Penang, Malaysia

Affectionately known as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang is one of the best-known and most-visited corners of Malaysia, and is the the only state in the country to have a Chinese majority population. The capital, Georgetown, attracts tourists from all over the world with its colonial architechture, street art, temples, museums, shopping and food. Circling the island, you'll discover a varied landscape of jungle and coast, farmland, plantations and fishing villages.

Watch our video: What is Penang like?

Penang might be the second smallest state in Malaysia, but it is one of the most popular place to invest. It is a first world city with a stable economy that is built on the manufacturing and tourism trade.

Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs)

Penang continues to be one of the preferred locations for FDIs in the electrical and electronic sector. Top tier multinational companies (MNCs) such as SanDisk, Hewlett Packard. Seagate and BOSE have been the driving the growth in Penang's manufacturing industry and during the first seven months of 2014, the state recorded more than 90 approved projects, with total investment of USD1.4 billion (data from Malaysia Investment Development Authority).


Penang has the third busiest airport in Malaysia and the tourism trade is heating up as the number of international tourists visiting Penang rose by 8.23% in the first two months of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013. Many are of course are attracted to the state's unique culture but there is also a growing number of visitors coming here to seek medical treatment as Penang is the leading medical hub of Malaysia (read this article for a deeper analysis on Penang medical tourism)

When it comes to the best places to stay in Penang for expatriates, that would be in the Northern part of the island - Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah, Tanjung Tokong and Gurney Drive.

Batu Ferringhi

With panoramic views of the sea as well as the lush tropical hills of Penang, Batu Ferringhi gives you a totally relax feel like you are always on an island holiday. The surrounding area is close to beaches, night markets, beach front hotels and The Interntional School of Penang (Uplands) is situated here to cater for the expats living in this area. The disadvantage of staying at this part of the island is the time to commute to town (Georgetown) which takes about 40 minutes and there are no big supermarkets here. So it really helps if you have a private car to drive around this part of the island.

Tanjung Bungah

Tanjung Bungah is an area that is en-route to Batu Ferringhi and is a favourite for foreigners to settle down because of the suburb neighborhood feel. Most of the apartments and condos here are situated near the beach or on a hillside with wonderful views of the sea. There are two international schools situated here, Dalat International School and Tenby International School. No big supermarkets here but basic amenities such as a wet market, convenience stores, cafes and restaurants serving a wide varity of cuisine makes are located in this area.

Tanjung Tokong

This is also another faviorite neighborhood among expats where a new township of bungalows, terrace houses, high rise condominiums with amazing facilites have been completed. Penang's first and only seafront retail marina, Straits Quay, can be found here along with big supermarkets like Tesco and Cold Storage. Additionally, there are a number of small businesses (banks, clinics, convience stores, etc) along Jalan Fettes making Tanjung Tokong an area where almost all the basic amenties can be found.

Insider info: One of the best things about Tanjung Tokong is the seafront promenade that is located infront of Straits Quay. This promenade is long, wide, clean and away from the traffic, making it a wonderful place to jog or bring the kids out to play.


Gurney Drive

Gurney drive is a famous seafront promenade in Georgetown and it is the best place to base yourself if you don't want to bother with a car. Everything is within walking distance and you have the two biggest shopping malls here - Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon. Traffic tends to be rather heavy in this area so residents may beed to prepare themselves for traffic as well as noice pollution.

Last updated: Dec 2014

Penang Residential Market Outlook 2014/2015

Effects of the cooling measures put in place to drive out speculation is taking affect in the market. The total number transacted properties that are more than RM1,000,001 have registered a fall of 11.8% in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the previous quarter (data from National Property Information Centre) and it is expected to decline further over the next year.

However, Remember These Factors

1. The opening of Penang's Second Bridge and the state's government emphasis on making Penang open for business only means a brighter future. A number of big investments have been confirmed and that has resulted in much excitement. Swedish furniture icon, IKEA, will be opening up a full size store with an integrated development surrounding it. Singapore's Temasek Holdings is investing in a development for a technology park and BPO hub as many look at Penang as a sound alternative to expand in to Malaysia.

2. There are many Penangites (estimated to be around 60,000) who work and stay in Singapore - however, a recent survey showed many of them would like to go back to Penang. Maybe they are homesickness, or whatever - but the high level of interest among the locals to return only shows how Penang is as a place. Should this happen, don't forget that they will be flush with Singapore dollar and once the demand gets higher, it's probably wise to invest or purchase at present.

3. Geographically speaking, Penang island is hilly in the middle and largely protected by the state government. Thus like Hong Kong, only a limited amount of land is available for development, which means that property prices will eventually go up. 

4. Penang is one of the most livable cities in Asia and as long as the Malaysian government is actively promoting the 10 year residency visa under the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme, foreigners will continue coming and look at Penang as a great place to live.

How Much Do Penang Properties Cost?

With effect from 1st March 2014, foreigners must invest a minimum of RM 1 million in Malaysian properties so it does cost quite a bit.

1. For a luxury condominium like Andaman at Quayside, RM 1.4 million can get you a one bedroom apartment of appox 900 sqft (82 sqm). RM 3.6 million can get you a two bedroom of approx 2,035 sqft (189 sqm). RM 4.3 million can get you a three bedroom of approx 2,770 sqft (257 sqm).

2. For a beach front condo unit in Batu Ferringhi like By The Sea, RM 1.5 million (US$ 475,000) can get you a two bedroom apartment of approx 1000 sqft (90 sqm).

Other than the purchase price of the units, you would need to factor in the following:

3. Legal fees which ranges from 1% to 0.4% depending on the value of your property.

4. Stamp Duty for transfer of property, which is roughly 3%.

5. Real Property Gain Tax or Capital Gains Tax which applies for properties sold within 5 years or less. For foreigners, the rates are 30% of the property gain for disposal in the 5th year or earlier, and 5% for disposal in the 6th and subsequent years.

Read our Malaysia Property Guide for a more detailed information

Rental Yields

Unfortunately, rental yields are not very attractive on the island, hovering around 2.5% to 4% gross rental yield and it is tough to generate positive cash flow when interest rates for a housing loan start from 4.2%. Accordingly, as a foreigner, you may loan up to 80% of the value of your property.

Capital Appreciation
The days of double digit gains in property prices in Penang are gone - there seems to be an oversupply of higher end residential properties, which has resulted in developers shifting their focus on developing affordable housing. However, just like Singapore and Hong Kong, land is limited in Penang and that means property prices would certainly go up.

What We Think: All in all, there is no doubt how beautiful and developed Penang has become throughout the years; both locals and foreigners can attest to this. Manufacturing and tourism is definitely the state's driving force, and this only gives you more reasons to consider investing in Penang. Clearly, Penang isn't for short-term speculators but the long-term possibilities for capital appreciation is there and if you are a investor who is considering Penang, we would advise that you read our top 10 tips to help you invest well in the Penang Condo Market.

Last updated: Dec 2014


  • UNESCO World Heritage Zone - A historical area in the heart of the Penang's downtown Georgetown. This area contains a melange of late 19th century colonial and settler architecture, texturized by a community that still maintains a traditional way of urban life. For walking, highlights include Armenian Street, Pitt Street, Love Lane, Little India, the esplanade and Beach Road. Within this area, the Khoo Kongsi clan temple, Kapitan Keling Mosque, and Pinang Peranakan Mansion are highlights. Further towards Penang Road, the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion on Leith Street that exemplifies early Chinese courtyard houses is also a favorite. Here is also where you can find many of Penang's famous Street Art mimicking life in the city and is certainly one of the highlights in Penang.


  • Penang Hill / Bukit Bendera - Probably has the best view of Georgetown, especially at night. Go up via the Penang Hill Railway (Return fare: Malaysians - Adult RM8, Child RM4; foreign tourists: Adult RM30, Child RM15). The train takes 5 minutes to reach the summit. The service runs from 6:30AM-9PM daily, accessible by taxi or Rapid Penang bus no. 204 to the last stop. The train, which was upgraded in 2011, is a fascinating little cable train service that lifts you out of the heat and humidity of the coastal plain and up to a fabulous view and cool breezes. The 19th-century English travel writer, Isabella Bird, called the temperature on the hill 'delicious' because it can be very much cooler than at sea level. More than a century later, Ms. Bird's statement still holds true.


  • Penang Botanic Gardens - The gardens were established by Charles Curtis of Britain way back in 1884; it's generally known as the Waterfall Gardens by the local community because of a little waterfall located within it. Many locals will come to the gardens to perform their daily exercises like walking, jogging, jungle trekking, aerobic dance, and to practice Tai Chi or Qi Gong. The garden hosts an annual international floral fest as well as a world music festival. Free admission. Open from 5AM to 8PM daily.


  • Kek Lok Si-Temple of Supreme Bliss - A sprawling hillside structure that is reputed to be the largest Buddhist temple in South-East Asia, with the Khmer/Thai/Chinese style Ban Po Thar (Ten Thousand Buddhas Tower) and various Buddha images in the main temple complex. The temple is filled with beautifully-landscaped gardends and a striking pagoda called The Pagoda of 1000 Buddhas is certainly a sigh to behold. During the Chinese New Year period, the temple is decorated with hundreds of lanterns which turns it into a night-time wonderland. Located near the village of Air Itam; a taxi from Georgetown will set you back RM 20-25; if you want to catch a bus, take Rapid Penang bus no. 203 to Air Itam and alight at the last stop.


  • Tropical Spice Garden - The Tropical Spice Garden, which is in a 8 acre valley fronting the shores of Teluk Bahang showcases a landscaped garden that consists of tropical plant collections from all over the world. The garden has over 500 varieties of tropical spice and herb plants and a huge collection of other exotic flora. Admission fee is RM26 per adult and RM15 per child (4-12 years old). Open 9AM to 6PM daily.


  • Penang Butterfly Farm - The first tropical butterfly farm ever set up in the tropical world, with an average flying population of 7000 butterflies. Stepping in, you will be surrounded by a myriad of fluttering butterflies within a seemingly natural settings, giving the feel of being in an enchanted forest bejeweled with colourful gems of nature. Its modern enclosure also houses an assortment of other invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians. Admission fee is RM27 per adult and RM15 per child (4-12 years old). Open 9AM to 6PM daily.


  • Tropical Fruit Farm - This 25-acre farm lies in the scenic hills near Balik Pulau. It was built to preserve Penang's green heritage and there 250 types of tropical and sub tropical fruits in the farm. You can view the many kinds of fruit trees there and sample fresh fruit at reasonable price. A small stall near the entrance sells fresh fruit juice and fruit dishes. You can also enjoy a great view of the north-western coastline of the island. Guided farm tour fee is RM45 per adult and RM28 per child (4-12 years old). 


  • Penang Durian Farms - Penang is famous for its durians and it seems that the soil especially on the west side of the island is most ideal for durian cultivation, and hence the estates in places such as Balik Pulau, Pantai Aceh and Teluk Bahang produce some of the best durians in Malaysia. Some of the durian farms in Penang are Bao Sheng Durian Farm, Peng Siew Durian Fram and Chong Wooi Her Durian Farm.


  • Snake Temple - Built in 1850 in memory of the renowned Chinese monk Chor Soo Kong. The Snake Temple is situated in the small town of Bayan Lepas on the edge of a highway and is famous for the fact that it has pit vipers living within the temple grounds. Legend has it that Chor Soo Kong, who was also a healer, gave shelter to the snakes of jungle. After the completion of the temple, snakes appeared on their own accord. Today, the snake population of the Temple of the Azure Cloud is very small, due to the urbanization of the area, but you can still see them coiled up on the altar tables, and you can touch them, if you are brave enough. Originally, the snakes were said to be rendered harmless by the smell of the burning incense, but today, to be safe, the resident vipers are devenomed. There is a snake museum beside the temple where there are snakes galore and you can see a staff member occasionally handling an albino Burmese python. Museum admission RM5 for adults, free admission for temple (9AM-6PM).


  • War Museum - Located at southeastern tip of Penang, it is a large military fortress built in 1930s by the British to protect the southern approaches to the island. The British Royal Engineers and a work force of local laborers blasted and dug into the hill to create a fort with underground military tunnels, an intelligence and logistic centre, halls, offices, ventilation shafts, artillery firing bays, sleeping quarters, cook houses as well as an infirmary. Open 9AM - 6PM daily.


  • Penang Bird Park - A small bird park located on the mainland (Seberang Perai) about 10 min from the Penang Bridge. Take a walk under nice shady trees and view dozens of kinds of birds including ostriches, sea eagles, peafowls, hornbills, flamingos, macaws, and grey parrots. There are also two walk-through aviaries and a fish pond. Some of the enclosures do need a touch of paint, but kids should love this place. Admission fee is RM29 per adult and RM15 per child (4-12 years old). Open 9AM to 7PM daily.

Last updated: Dec 2014

Getting There & Away

Penang is easily accessed by road and rail from other parts of Peninsula Malaysia. The island also has ferry links to Langkawi and to Medan in Indonesia, and the airport has direct regular flights to most major cities in Asia (Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta, Krabi, Taipei, etc). The airport is the hub of two-low cost carriers, namely Firefly and AirAsia, making it a major centre for cheap airline tickets.

Getting Around 

Georgetown is well served by bus and the fares around town starts from RM1.40 and goes up to a maximum of RM4.00. However buses from Georgetown to other parts of the island are less frequent and getting around the island by road is easiest with your own transport.

So if you're here for more than a week, I would recommend that you to rent a car. Last I checked, rates start at around RM180 per day (indcluding insurance) and if you're looking to rent on a longer term basis (minimum 3 months), drop me an email: and I'll forward you the contact details of an agent that I personally have used that charge very reasonable rates (e.g. Nissan Sentra RM1,400 per month including insurance).

If you plan to take the taxi, it may be quite difficult to hail for one compared to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore but you can usually find taxis congregating at major shopping malls, hotels, the airport and bus terminals. For other locations, it's best to give a call to a taxi company and I would recommend calling Airport Taxi driver Stanley: +6019 412 2712 or Sri Radio Taxi: +604 642 5961. Please note that Taxis in Penang all have meters but most drivers refuse to use them, so negotiate the fare before you set off.

To be updated