When to visit Penang? Your choice will depend on whether you are interested to see, for there is so much that is happening in Penang, and it is spread out across the year! No matter when you decide to come, there is usually some event or festival going on, so there's nothing to worry, there's bound to be something to see all year round.
If your decision is based on the weather, I can tell you that the beginning of the year, from January to February, are the hottest months, with blue cloudless skies and general dryness. For the rest of the year, you can expect sporadic rain, though the wettest months tend to be October to early December.
The Hindu celebrations of Thaipusam takes place at the end of January. (For 2011, it is expected on 30 January). Plan your visit to this date if you wish to watch the street processions.
Chinese New Year takes place between late January and late February. In 2011, it will take place from 14 February, over a period of 15 days. Major places to visit includes Kek Lok Si Temple at night, for the lantern displays. Also during Chinese New Year is the Chinese New Year Open House which is usually held in the heritage enclave comprising Pitt Street, Armenian Street and Acheen Street. For 2011, it is expected on 12 February.
The Birthday of Chor Soo Kong, the patron deity of Snake Temple is on the sixth day of Chinese New Year while the Worship of the Jade Emperor takes place at the Jade Emperor Pavilion on the 8th day of Chinese New Year. The final (15th) evening of Chinese New Year is the Chap Goh Meh celebration with events taking place at the Esplanade.
Qingming Festival, also called Tomb Sweeping Day, falls on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, coinciding to around 4 or 5 April of the year. Although this is usually not celebrated by non-Chinese, visitors will see the Chinese visiting the graves of their departed beloved to clean them up.
If you are a durian lover, durian season happens somewhere between June to September, though the first fruit to appear in the market comes as early as April. The season tends to fluctuate depending on the weather, as the durian trees need about two weeks of very dry weather to push them to flower. An unexpected wet spell could interrupt or even ruin the expected start of a durian season.
The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival takes place at the Teluk Bahang Dam. It falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which corresponds to around 18 June. This is when you get to see the long canoes, or dragon boats, in races, with teams from different countries competing.
Bon Odori Festival, the Japanese festival for the dead, is staged at the Esplanade on 17 July, 2011. This is followed by the Taoist Hungry Ghost Festival, which will happen from 31 July to 28 August, accompanied by the staging of musical and opera performances for the entertainment of the deities.
The fasting month of Ramadhan changes with every passing year. This is because the Muslim calendar, which comprises 12 months, has a total of 354 or 355 days. Ramadhan is when you can see Pasar Ramadhan, or Ramadhan Bazaar, erected all over Penang. They sell goodies, cookies for the coming Aidil Fitri celebrations, as well as food for those breaking fast in the evening.
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in Penang with mooncakes, animal cookies and lanterns. This takes place from the 15th day of the 8 lunar month on the Chinese calendar, falling somewhere in September. It is the second largest festival for the Chinese after Chinese New Year.
The Penang Bridge International Marathon is taking place on 20 Novmber, 2011. This is one of the few times of the year when the Penang Bridge is closed for a few hours. Participating in it gives you the rare opportunity of setting foot on the bridge itself.
The Chingay, Lion Dance and Dragon Dance Parade will be staged on 25 November, to revitalize these cultural performing art. Usually this will take place at the Esplanade in front of the City Hall.
Chinese Winter Solstice Festival, also called Dongzhi Festival, falls on or around 22 December. This is celebrated by consuming consuming Tangyuan, glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup. The rice balls symbolises completeness and reunion.
Although Christians form just a minority of the population, Christmas is nonetheless celebrated at quite a large and conspicuously commercial scale, especially by the shopping malls.
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Take the CAT Free Feeder Bus
What's the best way to see Penang on a budget? Take the bus! In Penang, there are at least 12 absolutely FREE bus routes which cover almost every major neighbourhood on Penang Island and Penang Mainland. All you need to do is hop aboard!
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