Like its home country Malaysia, Penang is home to a diverse demographic of different ethnicities, cultures and traditions. For this reason, the festive seasons in Penang are some of the most vibrant and colourful in Asia. Some of the must-see festivals in Penang include, but are not limited to, the following.
GEORGE TOWN FESTIVAL
First organised in 2010 in celebration of George Town’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, George Town Festival has proven to be a major success and now draws thousands of visitors annually to the historic town. A diverse array of cultural, heritage, artistic and community programmes are held throughout this month-long festival.
Arguably the most colourful religious celebration in Penang, Thaipusam is celebrated on the full moon of the tenth month in the Hindu calendar (usually within January or February). The festival commemorates the triumph of good over evil and is marked with the procession of colourful chariots and bold kavadi bearers.
KEK LOK SI DISPLAY OF LIGHTS
Believed to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, the Kek Lok Si temple is a definite must-see especially during the Chinese New Year season. During this period, the entire temple premise will be lit with over 10,000 lights in a spectacular symbolisation of peace, luck and prosperity.
PENANG HOT AIR BALLOON FIESTA
A family favourite among the locals as well as visitors from abroad, the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is held annually in Penang typically in the first quarter of the year. This 2-day event features a colourful coming together of hot air balloons of all sizes and designs.
PENANG DURIAN FESTIVAL
Generally held within the months of May to July when the King of Fruits are in season, the Penang Durian Festival features a delicious selection of durians as well as snacks and delicacies made from durians.
During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan, a mouthwatering selection of Muslim dishes, snacks and festive cookies will be sold at month-long Ramadhan Bazaars in various strategic locations around the island. The top must-visit Ramadhan Bazaars include the ones in Jalan Makloom, Bayan Baru, Little India and Taman Tun Sardon.
PENANG BON ODORI FESTIVAL
Another display of Penang’s cultural diversity, Penang also observes the Bon Odori Festival, a traditional Japanese celebration in spectacular fashion annually. The event celebrates Japanese culture with cultural dance performances, activities as well as delicious Japanese delicacies.
NATIONAL DAY PARADE
Malaysia celebrates its National Day every 31st of August. In line with the grand parade in the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur, Penang is known to hold its very own National Day Parade with civil military marching and a variety of cultural performances.
PROJECT OCCUPY BEACH STREET
Every Sunday, Penang’s famed Beach Street will be closed to vehicular traffic to make way for communal activities. Beach Street is one of Penang’s oldest and most heritage-rich streets in Penang and Project Occupy Beach Street provides visitors with the rare opportunity to freely tour the street on foot or bicycle.
PENANG ISLAND JAZZ FESTIVAL
First held in 2004, this annual musical festival has emerged as one of the top draws for music lovers from around the world. Held in the first weekend of December, the festival features performances from a variety of popular local and foreign Jazz acts.