In Northwestern Malaysia sits a tiny jewel of a state. Penang boasts the most delicious street food cuisines in a country whose gastronomic achievements are gold medal winning.
We stayed in the capital of George Town arriving by bus from the Cameron Highlands. It took little over 6 hours and cost RM35. We were deposited just outside KOMTAR, the central bus terminal on the island. From here, we were actually able to walk to our hostel, Roommates Guesthouse, and for RM28 per night we were quite comfortable in a 4-person dorm room.
I recommend Roommates because it’s located on historic Lorong Chulia, which, I personally feels, runs through the best part of the city. George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, showcasing European style buildings from the colonial era. On top of that, after about 7pm, the street comes alive with row after row of street vendors offering the very best in Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine. There are even independent cafes offering quaint western charm at western prices.
With so much to do, we felt a concerned about our tight time budget. Could we really experience it all in only two days and three nights? Here’s the itinerary we followed to get the most out of our short stay in Penang.
Arrive in George Town around 5pm and take a taxi or walk to your guesthouse. Freshen up and rest. Take a stroll down Chulia street and get some grub. Various soups, curries and noodles await to grace your palate. Don’t be afraid to try what we lovingly refer to as fish balls. Like a meatball, these are made of ground fish and are a staple in most Asian cuisines. Grad some cheap beers from the local 7-Eleven. Some vendors will not sell beer because they are Muslim and it’s against their religion to deal with the stuff. I want to note that we ate at street vendors every night/day in Malaysia and we never got sick. The food is clean and even the ice, which is bagged, is fine to consume. After stuffing yourself, turn in for the night.
After a late lunch at a local Indian restaurant (I recommend Biryani, a rice dish), take the time to explore all of George Town’s cultural sites. There are many. We started near our guesthouse on Chulia street and viewed temples, churches and official buildings. We ended up on the coast line near Esplanade Park and watched fisherman off the pier. The Town Hall, which is famous for appearing in Anna and the King (1999), stands near a fruit stand where we picked up some fresh pineapple. We toured around Fort Cornwallis, which was build by the East India Company in the 1700s. TIP: On this walk, try to spot all the amazing street art. George Town is known for its Cat Murals and Steel Sculptures. You can find maps of their locations in your guesthouse.
After this, hop on the free tourist bus known as the CAT. From here we went through the city to KOMTAR and spent the afternoon window shopping and taste testing candies and dried fruit from the Country’s Tid-Bits & Candy Cottage (We did this for so long that we felt guilty and bought stuff, a truly amazing experience!).
Once you’re rejuvenated, walk back to your guesthouse. Prep for dinner and head back out to try everything you didn’t get to the night before.
Day 2: Wake up early and pack for a day of hiking in Penang’s National Park. Bring some snacks and don’t forget your passport. Take bus 101 from Lorong Chulia heading in the direction of KOMTAR. Taman Negara Palau Pinang is an hour away from George Town by bus. It will cost RM4 per person per way. You can easily ask the driver when to deboard, but it’s the very last stop. Simply head to the information booth and sign into the park. It’s free! You’ll have to choose which trek you’d like to take.
Two paths are available to you: Monkey Beach and Turtle Beach. Both are laid back hikes that will take about 1.5-2 hours. Con and I chose to head to Turtle Beach. It was a lovely way to spend the day and look out on Malaysia’s Eastern Coast.
Head back to your guesthouse the same way you came. Shower off and, you guessed it, eat all the street food you can. I’m serious, you will not be tired of all your street food choices at this time. If you are, hop into any of the restaurants nearby. Since this is your last night, why not try a drink at Reggae Mansion, also on Lorong Chulia.
The Next Day:
From Penang we chose to book a bus to Krabi, Thailand. It took all day but the boarder crossings were not stressful and we didn’t have any issues. You’ll take a mini van to a boarder town in Thailand, Hatyai. We didn’t mind as it gave us time to get snacks and hit up an ATM for some Baht. It was a pleasant trip that concluded on of our favorite places so far.
Have I missed anything? Is there something you’ve seen in George Town that I should have included? Please share in the comments below!