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
  • This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    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:

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    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 😏.

A Week in Langkawi

From KL Sentral we head north. Past rivers and trees, from built up residential areas, to huts and grand houses; the landscape changes. The contrast between rich and poor evident. The occasional temple, colourfully adorned, comes into view. Becoming mountainous, new builds to old, we arrive into the open expanse of water and boats near Butterworth. Reaching Kuala Perlis and buying our ferry tickets, we relax with some tasty nasi goreng.

After a hot ferry, our arrival into Kuah is met with a raft of many taxi drivers. Apparently non negotiable the fares are already set. Costing us 30 ringgit (£6) to get to Pantai Cenai, it actually was a fair flung distance. Our planned chill and down time, relaxing on the beach was the main aim. Pantai Cenai a bit rough in the water, we found some calmer beaches north west further round the road.

Langkawi

We choose to spend one of our day’s snorkelling at Pulau Payar. An ‘organised’ tour with at least 8 buses worth of people, I think this puts the amount of people that were on the beach in Ko Phi Phi in Thailand where the Beach movie was filmed to shame. Obviously trying to maximise profits, the amount of people in the water was ridiculous! Most seemingly staying close to shore with life jackets, escaping along the coastline by ourselves I managed to see a foot long shark! Nice to be in the water, unfortunately left with some sore sunburn (the hazards of a cloudy day and forgetting to do the back of my legs – I know, my bad) we were left exhausted at having to contend with so many people…

One of my favourite days in Langkawi though was motorbiking around most of the island. Stopping by Eagle Point in Kuah, taking our time at Wat Koh Wanararm (Lucky Temple) (it was awesome), finding Sri Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple by the side of the road, enjoying tasty, cheap Indian food in the restaurant opposite it, driving through Kilim Nature Park, then an impromptu climb of Gunung Raya – the highest point in Langkawi (they even give you tea!), at only 10 ringgit and no other tourists it was a peaceful haven of stillness with a crackingly awesome view :-).

Eagle Point

Also using the motorbike to get to the well reviewed Langkawi cable car (no buses on the island), the ride to the top was very cool, if a bit tourist centric (many necessary pictures to pass barriers as well as an extra charge to reach the skydeck – be warned the ‘nature walk’ to get there involved many steps in the sweltering heat! Recommend paying the extra not to walk if it’s hot!) With a disappointing, cloud obscured view from the skydeck it felt a bit overpriced and taken advantage of. Perhaps just luck as to the weather at the top, I’m totally backing Gunung Raya instead! 🙂

Langkawi cable car

Langkawi was certainly the most expensive destination we stayed in Malaysia. Obviously paying for the beach front and the variety of option, they certainly know how to get money out of you! The amount of development on the island, the many, newly built, expensive houses, the effect of tourism on the island is evident. I’m glad we had had a few days in KL first and had found food cheaply around 6-10 ringgit and knew to explore around. Told that alcohol was cheap as there was no tax in Langkawi, they make up for it in retail charges! Cocktails between 20 and 40 ringgitt, when you can eat for 8, it is the equivalent of buying a £10 burger and a £50 bottle of wine! Admittedly yes, spend well on holiday, Ben and myself were both of the opinion that if you can do it a little bit cheaper most nights you should. :-).

Great to be at the beach, the cool breeze very welcome and enjoyable (less mozzies too!), some peaceful nights sat on the beach under the stars, tasty food, admittedly with some negative points (hotel not great and the cost involved), it was some much needed down time in a pretty location.

Langkawi tips:

  • Don’t bother with the cable car. Drive/motorbike your way to the top of Gungun Raya. We genuinely don’t understand why there weren’t more tourists there.
  • If motorbiking round the island, if you need fuel, you need to go into the fuel station, put some money down, then fill up then collect change. 5 ringgit is plenty, most often we were 2 or 3 to fill the tank.
  • We tried murtabak, claypot chicken and nasi lemak. Yum!
  • Eat where it is busy and where there are locals. Generally much cheaper and tastier

Cheap and tasty food stalls

We stayed:

Royal Agate Beach Resort. I wouldn’t recommend. Wifi was awful. Either somewhere cheaper which you expect to be cheap or splash out for somewhere nice.

A Wee Malaysian Adventure

I was keen to scratch a bit more of Asia off my scratchy map… Vietnam and Cambodia first choice, their monsoon season in August led us to decide upon Malaysia for this year’s explorings instead. With an itinerary of 2 and a half days in Kuala Lumpur, 7 days in Langkawi, 2 days in Penang then 3 days in Melaka we had half of this booked before we left and booked the rest as we travelled. Finding other’s blogs the most helpful in planning our journey, it has inspired to rework those blogging fingers that have been resting for far too long…

Our journey begins in Kuala Lumpur. We choose to stay in Chinatown guided by a blog describing different areas to stay in Kuala Lumpur. Our Malaysia book suggests we head to the nearby Merdeka Square. Overseen by the Pitcher Plant fountain and the gaze of officials, the grassy square is surrounded by important buildings. We spent a little time there and then choose to cool down on the hop-on, hop-off bus service which was 45 ringgit. Approx £9. Taking around 2 and a half to three hours to complete the whole route we stayed on until the Petronas Towers stop. It takes a long time to travel through busy city life. Past the National Palace, skyscrapers, parks and peaceful lakes, we climbed the KL Tower to cast our view over the city. Over 100 ringgit, we found this expensive for a tourist attraction (approx £20!). A pretty good view though! A wander round Chinatown found us dinner that night.

Merdeka Square

The fountain at Merdeka Square

If you've ever seen Entrapment...

If you’ve ever seen Entrapment…

View of Kuala Lumpur

Guided by blogs, our next day’s explorings were the Batu Caves. Easily reached by the KTM Kommuter Train, ferried through a narrow walkway filled with locals selling goods to tourists (they are very good at making use of small spaces to sell items!) we were met by a large green God guarding a temple. Many monkeys! The reviews I had read made the stairs sound quite an effort but it wasn’t as bad as I expected! It was a bit overcast when we were there which probably helped and was very welcome :-). Much to wander around for free we also chose to explore the priced ‘dark cave’. It was cool to see the cave but the ongoing stops to look at insects and cave life got a little annoying. Individual preference though… Great to explore, with the many colourful carvings everywhere, these caves should definitely be added to your KL itinerary. Back by lunchtime, it takes approximately half a day to explore.

Sri Maha Mariamman Temple and Sze Ya Temple squeezed in, we explored the butterfly garden in the afternoon (good to make some cool macro pictures), we had a peaceful walk through the Botanics, chose dinner in Little India then headed to the towers via the train to catch the last light show. Choosing to sit so I could see the towers in the background, most people were in front of them, with the building’s height behind them. Nice colours, interesting music – it was a great way to end our time in KL.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple


KL pointers:

  • Allow enough time to clear immigration on leaving. It took us an hour.
  • The train is inexpensive and easy to travel via. Avoids the taxi meter challenge!
  • The gardens beside the Petronas Towers shut at 10pm. If you are watching the light show position yourself somewhere not in it to avoid being hassled!
  • There are two Little India’s! We only managed one but there is definite confusion on tripadvisor and guide books!

We stayed:

Geo Hotel
Pretty good location, good A/C and wifi, but same limited choices for breakfast every day!