Penang is a world-class destination in Malaysia, with its capital city, George Town, hailed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. But while this tiny island boasts of its vibrant heritage, you’ll find yourself surrounded not only by an impressive culture but also world-class medical facilities that are worth the spotlight.
On my second visit to Malaysia, I was invited to cover Penang Island’s medical tourism, exploring a few hospitals and healthcare facilities while immersing in the island’s vibrant heritage.
It was an exciting visit, as it was my first time to cover what I thought were seemingly two unrelated industries—but I was mistaken.
From airport to treatment facility
Filipinos can book a flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur to Penang. It takes up to four hours of travel, plus a connecting flight to Penang. The island is less than an hour away via plane from Malaysia’s capital.
A medical tourist visiting Penang can instantly feel the warm Malaysian hospitality the moment he arrives at the airport. Upon embarking from the plane, you’ll be greeted by a staff of the Malaysia Healthcare Tourism Council (MHTC), who will assist you to a priority lane in the Immigration area.
You will then proceed to MHTC’s welcome meet-and-greet lounge at the airport, where you can rest while you wait for your transfer, either directly to your preferred hospital or to your hotel accommodation. Indeed, as a medical tourist, you’ll feel the special treatment from the get-go.
For our trip, we were able to tour around three major hospitals in Penang.
Our first stop is the Sunway Medical Centre Penang, a comprehensive tertiary care hospital that offers a wide range of services—from 24-hours a day emergency care to nuclear medicine centre and pediatric ward to diagnostic and rehabilitation.
Sunway Medical Centre Penang is strategically located in the township of Sunway Seberang Jaya, where nearby landmarks such as Sunway Hotel Seberang Jaya, Sunway Carnival Mall, and Penang Bird Park are all conveniently accessible.
Next is Loh Guan Lye, known by international patients for its comprehensive cancer centre and facilities. It also offers a Fertility Centre for reproductive therapies, as well as rehab services for speech language, physiotherapy, and more.
Lastly is the Gleneagles Hospital Penang is another worldclass medical tourism hub. They are excellent in providing oncology, trauma surgery, and cardiology.
All these healthcare facilities have international patient centre that can accommodate your requirements from airport transfers, hotel accommodation, currency exchange services, and even interpreters.
Same-Day Health Screening
Since we’re talking about prioritizing health, here’s another interesting point I’d like to emphasize: Penang’s healthcare facilities offer same-day health screening advantages for international patients.
If you are at the point of your life where you’d like to focus on preventive health, why not include a half-day health screening in your itinerary? Trust me, it won’t hurt your schedule.
Here’s a simple guide you can follow:
- You can go to a hospital in Penang and undergo health screening in the morning (provided that you underwent fasting)
- Try the local cuisine within the area to fill in your hungry tummy (which is pretty much available in every corner)
- Take on a leisure stroll around George Town
- Come back at lunchtime to get your results
- Now, if you want to take a step further, you can meet a specialist to discuss a personalized treatment plan.
Easy, right? You can walk in just like local patients or call the hospital and schedule your health screening when you book a trip to Penang. It’ll be much more convenient for you, and it’ll allow you to plan.
I find this amazing. As Filipinos, many can relate to how health screening in the country can be a back-and-forth process. And if you’re in Penang and have free time, this is a great option to make the most of your visit.
Exploring George Town and beyond
Now that we’re done with the hospitals, it’s time to explore the city.
It’s true: wherever you set your eyes, you’ll find something interesting. As a UNESCO Heritage Site, George Town is home to hundreds of traditional spots that narrate its rich history.
Our first stop was Chew Jetty, a waterfront village of wooden stilt houses built since the 19th century. It is one of the oldest and largest clan jetties in Penang that is open to the public.
Join a walking tour through different religious communities and places of worship deeply embedded in Penang.
St. George Church is the first Anglican Church in Southeast Asia, located in the heart of George Town.
A few streets away is Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu Temple in Penang. Meanwhile, Kuan Im Temple is a place of worship for Taoist and Buddhist communities in Penang.
Of course, you have to see Penang’s street art. Pose beside famous murals such as the Children in a Bicycle on Armenian Street and Man on a Motorbike at Beach Street, and many others.
Never miss food tripping in Penang if you are up for gastronomic delight.
Try Nasi Kandar, a steamed rice meal with curries and side dishes. It is best tried in Deens Maju.
We tried street food at Kimberly Street and food plaza Padang Brown. My main favorite was Char Keow Tay, a stir-fried rice noodle, and Pasembur, a mix of vegetables and fried seafood like crab and squid topped with sweet and sour flavors.
Be careful, though, if you have a sensitive stomach, as Malay food can be too spicy for us Filipinos! You can try some sweets and taste Cendol, a fusion of green jelly noodles and coconut milk, Ice Kacang, a Malaysian dessert that means bean ice (I find this similar to Halo-Halo), or dig into savory treats you can buy at Chowrasta.
The young and the young at heart will love a visit to the 68-storey The Top in Penang, the island’s highest building. Here you can walk on its glass floors or walk on the edge for a thrilling experience while admiring a 360-view of Penang.
If you want to learn more about the food history in Malaysia, the Wonder Food Museum should be on your list. It highlights Malaysia’s food culture and exhibits larger-than-life creations.
Ghost Museum, meanwhile, takes you to an enchanting world of ghosts found in different parts of the world. It is not a horror house but a museum where you’ll learn the stories of paranormal human beings from the ancient times up to this day.
Beyond George Town is Batu Ferringhi, a lovely coastal town with a line of hotels and resorts offering the perfect beach vibe for you.
Another must-see attraction in Batu Ferringhi is Entopia, a nature oasis for learning and home to thousands of butterflies.
Why Malaysia Healthcare?
While the bulk of medical tourists that come to Malaysia are from its neighboring country, Indonesia, Filipino medical tourists are an untapped market that MHTC now wants to focus on.
In my interview with Tutie Ismail, Vice President of Communications at MHTC, she told me about the similarities between Malaysia and the Philippines that make our country a potential target market for Penang medical tourism.
“When promoting Malaysia healthcare, we look at key things—the quality of healthcare in Malaysia, the ease of access, and the affordability,” she says. “We see the potential of the Philippines as an option for us to extend our healthcare offerings. This is also an opportunity for us to share our healthcare service, and we want to see how we can complement healthcare in the Philippines.”
Malaysia offers quality healthcare services at par with international standards, as in Singapore, where many Filipinos opt for treatment. International bodies accredit all affiliate hospitals of MHTC, and specialists are trained in reputable hospital institutions.
MHTC’s goal is to introduce Penang’s charm to niche tourists seeking medical treatment, and it looks forward to seeing more Filipinos considering the destination as a medical hub.
This visit to Penang has shown me a different perspective on how one can enjoy travel. Penang can be a mix of leisure and learning. But not many may know that Penang is also a world-class destination for preventive health. And that’s what makes it even more an exciting place to visit.