Penang is well-known for its tapestry of vibrant cultures, authentic cuisines and great attractions. Here’s how you can immerse yourself into the rich culture and lifestyle of the people in this northern region. By Janice Kua
Penang’s capital city, George Town, was acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, making it a thriving modern city and a destination of culture, heritage and traditions. The homestays in Penang, an alternative to conventional hotels, offer affordable and comfortable accommodation for tourists where they can stay with the locals, away from the city's hustle and bustle. Better yet, you'll get the chance to experience the true culture and lifestyle of the locals in a laid-back atmosphere. Imagine experiencing a stay in a kampong
where you get to do Malaysian cultural activities such as fishing, rubber tapping, fruit picking, crafting and so on. Additionally, you'll get the chance to exchange stories with the locals, savour local home-cooked meals and possibly be a part of a wedding celebration. If that’s not exciting enough, you could also get one organised for yourself!
Penang’s homestay programme encompasses 10 villages across Malaysia's northern region of, each unique with special features that promises tourists a memorable and leisurely time.
Located within Balik Pulau, Jalan Bharu offers an idyllic Malay Kampung
lifestyle with exciting outdoor activities. While here, enjoy a fascinating sunset view and silhouette of villages against the scenic blue sky. Take a mountain bike ride along three readily available bike trails with breath-taking views of some light jungle, paddy fields, village areas and palm oil plantations. Sungai Samagagah is a unique stretch of fisherman villages with houses reminiscing the 19th
century of Penang. Seafood is a must-have when you visit Sungai Samagagah. If you love pampering yourself, enjoy Jalan Bharu’s traditional massage and herbal steam bath.
Must-dos at Jalan Bharu:
- Herbal Farm – all about herbs and its medicinal functions
- Tropical Fruit Farm – taste the variety of tropical fruits and enjoy fruit-picking during the harvest season
- Titi Kerawang Waterfall – enjoy a fun dip in the local waters
- Nutmeg Factory – where the nutmeg fruit is made into different products, ranging from jam, massage oil, snacks etc.
- Balik Pulau Night Market – where you can eat and shop like a local
- Traditional delights – witness the making of local traditional snacks i.e. kuih bahulu (cake), muruku (spicy snacks), kerepek gunting (local crisps), dodol (sticky caramelised sugar) and more
Tel. No.: +6016-461 8553
Address: 349 Mk. D, Jalan Bharu, 11000 Balik Pulau
A village surrounded by impossibly green forests and tropical fruit farms with fresh and windy air, Kota Aur is located 20km from Butterworth and 40km from George Town. If you are inclined towards agro-eco tourism like visiting fruit farms, deer-rearing farm and those along the lines, Kota Aur would be perfect for you. Stay with the locals at their kampong
homes made out of timber or brick, experience their culture and traditions first-hand and get the feel of living in a village environment with paddy fields.
Must-dos at Kota Aur:
- Kuala Muda – seafood galore
- Discover the art of of Tomoy (Muay Thai kick-boxing or martial art)
- Muda River – cruise along the Muda River and see the array of wildlife at Kota Aur
- Merdeka Beach – sunset by the beach
Tel. No.: +6019-562 1008 / +6019-218 3507
Address: Kampung Kota Aur, Penaga, Penang
Website: http://homestaykotaaur.blogspot.com/Pulau Betong
Pulau Betong is a small village offering loads of fun activities that’ll take you back to nature, and hearty meals that portray the true culture of the northern region. Pulau Betong is a remote island, not accessible by any transportation other than a boat. For an experience of an adrenaline rush, try out mountain hiking at Pulau Betong. If not, take the leisurely option and enjoy cloth weaving or batik painting.
Must-dos at Pulau Betong:
- Visit to the paddy fields, banana plantations, vegetable gardens and nutmeg trees
- Everything you’d want to know about tropical fruits – durian, rambutan, mangosteen, jackfruit and longan
- Seafood galore
- Homemade delights – jeruk, keropok lekor and kuih bahulu
Tel. No.: +604-866 9770
Address: 49, Mukim 1, Balik Pulau, Penang
An island where man and nature co-exist in harmony, Pulau Aman spans 288 acres with a population of only 300 people. For a relaxing holiday, hang out at the sea for canoeing or catch your own fish for dinner. For on-land activities, visit a breadfruit orchard of delicious fresh fruits or jungle trek around the island to explore Pulau Aman.
Must-dos at Pulau Aman:
- Telaga Emas – the 'Well of Gold', a unique well that never runs dry even during the worst draught
- Batu Perompak – the 'Pirate’s Rock'. The haunt of pirates who plundered the waters around the island
- Sukun Crisps – a local favourite. Its taste is sure to beat your normal potato chips
Tel. No.: +6013-459 0330
Address: 145, Pulau Aman, Seberang Perai Selatan, Penang
Sungai Chenaam offers a calm and peaceful homestay for those who seek an escapade from city life. Sungai Chenaam is located near the beach with its surroundings filled with lush greenery and windy atmosphere all year round. At Sungai Chenaam, discover agricultural activities such as harvesting grains at paddy fields, plucking coconuts from trees, as well as hand-picking vegetables and fruits. Explore breeding activities of cockles, chickens, prawns, earthworms and organic eels. Eco-tourism activities at Sungai Chenaam boast the rearing of various farm specimens including tiger prawns, cows and goats. Here, you can even work with the farmers to milk a cow or goat for a truly wondrous experience.
Must-dos at Sungai Chenaam:
- Sightseeing – mangrove area filled with thousands of white storks
- Must-try local dishes – catfish curry, ulam, keropok ubi and keropok lekor
- Traditional games – sepak takraw, kite flying/wau flying
- Traditional entertainment – silat, boria, nasyid, berzanji and marhaban
Tel. No.: ＋6012-509 4368
Address: 39, Lot 229, Nibong Tebal, Penang
Located at about 25km from Butterworth and 32km from George Town, Mengkuang Titi is a comprehensive village that still retains its rustic traditional charm and culture. The traditional homes of the villagers here exude a cozy ambience for visitors as they are beautifully crafted with wooden structure and intricate architecture. At Mengkuang Titi, you’ll enjoy a wide spectrum of vibrant culture and exciting art activities. Indulge in the natural wonders of its agriculture, cottage industry and traditional games today.
Must-dos in Mengkuang Titi:
- Mengkuang Dam - the largest water storage in Penang with a capacity of 23,639 million litres of water. Also features a well-landscaped garden with rubber and pine trees as well as wildlife
- Learn to make – kuih bahulu, a traditional and scrumptious Malay cake. Kuih bahulu is also a popular snack during festive seasons
- Experience rubber-tapping, and how latex is processed into rubber sheets
- Join the villagers in plucking coconuts from trees and savour its delightful water
Tel. No.: +604-370 7587
Address: 679, Mukim 19, Bukit Mertajam, Penang
Website: http://www.go2homestay.com/homestay-mengkuang-titi Sungai Duri
A sanctuary of fresh fruits and local delicacies, Sungai Duri is a popular place to visit during fruit seasons. Seasonal fruits available here are durians, rambutans and mangosteens, and non-seasonal fruits such as papayas and pineapples are grown here all year round. If you’re a fan for everything local, you can register yourself for do-it-yourself workshops where you’ll make local delicacies such as dodol
(sticky snack of caramelized sugar) and keropok
(chips), as well as handicrafts including mats and baskets. Experience the wonders and cultures of the northern region at Sungai Duri.
Must-dos in Sungai Duri:
- Savour freshly-made ketupat rice by the women folk of Sungai Duri
- Visit to tropical fruit orchards and indulge in freshly picked fruits
- Get unique souvenirs made from coconut shells or bamboo
- Witness traditional entertainment: silat, kompang and marhaban
Tel. No.: +6012-439 6936
Address: 1240, Kampung Hilir Sungai Duri, Seberang Perai Selatan, Penang
Website: http://www.go2homestay.com/homestay-sungai-duri/Teluk Bahang
Teluk Bahang is home to different kinds of tropical fishes, reptiles, corals and butterflies. A popular tourist spot for its stunning beaches and wonderful people, Teluk Bahang Homestay offers a kampung
lifestyle experience in a relaxed atmosphere with an ambience of nature at its best. Trekking to the Penang National Park, Pantai Kerachut, Mukah Head and the Teluk Bahang Forest Park is a must when at Teluk Bahang. For a more relaxing option, take a leisurely walk around Teluk Bahang and get to know the local fruits and trees indigenous only to Malaysia. Seafood lovers must not miss tasting seafood in different types of cuisines!
Must-dos in Teluk Bahang:
- Explore and discover rare and exotic orchids at the Orchid Farm
- Savour exotic fruits of Penang at the 25 acres Tropical Fruit Farm
- Jungle trek within Mukah Head or relax at the Monkey Beach, a broad bay protected by the Mukah Head cape.
- See turtles laying eggs at Pantai Kerachut, a turtle sanctuary
- Visit Entopia Penang, a tropical sanctuary for our planet’s little denizens from those that fly freely in the sky to the ones that creep stealthily beneath the ground
- Visit the Batik Factory and create a batik piece of your own!
Tel. No.: +6019-412 4729
Address: No.2, Mk 1, Teluk Bahang, Penang
Website: http://www.go2homestay.com/homestay-teluk-bahang/ Sungai Semilang
Get a taste of an agricultural experience at Sungai Semilang. Named after the catfish (ikan sembilang
) for its high population within the village’s river, Sungai Sembilang offers some exciting happenings and traditional delights, filled with flora and fauna within its natural settings. Get adventurous and book yourself in for some exciting fishing activities including saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing and cage fish farming. Go a step further into the techniques of fishing by taking a lesson on the secrets to cockle fishing at Sungai Semilang.
Must-dos at Sungai Sembilang:
- Explore the pineapple plantation that spreads over the village and learn how to make delicious food and condiments using the fruit
- Taste the village’s speciality – catfish curry
- Try-out the nectar-like drink made from nipah palm
Tel. No.: +6019-427 9860
Fax: +604-568 2917
Address: 2254, Sungai Semilang, Bukit Mertajam, Penang
Website: http://www.go2homestay.com/homestay-sungai-semilan Sungai Setar Besar
A village rich in history and local charms, Sungai Setar Besar is located in Pekan Nibong Tebal. The village has strong Malay traditions that blend with heritage and genuine hospitality. Get yourself busy with local food making – egg noodles, coffee, banana pancakes, cookies and cendol, and witness the local women folk busy making delicacies such as coconut candies, lentils and peanuts, rempeyek ikan bilis
(crispy flat snack topped with anchovies), and other snacks such as kuih buah rotan
and cakar ayam
. What not to miss is to catch a glimpse of experienced fishermen catching big prawns, juicy crabs and catfishes.
Must-dos at Sungai Setar Besar:
- Explore the different farms at Sungai Setar Besar eg. farms of eel, sheep, cows, goats and chillis
- Learn local traditional games – congkak and batu seremban
- Experience the villagers’ work by helping them make rooftops made from coconut leaves
- Discover beautifully lit fireflies while cruising by the village’s river
Tel. No.: +6013-489 5636
Address: D/A 1495 Sungai Setar Besar, Nibong Tebal, Penang
Website: http://www.go2homestay.com/homestay-sg-setar/ Lahar Yooi
Enjoy beautiful sights of paddy fields and the natural ambience of a village when at Lahar Yooi. Lahar Yooi is a traditional Malay village located at Tasik Gelugor, Seberang Utara - a recommended area for bird-watching. Watch colourful migratory birds from Korea, Japan, China and Russia at the swamp forest, spanning about 10 hectares at the Hutan Pelajaran Air Hitam Dalam. Other than nature activities, spend some time savouring the village’s delicious local traditional food such as bahulu
, lemang, ketupat, keropok lekor,
. Don’t miss the opportunity to see how machetes and rubber tapping knives are made traditionally.
Must-dos at Lahar Yooi:
- Experience the richness of the swamp forest land that is affluent with flora like nipah (nypa fruticans wurmb), jejawi (ficus microcarpa), putat darat, pong-pong and fauna of many types such as migrant birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
- Enjoy a presentation of national sports and national games and taste a variety of traditional delicacies.
- Learn how the locals prepare famous local dishes – prawn noodles, char koay teow and more
- Learn about Islamic culture
- Visit to the agriculture market
- Enjoy demonstrations on the making of rubber tapping knives, bird cages, nipah leaf cigarettes, nipah attap roofing and paddy planting activities.
Tel. No.: +6019-415 1682
Address: Kampung Lahar Yooi, Tasek Gelugor, Penang
For further info on homestays in Penang, visit http://www.tourism.gov.my/niche/homestay Image credit: Pejabat Pelancongan dan Kebudayaan Malaysia Negeri Pulau Pinang and Tourism Malaysia