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Is Penang the best place to celebrate Chinese New Year?

With 15 days of street festivals, fireworks and food plus a unique Chinese-Malay culture, the UNESCO heritage town of Penang is the place to be for CNY celebrations.

On Malaysia's northern island of Penang, the Chinese community celebrates Chinese New Year in style with 15 days of fireworks, food and free events. The lantern-lit streets burst in life with random revelry. Add to that great weather, beaches, national parks and a UNESCO heritage town with its own unique multi-ethnic fusion culture and you pretty much have it made.

Lets face it, Penang is great anytime of year, but when it comes to Chinese New Year, it's the place to be.

Here are just some of the highlights that make CNY in Penang so much fun.


Kek Lok Si is Hokkien for the "Temple of Supreme Bliss" and you don't get much more blissful than wandering under 10,000 lights strung around this temple. It's as if they raided every dollar shop for every christmas light, fairy light and lantern they could find. Combine it with a trip to Penang Hill for a great view over the city, lights on or off (Rapid bus 204)

Where: Kek Lok Si Temple on Jalan Balik Palau

When: Everyday of CNY


The streets of Penang fill with activity: food, shows, lion dances, people. Everyone is happy, laughing, eating as the crowd flows, moving itself from one thing to another like one giant, harmonious unit. If you're looking for sweet, lucky CNY snacks and easy to digest cultural entertainment, you'll find them here. At the end of these few tight blocks, the street party opens onto the Esplanade, a large green space trimmed with the city's romantic CNY lantern displays and the main concert stage at its centre.

Where: Penang Esplanade & the following streets: Light, King, Penang, Church, Bishop & Beach.

When: 7th day of CNY (4pm- Midnight)


The Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta has only been running a few years but each time it gets bigger and better. The event runs all day, with tethered balloon rides and other fun bouncy and balloony things. When darkness falls, 'Nite Glow' begins and 10 stationary balloons are lit and wired for sound like giant musical lanterns.

Where: Padang Polo (Polo Ground) George Town.

When: 8th & 9th day of CNY (7am-9.30pm)

(credit: Nicolas Raymond Flickr)


The 9th day of CNY is the most important day of the Hokkien New Year. Families commemorate how ancestors escaped from invading forces by hiding in a field of sugarcane by feasting at tables decorated with sugarcane stalks. It is also the birthday of the Jade Emperor God. This birthday bash is celebrated in a madcap street festival of food and fireworks on and around Penang's Clan Jetties. Now this is what CNY is all about.

Where: Chew Clan Jetty, Pengkalan Weld, George Town

When: 9th Day of CNY (after dark)


The last day of CNY is a sort of orange-throwing Chinese Valentines Day. On the 15th day of the luna calendar, under the light of a full moon, single ladies throw oranges into the sea in the hope that they will find a man. This is a Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) tradition you wont find outside of Malaysia or Singapore. And explains why I came home to find oranges and chocolate in my lonely heart hotel room.

Where: Penang Esplanade, George Town

When: 15th Day CNY (7pm-11pm)


Penang's immigrant Chinese community brought with them the system of "Kongsi' where associations are formed based on home town or language group. These elaborate buildings are lusciously decorated during Chinese New Year as family come to pay respects to their roots and ancestors. During CNY some of Penang's clan houses, which are normally closed to the public, are open.


Penang Island was once an uninhabited swampy piece of land that, over centuries, became an important trading post for the Malay, Chinese, Indian and European Traders and Colonialists that plied these waters. The result of all this merchant money and colonial outpost building is the UNESCO city of Georgetown.

The multi-cultural, multi-religious population that built the city make a walk through Georgetown's streets a unique experience. There are Malay mosques, Hindu temples, Chinese shophouses, Peranakan design, tamil food, Hokkien clan jetties and stately British imperial mansions. But it isn't all in the architecture. The people of Penang, though resident in Malaysia for generations, still hold to their ancient cultural roots, keeping tradition very much alive.


Is it too much to ask that a UNESCO city with a colourful multicultural and 2 full weeks of firecracking festivities ALSO has white sandy beaches and clear temperate water? No. This is Penang and it's an island after all.

Batu Ferringhi is where you go for your powered watersports. For a few bucks a piece you can be jetskiing and parasailing your way around the water. There's even a Starbucks right on the beach. But for those with something more natural in mind try Penang National Park (Taman Negara Palau Pinang) with its rainforest walks and quiet beaches. [The 101 Rapid bus goes to both]. If you really need to get away from the island for some post festival R&R, Langkawi archipelago with its 99 islands of luscious resorts is just a 3 hour ferry ride away.

Want to go to PENANG for CNY?

GETTING THERE: Penang is an island on Malaysia's North-West Coast. Most CNY festivals and activities happen in or close to Georgetown which is a fantastic place to base yourself. Domestic and International flights land at Butterworth, on the mainland, with shuttle bus or taxi ride to Georgetown. Trains from Kuala Lumpur also arrive in Butterworth, follow the sign to the ferry terminal to cruise over to Georgetown. Intercity buses arrive direct in Georgetown, no need for transfer.

GETTING AROUND: Georgetown itself is pretty walkable. Just be sure to pack an umbrella for those everyday tropical downpours. Getting away from Georgetown local buses will suffice. They run regularly from the Jetty (Weld Quay) and Komtar (under Komtar Mall).

WHERE TO STAY: It's most atmospheric to stay in one of Georgetown's converted shophouses with their upstairs louvered windows opening into the cool atrium. Guesthouse prices vary from the budget to the budget busting.

FREE STUFF: CNY Festivities are free. Walking the UNESCO old town is free. Visiting the national park and beaches are free. Generally, Government museums are free. Private museums charge a fee but usually come with a complimentary tour.





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