See the best of Southeast Asia and the beautiful Malaysian coast on a Penang cruise with Celebrity. The island of Penang is a vibrant mix of the many layers of culture and history that make Malaysia so unique. The region is known for its tropical setting, Hindu-inspired Buddhist temples, historic forts and villages, and its bustling port city of George Town. Penang boasts European colonial, Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian cultural influences that seep into every part of its colorful charm.
Visit ornately adorned temples showcasing both Hindu and Buddhist iconography, or admire colorful shophouses protected by UNESCO. Relax on sunny beaches just a few miles from the port. Shop for Chinese and Malay antiques in one of George Town’s markets. Explore the wonders of local nature preserves, and sample delicious food blending Chinese, Malay and Indian influences, as well as local fusion dishes. Experience Penang in style on a luxury cruise to Southeast Asia with Celebrity Cruises.
The Kek Lok Si Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and the center for many religious pilgrims who make the journey each year from all over Asia to visit. The temple is famous for its striking, seven-story pagoda which towers over brightly-colored terraced buildings, many of which date back to the late 1800s. The Kek Lok Si Temple has a mix of Chinese, Thai, and Malay influences, and is considered an iconic representation of both the region’s diverse contemporary culture and history.
The Clan Jetties of Penang comprise stilt houses built over the water on long, narrow walkways. They feature rustic homes, small trinket shops and food stalls, and well-preserved facades. Penang’s Clan Jetties originated as homes for many of the city’s Chinese clans and were some of the first Chinese settlements on the island. There are considered cultural heritage sites in Penang, and there are six that still stand today, accessible by foot just south of the cruise terminal.
If you’re looking for modern urban shopping, a glittering skyline, and some of the best dining options in Penang, then a visit to Gurney Drive is a must. This popular seafront esplanade in George Town runs along the city’s waterfront and is ideal for a stroll by day, or a night out on the town. If street food is on your agenda, you’ll find some of the best in Malaysia at the many hawker stalls along Gurney Drive. There are also many traditional and upscale dining options available, including restaurants with sea and skyline views that offer more refined cuisine.
The British colonial influence on Penang is present in many ways, and none is more iconic than the former seaside military fortress of Fort Cornwallis. Built by the British East India Company in the late 18th century, this well-preserved fort is popular with visitors who want a first-hand glimpse of Penang’s colonial past and learn about the spice trade and subsequent conflicts. The fort has an authentic drawbridge as well as a statue that pays tribute to its founder, Sir Francis Light. Local legend says that placing flowers in the cannons at Fort Cornwallis will bring fertility, so if you see them during your tour, be mindful of the tradition.
At first, these gardens appear to be more like a nature preserve or national park, but within them grow some of the most valuable spices on earth. The gardens are home to over 500 different tropical plant species. The herbs and spices that are grown and cultivated here have shaped the deep traditional flavors in the local cuisine and are part of the region’s cultural and culinary heritage. Book a cooking class at the Tropical Spice Garden to get a fabulous hands-on experience and tease your taste buds with some authentic Malay dishes.
For unbeatable panoramic views of the city and its lush green surroundings, take a ride on the tram up Penang Hill. The Penang Hill railway is one of the oldest funicular trams in the world, and offers a unique perspective from an altitude of over 2,500 feet, with sweeping views across George Town to the distant mainland. From the top, cooled by gentle breezes, you can take a short or long hike through one of the hill’s nature trails, looking out for lemurs, colorful birds and dazzling butterflies, or visit the nearby Botanical Gardens.
On a Penang cruise, you’ll get to taste some of the most diverse cuisines in Asia, with flavors and styles from all over the region on offer. Near the port in George Town, you’ll find excellent Chinese dim sum, traditional Malaysian street food like Char Koay Teow noodles, and Malay-Chinese fusion restaurants. There are authentic Indian restaurants in George Town’s Little India district, too, just a few minutes away from the cruise terminal. Be sure to try a cool and refreshing Teh O Ais Limau, or iced lime tea, before ending your stay.
Penang’s culture and history have been influenced by the island’s roots as a former international spice trading hub. Much of Penang’s modern history was defined by the British East India Company, which purchased the island from the Sultanate of Kedah in the late 18th century. Contemporary life in Penang is a mix of modern maritime commerce, tourism, and local Malay traditions. There is also a heavy Chinese influence and a large community of Indian and other Asian cultures that share the island as their home. English and Chinese are widely spoken as second or third languages, and ancient Malay culture is still honored and prominent throughout the island as well.
The Penang cruise port is located at Swettenham Pier, just blocks from some of the main attractions in the capital, George Town, such as Weld Quay, Beach Street, and the Jubilee Clock Tower. The port facilities have convenient access to water ferries, taxis, and shuttles right out front of the cruise terminal.
Penang has many options for transportation, and all are available conveniently outside of the cruise terminal and around the center of George Town. There are many options for group travel via shuttle or bus if needed. If you prefer to travel by taxi, try to book one while inside the terminal. For a really fun local experience, take a ride on a pedal-powered rickshaw, or trishaw, to get around the center of town.
You’ll find lots of great shopping options near the port while on a Penang cruise. Head to Gurney Plaza for higher-end fashion brands and electronics shopping, or peruse the many souvenir stalls that line the jetties, specializing in Chinese goods and trinkets. Look out for spices, preserved tropical fruits, silks, and batik. For a unique shopping experience, visit the flea market at Lorong Kulit, but make sure to go early, as it closes each day in the early afternoon.
The local currency in Penang is the Malaysian ringgit. You’ll find plenty of ATMs and banks within the central area of George Town where you can withdraw cash, but fewer as you go out into the countryside. It’s recommended to use cash when you can, as skimming can often happen with cards in certain areas, and small vendors may not accept card payments for low-priced purchases. Tipping is not customary, however many taxi and rickshaw drivers, hotel staff, and tour guides are accustomed to receiving small tips from visitors who find their service accommodating.