Journey through Georgetown
Have you heard of Penang? The state on the northwest coast of Malaysia has recently grown in popularity thanks to the increasing amount of street art found around the city of Georgetown. Last year I visited Malaysia for the fifth time, and it was the first trip where I added Penang to my itinerary. This part of the country hadn’t been on my radar when I first visited 14 years ago and like many destinations, Instagram was the reason I came to know about this colonia part of Malaysia. Most of Penang’s visitors head straight to Georgetown, so I’m sharing my highlights for an amazing trip to the city.
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Where to stay:
In my opinion, the number one place to stay in Penang is The Blue Mansion (Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion), which is steeped in history and quite frankly, an Instagrammers dream. The Blue Mansion was built in the late 1800’s and was originally the family home of Chinese businessman, Cheong Fatt Tze, but it remains a symbol of his wealth and prosperity, with painstaking detail given to the original building and its eventual restoration. Even if you don’t stay here you should definetly join one of the daily tours.
If your preference is modern, might I suggest the G Hotel. Situated outside of the main heritage centre of Georgetown and next door to Gurney Plaza, the G Hotel is a great option if you’re looking for a business style hotel that’s both comfortable and luxurious. It is still an easy taxi ride to the historic centre and there are plenty of restaurants, temples and other amenities within walking distance – that’s if you can tear yourself from the rooftop pool and cocktail bar!
Where to eat:
The most popular (and wallet-friendly) places to eat are hawker markets. If you choose to stay at The Blue Mansion, then you will find one right next door to your accommodation making it an easy choice for your evening meal. You can generally find options to suit most tastes, from fresh fish, to sushi, dim sum, and even ice cream, but make sure to do a lap around all of the stalls ,just to see what each one has to offer before making your final selection.
Kebaya Restaurant offers fine dining, an interior that is rich with old world charm and delicious food. The chefs at the restaurant create dishes that incorporate and blend traditional Malaysian flavours, with those of its close Asian neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam. Its cuisine even expands to Europe with some French influence.
Indigo is another reason to make sure you visit The Blue Mansion during your stay in Penang. Set on the first floor of the mansion, Indigo brings together the best of eastern and western cuisine.
In the mood for something sweet? There are also plenty of cafés, bakeries and restaurants set in the old buildings of Penang and along Muntri Street that you will stumble across as you walk the city.
Bars and hangouts:
Penang is a vibrant city with plenty or bars and restaurants to choose from! You will most likely find yourself stumbling upon most of them during your stay, but if you specifically want to seek out Penang’s hotspots, here are a few of the popular places to visit:
Upper Penang Road
Situated around the corner from The Blue Mansion, Upper Penang Road is the perfect part of Penang to party and be in walking distance of your hotel. This area is home to the largest concentration of pubs, bars and clubs so you have plenty of options to choose from, but Monkey Bar and Soho Free House are some of the longest standing institutions on this stretch.
If finding a rooftop bar to sip cocktails and watch the sun go down is your thing then you can do just that at the Three Sixty Revolving Restaurant & Sky Bar, The Press Rooftop Bar and Loke Thye Kee Bar
Other favourites include: Georgetown Wines, a small wine bar on Leith Street, The Canteen at China House and The Cellar at Macalister Mansion.
Things to do:
Whilst Penang and Georgetown overall are large, the central historic district is easily navigated by foot and the best way to get around. Taxis are reasonably priced, but you miss so much of what Penang has to offer by car. I’d suggest exploring the colonial streets, hunting for the most popular pieces of street art and finding delicious hawker stands along the way. Don’t miss out on these whilst exploring the city:
Tour The Street Art
Penang is well known for its street art that continues to pop up all over historic Georgetown. Running around the city and finding all of the pieces is a lot of fun, but can be tiring in the heat! I suggest pinning all the locations to Google map so you can work out the quickest route to get around them all. Be prepared to stand in line if you’re visiting during peak season.
Visit The Blue Mansion
Daily guided tours around the historic Cheong Fatt Tze (The Blue Mansion) take place at 11am, 2pm and 3.30pm. Note only part of the mansion is open to explore and take photos, so in staying there you get more opportunity to snap some photos against the stunning blue walls. Another popular mansion option to visit is the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.
Explore The Historic Centre
You can easily spend a day, or two, wandering around the historic centre of Georgetown. There are plenty of traditional shop houses to see, the most well-maintained street being Muntri Street which is definitely worth a wander. You will also find yourself passing through Little India and China Town as you search for all the street art, so be sure to stop and take in everything happening all around you.
Eat At The Hawker Stalls
Penang is well known for its amazing food, much of which can be found cheaply at the hawker centres. These are all over the city, so ask your hotel where the closest one is and enjoy a feast of traditional Malay, Indian, Chinese, and much more.
Visit All The Temples
Penang may be full of highrise buildings, but nestled amongst them are beautiful temples. The largest ones are the Burmese Buddhist Temple and Kek Lok Si, but there is also a number of temples located around the old town, so make sure to ‘get lost’ in the narrow streets whilst you are there.
Head up to Habitat on Penang Hill to see Penang from the highest vantage point in the city. Whilst there you can take a guided tour through the nature trail to learn about the rainforest, swing on the giant swings and even spot some tarantulas!
Visit Historic Clan Jetties
The Clan Jetties have been around since the 19th century and were originally a series of overwater houses on stilts, home to a number of Chinese clans. These days, the wooden piers are littered with dozens of souvenir stands and fairly touristy, but if you are close by its worth a quick visit.
When to visit Penang
Penang is great year-round, but from November to January the weather is perfect for wandering the city – and since the best way to see Penang is by foot, choosing a cooler month would be recommended!
If you want to enjoy Penang at a quieter time of year (ie. not over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays) then visiting between February to April would be a good choice. There are less tourists this time of year, giving you a more leisurely experience and the opportunity to get photos with the street art without queuing!
Wet season runs between May to October, so there are less tourists at this time of year and hotel prices are cheaper. Just make sure to bring an umbrella as you’ll be doing a lot of walking!
Malaysia is a beautiful country, whilst there is a lot of tourism to the country, you can still feel like you have been let in on a little known secret when you visit Malaysia. If you plan to spend more than a few days there, you should consider trips to the island of Langkawi to explore beautiful beaches, head up to the Cameron Highlands to see the tea plantations or visit Kuala Lumpur to lay eyes on the famous Petronas Towers. If you’re keen to venture to the East coast, I highly suggest a trip to Perhentian Island.
- Take the time to walk around the city and deliberately get lost, you never know what you might find along the way!
- Give yourself plenty of time to explore, I would suggest planning for at least three days in Penang. Of course, you can see a lot in less time, but three days would allow a more relaxed experience and mean you don’t have to miss major highlights.
All in all, Penang is a wonderful city with so much to offer, no matter what you are looking for. If you enjoy colonial towns which have retained their history like I do, you will simply be happy with wandering the streets of Penang with little to no plan and seeing what you find.
I hope that this guide has inspired you to the visit the city on your next trip to Malaysia. If you would like more information about Malaysia and Penang, you can see plenty more articles on my blog!
All images credited to Becky van Dijk