have a say in the location of a business trip. Sometimes it’s to a city with a wow-factor and other times we’re counting the hours until departure. If you’re heading to Penang for work, you’re a lucky duck who won the destination lottery. It’s a city with tons to see and do…even if you have only a few hours in between meetings to squeeze in some sightseeing.
Get the Lay of the land
Try to fly in during the day because the first thing you’ll see on approach is the deep blue hue of the aquamarine waters surrounding the island. You’ll be landing on the southeast side of Penang, which is perfect because where you want to stay is George Town. It’s home to the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, a straight shot north along the coastline that will take between 30 to 60 minutes, depending on traffic.
How to get around
From the airport, the most efficient ride into George Town is the official taxi. After you exit the arrivals area, head towards the exit and you’ll see a queue inside at the taxi stand where you’ll prepay based on where you’re going. The fare is around 40 Ringgits (about 10 USD) from the airport to George Town so it’s very reasonable.
After you’re checked in, however, I would stick to using the Grab app so buy a local sim card at the airport or ensure you have data services enabled on your phone. Grab is basically the Uber of Asia and Grab Car or Grab Premium are the best way to get around.
Pro Tip: Be sure to order your Grab Car well in advance since traffic in George Town can be crazy at peak hours.
Where to Stay
George Town is a heritage zone geared for tourists and not the business traveller, so it can be tough to find a hotel where you can tuck in for a good sleep (trust me, I’ve reviewed eight of the best and rarely slept like a baby in Penang). My favourite for soundproofed rooms and business services is The Wembley – A St Giles Hotel. It’s a 4-star hotel but their lounge and service level in the premium rooms was on par with a 5-star.
Pro Tip: Stay on the executive floor in a premium room and to be sure and request a room with a sea view in advance!
What to Do in Your Spare Time
You can visit the typical touristy spots like Fort Cornwallis but there are more fun off-the-beaten-track experiences that I’d suggest to round out a short business trip. Since Penang is the foodie capital of Malaysia, you’ll also want to try and mix what you see and do with a culinary experience:
- Take in the sights, sounds, and aromas of Little India! You can power through in just a few minutes if you don’t stop to shop or you can tuck in for an hour and eat freshly prepared and delicious Indian food.
- Explore the back streets! Step out with your camera to explore a unique facet of Penang’s art scene. There are iron artworks and graffiti-style street art of real-life moments on the sides of the buildings all around the UNESCO zone. Along the way stop at the first street vendor you see with a queue of locals waiting to eat their food. That’s where the good stuff is!
- Enjoy sunset happy hour on a rooftop! You’re in luck if you’re staying at The Wembley because they have one of the best rooftop bars in town. Be sure to call ahead and reserve a front row view as the sun sets on the Strait of Malacca.
- Visit a hawker food pavilion! This is an absolute must and possibly the most fun you’ll have in Penang. The best in downtown George Town is Red Garden with its nightly entertainment and dozens of street food vendors. Be sure to arrive by 8:30 p.m. to catch the live performances in English or come a bit later for Chinese and Malay.
Pro Tip: If you have a full day to yourself and fancy the 1-hour jaunt to the other side of the island, head to Batu Ferringhi and relax in the sun at Pantai Keracut or Monkey Beach, ride a jet ski, and watch the sunset from a chilled beach shack. Then at 8 p.m. head to their famous night market where you can eat your weight in seafood!
Whether you have an hour or a day, be sure to drag your camera along at every step. Penang is a special place with a raw beauty that lies in the ‘moments’ you can capture, unlike anything you have back home.
By day, Angela is a location-independent digital comms consultant and contributor to magazines like Esquire and Conde Nast Traveller. By night, she’s a storyteller who vlogs about life abroad and shares reviews of the best places to eat, sleep, and play in Asia on her YouTube channel and blog Luxury Bucket List. Follow her on Instagram: @expatangela