If you’re planning a trip to Malaysia and are tossing up whether to visit Penang, stop right there. Just book it, there’s no need for another second of indecision. You’d be crazy not to visit!
If you’re a lover of good food, you will be in clover throughout your trip. Penang’s food culture is a diverse mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Nyonya cuisine and street food dominates here- you’ll often find 3rd or 4th generation hawker stalls selling the exact same dish their forefathers perfected years ago.
If you’re staying in George Town (and you should), its whimsical street art and captivating architecture which reflects Penang’s colonial past and the influence of its Chinese, Muslim and Indian populations will charm you. You’ll find yourself spending days just wandering the streets of George Town, soaking in the history and gleaning a bit about local life.
If you only have a short amount of time here, expect it to be a whirlwind, there’s lots to see and much to be eaten, let’s go!
Note: all addresses & directions for restaurants, activities and sights are listed at the bottom of this post.
Disclaimer: Chasing a Plate’s stay at the Container Hotel, Penang and our attendance on the Penang Food tour with Food Tour Malaysia were complimentary. All opinions are our own.
First, watch our Penang YouTube videos:
Day 1 Morning
There’s no better way to acquaint yourself with a new city than through its food. Add a friendly and knowledgable local to that mix and you’ll really start to understand a bit about the history and culture of the place. Food Tour Malaysia conduct Penang food tours which will see you zipping around the city in a car with one of their convivial guides.
Not limiting the food hunt to George Town, you might visit a local wet market as well as head further afield to suburbs like Tanjung Bungha. But a word of warning, be prepared to eat and to eat a lot. You’ll find everything that’s put in front of you impossible to turn down: cendol, prawn fritters, Malay curries, Chinese pancakes- seriously, by the end of the tour you’re going to be FULL! As the tour draws to a close you’ll not only have an appreciation for Penang’s rich culinary history but a thirst to learn more about this fascinating city.
You’re going to need to get moving after all of that food right? There’s no better time than the present to explore the streets of George Town. Pick up a street art map from the Information Centre and meander down unassuming alleys and round corners to discover artist Ernest Zacharevic’s evocative hand painted murals. If you want to avoid the crowds then we suggest having a wander in the evenings. We strolled down Armenian Street at around 10:00pm one night and we had the art all to ourselves.
Don’t forget to take the time to admire George Town’s architecture during your street art hunt. As a UNESCO World Heritage city, George Town’s diverse and unique buildings reflect its roots- from Indo-Malay bungalows, Strait shophouses, ornate temples to Colonial mansions, you’ll find an afternoon spent walking the streets absolutely riveting.
By now it’ll be late afternoon and we’re sure all that walking means you’ve worked up a bit of an appetite Well you’re in for a treat. The best char koay teow in Penang is undoubtedly the one made by the old Uncle on Siam Rd (address below) and you MUST eat this at least once during your visit to Penang. You’ll need to jump into an Uber or a Grab (more details below) to get there, otherwise it’s about a 30 minute walk from the centre of George Town. But be sure to make a stop at Joez Coconut Jelly on the way (address below). This small shop does the BEST coconut shakes ever- ice-cream, evaporated milk, coconut juice, coconut flesh, tapioca pearls- if the shake doesn’t revive you from the heat, you’re a lost cause!
Once you get to Siam Road, be prepared to wait up to 45 minutes for your plate of char koay teow, but trust us, it’s worth it. Just nab a seat in the kopitiam opposite the stall and order a drink. Char koay teow is a Penang specialty- rice noodles, prawns, cockles, eggs, bean sprouts, chives and lap cheong (Chinese sausage) are all tossed in a searingly hot wok. One whiff of the plate as it’s put in front of you will have you salivating. Remember to get here well before 7pm as the old Uncle shuts up shop early.
Are you beat yet? If you still have it in you, head back into George Town for a nightcap. Avoid the thumping beats on Love Lane and make your way to Mish Mash on Jalan Muntri where the boys behind the bar make a brilliant cocktail. The Jungle Bird is especially good and if it’s Thursday night, it’s two for one! Hurrah!
Day 2 Morning
Once you’ve tasted a traditional Malaysian breakfast, we guarantee you’ll be eating like this most days. Kopitiams, are Chinese Malay run coffee shops where mugs of thick sweet kopi (Malay for coffee) and kaya (coconut jam) toast are served up all day long. Pop into Toh Soon (address below), tucked down a small lane on Campbell Street. It’s very local, super cheap and it’s damn delicious. Don’t forget to order a side of half boiled eggs to go with your toast too!
The heat of the day hasn’t yet struck so hop to it, it’s time to get to Penang Hill. Dating back to the late 1700’s, Penang Hill was once a British hill station and it’s the best spot to get epic views of the island. The easiest way to get there is by car so jump in an Uber or a Grab. Once you arrive there’s a funicular to take you to the top of the hill if you don’t fancy hiking to the top.
When you’re done exploring, make your way down to Air Itam township where the wet market is located. It’s time to sample Penang’s famous assam laksa! Ayer Itam Penang Laksa is hugely popular and rightly so. Ladles of piquant broth are poured into bowls with bouncy thick rice vermicelli, lettuce, onion, pineapple, cucumber, chilli and mint. The broth, laced with tamarind and flaked mackerel slaps you around the face with its bold flavours. A must eat when you’re in Penang!
Head back into George Town after lunch for an interesting history lesson at Cheong Fatt Tze’s Blue Mansion. The guides here at the mansion weave a captivating tale filled with power, love and wealth. It’s a fascinating look into the life of the one of Penang’s most prominent personalities and the Mansion itself is spectacular- 38 rooms, 5 courtyards and 7 staircases!
After your tour, take the time to wander around areas of George Town you might have missed, Little India with its lively pop music that blares out from shopfronts or the villages of the clan jetties who represent a significant piece of Penang’s history. Whilst the Chew Jetty is the most tourist-centric (think fridge magnets and the like for sale) make sure you visit the quieter villages to get a glimpse into the every day life of these communities.
Phew, it’s been a jam packed day right?! Well, all you’ve gotta do now is sit back, relax and let the kitchen at local favourite Tek Sen spoil you. Established in 1965 as a humble rice stall, this Chinese restaurant which now spans two shopfronts still draws in the punters and with good reason- the flavours of their food are clean and vibrant- don’t miss the double roasted pork fried with chilli padi nor the stir fried potato leaves with prawns. Wash it all down with a beer or a house-made chrysanthemum tea and ponder whether you might just need to extend your stay in Penang!
48 hours in Penang, DONE! We hope this Penang travel guide has helped you eat and explore like a traveller, not a tourist.
George Town is easy to get around- just walk! But if you’re heading further afield and don’t want to catch the bus, Uber and the local equivalent Grab are your best bet. They’re plentiful and cheap, especially if there are more than two of you travelling and can often work out the same or just a little bit more than public transport. Grab often offers some great deals e.g. first ride free up to 25MYR/$5USD (this is enough to get you anywhere in the city).
If you need to purchase a local simcard when you arrive in order to use Uber and Grab, Malaysia has a number of providers who offer reasonably priced datapacks. We use Digi and paid 45MYR/$10USD for a 3 week 3GB data pack and a small amount of credit for calls.
We use the app Maps.Me to guide us around cities by GPS using offline maps.
No matter where you’re travelling to we always recommend you have travel insurance. We use and love World Nomads. The great thing about them is that you can purchase travel insurance while you’re already travelling!
Where to stay in Penang:
Book online at www.containerhotel.my
4, Gat Lebuh Chulia, 10300 George Town
Single pods from 45MYR/$10USD, twin pods 70MYR/$15, private rooms from 150MYR/$33USD
Whether you’re travelling solo, as a couple or as a family, Container Hotel has got you covered. Offering affordable female only pods, mixed pods, even twin pods as well as rooms with private bathrooms, this modern hotel is equipped with everything you need for a comfortable stay. The pods are private, extremely cosy and are kitted out with a small desk, mirror and reading light. Rooms with private bathrooms sport flat screen tvs, rain head showers, a fridge, comfortable queen sized beds and even an iron and ironing board. Located smack bang in the thick of things in George Town, a stay here makes for easy exploring.
Digital nomads will love the ‘living room’- a common space with a large table to work on, a library and a tv. But as always, we find it’s the attention to detail that really seals the deal. It’s the whimsical floral arrangements that dot reception and the common areas, the hair dryers in the bathrooms and the chic black and white aesthetics of the property. Great location, affordable and tasteful- everything you need!
What to do in Penang:
Food Tour Malaysia
Brunch tour: 9:30am to 1:30pm Dinner tour: 5:00pm to 9:00pm
160MYR per pax Book at least 2 days in advance on their website.
Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion
14 Leith Street, Penang
Tours: 11:00am, 2:00pm, 3:30pm
Adult 17MYR/ $3.80 Child 8.50MYR/$1.90
Chasing a Plate’s Pricing Guide
$ under 10MYR/$2.30USD per person
$$ around 20MYR/$4USD per person
$$$ upwards of 30MYR/$7USD per person
Places to eat in Penang:
Joez Coconut Jelly $
201, Jalan Dato Keramat, 10150 George Town
Open daily, 7:00am to 7:00pm
Siam Road Char Koay Teow $
Jalan Siam, Penang
Tuesday to Sunday 3:00pm to around 8:00pm
Mish Mash $$$
24, Jalan Muntri, George Town
Open Sunday to Tuesday, 5:00pm to midnight
Toh Soon $
Lebuh Campbell, George Town
Open Monday to Saturday 8:00am to 6:00pm
Air Itam Penang Laksa $
Jalan Pasar, Paya Terubong, 11500 George Town
Open daily 10:30am to 7:00pm
Tek Sen $$$
18, Lebuh Carnarvon, George Town, 10100 George Town
Open Wednesday to Monday 12:00pm to 3:00pm and 6:00pm to 9:00pm