Welcome to Harris’ hometown …Penang!
Known to be the FOOD-HUB of Malaysia by the tourists and the locals. This town has been colonised by the British monarchy a long time ago and you could still find a lot of buildings, structures and even street names being British.
Malaysia would never be an issue as the government enforces strict laws for food handlers. So it’s close to impossible to get sick eating street foods in Malaysia. Unlike some neighboring ASEAN countries in the region, I learnt about it the hard way lol.
If you have special dietary needs, do ask the seller or member of staff about the ingredients as most shops don’t usually publish posters at their premises, unless if it’s a franchise like McDonalds or Starbucks. But who needs franchises when the street food is million times better?!
For you Brits, we looked at the colonisation as a good thing, so no hard-feelings! And no worries, everyone speaks English here ..or at least understands what you’re saying and replies in broken English, usually.
If someone were to ask me what I love about Penang, it would be the ambiance because its a truly multi-cultural city. The atmosphere in the morning is different as this town has a lot of history and traditions in it. Some of them still live on till today and hopefully, it will last forever.
Walking along the streets in the Georgetown area you could find old shops and trades that was handed down since the British colony and they still do their daily business like when it was 80-100 years ago. I believe that this city is a photographer’s heaven as there are lots to look at and appreciate.
Surrounded by water, you can find beaches almost every corner of the island except for the ports, fisherman’s village and the town areas. You could go swimming anywhere in Penang, but try to stick to touristy areas as they are made safer and closely monitored by the council.
And just a friendly reminder, please don’t do “nudist-beach” as its not widely accepted by the locals or the government. Malaysia have a more conservative culture.
Here are my local tips (which I’ve excluded touristy-mainstream places) of some things you could do in Penang in 4-Days :
Roti Canai Argyll Road (Breakfast)
Click HERE for their Facebook link.
GPS : 5.420400, 100.332011
Roti Canai (row-tee char-nai) means flat-bread cooked on a hot-pan, something like teppanyaki. This flat-bread, also known as paratha by some, made fresh every day from flour, margarine and salt.
Mostly served by Indian restaurants in the morning session beginning as early as 6am in some places up till 11am. It has been a staple diet for many Malaysians since the early days of Malaya (back then).
This particular restaurant sells probably the best tasting (and texture) of roti canai I’ve ever had. You should eat it with some chicken or fish curry, but my absolute favourite would be with beef sauce (dark coloured soy sauce). Vegan diet? no worries, they do serve dhal-sauce made of lentils and vegetables.
Top the meal off with a glass of teh-tarik (frothed-tea) or kopi-tarik (frothed-coffee), that’s as Penang as it gets.
I like this restaurant better as its less touristy and more relaxed compared to the one on Transfer Road.
Budget for food & drinks about MYR8.00 (£1.50 / US$2.00) per person, unless if you’re going for seafood dishes, it would cost a little more. They don’t serve or allow alcoholic drinks here.
Mural Hunting (Places of Interest)
Ever since being awarded the UNESCO Heritage City, Georgetown area has been attracting tourists from all around the world for its murals and street art.
You could easily spend 1 day walking and taking pictures around the streets of the heritage district. I would suggest you to start early around 8-9am after breakfast to beat the crowd and also get to see the city when it wakes up 🙂
You could explore the city by walking or rent a bicycle. If you prefer to cycle, please beware of traffic, bicycles do not have a-right-of-way. Renting a bicycle is not too expensive about RM10 (£2.00 / US$2.60) per day.
Don’t forget your cameras and selfie sticks!
Hameediyah Restaurant (Lunch)
Click HERE for their Facebook link.
GPS : 5.418582, 100.332435
Located in the Georgetown area, it was established in 1907 since the British colonial times. They served the authentic taste of Penang’s Nasi Kandar for generations. I’ve been there since I was 5-6 years old.
Ordering food in this restaurant starts with picking up your plate of rice, your preferred dish (veg, chicken, beef, fish, seafood, curries, sauces and condiments) and then ordering your drink. Some of the food are spicy, but good spicy and not ‘Fear Factor’ spicy.
If you have no idea how to order, go with this fail-safe-set.. Briyani Rice, Rose-Chicken and a little chicken curry.
Or if you prefer not to have rice, try the Chicken Murtabak (mur-tah-bark). Its like a pan-fried chicken-calzone with eggs, onions, spices and chicken chunks or if you prefer -mutton.
Drinks? I would recommend you to order a Sarbat (sarrr-batt), its a home-made rose syrup extract + milk topped with ice cubes. Oh so refreshing!
This is as Penang as it gets 😉
Budget for food & drinks is about MYR15.00 (£3.00 / US$4.00) per person, unless if you’re going for seafood dishes, it would cost a little more. They don’t serve or allow alcoholic drinks here.
Click HERE for more reads on the history of Nasi Kandar (na-see kan-dar).
China House (Dinner)
Click HERE for their Facebook link.
GPS : 5.414888, 100.338763
As the name suggest, the restaurant looks like you’re in China. This restaurant is in the Heritage district and if you’re planning to dine-in, pop-in earlier in the day to ask if you need a reservation just in case it gets crowded.
Serving western and fusion meals, this place is busy usually after office hours at 4-5pm. Some said they have great coffee and cakes, you should give it a try.
I’ve been there a couple times, good ambiance. Also a great place for family dining.
Budget about MYR30.00 (£6.00 / US$8.00) per person, unless if you’re going for seafood dishes or ordering alcoholic drinks, it would cost a little more.
Bee Hwa Kopitiam (Breakfast)
Click HERE to visit their Facebook page.
GPS : 5.418834, 100.330915
I’ve been told that this restaurant serves some of the best breakfast in town. Recommended dish to order : Roti Kahwin (ro-tee kah-ween) means married-bread with half-boiled eggs.
Its probably so good makes you want to marry your breakfast?!
Budget for food & drinks about MYR10.00 (£2.00 / US$2.70) or less per person. They don’t serve alcoholic drinks here.
Do share your experience with us if you get to dine here, we might feature you in the future post 🙂
Little India Walkabout (Places of Interest)
Little India is actually in the same area as the Heritage District. This area was mainly occupied by the Indian community since ages ago, hence the name.
It’s really an interesting place if you like colours, vibrant culture and spiritualism.
I try not to elaborate too much as it’s better if you check it out yourself. Also lookout for Hindu festival dates as that would be a lot of events and Indian markets open to public.
Main events such as Thaipusam (January/February) or Deepavali (mid-October to mid-November) promises a lively Little India.
Samosa & Bihun Singapura Little India (Lunch)
Click HERE for Google Maps Location.
Samosa’s are made of triangular-folded-pastry-sheets with fillings in different flavours from chicken, egg, tuna, mutton to potatoes/vegetables.
They cost around MYR1.20/pc (£0.20 / US$0.30). An average person could eat 3-4 at most and that’s lunch or dinner. Its best consumed freshly fried, crispy.
This Indian samosa is a tad spicy for those who never had anything spicy before, but its not ‘Man vs. Food’ spicy, its tangy, try it.
Or if you prefer an alternative, walk across this stall to the Fried Rice Noodles area as pictured below. These stalls are usually busy during lunchtime as the locals and office workers get their lunch here.
Budget for food & drinks for this lunch would be about MYR10.00 (£2.00 / US$2.70) per person. They don’t serve or allow alcoholic drinks here.
Ohh I’m getting hungry writing this post, hahaha!
Penang Famous Teochew Cendol (between Lunch-Dinner?)
After exploring Georgetown on a sunny day, nothing better than cooling down with some typical Penang famous dessert.
This hawker has been around for ages and even had chain-stores nationwide. They’ve had celebrities, tourists and locals that loved the taste of their special Cendol (chan-doll). Cendol is like a green bean flour noodle in light coconut milk topped with palm sugar and sweet red-beans.
In the daytime, you could see lots of people standing around this stall eating their freshly made cendol. The best time to have this dessert would be after a sunny day walking around Georgetown’s heritage district.
Gurney Drive Hawker Center (Dinner)
If you’re picky with food and like to have a plethora of menu to choose from, this would be your forte.
Gurney Drive is a little farther on the other side of the island but reachable by local bus services, and its totally worth the effort.
There are 2 sections, the Chinese food section and the Malay food section.
This hawker center has been around for a very long time and some of the stalls here were handed down by generations.
Food to try here:
Penang Asam Laksa (ar-sum luck-sah). Its glutinous rice noodle, fish broth soup and lime dish.
Bo Bo Cha Cha
As the name suggest, you might be dancing the cha-cha after trying this one. It’s refreshing with boba jellies and some sweet palm seeds, in light coconut milk.
Char Koay Teow (koh-ayy tea-oww)
Rice flat noodles with bean-sprouts and shrimp stir fried in a very hot-wok! On most days, you’ll see people lining up by the dozens for this dish.
Hiking Up Penang Hill
Start your day early at about 4-5am. You have to catch a bus from KOMTAR bus station, so be early and make sure you’ve asked the bus conductor or driver in advance on which bus goes to Botanical Gardens (Moon Gate).
Your hike should take about 3 to 4 hours depending on how fast you go. But the earlier you start, the better, because you could take your time hiking up the trails and getting to watch the sunrise in the forest would be an experience you’ll never forget.
Yes, you can bring food and eat in the forest, so bring adequate breakfast, snacks and water on the hike. Wear suitable pants and breathable shirt as you’ll appreciate the cool air passing thru. You could definitely use a micro-fiber cloth to refresh or wipe yourself.
Don’t worry too much about getting lost as there are many people hike up the hill in the morning and you could follow them or ask for directions, whichever works best for you.
When arriving up the peak, there are restaurants that serves fresh cooked food for lunch! Yay!
Coming down the hill would be easy as there’s 2 ways :
1. Hike down the tarmac road for free, and visit Botanical Gardens.
2. Take the high-speed funicular that costs you MYR15.00 (£2.80/US$3.70)/way/person.
There’s two ways to descend, the way you came from (Moon Gate) or the other way to Penang Botanical Gardens (another way) which you could catch a bus/taxi from there as well.
The bus/taxi route passes in front of the Moon Gate (where you came from earlier). For Botanical Gardens, follow the 5km tarmac road, just be careful of traffic going downhill and the steep road gradient.
Penang Botanical Gardens
Penang Botanical Gardens is a place of relaxation, you’ll probably see a lot of families bring their children to play and enjoy the outdoors.
Some locals use the area for exercise and recreation playing sports or even meeting friends.
This gardens was maintained by the state government since the British days, and they still do till date. Housing various kinds of flora and some fauna like monkeys, gibbons, reptiles, birds and insects, this is truly a great place of interest you would want to visit.
Please be aware that the monkeys here are not like cats that you can cuddle. They are quick to snatch anything from your hands or even your sunglasses thinking it as something edible.
So please keep your belongings (especially your mobile phones) in your backpack or handbag that’s zipped or locked away. No food should be consumed openly. Keep a distance, especially from the ones with babies or big-fat ‘alpha’.
Ideally you should visit this place in the morning, but if you’re descending from Penang Hill in the afternoon isn’t too bad. Yes, they sell some snacks outside the park, but might cost a little more as it is a very touristy location.
The Botanical Gardens is not too far from the Gurney Drive Hawker Center (35 minutes walking) if you wish to dine there. Walking can be a little far for some but you could catch a bus on the main road which is probably 16 minutes walk at Waterfall Hotel.
Malaysian Street Burger (Dinner)
Forget McDonald’s, for a complete Malaysian food experience, you must get yourself a street burger. They are made fresh and customized to your order.
They come in beef, chicken and sometimes fish. Don’t worry, Malaysia don’t serve unusual meats as food. If you wish to go with a good wholesome flavour, ask for a ‘Special’, that includes cheese, eggs and sauces.
My brother-in-law Lajahn, loves this burger to bits. The first thing he wants to do when landed in Penang, street-burger is his first stop before anything else.
Every street burger ‘chefs’ have their own secret recipe, so don’t expect to taste the same when you buy one from a different stall.
Swimming & Night Market in Batu Feringghi
Need some sunshine? How about heading down to the beach? Feringghi Beach has been famous for long time to the tourists and locals alike.
When visiting Penang, our European friends went swimming all day, food, then back in the water. The waters are calm, clean and warm to swim in this area.
And of course there are more than one beach to visit such as, Miami Beach (not in Florida lol), Monkey Beach (further up the coast) and Moonlight Bay (towards the Tanjung Bungah township).
There are various water-sports and beach sports offered in this area, but the touristy the area, the more expensive it gets. But if you’re visiting with USD$, € or £, the conversion rate won’t hurt too much.
They have jet-skis, parasailing, horseback riding, quad-bikes, banana-boat rides, the manta-ray ride and many more.
And complete your Feringghi Beach experience with the Night Market :
You could easily spend a whole night browsing from stall to stall. It does get crowded at times in high-season, but at the same time you have more vendors opened for the visitors.
The Bottom Line
Penang is inexpensive to explore and enjoy. There are loads of things that you can do for free and still have a great vacation.
If you prefer, we can organize a detailed travel-itinerary for you to follow at a very small fee. It includes trip-budgeting, information for public transportation, things to do for free and an elaborated places of interest list.
In other words, you could travel independently (not following a travel agent’s group), save a lot of money doing it yourself, being adventurous and still enjoy your holiday. That’s how we both did it, we never pay full price for our travels
Here’s some Snacks for you! Penang Island have its own free bus service called C.A.T. that you could use to go places, operated by the concession company Rapid-Penang. Click HERE to visit their website.