Long weekends: Penang, Malaysia, perfect for a three to four day jaunt

One of the great things about living in Singapore is how easy it is to travel from there to other places. When I lived there, one of the first things we would do each August at the start of the Singapore American School school year was figure out where we wanted to go on school holidays. There were several three-day weekends sprinkled throughout the year. Planning early meant getting a flight to where we wanted to go. On holidays, everyone scrambles to get out.

One place we headed to on a three nights, four day vacation was to the island of Penang on the north-western coast of Malaysia. This trip was before kids, but everything we did was kid-friendly. It was also dad-friendly. My father went along with us on this particular long weekend away.

Penang is a perfect mix of history, beaches, nature and terrific food. Not too touristy, unlike what has happened to several beach areas of Thailand, but touristy enough that the hotels know what travelers might like and you can find a variety of interesting things to do. We went here based on recommendations of a few different teacher friends of ours.

Although we did hang out on the beach a little, we’re not exactly beach people, so we spent more of our time at other Penang offerings. George Town, the state capital has historic buildings which have not lost their flavor for what life was like here in the 19th and early 20th century. There is an interesting mix of temples, museums, shop houses and hotels that can easily take up an afternoon of sightseeing. We did take a day tour with a guide that made getting around to various sites simple and easy. (When traveling with family members, almost always choose simple and easy. It’s a sanity saver.)

Another place we went was The Butterfly Farm. According the Penang Web site, this was the first butterfly farm set up in the world. I remember it as being utterly gorgeous and fascinating. The ride through the island countryside was part of the allure.

Here’s another travel hint. Stay at a modest hotel and splurge on a brunch buffet at a swankier place. We stayed at the Lone Pine Hotel in Batu Ferringhi and had brunch next door at the Shangri-La. We also took over a few of the Shangri-La’s beach chairs and no one seemed to notice.