Old-world Asia meets a diverse, cosmopolitan culture – and one of the world's great cuisines
The capital of Penang, George Town is one of two Malaysian cities on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, having conserved its colonial British heritage from the end of the 18th century. With its strategic location on the Straits of Malacca, Penang was a key conduit between East and West.
The Peranakan or Straits-Chinese population, a result of intermarriage between immigrant Chinese and local Malay people, has left a legacy in terms of architecture, food and culture. Chinese wealth also played a part — just look at the temples, clan jetties, assembly halls and mansions that give this place its character. Penang has a worldwide reputation for its mouth-watering hawker fare — don't leave without trying Penang laksa, char kway teow, rojak and curry noodles.
Things to do
Art on the wall
Malaysian artists Louise Low, Tang Yeok Khang and Louis Gan, together with Thai artist Natthapon Muangkliang and Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, all had a hand in putting slices of real and surreal life on the walls of George Town’s old neighbourhoods. These murals, great for photo ops, can be found at Lebuh Armenian, Lebuh Muntri, Lebuh Ah Quee, Gat Lebuh Chulia and Love Lane.
On the house
Reputedly the most beautiful residential area in Penang, Lorong Bangkok is lined with 41 townhouses built by Teochew businessman Cheah Leong Keah in 1928. He came to Penang and made his fortune in making and repairing horse carriages and later, cars. All the townhouses still belong to his descendants.
Race you to the top
Hop on the air-conditioned funicular train up the 823m Penang Hill opens in new windowfor a cooler climate, the best view of George Town, lush greenery, plant life that’s remained unchanged since the Jurassic period, super cute dusky leaf monkeys and a bungalow dating back to the early 19th century.
Slurp it up
Penang’s assam laksa, a piquant fish-based broth with thick rice noodles, garnished with mint leaves, finely sliced onions, bunga kantan (ginger flower), chilli and a spoonful of prawn paste is so addictive, one bowl is never enough.
For insights into the culture of a past era, visit the four-storey House of Yeap Chor Ee opens in new window, the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum, which houses a collection of intricate pieces adorned with rubies, sapphires and jade, and the P. Ramlee Gallery opens in new window, home to the personal collection of the Malaysian movie legend.
Distance to George Town 16km
Taxi There’s a prepaid taxi opens in new window counter in the arrivals hall – passengers are urged to use this to avoid paying an inflated fare. The trip to George Town takes around 45 minutes and costs about MYR RM38, with fixed rates to other parts of Penang. There’s a 50% surcharge between 12am and 6am.
Bus Rapid Penang opens in new window buses depart every 30 minutes, making a number of stops along the way and taking about an hour to arrive at George Town. Make sure you have the correct money for the fare – drivers can’t give change. Tickets cost MYR RM2-3, or get a Rapid Penang Tourist Passport for around MYR RM30 for a week’s unlimited bus travel.Back to top
When to go
Penang enjoys a tropical rainforest climate with a daily average temperature of 28°C, with December to March being the drier, hotter months of the year. The wetter months are May to early November.
The Penang World Music Festival takes place in March while the Penang Island Jazz Festival is held in December. Penang Floral Festival, held in May and June, draws many visitors to the Penang Botanic Gardens. The George Town Festival in August is a month-long celebration with world-class performances, art initiatives and cross-cultural community activities.Back to top
Penang is well served by Rapid Penang opens in new window buses; get a passport opens in new window for a week of unlimited travel. There’s a free shuttle bus, the MPPP Rapid Penang CAT, which plies George Town from Weld Quay to Penang Road, stopping at places of interest. Most taxi drivers in Penang are reluctant to use the meter; always haggle with the driver and agree on a fare beforehand.
The narrow lanes of George Town are best explored on foot, or if you’re worn out, by pedal-powered trishaw – but negotiate the fare before getting on. Hiring a bicycle is a great way to get around and see the sights at your own pace; there are quite a few bicycle rentals around town.Back to top
The best hawker stalls in Penang only locals know about
Hawker-food hunting is a real sport in Penang. Ditch the tourist spots and check out the top five hawker centres locals swear by.