To be honest, I had actually never heard of Penang, before it came to my attention that I would have to go there to obtain a Thai visa. As is with most of my travels, I decided to extend my “layover” in Penang into a five-day trip. Malaysia was always on “the list”, and I was going to be able to tick it off sooner than expected! Malaysia was also extremely less expensive than the tourist areas of Thailand. I was definitely pleasantly surprised after spending more money than I wanted to in Phuket. At the time, the Malaysian RM was 1 RM to 3.8 USD. No meal was over $12 for Sam and me. It was quite the steal!
As we were planning for our trip to Penang, we researched areas to stay in, and the quirky, downtown area of Georgetown seemed to be a top pick everywhere we looked. With loads of street art, historical buildings and unique cafes, Georgetown is a great spot for foodies, historians and art lovers. On every corner, there was something new to explore.
Where To Stay:
Pedal Inn – Pedal Inn is a cozy accommodation, with a truly personal touch. With bike racks, wheels and other bike-related objects scattered throughout the shared living area, you can really get the feel that this was a place who loved its cycling and was proud to be located in Penang. Our host, Chan, sat us down immediately and showed us multiple maps with the best walking directions to the most authentic restaurants. He gave us tips on how to get to and from and what we should expect to pay at each place. He truly cared about our experience, not just at Pedal Inn, but in Penang.
The rooms were located upstairs, and after you leave your shoes behind (no shoes allowed!), you can make your way up. The beds were a bit hard, but that’s typical of this region. The air conditioning worked amazingly, often times, getting too cold – which is the best problem to have in Malaysia!
Everything was clean, tidy, quiet and safe. There were shared bathrooms and showers located outside in the back, which could be a pain sometimes in the middle of the night! But in all honestly, it was a great place to stay. The location was perfect, right near the main bus terminals, night markets and malls. It was a short walk to Love Lane, Downtown and the Jetties. Truly awesome experience. ($20-40 USD per night)
Chulia Mansion – Chulia Mansion is a 3 Star hotel with a 5 star feel to it. We shared a few drinks with the Marketing Manager of Chulia Mansion one beautiful and humid evening. Chulia Mansion offers free laundry service, complimentary drinks, wifi and beautiful rooms! The best part is that they have an exclusive rooftop bar with a great view of the city only open to their guests. For $60-70 a night, you get all of the amenities and so much more.
Where To Eat: Penang has an abundance of restaurants and cafes that fits every budget. You could wander through the streets of Georgetown and find something you fancy within minutes. To make it easier on you, I chose my favourite spots.
1.) Eastern & Oriental Hotel – This is one of the best hotels in Penang, boasting of 5 stars and beautiful heritage buildings right at the water’s edge. We were lucky enough to enjoy a delicious international buffet at the E&O’s restaurant, Sarkies, located in their newest wing of the hotel.
We met with the E&O’s very own, JJ Tan, who was so lovely and knowledgable. We spent the meal sharing experiences with him, and he told us all about the hotel, founded in 1885, and the restaurant. The buffet was unbelievable, showcasing fresh sashimi, sushi, lamb, chicken, duck, salads, noodles, and Sam’s very favourite, Char Koay Teo.
Pretty much anything you could want, they had on the buffet line, and everything was kept fresh. My all time favourite was the dessert table, with chocolate and cheesecake and fruits and more! If you’re looking to splurge, this is the place to do it!
2.) Pelita’s – This whole in the wall is easy to miss, and not on any food guide maps, and that’s what I love about it the most! If you can handle the spice, their pure authentic Indian Malaysian food, is an absolute dream! Their Roti, Sauces, Nasi Goreng and Mee Goreng were a hit with us. It also never cost us more than $10 to eat! It’s located on Jalan Malicaster.
3.) Mugshot Café – At the recommendation of our new friend JJ, we tried out Mugshot Café, which is a small and unique café located near the famous Backpacker-Central Love Lane. Here, you can find bacon and egg bagel sandwiches, which anyone who has ever traveled through Asia will know is near impossible to find! They also make their own, homemade yoghurts and house blend coffees. We loved their outdoor seating area, where we played Jenga and other board games! Since it’s in the main touristy area, it’s slightly more pricey than usual, but in Malyasia, that’s still not very much!
4.) Night Markets – We went to The Night Markets off Jalan Malicaster multiple times. Mainly because it was cheap, but also because we got to have a taste of a variety of different Chinese-influenced Malaysian food. We tried Fried Oysters, Chicken Satays, Char Koay Teow, Curry Mee and plenty of others. No meal costs more than $3-4, and there are tables to sit at around the perimeter of the markets. Just beware, that if you sit at a table, you have to buy a beverage from the vendors!
What To Do:
- Georgetown Street Art – Georgetown is best known for its street art scattered throughout the city. From giant cats to the famous Bicycle painting to wire frame art, you’re sure to find an interesting sight down every street and alley.
- Khoo Kongsi Clan House – One of the oldest clan houses in Penang, The Khloo Kongsi Clan House is absolutely stunning piece of architecture. With intricate decorations and vibrant colours, it seems you went back in time. For $3, you can peer in and out of each room and learn more about the history of the Chinese influence in Malaysia.
- Penang National Park – The National Park is about 30 minutes away by bus, and truly takes you out of the busy, city vibe. There are multiple different treks you can hike, ranging from 2 kms to 5 kms one-way. We started out heading toward Turtle Beach, where there is a turtle sanctuary. That took us about an hour and a half, and it’s a serious hike with seriously steep cliffs. From Turtle Beach, we took a boat to Monkey Beach for $13, where there is little restaurants, swings on the beach and actual monkeys everywhere! We thought it would be a good idea to hike back from Monkey Beach to the main entrance, which was only another 2 kms, but what we didn’t know is that the path was seriously deconstructed by trees and broken bridges, etc. It was the hardest hike I’ve been on! Overall, it was a great day outdoors. The Park is free to enter as well!
- Botanical Gardens – Another great free attraction is the Botanical Gardens, conveniently located near the Thai Embassy, where we spent two days getting our visas. It’s a beautiful hour-long loop around with varying types of plants, ponds and to our surprise, animals. We saw loads of monkeys, lizards and birds!
How To Get Around:
The bus system around the Downtown Georgetown Area is free and takes you pretty much all around the city. The bus system that drives around the island of Penang is about $2 per person and can take you as far as the National Park! It’s the cheapest and fasted way to get around for the most part!
Pretty much all year round, Malaysia is extremely hot, nearing 35-40 degrees Celsius. When we were there in particular (April), it was around 90-100% humidity and 30-35 degrees. Hot is an understatement. Be prepared for hot weather and always have an umbrella for the occasional shower!
Penang was a difficult city to grasp at times. With a wide mix of cultures meshing together, it was hard to really grasp what the feel was of the city. On one street corner, it had more of an Indian influence. The next street corner was strictly Chinese influence, which is called Hokkien. The next was a mix of both. So, we found ourselves really trying to understand what the culture was all about, and failed at most times. With that said, we really enjoyed Penang, loved the food and the people were so incredibly kind. It’s definitely a “one in a million,” and they’re very proud of that!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Pedal Inn, Chulia Mansion and Eastern & Oriental Hotel in exchange for this review. My opinions are my own, and I only write honest and truthful reviews.