Like most places I visited in Malaysia, I really enjoyed my time in George Town, on the island of Penang. The one big draw for me was all the art I had seen photos of online, but there’s so much more to this place than that. Many things made me fall in love with this city. Here are a few of them.
The street art
Number one on this list, and the main reason I wanted to travel to Georgetown in Penang, is the city’s very famous collection of street art. Adorning a large part of this colonial-era city are colourful murals of every shape and size, covering subjects ranging from the humorous to the political. My personal favourites were the ones incorporating 3D objects that you could interact with. Check out that swing! We had such a great day exploring the streets with a not-so-accurate map in hand, wondering what we’d find down each side street and around every corner.
While street art may be why half the people come to Penang, the other half come for the street food. Night markets are a regular occurrence, and stalls cooking a huge variety of dishes – Indian, Malay, Chinese, Western – line the streets. Cheap as anything, and very delicious; although, if you’re vegetarian like me, it can be a little harder to find dinner when you’re not entirely sure what anything in front of you is.
Most of Georgetown was built during the British colonial era, and its architecture reflects this period while also mingling with local Malay, Chinese and Islamic influences. The resulting beautiful buildings are the main reason the city, like Malacca, its southern counterpart, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
Kek Lok Si Temple
Now this is a temple. The largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, this sprawling complex sits upon a hill a half-hours bus journey from Georgetown. I recommend heading up there in the early evening, as the views while the sun goes down are stunning. If you’re in the area during the month after the Chinese New Year, make sure you see this temple after dark. The entire temple is adorned with thousands of strings of brightly-coloured lights, like a Christmas Tree on steroids, if you will! It’s an incredible sight – not one I’ll forget for a while. And the view across Penang from the top of the pagoda is certainly worth the small fee.
Stretched along Georgetown’s eastern sea front are the Chinese Clan Jetties. I knew very little about these before we went, but I’m so glad we made the time to visit. The larger of the jetties are now major tourist attractions and as such are full of souvenir shops, henna artists and icecream parlours, while the smaller ones are still just as they’ve always been – small, close-knit neighbourhoods stretching along narrow boardwalks out over the water. All are worth seeing. As the name suggests, each Jetty is the home to a particular clan and is named after this clan. Many are homes of ordinary families, and as such their space and privacy should always be respected.
I highly recommend staying at Red Inn Hostel in Love Lane. Decently priced (I paid 25MYR for a 6-bed dorm, though the price fluctuates during the week), lovely staff and an amazing central location. The rooms are great – each bed has its own light, power points and even a fold-out writing desk! No lockers, but I always felt my stuff was safe.
If arriving by coach from the mainland, the local bus to the city centre departs from the same station. Tickets cost just 2MYR, and for that price you can get to most places. The bus system is fantastic – they come very often, are extremely cheap and are easy to navigate.
The city centre is very walkable. In fact, I definitely recommend walking wherever you go, as this is how you’ll discover the majority of the street art.
Restaurants are very easy to find, especially around the central Love Lane area, as well as a huge number of street vendors.
Prices accurate in 2016.
Have you ever been to Penang? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Or are you now dying to visit? Tell me in the comments below!
Welcome to This Wild Life of Mine (previously known as Life of Dearbh)
When a love of travel meets a passion for wildlife…
I’m a zoologist who explores the world while working for conservation organisations. I write about my experiences in the hope of inspiring others to follow their dreams and see the beauty of this earth – in a responsible and ethical way.