In spending 3 days in the city we barely cross paths with other travelers. While the city has huge potential as a popular, tourist destination the trails of backpackers and mass tourism passes by in favour of the popular Penang and Langkawi beach resorts. We arrive to Penang by train from Bangkok Thailand (via Butterworth) and we book onward bus travel in advance using Easybook. Here is our Quick guide to Georgetown Penang.
From its origins as a British trading post (late 18th Century) George Town developed through trade and cultural exchange to become a truly unique, multicultural city. The city’s multicultural harmony is best seen in Central Georgetown where 3 prominent temples sit side by side at the corner of Queen Street and Kapitan Keling. Sri Mahamariamman Temple (Indian Hindu), Han Jiang Temple (Chinese Ancestral) and Kapital Keling (Muslim Mosque). Heritage sites are free (or small fee) and local Government provides a complimentary a hop-on, hop-off bus to loop the city’s Unesco area (Our Guide to Georgetown Unesco Area).
Taxis do have meters but rarely (never) use them. Frustrating. Within the city a taxi rarely exceeds 2oRM and expect to pay around 10RM for the shorter trips. To be safe ask your hotel receptionist for taxi prices to specific locations. The city offers a free CAT Bus (Central Area Transit) which routes the UNESCO heritage sites. Buses are provided by Penang State Government and loop every 15minutes with 19 hop-on, hop-off stops. For more information check here. When staying in the central UNESCO area (advised) you can get around on foot or pushbike. Check here for travel to Penang from Bangkok and here for Penang to Langkawi.
George Town is the perfect food city bringing a distinct mix of cultures and a wide and diverse mixing pot of Asian cuisines. Food is everywhere. Street vendors, roadside restaurants, seafront hawker markets. Some of the popular eating areas to note are Little India (Central), Chinatown (Central) and Gurney Drive night market (10RM taxi to East Coast). Note, many foods don’t appear until evening hours (6pm). A good area to stay for street food bustle, day and night, is Chulia street and surrounding areas.
The heritage hotels in George Town are quite spectacular, the gem being Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (below). However heritage hotels do require extensive upkeep meaning those in the lower price range tend to be slightly haggard and musty. The best area to stay is the central Unesco area where attractions are accessible by foot. There are no ugly tourist areas in the city and even the popular backpacker area (Muntri Street, Chulia Street, Love Lane) is rather tame. My preferred budget stay is at Chulia Heritage hotel.
Without mass tourism on the island tour operators find it hard to provide low cost bus tours. Tours are generally organised independently with small minibuses taking 1-8 people. While independent tours are relatively expensive, they can be tailored to your itinerary and you won’t find crowds of snapping tourists holding you back at the tourist hot spots.
We organised a private Penang Island Tour with our hotel 120RM (as below). The driver also booked and picked up boat tickets for Langkawi and dropped us at the pier the following morning.
1. Penang Hill View Point by funicular rail, 2. Kek Lok Si (Temple of Supreme Bliss), 3. Thien Kong Than (Temple of Heavenly Lord) , 4. Tua Peh Kong (Bats’ Cave Temple) 5. Wat Chayamangkalaram (Thai Reclining Buddha Temple), 6. Dhammikarama Temple (Burmese Temple) 7. Drop -off at Fort Cornwallis
If you have seen Hong Kong or Singapore views then Penang Hill may not be your best tour option. The views aren’t spectacular. Another (cheaper) option for Penang Hill views is a taxi to Waterfall temple which sits close to the top. I think these views were equally on par.