Why We Love Georgetown Penang Malaysia
Georgetown Penang is one of Malaysia’s (and Southeast Asia’s) most magical places to visit with its traditional architecture and narrow streets lined with food stalls and covered in street art. Here are all the best places we’ve discovered to visit, where to stay, what to eat and the very best things to do in charming Georgetown 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. We recently added Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia to the list.
What do these destinations have in common? They all have a beautiful old town centre and the old town part of Georgetown Penang is one of our favourites.
This visit to George Town was not our first. We first 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 George Town and its 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 on earlier trips, being able to chill out and soak up the city’s charm, enabled us to really fall in love with the place.
Where is Penang George Town?
Georgetown is located on Penang Island and attached to the mainland by a huge 13km bridge.
It is the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang in the north-western corner of the country.
George Town’s population of over 700,000 makes it the second-largest in the country after the capital of Kuala Lumpur. It’s an exciting multicultural community of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and Western expats.
Why We Love Georgetown Penang
There are so many reasons to love George Town Penang. All the below and the city’s laid-back and peaceful vibe, make it a must on anyone’s Malaysian itinerary.
The Old Town of George Town Penang is A UNESCO World Heritage Site
George Town Penang is one of the historic cities of the Straits of Malacca that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
Penang’s colonial history is a fascinating and turbulent one to explore through the architecture of the old town, and its museums.
It was founded by the British East India Company in 1786 (after negotiation with the Sultan of Kedah who ceded Penang to the British) and from then it was under direct British rule and George Town’s economy grew and flourished as a strategic international maritime trade center.
Due to the variety of ethnicities arriving on the shores during its heyday as an international port, George Town acquired a fascinating assortment of architecture.
It’s a UNESCO world heritage site because, in a compact 2.5 square kilometres, there are grand British colonial buildings, old Chinese shops, and a mix of temples for various religions.
The best preserved and most impressive colonial buildings to check out include the City Hall, Town Hall, Immigration Department Building, and Customs Building.
UNESCO has singled out the “Street of Harmony” as the most special street to show how diverse communities have come to live together and create a unique multicultural space.
Wondering the streets, in awe of all the ancient architecture that is a remaining part of George Town’s history is one of our favourite things to do in George Town.
Beautiful Temples, Mosques, and Churches
With its Chinese and Muslim inhabitants, George Town takes its 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. Kek Lok Si temple is the most extravagant of Georgetown’s Temples.
Malaysia’s largest temple complex is also known as the Million Buddhas Precious Pagoda. Unfortunately, Kek Lok Si temple is not in the city centre. You’ll find it on the outskirts of town, in the suburb of Air Itam.
We adore the ancient Chinese Buddhist temples. Our favourite example is Kuan Yin Teng Temple.
Like many of the Buddhist temples of George Town Penang, it’s a beautiful, ornate, frozen-in-time piece of religious architecture.
Huge incense sticks are often burning on 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 recent trip seems to be coffee.
Our go-to George Town coffee shop
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 George Town.
While on the surface, the streets are lined with historic Chinese shops, on the inside, there are many modern, trendy, and creative coffee shops.
Over recent years, coffee has become a big business in Asia, with an overwhelming number of coffee shops opening in towns and cities.
George Town is a perfect example of this. Some of the best coffee we have ever tasted is in George 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 Shelley and me 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 George town.
Our favourite street food dishes include the following:
– A sweet and sour noodle soup cooked with fruit juice.
Char Kway Teow
– A spicy dry noodle dish with prawns, cockles, chicken, and shallots.
– An Indian salad with potatoes, tofu, fish, and cucumber, covered in a sweet-nutty sauce.
– A type of spring roll filled with soybean curd, eggs, vegetable stew, and Chinese lettuce.
– A mixture of amazing curry sauces poured over a mountain of rice.
– A shaved ice dessert sweetened with palm sugar and coconut milk. Topped with red beans and sweet corn which actually works!
And if you’re nervous about eating local food from the food stalls, you can always take a street food tour.
Fantastic Hotels, Hostels, and Guesthouses
If you plan to visit George Town, we recommend you spend 2 or 3 days days exploring its highlights. The city has an excellent choice of places to hit the hay.
From accommodation set inside one of the many ancient Chinese shophouses to modern boutique hotels. Traditional George Town villas to budget backpackers.
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 all the 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 George 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
George Town 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, George Town 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 street art pieces have been commissioned by international artists while other harder-to-find artworks are created by various masters of the paintbrush.
Head to Muntri Street, Armenian Street, and Letih Street, to get started on exploring the incredible street art scene here.
Posing with these artworks makes 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 George Town for long enough, there’s a gorgeous national park nearby.
Just a 90-minute public bus ride from George 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.
Other Unique George Town Penang Attractions
If you’re able to spend more than a few days in this charming little piece of Southeast Asia, here are the major attractions you could add to your itinerary:
A hill resort in the middle of the Island. The last of the island’s rainforest is on Penang Hill and the funicular railway to get to it is half the fun.
Penang State Museum and Art Gallery
George Town’s premiere museum in a heritage building (next to the new building) that was originally the Penang Free School
You can’t miss seeing this building on Leith Street because of its’ bright blue facade. It’s actually the excellent Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion which is a hotel and museum and featured in Crazy Rich Asians.
Getting To George town
To get to George 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 George 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 George Town’s old town secrets.