We visited George Town for the first time in 2010 as part of an around the world 3 month trip we took and left with fond memories and hoped we would get to go back. In October 2017, we did get to come back to George Town and in this post, will give you some ideas and tips to plan for a 48 hour trip.
Why George Town:
It is a lot more convenient to experience Malaysia by flying into Kuala Lumpur but George Town is becoming more accessible due to the expansion of flight service to PEN – Penang International Airport. Ideally, you should visit both Kuala Lumpur and George Town but if you are short on time and want to focus on eating, street art, and the beach, you might want to choose to visit Penang because it’s more condensed. Also, George Town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.
When you arrive to the airport, it is very easy to head into George Town by using Uber, Grab or the taxi stand. We chose to take a taxi because we didn’t have a SIM card and couldn’t connect to WIFI to get an Uber or Grab.
In the heritage district, the best way to get around is by walking or biking. There is a new bike share service called LinkBike and has about 25 stations in George Town, Queensbay, and Straits Quay. The best way to use LinkBike is to download the app on your phone but there was mention of using a card system for those who don’t want to use mobile apps. For more information: https://www.linkbike.my.
If you are planning any excursions to sites outside of the historical district, then taxi, Uber, Grab or tour guides are the way to go.
Where to Stay:
Back when we visited in 2010, there weren’t very many options in George Town but since then, there has been an increase of inventory for hotels, hostels, and Air BnB’s for most budgets and preferences.
As for hotels, they’re mostly independent boutique hotels and we recommend staying in the historic part of George Town to be close to most of the sites and places to eat.
As for Air BnB, the options range from high-ride modern condos to historic shop houses in the heritage district. If you are a fan of Eating Asia’s Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman, you can actually rent out their 2 story shop house (and we also recommend you read their blog to find out more about George Town!).
We decided to stay at a newer boutique hotel called The Edison on Lebuh Leith in the historic district because it was walking distance to all the places we wanted to visit. Read our detailed review about The Edison here.
Where to Eat:
Char Koay Teow at Kafe Ping Hooi Tiger Char Koay Teow
One of Penang’s most iconic street food dishes is Char Koay Teow. Rice noodles are stir fried over very high heat in pork fat, soy sauce, chilies, prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and eggs. It is very labor intensive work for the person making this dish as they are hunched over a blazing hot wok and constantly stirring the dish to keep it from burning. There are number of places to try this dish but one of the most popular ones, Tiger Char Koay Teow is located in Kafe Ping Hooi, a small hawker center. We were a little confused by the process but if you want a cold drink, you pay them directly and you order and pay for the food separately. When we arrived, I grabbed a table and someone came to offer us drinks, which we ordered and paid for and Jason went to order the food at the wok and it was brought out to us when it was ready.
Cendol at Penang Road Famous TeoChew Chendul
Cendol is an iconic street food dessert in Penang. Made from green worm-like pandan flavored rice flour noodles, coconut milk, red kidney bean, shaved ice and sweetened by gula Melaka: it’s a refreshing and sweet dessert you’ll fall in love with. Penang Road Famous TeoChew Chendul is a street food stall that became famous for their cendol (also known as chendul) and has since opened a few locations for you to satisfy your craving or try this unique dessert for the first time.
More information: http://www.chendul.my/
Coconut Jelly at Joez Coconut Jelly
Coconut lovers will love Joez Coconut Jelly. A small shop dedicated to all things coconut, Joez makes coconut milk the old-fashioned way using a machine and offers coconut milkshakes and their famous coconut jelly. Made from pandan coconut, the water inside is a cold jelly consistency which is a nice cool treat on those warm and humid days in Penang.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/ganeshasiri/
Ais Tingkap/Window Sherbet at Chowrasta Market
Ais Tingkap is one of the most unusual things I have ever tried but it’s delicious and worth trying. This relic from the 1930’s that originated in the Middle East as “sharbat”, found its way to George Town Penang, where one family still serves up the drink at their stall. Coconut water and flesh, rose-water, shaved ice, and basil seeds make up the drink known at Ais tingkap. The basil seeds in the drink remind of chia seeds as they become gelatinous when in liquid. We visited the stall during out first visit to Penang in 2010 and we were delighted to see the same man working here. This is a very popular place for locals and can get quite busy. We will also remember how intimidated we were by this experience on our first visit and how fortunate we were to meet a kind and generous local couple who chose to sit with us to chat, and bought us our drinks. Meeting that Muslim couple who showed us such kindness and generosity was a life changing experience that we will remember forever.
Nyonya Kuih Stall at Cecil Street Market
Due to the closure of the nyonya kuih shop near our hotel, we ventured out to the Cecil Street market in search if this local treat made from glutinous rice. Kuih are bite sized treats that come in different flavours and colors and are a popular sweet during tea time.
Upscale Nyonya at Kebaya Dining Room
If you’re looking to splurge on a high-end dining experience, Kebaya offers a 4 course meal for about $30 per person. Located in the historic Seven Terraces Hotel, the menu offers Indo and Straits Chinese Nyonya dishes. Each person choses an appetizer, protein, greens and dessert so if you coordinate with your dining companions, you can try more items. We enjoyed everything but we still talk about the Kebaya tamarind beef that spends 72 hours in sous-vide.
More information: http://kebaya.com.my/
Casual Malaysian on a Patio at Mews Café
For Malaysian food in a more relaxed and casual setting, Mews cafe is a good place for lunch and dinner and on some nights, they have live music. We really enjoyed the beef rendang and the laksa here and compared to other places, they also serve beer.
More information: https://www.georgetownheritage.com/mews-cafe/
Traditional Home-style Nyonya at Auntie Gaik Lean’s
There are a few of these more traditional-local food restaurants that serve up home cooked Nyonya cuisine and everyone will have an opinion about which one is the best. We chose to visit Auntie Gaik Lean as it was recommended to us by the staff at The Edison. Since we were only two people, we feel we didn’t get to try as many things as we would have liked and we were too full to try any of their famous desserts.
More information: https://www.yelp.ca/biz/auntie-gaik-leans-george-town
Drinking Food and Live Music at Red Garden Food Paradise
I won’t lie, I was quite annoyed by the loud music playing from Red Garden Food Paradise across the street from the hotel we were staying so we decided to venture out and see what it was all about. Red garden is a hawker center that serves up popular Penang dishes alongside beer and live entertainment like karaoke. It’s a really fun place and worth a visit for a snack, a cold beer or two and to listen to people sing pop songs in English.
More information: http://www.redgarden-food.com/
Assam Laksa at Laksalicious
I dare you to ask a group of locals where the best place to have assam laksa is, if only, you will quickly realize how beloved this dish is and how everyone has a strong opinion about the place to have it. If you want to try the local iconic dish of assam laksa in a comfortable, modern, clean, and air-conditioned restaurant, Laksalicious is the place to go. Assam laksa is a tangy, spicy, sour and fishy Malaysian fished based soup with noodles and other condiments. At Laksalicious, you can customize it to your taste. We found the service to be outstanding.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/LaksaliciousPenang/
What to Do:
There is a lot of street art in Penang and it is quite fun to seek them out or just stumble upon them. Depending on the time of day and how popular the mural is, you will need to wait in line to take a selfie.
Due to all the cultural diversity in Penang, it seems like there is always a festival happening. When we arrived, there a major Buddhist festival and two days later a Hindu festival in Little India.
If you want to visit the beach, Batu Ferringhi is accessible via bus, Uber, taxi or bike. We have never visited but it seems like a popular place for those escaping the heat, even if some reviews say rubbish is a problem here.
There are quite a few secret bars in Penang for you to find. We ended up visiting Magazine 63 after we actually found it. It was fun to just sit there and imbibe the atmosphere, the décor and our cocktail. Since they still allow smoking indoors, we didn’t stay too long.
As you can see, it was a busy 48 hours for us and there are still places we would like to visit. George Town Penang is a good place to experience a lot of Malaysia in a short amount of time in a small geographic area.
- Review: The Edison George Town, Penang Malaysia
- How We Use Points for Hotels and Flights; Last Year’s Trip
Have you ever been to Penang? What did you like best about George Town?