Penang in our opinion is a must see on any Malaysia visit. The initial contrasts to its Thai neighbour are clear; prior to independance in 1957, Penang was under British rule therefore, much English influence still remains. Most importantly (in our opinion) they share our alphabet which makes navigating around much easier than Thailand. Also communicating with Malaysian people was relatively easy as they are taught English from an early age (from an English dictionary a local told us)
Although not as pretty as the Thai islands, it has loads of interesting history to learn and plenty to do. We stayed in Georgetown the capital and the first day after just a four hour journey from southern Thailand we went out on foot to explore. We came across Little India (no, not the lovely little curry house in Petts Wood) Malaysia's equivalent to Londons Brick lane. There was a nice vibe here and it was particular lively becuse Deepvali (festival of light) runs in October. The streets were lit up and music was playing from most stalls and shops. Restaurant owners were calling for us to eat there but not with the usual annoying persistance of other places we have visited like Koh Samui.
The next day we spent a couple of hours doing the walking tour around George town which was recommended in our Lonely Planet book. This took us past the towns key attractions and conveniently finishes at a bar. The weather was scorching and this couldn't have come soon enough. Whilst talking to the landlady, she suggested that we go to Penang Hill. We looked it up and decided to make it our next destination. It ws initially named "Strawberry Hill" by an English man which was a nice touch. We took a cable car to the top hich had great views of the island and of the entire 13.5km bridge connecting Penang to the rest of Malaysia. We finished the evening with a local curry in Little India.
On our penultimate day we used our new found knowledge of the transport system and got a 'rapid bus' to the Penang National Park, which is another must see! With several trails to choose from, we chose one running along the shore and spent the next couple of hours semi-hiking through a man-made pathway taking in beautiful views as we went.