Welcome to George Town, Penang, Malaysia!
We recently spent a few days roaming around the island of Penang, Malaysia and quite enjoyed this island connected by bridge to mainland Malaysia. While wandering the streets of George Town, we captured some cool photos and discovered some great places to check out. So rather than upload a few pics of the cool street art to Facebook, we thought we’d take a few extra minutes to publish a quick photo essay-of-sorts here on the blog and give some further detail about the adventures, eating, and drinking places we’ve found around Penang.
George Town is the main city on the island and part it is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its cultural significance.
The streets are a bit chaotic. Cars share the roadways with motorbikes and bicyclist and pedestrians. Yet somehow the flow of endless snarled traffic just seems to work. If all the cars swerving around you become a little too unnerving, perhaps consider a trishaw (3-wheeled bicycle rickshaw) instead.
Despite its horrible pedestrian infrastructure, what we really enjoyed (other than eating) was simply walking around town. It was interesting to see just how multicultural the city is. Within a few minutes walk there are Islamic mosques, Buddhist temples, Catholic churches, and Hindu temples. And everyone appears to get along. Seems the rest of the world could perhaps learn a thing or two from this otherwise chaotic Malaysian island.
Clan Jetties Around George Town, Penang
One of the areas that we enjoyed strolling through was the car-free clan jetties on the Eastern side of the island. Walking along the dilapidated wooden-planked housing area felt worlds away from the high-rise condos sprouting up on the other side of the island.
Street Art Around George Town, Penang
Also ducking down narrow alleyways and around corners there are some cool street are that really impressed us. Not since we were in Valparaiso, Chile have we seen such creative and unique designs of which many tended to incorporate real-life objects into the graffiti. We stumbled across a few dozen pieces and below are a few of our favorites.
Where to find street art in Penang: you can download this street art brochure and go on a bit of a scavenger hunt searching for each piece. Or visit the Penang Tourism Information Centre to pick up a hard copy. But also make sure to get a little lost and find others that may not be listed.
Adventure Off the Beaten Path in Penang Malaysia
While George Town is quite a busy city, you can head a few kilometers outside of town and be in the middle of a thick and mountainous jungle. You can join the rest of the tourists for a trip up the funicular at Penang Hill, but an alternative suggestion is to instead join the locals for a hash run through the jungle.
What is hashing? Never heard of hashing? Neither had Heather. This was her first run and I tried to explain to her what to expect. Its a ‘sport’ that actually begun in Malaysia but is practiced now all over the world. There’s likely even a hashing chapter where you live.
A “hare” sets a trail, marking the way with slips of paper for us to follow, usually by running, although its a bit different here in Penang. After the run lots of shenanigans, songs, and camaraderie ensue which is all tradition. An ongoing joke about hashing is that “its a drinking club with a running problem.” So where better to break Heather into this club than where it all started, right here in Malaysia!
Every Thursday the coed Hash Hound Harriet’s meet at a location around the island (posted on their website) for what is more of a muddy jungle climb/trek/swing/crawl rather than a run. It’s all great fun and a relatively safe way to explore the interior jungles without trails with a very friendly bunch of people who come from all walks of life throughout Penang.
Just follow the paper markers that are set up each week by the hare over rough untrodden jungle terrain.
Depending on the route, you may even be rewarded with a view too!
Perhaps best of all, this intensely hot & humid jungle workout is followed by plenty of cold beer and good food, all while chatting and laughing amongst new friends.
Being an outsider guest to this hash run, you may get called into the circle to drink it down, down, down, down, down.
If you go: Guests are asked for 10 Ringget donation (~$3). Know that routes can be physically demanding. Bring water. Bring a change of clothes. Bring a flashlight (torch), as runs often finish in the dark.
Eating Around Penang Malaysia
Some people travel to Penang simply for the food and we now understand why. You can’t walk more then a few feet without passing something delicious-smelling being whipped up at a food stall. This is foodie heaven and some of the best of the best eats can be found at street stalls.
But it can be a little intimidating and confusing trying to find the right hawker stall with a dish you’re looking for. That is why we really enjoyed a place called Red Garden. The stalls here were so much easier to navigate and had a great mix of local cuisine, adventurous eats, and international fare. If you’re looking for Penang staples such as fish head stew or frog porridge, you can definitely find it at Red Garden. But we stuck to less adventurous local fare instead. The char koay teow was the best we’ve ever had (well, its the only char koay teow we’ve ever had, but the saucy noodle dish was still incredible). We also dove into the seafood, which costs about 20 Ringget (~$6) including generous sides. A more interesting seafood find is the fried oyster omelet, in which the oysters are stir-fried (not battered, deep fried) and made for intriguingly delectable appetizer to try in this frenzied stall area. Lastly, we can also vouch that the guy at the Indian booth who can whip up a legit and fiery vindaloo.
But perhaps our absolute favorite place to eat in Penang was an unassuming restaurant called Tek Sen, which is without question the best Chinese food we have ever had! It came highly recommended to us by some of the hashers who live locally in Penang so we had to give it a try. After discovering its awesomeness, we returned again and again. I’m hesitant to even begin to attempt making a recommendation for what meal to choose, as each dish we devoured became our new favorite.
Nothing at Tek Sen particularly stood out above the pack simply because everything was so damn good. Yet it is the lingering sweet and tangy taste of the chicken in sour plum sauce that I keep thinking about and even leaves my mouth watering as I type this now. Also, I’m usually not a big fan of pork but the super tender double slow roasted pork in whatever thick dark sauce they coat it all with was out-of-this-world. And you must order a side of one of the unrecognizable local vegetables, sautéed with just enough kick and usually topped with a few bonus shrimp that almost seems as if they were accidentally slipped onto the plate. Despite these few recommendations, there’s really so much to choose from on the Tek Sen menu and I don’t think you can go wrong. A feast of this sort for two, with rice, usually cost about 50 ringget (~$13 USD) total. Tek Sen is, no doubt, a must-visit in Penang and one of our favorite meals to date!
Drinking Around Penang Malaysia
Perhaps one aspect of Penang that was a bit of a let down was a lack of fun places to grab a drink. After striking out on our own and from local recommendations, we turned to notable travel review sites and guides. We found Tripadvisor’s top recommended bar, Hong Kong Bar, was closed and didn’t appear to be anything special. Meanwhile Lonely Planet’s glowing review of [email protected] was a let down and just your run-of-the-mill bar. We were excited when we discovered the bar in Penang claiming to serve the most draft beer, Soho Free House, but were soon disappointed by its lacking selection, gloomy atmosphere, depressing soundtrack, and smoke filled room. And while the thumping clubs on Upper Penang Road were undoubtably going strong, the loud club scene is just not the place for us.
So where, oh where, can we get a drink around here?
The Red Garden, mentioned as an eating pick above, was also a fun place to linger and have a beer. There’s usually a delightfully awful musician playing on stage. Large bottles of beer are brought directly to your table and servers come around topping your glasses off after each sip. This place draws a varied crowd that makes for people watching at its very best and a wonderful place to suck down a few post-meal brews (16-18 MYR for big beers).
But it was just walking around aimlessly that we happened to stumble across the delightfully simple Antarabangsa Enterprises. Its not really a bar and rather a convenience store down a dark alley. The counter is manned by an overweight shirtless Chinese man. In between check-outs, him and a helper quickly put out plastic tables and chairs in front of the shop so you can sit and enjoy the beer or liquor you buy in his shop. Locals gather here, perhaps attracted by the extremely well-priced beer (cans of the typical Malaysian swill run less than 5 MYR). Its these patrons who provide the music, which comes in the form of a 1980’s boom box. Happy stray dogs wandering by only add to Antarabangsa’s gritty charm.
Stocked in the coolers, you can actually find a few decent German beers (~9-15 MYR) and even some Little Creatures Bright Ale (18 MYR), a craft beer from Australia! In fact, this place has the best beer selection I’ve seen in Malaysia so far and had among the lowest prices outside of duty-free Langkawi. With all things considered, this little dark-alley dumpy quicky mart, Antarabangsa Enterprises, is definitely our top drinking recommendation for Penang!