Penang Island, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang
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Penang Island is located off the West coast of Malaysia and is part of the larger state of Penang that also includes Butterworth on mainland Malaysia. Penang is home to beautiful ocean waters, delicious street food and a vibrant mix of colonial architecture with well-preserved historical landmarks.

Quick facts
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit RM
Population of Penang Island: 705,000
Population Density: 2,372 people per square kilometre
Population of Malaysia: Approx. 29 million, Density 88 per square kilometre
Major Dialects: Malay, English

Our venture kept us in the northern areas of Penang Island, where there is much to see and do. Below is some helpful information and tips that we picked up along the way:

Public Transport

Public transport in Penang is the cheapest and most effective way of getting around. The buses are clean, fairly new and have great air conditioning to boot. Be aware that the buses do not follow any strict timings, and instead can be expected to arrive (for example) every 10-15 minutes depending on the route.

For more information be sure to check out Rapid Penang’s website for up to date schedules, maps and route planning. Rapid Penang also offers ‘Tourist Passports’ which are fully prepaid, tourist passes that allow unlimited travel on their bus services for 7 days.

Other transport:
Other transport in Penang includes private cars and ‘Metered’ Taxis. Be aware however that although the Taxis have ‘metered’ written on them, the drivers will usually try to hide the meter from tourists using a cloth or towel and will instead quote you a price for your destination. Their prices are usually unfair. If you do hop in a Taxi, make sure you ask it to be metered, and if not I advise you hop out and find another, otherwise at least try to barter them down on price to what you feel is fair. Supporting corrupt Taxi drivers only makes things worse for future tourists.


Tanjong Bungah

Dawn in Tanjong Bungah

Dawn in Tanjong Bungah

Staying in Tanjong Bungah offers easy access to the main road and Rapid Penang’s 101 bus route. This makes Tanjong Bungah an ideal location to stay with easy access to both Georgetown and the nearby night markets of Batu Ferringhi.

In addition to its beaches, Tanjong Bungah offers a variety of hotels and resorts with competitive prices.

The main bus services for this area is the ’101′ which has a regular service along the coastal road between the Jetty in Georgetown and Teluk Bahang on the North Western tip of the Island.

Eat Seek Travel Recommended: Sri Anada Bahwan Restaurant

Located across the road from the Pink Flamingo hotel and bus stop, the Sri Anada Bahwan Restaurant offers a plethora of traditional Indian dishes along with a fusion of local Malay and International cuisines. It was a real winner for us and caters to all tastes. Check it out on on TripAdvisor for up to date reviews


Batu Ferringhi

Similar to Tanjong Bungah, Batu Ferringhi is a coastal town/suburb with a variety of beachside hotels and resorts and is a little more ‘touristy’. In addition to relaxing on a beach sipping on a cocktail, you can indulge in a fish foot spa, massage or simply take a stroll along the bustling night markets where traders are selling everything from sarongs to “designer” handbags and silver jewellery. Be aware that like many Asian countries, bartering is not only allowed here, but expected. If it’s your first time, be sure to ask around with other tourists to get an idea of what you should be paying for some of these items. Street vendors will often quote you exorbitant prices initially, but cut them in half if you walk away or let them know you’ve seen it elsewhere for cheaper.

Yiap Herbal Treatment Centre

Yiap Herbal Treatment Centre

If traditional/herbal medicine is your forté, then perhaps check out the medicine man: Terry from Yiap Herbal Treatment Centre located in the Eden Parade Shopping Complex. Whilst his treatments are unusual, you may find that like many others, his odd techniques of herbal soaked cloths, stretching, pulling and rubbing may just heal what ails you.


Georgetown

GeorgetownGeorgetown is well known for its colonial British architecture, street food and must-see’s like Little India and Chinatown. With so much to see and do in Georgetown, we’ll leave the exploring up to you, however here’s a couple of tips to get you started:

To get to Georgetown from Batu Ferringhi or Tanjong Bunga, take the Rapid 101 bus. Approximate journey time will be between 20-30 minutes depending on the time of day and traffic. Once in Georgetown we recommend hopping off the bus near Queen Street or the last stop, the Jetty (make things easy by getting yourself an offline maps app for your smartphone, be sure to see our article on the Top 5 iOS apps for travel). Alternatively, you could hop off at the Komtar Complex, home to Rapid Penang’s main bus station with connecting buses to almost everywhere in Penang.

Queen Street (Lebuh Queen) is a hub for local holidays and celebrations. Our stay in Penang coincided with Ramadan, the month in which Muslims traditionally fast between sunrise and sunset. During the afternoons, Queen Street would fill with street food stalls selling delights of all shapes, sizes and colours. As evening approached, hoards of people gorged themselves on everything there was on offer – us included. Be sure to check out what’s on during your visit as there may be another holiday of festival with plenty on offer.

Queen Street

Queen Street

Chulia Street (Lebuh Chulia) is one of the main streets in Penang, and has a huge variety of street food. Given its proximity to Chinatown, there are many food stalls that appear in the late afternoon and serve a variety of both Chinese and Malay dishes. This was not only some of the cheapest, but the most delicious food we ate during our time in Penang. Lebuh Chulia is also dotted with Hostels and Guesthouses, which makes it a prime district if you want to stay in Georgetown on a budget.


Gurney

Gurney is a suburb just north of Georgetown. Not only does it feature a fantastic hawker food market, but also caters to the ritzy locals and westerners with Gurney Plaza. Gurney Plaza is a hot spot of indulgent shopping. Perhaps you are in need of a real pharmacy or large grocery store with western focused food. The plaza is 9 stories filled with everything you would expect to find in a giant western mall. There is also large food court on the basement level catering to both local and international diners.


Penang Hill

Penang Hill is possibly our favourite “must see” in Penang, and depending on your level of fitness (and enthusiasm) there are a couple of ways you can reach the top:

The first choice being a 2~3 hour moderate hike. There are a few places you can start the hike from, however one of the easiest to find is from the Botanical Gardens. From the Penang Botanical Gardens you can choose to either walk up the road which is the easiest to find and follow, or hike up the trail which is slightly shorter but involves a lot of stairs. Once you’re hiking up, you just have no choice but to keep going or walk back down as there are no public buses up there. As with any hike, take lots of water and wear comfortable clothes and shoes. If you’re like us, then we recommend walking up the trail to the top, and back down the road for a change of scenery to the bottom.

The second choice is the train up to the top. Be sure to check the schedule and prices to plan ahead. See below for bus times to the train station. Catching the train is the easiest method of reaching the top for beautiful panoramic views of Georgetown out to Butterworth.

Getting there:
Bus 10: From Jetty (Weld Quay) to Botanical Gardens – Hourly
Bus 204: From Jetty (Weld Quay) to Penang Hill Train – Every 30~45 minutes.

Panorama taken from Penang Hill, overlooking Georgetown and surrounds

Panorama taken from Penang Hill, overlooking Georgetown and surrounds


Penang dietary notes:
Traditional ‘Western’ Coffee isn’t all that easy to find – not good stuff anyway. The majority of ‘White Coffee’ cafes you will find use instant coffee with ‘creamer’. In line with a lot of Asian countries – dairy intolerance is uncommon which in turn makes it hard to get a dairy alternative at a cafe. Ali started asking for coconut milk or cream on the side as a healthy, dairy alternative – although it is an acquired taste. This was usually successful, albeit sometimes accompanied by the odd look from the wait staff.
The majority of local food on the other hand is fairly gluten and dairy free being mostly rice based dishes, with coconut milk and cream as the traditional choice for a number of curry and soup bases.


One last recommendation I have before I wrap up, is the website and Facbook page run by locals in Penang called Penang Spirit. It is a great blog and features many recommendations for eating, shopping and general living in Penang. In their words,
The vision of Penang Spirit is to be a resource for everything healthy, holistic and green in Penang.“.

Website Link / Facebook Page - Penang Spirit.


Penang Island is a fantastic place for a short trip or a long stay given Malaysia’s relaxed immigration requirements (most western originated tourists are allowed to stay up to three months in the country without a visa). It bears similarity to Phuket Thailand however is a little less ‘touristy’ and has a much broader mix of culture. If you have been to Penang, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Eat. Seek. Travel.


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