Monday, May 23, 2016

Explore Georgetown in Penang

Malaysia's Pulau Penang (Penang Island) lies about 350 kilometers northwest of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The island is home to Georgetown, one of the two World Heritage Cities in Malaysia as declared by UNESCO (the other one being Melaka, 148 kilometers southeast of Kuala Lumpur).

From Kuala Lumpur, there are three ways to get to Pulau Penang:
  • By bus. It takes 5 hours by bus from Pudu Sentral (Puduraya) Bus Station in Kuala Lumpur to Sungai Nebong Bus Station in Pulau Penang. Fare is about RM40.
  • By train and ferry. It takes 2.5 hours by high-speed train from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth Station on the mainland (train fare is about RM60). From the mainland, it takes 15 minutes by ferry (RM1.20) to the island of Penang.
  • By plane. There are numerous flights daily between Kuala Lumpur and Pulau Penang. One way fare starts at RM60. From the airport to the city centre, it costs about RM45 for a taxi (book a taxi through the taxi counter at the airport); about RM25 for Uber.

There are many accommodations in Georgetown, but we chose to stay in Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel. A dorm bed costs RM30 to RM50 depending on the type of room (plus local government tax of RM1/bed/night); private rooms for two persons start at RM 118 (plus local government tax of RM2/room/night). We booked beds in the Loft Room (RM50/bed), which has its own toilet and shower; other dorm rooms have a shared toilet and shower. Room rates already include breakfast of noodles, eggs, sausages, mashed potatoes, paratha, coffee, tea.

62 Muntri Street, 10200 Georgetown, Penang
(Zoom in on the map below and find the yellow pin)
Tel: (+604) 250 0287

Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel

Common area (left) and the Loft dorm room (right)

One of the things we look forward to whenever we are in Malaysia is the food! Here are the places we ate at (and recommend) in Georgetown (see red pins on map below):
  • Red Garden Food Paradise - Indeed a food paradise (hawker centre) that will make you go crazy with the plethora of choices.
  • Esplanade Park Food Court - Another hawker centre with a lot of food choices.
  • Gurney Drive Hawker Centre - And another hawker centre...but this is a bit far from the city center. To go to Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, one has to take a taxi or Uber (cheaper than a taxi) or the Rapid Penang Bus 304 (cheaper than Uber).
  • Restoran Nasi Padang Minang - A self-service eatery that offers a wide array of food that I don't know the names of but are absolutely mouthwatering.

Left to right: Red Garden Food Paradise, Gurney Drive Hawker Centre,
and the overwhelming spread at Restoran Nasi Padang Minang

  • Wai Kei Cafe - Try their char siu (roasted pork) rice.
  • Wan Tan Mee - Try their wan tan mee (wanton noodle soup).
  • Passion Heart - Try their lemon poppyseed cake a la mode.
  • China House - Try all their cakes! (And check out the art space on the second floor, too!)

Left to right: Char siu at Wai Kei Cafe, lemon poppy seed cake a la mode from Passion Heart,
and the cake spread at China House

  • Teochew Chendul Stall - A famous roadside stall selling cendol or chendol or chendul, however you want to spell it. What is cendol? Cendol is to Malaysia as halo-halo is to the Philippines.
  • Lok lok Stall - Pick any of the skewered stuff on display, place it in the boiling pot to cook, and once cooked, put some sauce on it (you will be given a saucer so no worries about double dipping) and enjoy. Don't throw away the sticks, the stall owner will let you know your total bill by counting the sticks (the sticks are color coded; price is from RM0.60 to RM1.80 per stick). This Lok lok stall is across the street from Wan Tan Mee. 

Cendol from Teochew Chendul Stall (left) and the Lok lok Stall (right)

I noticed that most of the eateries in Georgetown do not allow you to bring drinks from outside (not even water), thus you have two choices: take a drink after you leave the eatery or hawker centre, or buy from the drink sellers (except for the cafes, drink sellers are usually separate from the food sellers).

Go on a treasure hunt for street art and wrought-iron caricatures by walking or by biking (rent a bike for about RM20/day) around Georgetown. Don't just snap photos of the 52 wrought-iron installations scattered around the city, read it. The installations have anecdotes about the street they are installed in. You can download the Street Art Map from the Tourism Penang website or download the Penang Street Art app (thanks for the tip Mariane!) or do it the old school way—get a Penang Street Art Map from your hotel/hostel.

Wrought-iron caricatures

Street art everywhere (Photo by CM Adlawan)

I don't know anything about architecture but I do know a pretty (and colorful) building when I see one.

Aside from admiring buildings from the outside, you can admire two from the inside (see blue pins on map below):
  • Cheong Fatt Tze (The Blue Mansion) - There are daily English guided tours at 11AM / 2PM / 330PM. Admission fee is RM17. Since the Blue Mansion is currently a hotel, the tour is limited to just the main house and does not include the two side wings. Nevertheless, I recommend joining this tour to hear the interesting story about the owner of the mansion.
  • Pinang Peranakan Mansion - Tours should be booked ahead through email or through their facebook page. Tours can be conducted any time between 930AM to 5PM. Admission fee is RM20.
Cheong Fatt Tze

Take a break from walking under the heat of the sun by cooling yourself inside these museums (see green pins on map below).
  • The Camera Museum - A treat for photography enthusiasts! I was most fascinated with the Pinhole Room and the Obscura Room. The Camera Museum is open daily from 930AM to 630PM. Admission fee is RM20. Guided tours are available every hour from 10AM to 6PM.
  • Upside Down Museum - Defy gravity! (And don't forget to bring your camera to record this milestone!) The Upside Down Museum is open daily from 845AM to 630PM (730PM on weekends). Admission fee is RM27.
  • Penang State Museum and Art Gallery - A museum that will give you a glimpse of the old Penang through artifacts, photographs, and paintings. The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery is open from 9AM to 5PM Saturday to Thursday. Admission fee is RM1 only.
  • Chocolate Museum - The Chocolate Museum is open from 9AM to 6PM daily. Admission is free. Of course! Because the museum, which is a little room that tells you how chocolate is made, will eventually lead you to the Chocolate Shop where you can taste almost all of the products for free and would be too tempted (or too embarrassed!) to leave without buying anything.
Left to right: Cameras on display at the Camera Museum,
defying gravity at the Upside Down Museum, and a display in the Penang State Museum

There are many other places to see in Georgetown, but those listed above are what we could squeeze in (except for the Pinang Peranakan Mansion which we missed) in our leisurely three-day stay.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.


  1. Whuuuut didn't know Penang had cool museums and good thing they have an app now for all the street art installations! we had to buy a map before so we can see almost all of them. Bookmarking in case I get the chance to go back to Penang again. Were you able to try Penang's Assam Laksa? So good!

    1. Hi Mariane! I didn't know they had an app for the street art. Oh well, the free map did the trick anyway :) But I will add that little info on the blog :) Thanks!!

      There are many other museums in Penang aside from the four that we visited. There's Wonderfood Museum, Penang 3D Trick Art Museum, Made in Penang Interactive Museum, Sun Yat Sen Museum, Ghost Museum, Glass Museum, Batik Painting Museum, Asia Comic Cultural Museum, etc.

      Assam laksa...yes, I think we did. We tried so many different food that I don't know the names of hahahah :D