Last summer I was lucky enough to spend a week and a half in Malaysia with my best friend just before we graduated. If you haven’t read the first part of the Malaysia series, you can catch it here, in a post all about Kuala Lumpur!
After our time in KL we had received advice from a few people we had chatted to in our hostel that Penang was a really cool place to visit. We did a bit of research and 4-5 hour bus from KL to Penang was both cheap and convenient. We opted for one early in the day so that we arrived in good time to get our connecting bus to central Georgetown (where we were staying) as the bus to Penang leaves you right on the outskirts. The bus from Penang bus station to Georgetown was full of locals getting on and off, and meant we got to see more than just the touristy areas which was great! Where we chose to stay was a short walk from the bus stop which meant it was perfectly accessible.
From browsing Hostelworld, we decided to stay in the 80’s Guest House in Georgetown. This hostel is located on Love Lane, a famous street in Penang which used to be known for its brothels (!!), and is within one of the old shop houses from 100 years ago, providing a really authentic experience. Along with being super close to all the essential sites in Penang, it is was a super friendly place. Upon arrival the receptionist provided us with a map and talked us through the location of landmarks, shops and places to eat. She was super kind and asked us what in particular we wanted to see, and directed us on how to get there, what time of day was best to go to each place, and other essential information. We had opted for a shared dorm, with the hope of making friends, and we had no regrets in this decision. The dorm rooms were all super clean, and had lovely attention to detail. The bunk beds all had USB sockets near by, and each bunk had a locker which could be secured when leaving, making us feel very safe. The bathrooms were really well maintained and had great facilities, with lots of shower cubicles and ample hot water. There was also a communal area with WiFi and sofas, perfect for making friends.
Much like Kuala Lumpur, most things are within walking distance in Penang. The city is not that big, and therefore walking really is the best way. As mentioned in Part One, we had Malaysian SIM cards, and therefore could use Google Maps, but there were also plenty of hard copy maps and sign posts to help you get around. There were only two places we wanted to go to that were too far to walk, these were Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill. As in Part One, we got a Grab in this situation (the Malaysian equivalent of Uber but cheaper!) We combined these two landmarks in to the same day, as they are relatively close together, so that we only had to get one long Grab journey there and back.
Places to Visit
We found three days to be a perfect amount of time in Penang, as it is quite small but there is plenty to cram in to each day. Here are some of our highlights:
- Chew Jetty – this is one of the many clan jetties in Penang, which offers a great insight into Chinese settlements on the island. In total there are now 6 clan jetties, as one unfortunately burnt down. Chew Jetty is probably the most tourism-friendly one to date, with a long walk way, a temple worth visiting and many tourist souvenir shops located here as well. Many people still live in this area, so it is important to be respectful when visiting.
- Street Art – one of the biggest attractions in Penang is the infamous street art, dotted all around the city. In 2012 the council of the area hired Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic to breathe new life into the inner city. The intention was to raise awareness of the rich history of the city, and was a resounding success as they are now thriving tourist destinations. The artwork is located all around the city and this makes walking through Penang a beautiful experience. We spent hours wandering through streets and back alleys, locating the variety of artwork at a leisurely pace. It is definitely worth spending an afternoon searching for these beautiful works. Some of my favourites are pictured below.
- Kek Lok Si Temple – this is one of the attractions around half an hour taxi ride outside the city, but is very much worth going to. As the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, it is a very important landmark for Buddhists all around South East Asia. One of the most impressive parts of the temple complex is the seven-storey pagoda of the temple, which has 10000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha. The temple itself is built over 30 acres of land and therefore it takes some time to see it all, we spent a whole morning/early afternoon there and didn’t see it all. As it is on a hill, there are several levels to the complex, serviced by stairs and an electronic cable car that transports you up to the highest level for a small extra fee. The trip is worth it, however, as there is a beautiful koi carp pond, amazing views and a giant bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
- Penang Hill – we linked our visit to this attraction with our visit to Kek Lok Si, as they are both a taxi ride away from Penang. Penang Hill station is around 3 kilometres away from the temple, however we went on a very hot day and opted to get a very inexpensive grab (rather than the taxis from Kek Lok Si, where sometimes we were advised they try to rip you off). As the name suggests, Penang Hill is a collection of peaks to the west of Georgetown. The top of the hill is accessible via the Penang Hill Railway: a funicular railway system, for a very reasonable price. We mainly went up to walk around the natural beauty and take in the breathtaking views over the surrounding cities. It is well worth a trip and there are many different elements you can visit, including restaurants, history sites and other attractions.
- Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – otherwise known as The Blue Mansion, was once home to the Chinese tycoon, Cheong Fatt Tze. The history of the house is great, with much detail about his life, and his accolades being communicated on the tour. The mansion itself is worth a visit purely for the aesthetics. The gorgeous design and incredible materials are absolute beautiful, along with the courtyards and other artefacts. Overall, a trip to The Blue Mansion, although one of the more expensive outings we had in Penang, is definitely worth it to immerse yourself in some history and some beautiful architecture!
- Clan Houses – Khoo Kongsi is the grandest clan house in Malaysia; a highly ornate Chinese clan house representing the dominant presence of the Chinese in Penang. A visit here is a great way to soak up the culture and history of the city, whilst also viewing beautiful historic buildings. There are many displays inside the houses detailing the significance of this area and it is well worth the entry fee.
Where to Eat and Drink
Penang is host to a wide variety of different places to eat and drink, depending on what vibe you are looking for. A personal favourite of ours was all the street food, as it is very cheap, easy to access and absolutely delicious. There are both day and night markets, specialising in street food, and the Chulia Street night market was somewhere we visited over and over!
We also treated ourselves twice to a lovely restaurant called China House. China House is great for a lot of things, but I believe most famous for its amazing cakes. They have a huge range of cake and tea, making it the perfect spot for an afternoon snack after walking round the street art of Penang. They also do a rendang, that was recommended to me by a friend living in Malaysia and it really lived up to the recommendation, and other traditional national dishes, as well as salads and mezze boards if you want a more fancy meal!
Love Lane itself has an awesome night life, with bars lining the streets. We tried to frequent as many as possible over our few days there, normally starting at Micke’s Place or The Guitarist, as they had an early happy hour with discount drinks! We then almost always gravitated towards Holy Guacamole, a Mexican themed bar which did great Mexican food and cocktails. This was a little more expensive than some of the other bars, but well worth it for the atmosphere, with live music almost every night and a really good vibe (and almost always busy too). There was also a club called George’s. We only went here once, but it was a lot of fun if you want a night of dancing and drinking. The name also serves a purpose, as the interior was completely covered with portraits of famous George’s!
Penang was an awesome place to spend a few days and we felt like we covered most of the bases, although we could definitely have stayed an extra day or two! The atmosphere of the place as a whole was really inviting, and we made some awesome friends in the hostel we were staying in and out in the bars. It really attracts a wide range of tourists, and we really enjoyed meeting people from all over the world in a social place like the bars on Love Lane. I would definitely head back to Penang for a few days when I’m in Malaysia again.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed the run down of my time in Penang. This is my second post about Malaysia, you can check out the first part in the series, all about Kuala Lumpur, here, and keep your eyes peeled for part three coming soon!
Amy @thisgingertravels x