To be honest, we were really waiting for the day we go to George Town. Kuala Lumpur was just too much about shopping malls and skyscrapers for us. We finally hit the port and it gave us cosy feeling. The movie set-like mishmash of the city’s buildings and people is impressive and attractive. Western style skyscrapers and shopping malls gleaming above British Raj-era architecture, Chinese temples, mosques, street art, street food.
George Town is second largest metropolitan area in Malaysia and capital of state of Penang. George Town was established in 1786 years as Britis East India company setllement with a Fort Cornwallis as a main entrenchment. Nowadays Georgetown is inscripted as one of the Unseco World Heritage Sites because of its British colonial and Asian Eclectic architectural styles, which can be seen all around the city. Living here is much slower than in Kuala Lumpur, people are more relaxed, traffic is still terrible but there are lots of places to run away from it.
How to get here?
There are two easy ways to reach Penang island and George Town itself.
Penang International Airport
Located in south of the island, Penang international airport services a number destinations around Asia and some connecting flights from Europe or Americas. The most notable destinations would be Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Medan (Indonesia), Bangkok, Hong Kong or Ho Chi Minh city. Cheap flights could be found on AirAsia website.
The cheapest way to get to George Town is by shuttle buses no. 401, 401A, 401E, which goes through Komtar (Main George Town bus station) or Jetty (Port of Georgetown, Old town). Price per person is 2,7 RM/0,5 EUR. Buses runs every 30 mins and all the trip lasts about 50 min – 1 hour.
The expensive way is just to take a taxi. Trip will last about 40 minutes, but will cost around 40 RM/ 9 EUR.
Butterworth train station
Alternative way to reach George Town is by train + ferry. There is a fast train from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth train station few times per day. It will take you to Butterworth in less than 4 hours from KL Sentral for a price of 54 RM/ 12 Eur.
TIP: Be sure to buy train ticket in advance online or 2 days before your trip in a train station. Otherwise you might get more expensive tickets or you will not be able to choose time you prefare. And take hoody or sweater – trains are super air conditioned, you might get cold in 4 hours.
When You reach Butterworth train station, follow the signs to port area (5 min walking) and take a ferry for 1 RM/ 0,25 EUR to George Town.
For a short stay in Penang the best place to stay is Georgetown old town/Zone 5. Here You can find a lot of different budget accommodation options, hotels or hostels for really affordable price. Our pick was The Frame Guesthouse – highly recommended, located in Chulia street, Little India near Kapitan mosque. You can reach all the places of interest from there.
Clan Jetties – located in the port area of George Town, old Chinese floating houses are. Nowadays they are quite touristic but still it’s a thrilling experience to feel the old way of living.
Penang street art – It’s not a graffiti or just painting on the wall – it’s art and they are very proud of it. Located in various places of Old town, mostly found in Armenian street. It was created by various artists from around the world. The most famous of them is Lithuanian born Ernest Zacharevich.
Fort Cornwallis – The first defensive establishment of British colonisation. Probably not worth to get in and pay money, but still good to walk around and see cannons and walls from outside.
Kek lok si temple – One of the biggest Buddhism temple in Malaysia with a largest Guanyin (Goddess of mercy) statue in the world.
Penang hill – the highest place of the island. You can look through all the city, have some meal and walk around (or even walk down the hill through) the jungle roads.
The city is very scenic, full of cultures. It was hard to keep my camera in the pocket – I wanted to take picture of each colonial building, of each person riding bike or motorbike, of each temple and people around it, of each painting on the wall.
Eating and drinking
Penang is known as the culinary centre of Malaysia – hawker stalls, street food, food trucks, bars, cafes, bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants. Our favourites:
Red Garden food court – The biggest and most touristic place in George Town, but here you can find a lot of locals as well. Pick a table (remember table number), order your drink and go get your meal. Try seafood or fish head curry.
Kapitan restaurant – located in Little India, quite old restaurant. Will be one of the best indian food that You ever tried. Chicken tandoori, buttermilk chicken and naan bread with some rice is a beautiful combination.
The Esplanade food court – located near Fort Cornwallis is one of the possible choices for lunch with a wide selection of different cuisines.
Lebuh Chulia street – In the night time here You can find lots of different food stalls with national and international food selection.
Junk bar – Our favourite bar located in Lebuh Chulia. Glass of Tiger – 10 RM/ 2,2 EUR, small place, friendly staff.
2 days in Georgetown itinerary
2 days itinerary is just our advice if you’re running out of time. There are lots of sights that You can see in Penang even for a week.
Day 1: Breakfast > Walking through the streets of old town and searching for incredible street art > exploring one of the clan jetties > Walking through Fort Cornwallis > Lunch at Kapitan restaurant > Exploring the rest of old town on foot > Dinner in Red Garden food court
Day 2: Breakfast > Taking a bus from jetties to Kek lok si temple (bus no 203 or 204, price 2 RM/ 0,5 EUR) >Visiting Kek lok si temple and statue of Guanyin > a little walk to Penang hill train station and taking a train up to the hill (30 RM/7 EUR both sides) > Lunch at Asana’s food court up in the hill and have a walk around Penang hill > back to the city and have a glass of beer.
x Tropical spice garden
x Snake temple
x St. George’s Cathedral
Want some advice about George Town? Write us firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be moving to next country now, Vietnam – we will soon post our experience in Ho Chi Minh City.