Street Art, Temples and Street Food on Penang Island

Dhammikarama Burmese Temple

Penang was my favourite stop on our journey. An island off the west coast of Malaysia, chosen as I had heard it ‘had the best street food in Asia’, and reachable by ferry from Langkawi, it was a natural next stop on our travels. A fairly pricey ferry at 70 ringgit (£14), the ferry took just less than 3 hours. Choosing to catch up with a few Panorama’s I’d downloaded, there’s nothing like the ferry grinding to a halt and thick black smoke billowing from the front engine to put Brexit into perspective! Genuinely concerned I was about to have to abandon ship, I was reassured by Ben that ‘a ferry this big would have another engine!’ Sure enough, after a hesitant, extremely protracted delay, we chugged along and moored ourselves at Georgetown jetty.

I loved Georgetown the minute I got off the boat! Picking up my backpack, smiling, I said to myself ‘I think I’m going to like it here.’ Certainly did. Georgetown the main hub of Penang, and a World Heritage Site, we chose a place to stay that was on Kapitan Keling road. Finding some funkily decorated chairs across the town, I thought they were a really cool idea. Captioned “sit on me, move me, arrange me with others. Do what you like with me, just keep me in the George Town World Heritage site.” The plans in my head for these chairs didn’t quite fruition! Finding a cat café, moustache house, many temples, much street art, Georgetown is filled with character and colour. The impact and prevalence of religion and worship apparent, Penang’s State Museum tells stories of its history. Of the impact of British rule from 1786…

Now there is a lot to see in Penang. I would definitely have changed a Langkawi day for another day here. Ever the organiser, our achieved itenary over 2 and a half days included:

  • Fort Cornwallis
  • Victoria Memorial Clock Tower
  • Khoo Kongsi Temple
  • Masjid Melayu Mosque
  • Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque
  • Syed Alatas Mansion
  • Sri Mariamman Temple
  • Kuan Yin Temple
  • Penang State Museum
  • St George’s church (all the above achievable in a day)
  • Getting intentionally lost to wander through all the town’s street art
  • We spent a morning exploring Dhammikarama Temple and Wat Chayamangkalara
  • Reachable by bus, Kek Lok Si Temple and then Penang Hill
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    I’m really gutted we didn’t have time to see Penang’s beaches or spend time there. Our afternoon up Penang Hill seems like it would have been better spent at the beach.

    Of course with a reputation as the best place to find tasty street food, we did a lot of good eating here! Following the recommendations in the guide book, we ate at Red Garden Food paradise the first night. A massive food market, with big screens, drinks and food brought to your tables, a lot of variety – I had some dumplings and some sushi. Yum. Off to Tai Tong the next night, this colourful restaurant was unbelievably tasty. Some tasty snacks at a street food market, I’m ashamed to say we had a Pizza Hut on our last night. It was very cheap though!

    My advice is just to wander and absorb Georgetown’s charm. A lot of the tourist sites we found easily on our wanders unintentionally. Not necessarily spending too long in each, it is easy to cover a lot of ground. Worth taking the time to find the temples a bit further away though!

    Some of the awesome street art we found:

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    Penang tips:

  • Buses leave from the jetty. No need for an expensive, inflated taxi
  • Taxi’s are supposed to be metred. All our attempts to enforce this in Penang failed. Taxi apps are the best way round this and make the fare more reasonable! Uber, Grab and Mytexi are your best bets.
  • Don’t waste your time or money going up Penang Hill if it’s cloudy. There is literally nothing to see apart from cloud. The view from Kek Lok Si is much better on a cloudy day. It does look like would be pretty good on a clear day though 😀
  • One we didn’t realise til we left! The ferry from Penang to Butterworth is free. Butterworth to Penang is also relatively inexpensive. Significantly less than reaching by Langkawi! And also saves you an hour and a half travelling time.
  • Always check and ask the times of transfer buses! We had booked a bus to Mallaca at 10pm. ‘Come back at 9.30’ she said. We returned at 9.36 and were told we had missed the bus. She had never made it clear to us there was an earlier transfer bus, nor even said “bus leaves at 9.30, not 10.” Our ticket said ‘Leaves at 10pm.’ Informed we would have to get a taxi to the other station, she said she would helpfully ask the bus to wait… We reach Sungai Nibong from Komtar and get there before the bus even arrived… On asking, I was informed that the bus definitely left the other terminal at 10pm. We’re still genuinely confused… We actually had enough time to walk to the ferry and pick the bus up in Butterworth as well…
  • There is a free CAT bus that leaves from the jetty and circles the city, stopping at lots of tourist sites.
  • There are street art walking maps which detail and explain some of the stories.
  • We stayed:Red Inn Court
    Lovely and cosy, comfy, great location. Ask for a room with a/c. Breakfast is basic but many cheap options nearby. Where Ben learnt how tasty pao was 😏.

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