Fly to Penang from Kuala Lumpur on the 50-minute Malaysia Airlines flight. Malaysia Airlines flies from New York and Los Angeles to Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur. malaysiaairlines.com
Eat everything. Penang breeds good cooks. And good cooks make plates of unusual, spicy, exotic nibbles. Perhaps the most well-known places to dig in are hawker stalls, a collection of food vendors. At Gurney Drive you can sample Malaysian, Indian and Chinese street specialties, such as Nasi Lemak (coconut rice wrapped in pandan leaf with strange accompaniments, i.e. fish head and sambal), Mee Goreng (noodles stir-fried with veggies and chili), and Nasi Kandar (an Indian curry dish). The Chinese use chopsticks; the Indians often use their fingers. Cecil Street Market also has great eats. For dessert, definitely order a Cendol, a concoction of shaved ice, coconut milk and green flour noodles. You can eat like a king at hawker stalls for less than $8. For a taste of Nonya cuisine, a blend of Chinese and Malaysian, put Hot Wok restaurant on your itinerary. hotwok.com.my
Stay in historic George Town at Cheong Fatt Tze, better known as the Blue Mansion. Upon entering the 1880s house, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to the set of the film The Lover (adapted from a book by Marguerite Duras). To learn more of its interesting history (and about Cheong Tze Fatt’s seven wives), join in on a daily tour, included in the room rate. From $89, cheongfatttzemansion.com. For those looking for more amenities (read elevators, bellman, Feng Shui design sensibilities, a pool and English tea), check into the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, built in 1885, with 101 suites. How about the Somerset Maugham suite? Rates from $130, e-o-hotel.com. Also stay near the beach at Shangri- La’s Rasa Sayang, Golden Sands Resort, on Batu Ferringhi. Although there is more authentic cuisine nearby, the hotel’s restaurant, the Spice Market Cafe, is like a mini-tutorial of Penang’s cuisine, buffet style. Room rates start at $200, shangri-la.com. Another beach option and an institution is the Lone Pine, owned by the E&O Hotel group. Rates start at $53. lonepinehotel.com
Learn about the edible (and non-edible) spices and herbs of Penang at the 4.5-acre rainforest sanctuary of the Tropical Spice Garden in Batu Ferringhi. Tour guide Danny Beh will talk you through cinnamon, turmeric, galangal and tongkat ali. A guided tour is $6. tropicalspicegarden.com
See the places of worship. There are many cultures that call Penang home: Chinese, Indian, Muslim, Malaysian and more than 100 places of worship. The Khoo Kongsi is a Chinese temple built in 1906. The main entrance is on Cannon Street, hidden off a back alleyway, khookongsi.com.my. Nearby is the Kapitan Keling Mosque (also on Cannon), where Sunni Muslims worship. Also visit the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple on Queen Street, where the Tamil go. tourismpenang.gov.my
Ride on a trishaw, a descendant of the jinrickishas, introduced in the 1920s. A jinrickisha is pulled by a man, whereas a trishaw is pushed when the driver pedals. Take a tour of Fort Cornwallis, a British fortress, and the Clan jetties, a community of Chinese fishermen, off Weld Quay. Try to find trishaw driver Rama (016-407-4926).
Walk along the Traditional Trades Trail. You’ll visit one of the last living Chinese joss stick makers (1 Lorong Muda), a Malaysian coffee maker (53 Lorong Stewart), an Indian goldsmith (38 Queen Street), and a fortune teller (156 Chulia Street). For more info, visit Penang Heritage Trust, pht.org.my or call (604) 653-3060.
Learn more at tourismpenang.gov.my.