George Town, the capital city of Malaysian island Penang is generally known for two things – street art and food. But this multi-culti capital has so much more to offer. In 2008, the historical center of George Town was awarded a World Heritage Site title by UNESCO. Which encouraged the government to rebrand and renew the spirit of the city.
From modern shopping malls and skyscrapers to historical mansions and the mix of Asian and European architecture. Visiting George Town almost feels like traveling through time. The history of the city keeps you curious of it’s unique past. While the artistic vibes have you constantly looking forward to what’s next.
While still unknown to some, George Town is quickly becoming one of Southeast Asia’s must-see destinations. I spent just under 72 hours in Penang and was so impressed with the city I had to share all of my favorite finds with you. Including where to stay for every budget, what to eat and where, how to locate all of the street art and where to turn up! I break it down for you by day, as well as give you a comprehensive checklist.
And you know I gotta sneak a wardrobe change into as many things as possible! So I’m showcasing some of Spring 2018’s biggest trends in my latest LookBook featuring Lane Bryant.
As my overpriced taxi pulls up to Yeng Keng Hotel I’m immediately taken back, to an unfamiliar place in history. Yeng Keng is a heritage boutique hotel, one of the pieces of living art and history that’s so integral to what makes Penang such a precious place. The Anglo-Indian bungalow once belonged to Shaik Eusoffe bin Shaik Latiff. It’s now a carefully curated, 19 room hotel situated directly center of everything you need to in George Town.
Yeng Keng, literally means "City of Swallow" in Mandarin. The trademark entrance gate welcomes you as you step in from the busy street to this retreat. The cute logo depicts a couple of swallows circling the entrance gate. There is a story behind this portal. It used to shelter many little swallows which build their nests here. Hence the name and the logo. @yengkenghotelpenang @visitpenang @visitmalaysia2018 _ – – – #visitpenang #heritage #architecture #angloindian #travel #travelblogger #travelphotography #travels #travelersnotebook #travelgram #luxurytravel #luxury #photography #photographs #weddingphotography #worldtravelpics #instagram #instagay #instalgbt #world_great #secretescape #blogger #travelasia #ig_masterpiece #ig_masterpiece #旅行 #旅游 #我的旅游日记
Travel Tip: Use Uber. I paid just under 45 Ringgit ($12) for a taxi from the airport to my hotel. Using Uber, I paid half that price for my trip back to the airport.
As I checked in I was offered the official drink of Penang, boiled Nutmeg Juice. A light and refreshing drink with a sweet and earthy taste. It’s now one of my favorite drinks, so much so that I brought back Nutmeg Syrup so I could make my own!
After unpacking I headed out to catch a glimpse of the city before dark. Yeng Keng Hotel is on Chulia Street, which is the main artery of George Town. A few blocks south of the hotel I found one of the most delicious restaurants in the city, Kapitan (full disclosure, I went three times). After dinner, I stopped to grab some essentials from the nearby 7-11 (they’re EVERYWHERE in Malaysia and Thailand). I got back to the hotel just in time to watch Happy Potter and take a short nap. I’ve been traveling through Southeast Asia for nearly a year, so finding a channel in English to watch was a blessing. But having HBO and the fact that HARRY POTTER was on! I knew it was going to be a great trip.
Because I work in different time zones a sleep schedule is nearly impossible. I’m usually up into the wee hours of the morning working. No matter where I am. And since I’m a freelancer and a digital nomad I’m always working while I’m traveling. So after a few hours of work and emails, I pulled out my tripod, grabbed my camera and set off to search for some street art.
“Only You Can Stop Air Pollution” mural by Cloakwork.
Finding the street art in George Town is like playing Pokémon GO. You just wanna catch ’em all! But the truth is, there’s art everywhere and new pieces are popping up frequently.
That day I visited Ah Quee Street and Armenian Street, both places have a high concentration of art (don’t worry, all the dets and photos are below). After sweating it out in the sun for a few hours I decided to head back to the hotel and cool down in the pool. Which was exactly what I needed!
Later that night I met a friend for dinner at Kapitan then we walked to Merry Me for dessert.
The next morning I woke up early knowing that I was moving to a different hotel. So I headed straight to the pool for one last dip. Day two of sightseeing kicked off with a visit to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. In 1890 Chinese tycoon Chung Keng Quee had the mansion built. It’s now a museum dedicated to Penang’s Peranakan heritage or Chinese descendants. The mansion showcases thousands of Peranakan antiques, artifacts, interior design and art.
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Posing for photos can be exhausting so after I left the mansion I went to ChinaHouse for lunch. Instantly I noticed how unique the space was. It has the vibe of an upscale artist loft. The food was delicious, although I had some sticker shock looking at the prices. I’m happy to report, it’s worth it.
After lunch, I was desperate for AC and a nap so I checked into my new room at B Street Hotel. Which just happened to be about two blocks away. The view from the third floor was great, but the bed was better. B Street Hotel is in the perfect location for snapping street art. Just a few blocks away from key locations Ah Quee Street and Armenian Street. You can even see a few as you enter. As the hotel is surrounded by street art.
After a much-needed nap, I got ready to head out to the Avatar Secret Garden. I’ m gonna keep it 1000%, I haven’t watched Avatar since I saw it the first time. So, while the light show was cool…it really wasn’t worth the visit. Unless you’re with bae and want to get some cute glow in the dark or nighttime photos, I’d skip it.
Avatar Secret Garden
Out of Nowhere Bar is hipster heaven. A hidden speakeasy in the city center. The coolest thing is the entrance. It’s a bright orange refrigerator! To get to the bar, you have to go through Hold Up Cafe then enter the bar through the refrigerator. The place was packed, smokey and buzzing. That night there was an incredible live band playing. The chill vibes come at a price though, with cocktails starting at 35 Ringgit or $9.
Out of Nowhere Bar
There were so many things I wanted to see and do before I left, but I only had a few hours. My first stop, Passions Heart Cafe for breakfast. I noticed they had Nutmeg syrup for sale, so I got myself some. After breakfast, I walked around this area for a bit taking photos of the doors and the street art. Then back up Love Lane to grab an Uber and head to Jalan Kek Chuan.
Passions Heart Cafe
Jalan Kek Chuan street is home to one of George Town’s most recognizable landmarks. The nine restored pre-war shophouses are painted in show-stopping colors housing everything from spas and salons to art galleries and photography studios.
Jalan Kek Chuan Street
The last stop I made was to Kapitan for lunch. I told you, I went three times. But now, I regret not going for lunch and dinner. That tandoori chicken was SO damn good!
Now that I’ve shared how I scheduled my days. Here’s more info on each place I visited and why I suggest you check it out when you visit Penang.
Where to Stay
Feeling fancy? Stay at heritage boutique hotel Yang Keng. It’s in the historical center of the city, on Chulia Street. On the same road as the delicious Indian Restuarant Kapitan and some of the most notable street art murals. From clubs and dives to lounges the best nightlife is on Love Lane, which is just a few blocks away from Yang Keng Hotel.
At Yang Keng Hotel your throne awaits.
Traveling solo and on a budget but want more privacy than a hostel? Traveling with bae but can’t afford the heritage hotel prices? B Street Hotel is the perfect solution. It’s walking distance to some of the best street food in town and just blocks from most of the street art.
If you’re a solo female traveler or traveling with your girls. Stay at the Sogor Girls Dormitory. There is one room with 16 custom built bunk beds. However, there is a great open concept bathroom and free laundry! I mean, could there be a better place for a girl on a budget and on the go?
If you’re on a hostel budget but traveling with bros, try the Container Hotel. It’s on the far end of Chulia Street and perfect if you want to explore the city by bus. The city bus stops right in front.
Where to Eat
Influenced by Malay, Indian and Chinese cultures. George Town has an incredibly diverse food scene. I didn’t get to try much of its infamous street food, I played it safe and dined in. But here are some of the places I recommend you visit and what you should order.
Kapitan Restaurant: This place has an excellent reputation, believe the hype. The Tandoori Chicken is excellent. Like, have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner good! I ordered it every time I went, which was three times in the same amount of days. (Judge all you want!) I literally had a TABLE, they would tell me to sit at my table. So basically, I felt very VIP!
The restaurant has an open feel to it, as it is open to the elements (read: Malaysia’s 90+ degree heat). There are fans throughout the space, but it’s hot in there. But they make up for it with a number of charging stations. If you’re from the UK or brought your universal plug adapter you’re in luck! It is a bit of a wait before they come to take your order, but believe me, it’s worth the wait. It’s always busy. Not so busy that you have to wait for a seat, but you may have to wait for them to wipe off your table.
What To Eat: My go-to meal was the Tandoori Chicken, Rice, and Naan. First, the naan comes out. Later a delicious piece of reddened, roasted chicken on the bone is served over a generous portion of rice. I’d usually get either the watermelon or lychee juice with ice. However, the later your visit, the less likely they are to have juice.
Note: If you’re uncomfortable eating with your hands, feel free to ask for silverware. Which will be a spoon and a fork.
ChinaHouse: The longest cafe in Penang, ChinaHouse is a traditional compound of 3 heritage buildings linked by an open-air courtyard. It’s been converted into spaces for art, music, food, and drinks. One of the reasons I felt so comfortable in ChinaHouse is because it encompasses the key factors that make George Town unique. History, art, and food live here, but it doesn’t feel pretentious, it actually feels cool and fresh.
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When I say art is everywhere. I literally mean EVERYWHERE. There is even paper and crayons at each table so you can draw a masterpiece while you wait. Or you can go take a peek at their 75 cakes and desserts.
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What To Eat: I had the burger for lunch with one of their homemade sodas and the delicious tiramisu for dessert. If you learn nothing from this post, learn that the ChinaHouse tiramisu is LIFE!
Ernest Zacharevic “Little Girl in Blue” mural
A friend told me to check out the desserts at Passions Heart Cafe as well. So I did and the cheesecake is otherworldly! This cute mom and pop shop is just off Love Lane and if you visit during the day you can catch some great street art. Like Zacharevic’s “Little Girl in Blue” and the “Screaming Man” (not sure of the actual title) which are just a couple blocks away.
What To Eat: Chocolate Covered Cheesecake
Marry Me is an Instagrammers dream. This dessert cafe is expertly decorated and smells of freshly made waffles as you enter. There is a combination of hard edges like exposed brick and wrought iron fixtures against more delicate accents like unicorn stuffed animals and plush chairs. Not to mention the angel wings outside begging to be photographed.
What To Eat: I shared the Banana Brûlée which was delicious. But I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the appetizing dessert options.
Street Food Tour
What to See
Get a glimpse at Peranakan antiques and artifacts at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.
Catching the light at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Head to Jalan Kek Chuan to capture all the colorful and historical shophouses.
Street Art + Where to Find It
Get ready for an art scavenger hunt as most murals are hidden down small alleys. But you’ll probably spot the crowd before you see the art. Art is a major part of what draws people to George Town. The most noted artist being Ernest Zacharevic. The Lithuanian artist created some of the most recognizable murals during the 2012 George Town Art & Culture Festival. But the fact is art in George Town has been a major draw for years.
After the city was awarded a World Heritage Site title by UNESCO in 2008 the Penang State Government hosted a “Making George Town” competition. Kuala Lumpur-based firm Sculpture At Work won with their “Voices of the People” series which included 52 iron rod sculptures.
One of the many “Voices of the People” murals
Here is a comprehensive list of the murals I saw and where.
Street Name: Chulia Street on Step by Step Lane
Susu Soya Asli & Segar Mural
There’s a common misconception that the “Children on the Swings” mural is by Ernest Zacharevic. It’s actually non-commissioned work by deaf-mute Malaysian artist Louis Gan.
Street Name: Ah Quee Street
“Boy on a Bike” Mural is the first thing you see on this tiny, often traffic-filled street. Don’t miss “Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur” right behind him.
Right next to it is the “Only You Can Stop Air Pollution” mural. created by Kuala Lumpur-based graffiti artist Cloakwork.
Behind you, you’ll see a painting of a Malaysian football player with the number 27 next to him. He’s wearing the Malaysian Flag as a shirt.
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Walk down the alley on the right to find “The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This” mural directly on the other side of that brick wall.
Street Name: Armenian Street
Zacharevic’s “Little Children on a Bicycle” mural is the most popular one on this street. But this block has the highest concentration of art.
The “I Can Help Catch Rats” mural is a part of the “101 Lost Kittens Project” an initiative by Artists for Stray Animals (ASA) to encourage locals to keep cats as pets to help with pest control.
Lion Dance Breaking Through Wall
It’s hard to miss the purple wall with a man encouraging you to speak Hokkien.
Next to that is a small painting of “Three Girls” representing the merging of the Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures in George Town.
Turn right down a small alleyway on the right for the last few pieces.
I couldn’t find the name of this piece, so it must be a new addition.
On the opposite wall, you’ll find “The Peranakan Girl Holding The Joss Sticks”
Where to Turn Up
I could go on and on about how cool Out of Nowhere Bar is. It was easily the highlight of my nightlife experience in George Town. I highly recommend you check this place out.
ChinaHouse Canteen is in the back of the ChinaHouse compound. They were promoting a performance by the “Ed Sheeran of Penang” while I was there, so that’s something.
Love Lane is the place to go if you want options. There’s a reggae spot, lots of live music venues and I heard hip-hop music being blasted out of a few establishments. So there’s literally something for everyone.
Have you been to George Town? Did I leave any of your favorites off the list? If so, share below.