The state of Penang is a melting pot of many different cultures. That level of diversity creates a haven not only for a wonderful culinary scene but a wide range of beautiful and iconic historical attractions such as old colonial European architecture, Buddhist temples, Islamic museums and old military forts. In fact, the island’s downtown areas of George Town and Melaka were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008. But, as anyone who has traveled to this area of Malaysia will tell you: while you might initially go for the food and history, you’ll likely stay for the nature, relaxed culture and interesting people.
All of these factors together make Penang one place that you’ll want to snap endless pics of. But which pics are most worthy of your Instagram profile? Here are several ideas to get you started:
Penang National Park
Put Penang’s beautiful and well-preserved National Park at the top of your itinerary. It not only has a gorgeous jungle, where you’ll want to spend hours taking photos of exotic birds, butterflies and other small animals, but it also has the island’s best places to swim. If you’re looking to snap that quintessential bikini vacation pic, there are some small natural pools to wade into near where the Sungai Tukun river meets the ocean.
Another spot to stop and photograph in the park is Monkey Beach. In the northern section of the park, the beach itself is likely the cleanest in all of Penang, but it’s also home to—as the name implies—large groups of primates camped out on the nearby rocks.
Lastly, before ending your hiking for the day, make sure to have someone take a photo of you as you dare to cross the park’s long, narrow wobbly suspension bridge. Fog rises up on either sides and immerses you in the tree canopy, and once you’re halfway across, the stomach jitters from the steep height will likely fade.
The Blue Mansion
More formally known as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, this structure also serves as a boutique hotel and restaurant. There are only a few tours available each day, but while you’re waiting to explore the fascinating interior, take advantage of its distinctive facade—every corner of this mansion and its grounds are just waiting to be photographed.
The outside of the mansion is a bright, periwinkle blue, which is the result of an indigo-based limewash. You’ll also find a mix of Eastern and Western designs within other details. The huge, opposing wooden doors are painted with gold and red Chinese characters, for instance, but the stained-glass windows might remind you of something you’ve seen before in Europe. The whole site is one beautiful clash of dominant colors: use this to your advantage when taking photos. No #filters are needed here.
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Sure, you might be thinking, “Another mansion…?” but this is not just another wealthy family’s former home: this was the center of a prominent and unique ancient Chinese community in Penang. Built at the end of the 19th century in George Town, the mansion was intended to reflect the design of a typical home of a rich leader many centuries ago.
While the exterior is ornate, and you could easily spend an hour snapping photos of the courtyard, save up your phone’s battery life for the inside. The amount of opulent detail is almost overwhelming; every archway and wall has been decorated with carvings and gold leaf. Each massive room displays antiques, photographs, paintings and hand-carved wood furniture.
Furthermore, once you’ve finished with the tour, stick around the area to photograph the Chung Keng Kwi Temple and the Straits Chinese Jewelry Museum. The latter site literally glitters due to its overflowing collection of bling. No flash needed.
George Town Street Art
Wander around the compact centre to George Town’s UNESCO World Heritage Zone and you’ll find it hard to stop taking pictures. The street art is as varied as it is incredible and includes roughly nine state-commissioned wrought iron caricatures and murals by the artist Ernest Zacharevic.
Tropical Spice Garden
Finally, situated on the north of the island, is a stop worth the time it takes to travel away from more populated areas. The Tropical Spice Garden is an eight-acre sprawl of jungle, which boasts a diverse array of flora and fauna.
You can weave your way through the trees on the well-preserved trails, which will take you past waterfalls, streams and, of course, back to the farm, which smells of rich spices and herbs. You can also tour the inside facilities where they process and dry the spices, but you might be too busy taking photos of the food and the view from the garden’s restaurant. Set high up in the trees, you’ll feel like you’re dining in a treehouse. This is one pic you’ll be sure to want to share on social media.
Paige Towers is a writer living in Milwaukee with her husband and a pack of rescue dogs. Her writing has appeared in The Harvard Review, The Baltimore Review, McSweeney’s, Midwestern Gothic, Prime Number, and many other publications. You can read more of her work on www.paigetowers.com.