Penang actually consists of the island (a bit smaller than Langkawi) and a small strip of land including Butterworth on the Malaysian mainland, connected by a bridge over the Melacca Straits. On approach from the airport, it looks like a slightly scruffier, stretched version of Singapore, with undulating, car-friendly, tree-shaded roads and bland condos rising into the grey skies. But don’t be put off: there’s much more to the island than immediately meets the eye.
The island's jewel is - surprisingly - its main town and historic trading post, Georgetown. Home to half of the island's 1 million population, it's a bustling and multicultural place: a true melting pot of colonial, Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures and cuisines which has been awarded World Heritage status. Stroll the streets and pass (often crumbling) colonial villas, street markets and Buddhist temples in close succession.
The town makes a great base, as it also allows you to dip into the sea and jungle if you want. You can visit Buddhist temples, Botanical Gardens or the cool retreat of Penang Hill, 830m above sea level. Talking of sea level, you'll find plenty of beaches - not as idyllic as Langkawi's, for sure, but they do the job: soft sand, warm sea and a backing of casuarina or almond trees. At the popular ones like Batu Ferringhi, there's all manner of watersports, while at the more secluded Monkey Beach you can get a taste of the jungle - including macaques and fruit bats - on a short trek.
A 2-hour drive south of Penang plus a short boat hop from Lumut, Pangkor Island sits off the northwest coast of the Malaysian peninsula. Just 8km square, it’s a lush tropical haven with a tranquil pace of life, and is best explored on a bike or moped. Fishing is the main industry - you can visit boat-building yards in Pangkor Town, and fishing villages line the east coast; many of the traditional houses are built on stilts in the sea.
The jungle interior is home to flying lemurs, civets, giant butterflies and hornbills that are unique to the island. If you don't stay in this area, take time for a day trip.
Beaches are Pangkor's main attraction though - golden sands, emerald sea and the lagoon at Pasir Bogak, often described as ‘the biggest swimming pool in the world’. As you'd expect, a host of watersports is on offer, and the snorkelling is excellent.
Pangkor Town is a one-street stop, but it's a friendly, laid-back place, with a couple of ornate temples (the Taoist Foo Lin Kong Temple is beautiful), a Dutch Fort, and shops that specialise in dried seafood.