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A few days in Georgetown, Penang
For anyone travelling to Malaysia, Georgetown, Penang HAS GOT TO BE involved in your itinerary. Listed as a World Heritage site back in July 2008, George Town is steeped in history and art. Named after King George III, this culturally diverse and insanely colourful city just has to be on your list. Especially, if like me, you’re trying to hit all of Malaysia’s gems in one economic loop. Why not head here before or after spending a few days in Langkawi!?
How to get to Georgetown, Penang?
Ferry’s run from Butterworth to Georgetown roughly every 30 minutes. Starting at 5.20am all the way through to 12.10am. Costing RM 1.20 ($0.30 USD). Or absolute peanuts as we say in the UK. Even better, the return journey back to Butterworth from Georgetown is free!!!!
You can also take the ferry from Langkawi to Penang at a cost of around RM 70 ($17.50 USD). It takes roughly 3 hours and there are 2 boats per day. I suggest you book maybe a day or two in advance as this is quite a popular route.
Me personally, I flew in from Langkawi. Now, most people have the perception that to get cheap flights you must book well in advance. I’m sorry, that’s simply just not true. Not with AirAsia anyway.
I don’t like to plan or book flights in advance. Every seasoned traveller knows, that even the best laid plans can change. Daily. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow…
Anyways, from Kuala Lumpur you can get a flight to Penang starting around RM 100 ($25 USD) if booking 2 days in advance.
I found flights from Langkawi to Penang, just two days in advance for RM 38 ($9.50 USD) if you can pack your life into a small backpack that will be classed as hand luggage. RM 80ish ($20 USD) if you like to take everything but the kitchen sink. With short, internal flights from small airports, I wouldn’t want to arrive earlier than 90 minutes before my flight.
Flying to Penang airport from Langkawi takes just 35 minutes. I don’t even think you reach 37,000ft before commencing descent.
Once in Penang you’ll need a transfer to Georgetown
Once at Penang airport you’ll need to get the Rapid Penang 401E bus to Georgetown. The 401E takes around 45 minutes to an hour to reach Georgetown. They are very cheap and run every 30 minutes but trust me they are not as the name states, “rapid”.
If you’re a little more impatient/have deeper pockets than me then you can get a taxi from the airport at a cost of around RM 40-50 ($10-12USD). Or download the grab app and you’ll pay somewhere in the middle. Suppose there’s always compromise.
Where to stay?
Again, as always, me being tight fisted as I am. I’m not going to tell you which is the best 5-star hotel is. More like a cheap, clean backpacker hostel. In all honesty that’s normally where all the atmosphere is at anyway.
I say that’s where the atmosphere’s at, to be honest I stayed at the Tido Penang Hostel and atmosphere was the one thing it was lacking. It was clean, it was tidy, the staff were friendly but craic… there was not! Fair enough it wasn’t the high season but there were a few people knocking about. Some hostels can’t help but create an atmosphere while others are dead in the water no matter what.
Sorry, getting side tracked as usual. Tido Penang Hostel…. Clean, tidy, good location and quiet!
If you’re looking for something a little more, should we just say, lively!? Then check out Tipsy Tiger party hostel. In all honesty I’ve never stayed here but I’ve met a few people on the road who have and they all said it was some serious craic! Just know that you may well be woken up at a reasonable time in the morning for some more drinking games. If only I was 21 again….
How to get around?
As stated earlier, there are public buses on Penang. Not the fastest but cheap and reliable. Me, personally, only used the bus to get from the airport into Georgetown.
I think I’ve said this many times before, “travelling Asia!? Download grab!!!” Although Grab does operate on Penang, there are times you may need to wait for a driver to pick you up. Especially around the airport at peak times. Even with that said, if the notion of being crammed onto a bus with all your worldly belongings doesn’t appeal to you… Its worth the wait.
Expense VS speed and comfort. Suppose it comes down to budget.
Once in Georgetown, walking, without a doubt is preferred way to get around. Well, it’s free and I’m tight! My tightness aside, walking is always the best way to really see a city and Georgetown is some city not to be missed!
How do you find that quaint little coffee shop stuffed down some little side street from a taxi? How you find that cheap, authentic “local” Indian restaurant from the inside of a bus?
You just don’t!
One of the few places I’ve seen the oldskool, traditional Rickshaw still in operation. To be honest, I only used this service once. For two reasons:
One, for some reason on this particular day I didn’t have my face of steel on when it comes to dealing with street vendors. (Something you must develop when travelling Asia).
Two, for some reason I’d always wanted to have a go in one.
Would I do it again?
A resounding NO!! Paying RM 15 (just shy of $4USD) to travel, at best 60 yards up the road, all the while some dude panting like he’s about to draw his last breath showers you in sweat. Not so romantic!
Things you’ve got to do in Georgetown
Georgetown, an extremely vibrant, culturally diverse city that has much to offer. I think it goes without saying, everyone is different, and everyone is looking for different things but here’s a few of the activities that I really enjoyed and hopefully you will too!
Eat food/bang on a few pounds
So far, nowhere I’ve been in Asia has even come close to eclipse the variety of cheap, quality and unbelievably tasty street food on offer in Penang. Especially the Indian Cuisine! With its deep rooted culturally diverse history comes a massive variety of food easily available.
Malay, Chinese and Indian restaurants, cafes and street food stalls are everywhere. Open from the early morning to late at night, you’ll not go hungry in Georgetown.
My favourite place to eat was little India. A place like no other. Where, for less than a couple of dollars you could have the choice of many different curries, rice and rotti. Not so good for vegetarians. I say, “not so good”, what I mean is you’ve no chance! (Maybe download the “Happy Cow” app to find some vegetarian restaurants) But in all honesty, this is where my love affair with the chicken samosa began!
Another great place to eat, especially if you’re looking for variety in one place is the Red Garden. Loads of choice all at reasonable prices.
The Red Garden eatery can be found at 20, Lebuh Leith, George Town, 10000 George Town.
Check out the street art
Soon as you start on the trail you’ll understand that this is definitely one of the biggest tourist draws in Penang. It’s not as easy as you’d think to find all of the paintings. Some are easy to spot from a distance, while others are hidden down side streets and alleys.
Even the navigation app I’m always pushing (maps.me) isn’t that much help in locating the works of art. Nether the less, a good day out exploring Georgetown.
P.S you could always hire a rickshaw to take you round but that would be slow, expensive and if like me you’ll need to work off last night’s 62 chicken samosas…
Go to Art Lane
A lot less known than the street art but if I’m honest I much preferred the “Art Lane”. No-where near as many tourists, only me and one other in fact.
The best thing about Art Lane is that anyone can just rock up and find an empty patch of wall and express themselves through art. Some of the art is comical, some controversial and some, spectacular. The only restrictions are: No Profanity, no sexual and no political art allowed.
Located at 127 Beach Street, 10300 Georgetown, Art Lane is open from 9am-7pm.
Drink some toddy
After being spoilt by the cheap duty-free alcohol of Langkawi, prices of beer in Georgetown are pretty steep. I have a rule when it comes to alcohol: If it costs more than the UK then I’m just not buying it. This is where toddy comes in….
What on god’s green earth is toddy??
Yeah that’s what I asked as well.
Toddy is a traditional type of wine that was once popular across Malaysia, but over recent years has been dying off. Luckily for you and me there are still a handful of places this “coconut wine” can still be bought. Toddy is not a drink that is mass produced and sold in bulk more like an individual person brewing it for the few remaining drinkers.
When I found the “shop” where it’s sold, there were three Indian men sat around a small wooden table watching football an a small 14” portable TV all drinking this white liquid. I’m not gonna lie, I was a little dubious about what I was about to buy.
Anyways, in the pursuit of cheap beer this weird setup was not about to deter me. In I go. What percentage is this toddy? “ah not much, maybe 2-3%” and how much does it cost? “3 Ringgit for a plastic cup or 9 Ringgit for a 1.5 litre bottle”. Think I’ll try the cup first. As dubious as I was, Toddy is damn tasty! I’d say like a cider with a hint of coconut. Oh, 2-3% my arse! More like 7-8%. Happy days.
The guy then goes on to explain that’s it keeps you cool on hot days and it’s good for digestion. All I can think is you can stop with the sales patter… I’m sold!
So, there you go, indulge in local culture and drink some toddy!!
The “Toddy Shack” as I call it can be found at Lorong Pasar, George Town, 10200 George Town.
Things not to bother doing
The Clan Jetties
As most travellers will, before arriving at a destination I do like to do a little research. You know see what to do/ get a vague plan together etc. One of the things that came up time after time was visit the clan jetties. So, me being your typical traveller visited the clan jetties.
It’s a wooden jetty with a few of the locals living on it. Nothing more! If I’m truthful, I felt like I was intruding into someone’s living space.
It’s like me being sat at home in England and then a horde of people turning up and taking selifies in my front garden. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be impressed!!
Rent a scooter
This is normally one of my go to travel recommendations. For Penang, no, not really!
I did as I normally do spend a couple of days exploring a city and then hire a scooter for a day or two and explore the surrounding areas. The reasons I say not to bother with Penang is that riding a scooter around Georgetown is a scary prospect, it’s more like Vietnam than Malaysia.
Even if you’re comfortable riding in these conditions once you get out of the city there isn’t that much to do. Fair enough, there’s a national park and a few beaches but the beaches on Langkawi are far superior and the trails in the Cameron Highlands are better.
How long to stay in Georgetown/Penang
I’d say that 3-4 days on Penang is plenty. If you have more time to spare why not visit Langkawi, remember the cheap 35 minute flights!?