Why We Love Georgetown Old Town in Penang
There are some towns and cities in this world that are so easy to immediately fall in love with. Hoi An in Vietnam, Chiang Mai in Thailand, Dubrovnik in Croatia and Lisbon in Portugal are just some we have a strong affection for. More recently, we added Georgetown in Malaysia to the list. What do these destinations have in common? They all have a beautiful old town centre and Georgetown old town is one of our favourites.
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Our visit to Georgetown old town last week was not our first. We visited Penang island in 2012 on another tour through South-East Asia. We enjoyed our stay back then but it’s this recent stop that made us realise just how great Georgetown old town is. This time, we stayed for a whole week to catch up on some work after our month in the Philippines. Maybe having already visited all the main tourist sites in 2012, being able to chill out and soak up the city’s charm, enabled us to really fall in love with the place.
Where Is Georgetown Old Town?
Georgetown is the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang in the north-western corner of the country. Georgetown old town is located on Penang island and attached to the mainland by a huge 13km bridge. With a population of over 700,000, the city is the second-largest in the country after the capital of Kuala Lumpur. It’s an exciting multicultural community of Malays, Chinese, Indians and the odd western expat.
Why We Love Georgetown Old Town
There are so many reasons to love Georgetown old town in Penang. All the below and the city’s laid back and peaceful vibe, make it a must on anyone’s Malaysian itinerary.
Georgetown Old Town is A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Like many of the cities mentioned in the opening paragraph, Georgetown old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Georgetown old town got crowned this status in 2008, along with fellow Malaysian city Malacca, another city we plan to visit at some point.
Due to the variety of ethnicities arriving on the shores during its heyday as an international port, Georgetown old town acquired an assortment of architecture. Today, there are many grand British colonial buildings, old Chinese shops and a mix of temples for various religions. Wondering the streets, in awe of all the ancient architecture is one of our favourite things to do in Georgetown old town.
Beautiful Temples, Mosques and Churches
With it’s Chinese and Muslim inhabitants, Georgetown old town takes it’s religious resting days pretty seriously. At weekends, many businesses close early, leaving the town almost empty, apart from wondering tourists of course. At these times, you’ll find many of the locals at one of the numerous temples, mosques and churches.
We adore the ancient Chinese Buddhist temples. Our favourite example is Kuan Yin Teng Temple. Like many of the Georgetown old town Buddhist temples, it’s a beautiful, ornate, frozen in time piece of religious architecture. Huge incense sticks are often burning in the grounds while locals are in mid-prayer and monks hand out offerings. At the right time of day, Kuan Yin Teng Temple is incredibly atmospheric.
Awesome Coffee Shops
One of our biggest travel expenses on this current trip seems to be coffee. No longer can Shelley and I go through a day without a hit of creamy caffeine. If you’re also into your coffee, then you’ll love Georgetown old town.
While on the surface, the streets are lined with historic Chinese shops, on the inside, are many modern, trendy and creative coffee shops. Over recent years, coffee has become big business in Asia, with an overwhelming number of coffee shops opening in towns and cities. Georgetown old town is a perfect example of this. Some of the best coffee we have ever tasted is in Georgetown old town. The sweet milk that we love so much could be something to do with that 🙂
South East Asia’s Best Street Food
The words ‘street’ and ‘food’ said one after the other, send me and Shelley into a seizure of excitement. We drool from the mouth at the thought of it. Street food is one of our highlights while travelling the world, especially in Asia. Penang is known as one of Asia’s gastronomical delights. It’s famous for a vast amount of delicious dishes and this can be experienced on many streets in Georgetown old town.
Our favourites include the following:
Assam Laksa – A sweet and sour noodle soup cooked with fruit juice.
Char Kway Teow – A spicy dry noodle dish with prawns, cockles, chicken and shallots.
Pasenbur – An Indian salad with potatoes, tofu, fish and cucumber, covered in a sweet-nutty sauce.
Popiah – A type of spring roll filled with soybean curd, eggs, vegetable stew and Chinese lettuce.
Nasi Kandar – A mixture of amazing curry sauces poured over a mountain of rice.
Cendol – A shaved ice desert sweetened with palm sugar and coconut milk. Topped with red beans and sweet corn which actually works!
Fantastic Hotels, Hostels and Guesthouses
You’ll want to spend a few days exploring the highlights of Georgetown old town. The city has an excellent choice of places to hit the hay. From accommodation set inside one of the many ancient Chinese shop houses to modern boutique hotels.
We were lucky enough to experience both the old and new and can recommend these two great places to stay.
New – B Street Hotel
B Street Hotel is a small and modern hotel located close to the highest concentration of Georgetown old town street art. Situated on a peaceful road around the corner from Kimberly Street for some amazing street food. Spotless rooms, friendly front desk staff and a self-service rooftop bar with views across Georgetown old town.
Old – Muntri House
A budget-friendly guesthouse inside an old Chinese shop house and located close to the main backpacking street. Muntri House is full of character with a huge open ground floor communal area and ornate Chinese interior pieces. They have a mix of charming old rooms and brighter new rooms. The owners are super nice and always willing to help.
Street Art Is Everywhere
Georgetown old town has become a hub for creatives and artists and this can clearly be seen on the streets all over the city. Since being awarded the UNESCO title in 2008, Georgetown street art has exploded and there are some fantastic pieces gracing the walls of many heritage buildings.
Penang street art has become world renowned and a tourist attraction in its own right. Some of the pieces have been commissioned by international artists while other harder to find artworks are created by various masters of the paint brush. Posing with these artworks make for some fun Instagram photos. You can download a map of some of the popular street art pieces here.
Nearby Penang National Park
If staying in Georgetown old town for long enough, there’s a gorgeous national park nearby. Just a 90-minute public bus ride from Georgetown old town is Penang National Park. A free to enter wild jungle-clad park offering a number of signposted walks.
We enjoyed a 75-minute hike through the jungle to one of the more remote beaches in Malaysia, Turtle Beach. There are other walks and pathways including the popular route to Monkey Beach and the lighthouse viewpoint. We spotted various wildlife including giant monitor lizards, monkeys and the longest trails of ants we have ever seen.
There’s also a turtle sanctuary at Turtle Beach so time your visit right, and you may be able to see the gentle creatures hatching on the sands.
Getting To Georgetown Old Town
To get to Georgetown old town, you’ll need to head to Penang Island.
From Kuala Lumpur
BUS – Make your way to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan bus station in Kuala Lumpur and ask for a ticket to Penang Island. There are many desks and bus companies providing this route all day, every day.
Cost – 39RM
Duration – 4 hours
FLIGHT – There are a few airlines that fly from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. We always recommend Air Asia for cheap and safe flights.
From Langkawi Island
BOAT – You can catch a ferry from Langkawi to Penang. Check out the ferry schedule HERE.
Cost – 60RM
Duration – 3 hours
We hope to visit Georgetown old town again someday soon. In fact, we love the place so much, we may look into locating ourselves there for a month while we work. It’s the sort of special place that we’d love to experience living temporarily like we did in Chiang Mai. To get to know some of the locals, to learn where the best places to eat and drink are and to discover Georgetown old town secrets.
Have you been to Georgetown old town? Did you love it too? What other favourite destinations do you have? We’d love to hear from you by commenting below.