George Town Malaysia – Leading the world in gastronomical street delights that you absolutely cannot find anywhere else in the world, the multicultural capital of Penang is home to more than 700,000 inhabitants whose roots originate from many corners of Asia. As a result of this amalgamation of heritages, you can expect to see influences from the deep archives of Chinese, Malaysian and Indian history splashed across the streets, architecture, and flavours of George Town. Chinatown and Little India in particular are some of the most popular destinations to visit in George Town, and whilst some might shake their heads at visiting a unique country only to visit miniature versions of other countries in them, there are some strong historical roots associated at both areas, so it may just be worth your time.
Known as the place toget the best street food in the world (so much so that in 2014, Lonely Planet named it as the world’s top food destination), there are bountiful hawker markets for you to explore whilst there, but on the flipside, there are also plenty of amazing restaurants offering authentic Malaysian cuisine that will have you licking your fingers in content after every meal. In conjunction, being located both inland but with presence along the ocean, there are a number of activities applicable for all types of travellers. Pack your bags, your exploring shoes and plenty of summer clothes (it’s quite a hot and humid city), and you’ll be amazed by the culinary and cultural shocks George Town will present.
How To Get There
George Town can be accessed through Penang International Airport. Once you hop out of the airport, there are multiple express and non-express buses that run to George Town, with the frequency level as high as every 30 minutes. This is the most cost effective way to reach the city, as this can cost as little as 1.4 MYR (0.3$). Of course, for traveling in great comfort, you can also hail a cab or call an Uber but it will be relatively much more expensive. A third and last option would be to pre-arrange a pick up from airport transfer companies, which will cost from 16.5 MYR (4$) depending on how many adults the transfer is being booked for.
Another entry point for George Town would be via ferry. Many domestic travellers use this option as it often works out to be cheaper than flying. An especially popular route would be from George Town to Langkawi or Butterworth. Traveling internationally via ferry is possible as well (for example, from Thailand), but for comfort levels, we recommend flying in those instances.
Where to Stay
Hotel – You Le Yuen
Situated in George Town, You Le Yuen accommodations feature a number of amenities including a terrace, a shared lounge, and free Wi-Fi. It is located around 1km from the nearest large shopping mall, and is a 20-minute walk to Penang Times Square. All rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV, private bathroom and a bath, and selected rooms are equipped with a balcony. Daily breakfast includes continental and Asian options.
Why Guests Love It: “Beautiful interior and room, nice design, very tasteful”, “Location is very good and the overall ambience is really nice”, “Very well located to explore Penang, close to shops and eating places”, “The owner and staff were very nice, and the location is perfect!”.
Price: from 247 MYR (61$) for 2 people/night
Book It Here: You Le Yuen
Hotel – Sunway Hotel Georgetown Penang
Sunway Hotel Georgetown Penang is located in the heart of Georgetown. It features an outdoor swimming pool, and guests can enjoy meals from the in-house restaurant. Free Wi-Fi is available in public areas. 750m is the Komtar Shopping Mall, and airport transfers are available at an extra charge. All rooms offer modern interiors, a flat-screen TV, a minibar and a safe.
Why Guests Love It: “It was near hawker food and within walking distance to most shopping centres”, “Location is perfect for eateries, shopping and some sightseeing”, “It was a nice luxurious stay, and the breakfast buffet was fabulous”.
Price: from 207 MYR (51$) for 2 people/night
Book it here: Sunway Hotel Georgetown Penang
George Town Malaysia #1 – Street Art
Today, graffiti is a well-known and respected artform in George Town, and is endorsed by the Penang Public Arts Review Panel. Whilst the street art scene has exploded across George Town in the years that have passed, meaning you’re more likely than not to come across an expected splash of colour when you turn any corner, there are still some major pieces within the city that you should visit to pay homage to the originators of the unique creative vibes that started the entire culture.
Over the years, many artists from around the world have been commissioned to come to Georgetown to add to the colourful landscape of the already creativity-driven community. Most notably, Lithiuanian-born but London-trained artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned in 2012 alongside the George Town Festival to add more character to the streets in a project known as ‘Mirrors George Town’, and that’s exactly what he did. To this day, his artworks remain some of the most popular ones to seek out whilst wandering the streets of George Town.
Below we’ve listed a few of his art works. They are definitely within walkable distance, however, to fit in more during your day, you can also rent bikes to ride around.
- “Reaching Up” – a piece depicting a young boy reaching up to a hole in the wall, looking like he is standing on a real chair. Location: Cannon Street (GPS coordinates: 5.41479, 100.33648)
- “Little Girl in Blue” – a young girl lifting herself up from windows. Location: Muntri Street (GPS coordinates: 5.41975, 100.33577)
- “The Awaiting Trishaw Peddler” – an elderly trishaw paddler sitting in his vehicle, awaiting customers. Location: Penang Road, facing the Red Garden Food Paradise Car Park.
- “Little Children on a Bicycle” – a young girl taking her brother on a bicycle ride. Location: Amenian Street (GPS coordinates: 5.41468, 100.33823).
- “Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur” – a whimsical painting of a young boy taking his dinosaur for a walk. Location: Ah Quee Street (GPS coordinates: 5.41541, 100.33883)
George Town Malaysia #2 – Little India
Because India has definitive strong roots in Malaysian history, it is fitting that there is a dedicated area called Little India to celebrate its importance and people. The first thing you’ll notice when you get close is the loud beats of traditional Indian music playing and the colourful splashes of colour on the streets, which should get you into the mood in no time! Along Market Street (or Jalan Pasar) there are rows of stores selling sarees, silk and cotton, any many other Indian fashion items. You will even see stalls selling Indian entertainment such as Bollywood movies and albums, and many crafts as well. However, the star of the place would have to be the street vendors selling all types of Indian culinary delights for you to try. In a country whose international acclaim to gastronomical fame is laksa, fried noodles, and satay amongst so many other dishes, it is just the cherry on top for you to be able to experience another country’s specialities without even having the leave the country!
Imagine the likes of roti canai, biryani rice, tandoori chicken, curry, naan bread, all within reach of your fingertips. You can even experience the traditional way of eating your food straight from a banana leaf with no utensils – you know you want to.
Access: It is walkable from pretty much any main area in George Town. However, you can hop onto a trishaw which will cost roughly 1.5 MYR (0.4$) per km.
Hours: 8:00am – 9:45pm (but it is recommended you go in the afternoon/evening to avoid the crowds)
By the way, as we speak about India, feel free to check out this article if you are looking to get a via to India as a US citizen: India tourist visa for US citizens.
George Town Malaysia #3 – Penang Hill
Known as Bukit Bendera in Malaysia, Penang Hill has a summit of 821m above sea level, and when you reach the top, its view is dotted with colonial mansion rooftops and the stretch of the blue sky high above. It is worth a half-day visit, as it presents you with a stunning view of the entire Penang laid out before your eyes. It is a great way to stretch the legs in some nature activities after indulging in many late nights of street food and beer. It’s not strenuous at all, being only an easy three hours hike up the hill, and then half the time to hike down. However, for those who are just after the view and fresh mountain air more than anything, there is also the option of taking the funicular railway up and avoiding the strain on your thighs. This is a slightly different take on the usual cable cars that take people up and down mountains. It’s a relatively cheap and quick ride, being only 30 MYR (7.5$) for an adult (round trip), and 15 MYR (3.7$) for a child (round trip).
The top of the hill is home to a few restaurants where you can grab some food to sustain your energy, a souvenir store to grab some unique knick knacks, Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan, a small but highly decorated Hindu temple that you can explore for free, a bird sanctuary, and the Penang Hill Mosque (Masjid Bukit Bendera).
Access: Head to the Penang Jetty, and take Rapid Bus 204 to Penang Hill.
George Town Malaysia #4 – Batu Ferringhi
Easily one of the best beaches reachable in a day trip in George Town, Batu Ferringhi is one of the best treats you could give yourself. There are many beach resorts and hotels that have set up shops around the shores of Batu Ferringhi, but it is so easily accessible via public transport that you won’t need to be situated on the beach to enjoy it. As expected of a south-east Asian beach, the sand is pristine clean and white, the water is a stunning shade of blue, and the multiple adventurous activities available at the beach (jet boating, banana boat, surfing, parasailing, windsurfing) will keep anyone entertained for hours.
For those of you after a leisurely lunch that dips into the evening, there are multiple eateries set up right on the beach where you will be able to order authentic Malaysian cuisine and fresh cold beers (some places even offer up to a litre of beer, brought out in a self-operating tap so that you can drink at your own pace), and just sit there and relax with your bellies full whilst watching the sunset. On that note, it’s safe to say that the sun setting over Batu Ferringhi beach will probably be one of the best sunsets you’ll ever witness in your life. The sky reaches an all-time high of splashes of red, pink, purple, orange and yellow – it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before.
Address: 11050, Penang, Malaysia
Access: Head to Penang Jetty, and take Bus 101 to the beach. From Komtar bus station, take Bus 101 to the beach. From Gurney Drive, you can catch Bus 101 and 102 from the main road to the beach.
George Town Malaysia #5 – Chinatown
As one of the ethnicities with the largest population in Penang, you can expect the Chinatown in Georgetown to be out-of-this-world amazing, and it definitely is. Born on China Street, the original idea was for it to service the Chinese migrants only. However, over the years it has expanded to its immense size today, encompassing Lebuh King, Lebuh Stewart, Lebuh Muntri, and Lebuh Campbell.
Whilst its culinary delights is something that is worth traveling there for alone (at night, the streets come alive with carts lifting fresh noodles, frying dumplings, barbequing skewers, the works), it’s not only its food offerings that draw visitors to the area. Being home to a large population of Chinese ascendants, there are many festivities held there throughout the year. They also pay homage to tradition, with plentiful tea houses, stores selling bak kwa (Chinese-style salty-sweet dried meat similar to jerkey) and Chinese pastry shops lining the streets. It also hosts the Kuan Yin Teng temple, a temple dedicated to the goddest of mercy, good fortune, peace, and fertility, and Khoo Kongsi, a clan house preserved from many years ago (more on that below).
Access: It is walkable from pretty much any main area in George Town. However, you can hop onto a trishaw which will cost roughly 1.5 MYR per km (0.4$).
Hours: The food markets are only opening from the afternoon onwards.
George Town Malaysia #6 – Love Lane
Love Lane is an area within George Town that encompasses a narrow lane linking Farquhar Street and Chulia Street. Today, many budget hostels have opened up shops there, making it a popular hub for international travellers seeking affordable accommodation to stay. However, the culture has grown beyond that and it now also houses multiple trendy and hip cafes and bars that are popular due to their late opening hours and variations in food and beer choices.
In this tiny area, which you can explore in a few hours or bunker down for the night, you can expect to find some interesting street art hidden on walls in the quieter streets, and grab a latte and some food at funky cafes including Wheeler’s Coffee (a hipster café right on Love Lane), and Micke’s Place, a casual café with relaxed vibes, inviting whose who just want to sit back, relax and listen to chilled out music whilst munching on international and local dishes that won’t break the bank.
Access: The Rapid Penang CAT is a free shuttle bus service that takes you around the streets of George Town. You will be able to catch it to notable spots, including Love Lane. Just look for the white signposts with the ‘Central Area Transit’ heading on it. Otherwise, Love Lane is quite central to George Town, and is within walkable distance of most places.
George Town Malaysia #7 – Street Food Markets
Rather than specific places to grab your street food, as the fresh quality and superb taste of them all are generally at a standardised level (and that level is extraordinarily high), head to some of the most popular areas with a high number of street food vendors, and take your pick at the infinite number of street foods to eat!
Our recommendations on places to indulge in the best eats include:
1. Red Garden Food Paradise – Smack bang in the middle of Georgetown sits Red Garden, home to an International Hawker Centre offering delicious cuisine, handicrafts and clothing.
What to eat: dim sum, frog legs
Access: It is located on the outskirts of Chinatown.
2. Lebuh Chulia Road – Home to an amalgamation of hostels, cafes, bookstores, travel agencies, and a thriving hawker market, it is a backpacker’s first choice destination.
What to eat: Wan tan mee, Hainese Satay, char kway toew
Access: It is walkable from Chinatown, Love Lane and Muntri Street, and Little India.
3. Gurney Drive Hawker Centre – a boulevard of bars, restaurants and hawker carts, enjoyed by locals and foreigners equally. Unlike other options, you get to enjoy the sea breeze and coastal view whilst eating.
What to eat: Lok-lok (skewers), satay, pasembur (deep fried food, chopped, served with a slaw), rojak (mixed fruit, chilli and fish sauce)
Address: 10250 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Access: From Komtar Centre, take Bus 103 and get off at Gurney Plaza stop. You can also grab a taxi, or use ‘Grab’, the Malaysian version of Uber. If you get dropped off at the front of the mall, walk through the centre of the mall, turn left at the coast and walk a short distance to find the food carts.
Our recommendations on some of the best and most unique foods to try include:
- Bak Kut Teh (a local delicacy of pork innards soup)
- Stingray roasted in banana leaf
- Char Kway Teow
- Teochew Oyster Omelette
- Lor Mee (Chinese-inspired noodles served in thick gravy sauce and thick flat yellow noodles)
- Air Batu Campur (Malaysian dessert with shaved ice, jelly, beans, syrup, nuts, and evaporated milk – sometimes with a scoop of ice cream on top)
- Chendol (Malaysian dessert with noodles in a mixture of beans, concentrated milk)
Spot #8 – Khoo Kongsi
A great historical attraction for those interested exploring the real-life settings of one of the more prominent families in Malaysia history. Officially classified as a clan house, which is a meeting point for the entire family and equally serving as a headquarter, you will be able to get a taste of how affluent merchants and traders resided in the past. This house sets an example of how many of the rich Chinese immigrants from the 15th century also lived, however, this house is one of the best-preserved ones.
The detail of the housing structure will amaze you in just how well-kept it’s been throughout the years. Expect to see detailed ceramic structures of significant religious symbols, exotic creatures such as dragons, and significant animals such as carps. Along the walls you will be able to witness extraordinary artwork murals depicting major celebrations such as birthdays, and weddings, and most impressively, the 36 celestial guardians.
Access: From (Lebuh) Cannon Street towards to Acheen Street Mosque. You will find the entrance to the Temple on your left.
Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Cost: Adult – 10 MYR (2.5$), Child – 1 MYR (0.25$)
From this list, you can see just how varied and wonderful the sights of Georgetown can be. From late night hawker markets to early morning hikes, you can do it all, and more, in the food mecca of Asia. Spend a week or two traversing the streets of Georgetown and you’ll be heading back home a more cultured, well-travelled person (and with a much higher standard of hawker market food than ever before!).
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