Honeymoon Day 12-22
Oh, we have so much to say about Penang! For us, Penang, Malaysia is a new favorite. Not because “there is so much to see and do here!”, or because it’s a “must visit in 2018”. What appealed to us the most was the diverse culture, laid-back atmosphere, friendly locals, and AMAZING food. Seriously, Penang, Malaysia is a culinary paradise thanks, in part, to its diverse cultural heritage.
And to think we nearly missed out on Penang!
I honestly wasn’t that hyped for Penang when we started our trip. I brought up the idea of a return visit to Kuala Lumpur and Melaka as an alternative to Penang. Maybe it was the idea of another long bus ride added to an already long transit that put me off on Penang. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t really excited for the trip north.
Thankfully, I lost the argument and we gave the city a chance!
We have written a lot about our love for Malaysia,
- Why Digital Nomads Should Move To Malaysia
- 48 Hours In Kuala Lumpur
- Spending A Week In Kota Kinabalu
- Our Amazing Tour In Sabah
But even after double-digit trips to Malaysia, there are still more amazing places to see.
What Penang Doesn’t Have
So, even though we fell in love with Penang there are still a number of downsides to the city.
Major tourist attractions.
George Town calls tourists for its history, architecture, and food. With that said, there aren’t really any huge attractions that would pull in tourists. The highlights of our trip included the George Town WonderFood Museum and the Cheong Fat Tze Blue Mansion. Neither of which compare to Disneyland on a level of awesome.
The Thai Buddhist Temple and Burmese Buddhist Temple are both great to visit if you have the time. Although, if you’ve traveled around South-East Asia it’s likely that you’ve seen similarly impressive temples already.
If you’re happy learning about the history of the Melaka Straits, and like visiting old buildings then George Town is perfect for you. If not, you will quickly get bored here.
Penang is really quiet.
Perhaps it was the timing of our visit, or we might have looked in the wrong places, but nightlife in Penang is practically non-existent. A big factor might also be the high price of beer and alcohol in this Muslim majority country. Whatever the reason, don’t expect to party it up much in Georgetown – unless you’re looking to chug over-priced beers at your guesthouse. I don’t think this is much of a downside, but keep in mind that this is no Pattaya.
The homeless problem.
If you walk around George Town you will undoubtedly see a number of homeless living on the streets. The interesting thing is that all of the homeless that we saw were elderly men who drive bicycle-powered rickshaws. The rickshaws serve as a source of income, as they pedal tourists around the city, and as a shelter when they sleep for the night. Consider hiring one of these drivers to take you on a tour of the city. The cost, 35MYR / $8.50 per hour, is small but you will be making a positive impact when you travel.
The thought of a working-homeless population really hit me. During our time in George Town, we were never asked for money or food as a handout – we were only asked for the opportunity to do an hour or two of work. If you head to George Town in the future, consider taking a ride around the city with one of these rickshaw drivers.
Okay, the heat and humidity shouldn’t really be a downside. I mean, it’s the same as anywhere else in South-East Asia so this is not a Penang problem. But if heat is a problem you would be better off heading to a cooler destination like the popular Cameron Highlands. As of this writing, Penang shows a high of 34C/93F with a real feel reaching to 38C/101F! In comparison, the weather in the Cameron Highlands shows a high of 19C/66F with a pleasant real feel of 24C/76F.
We had some sweaty days in Penang, Malaysia – 11 to be exact – but at this point, we are pretty used to it! It’s no different than summer in Taiwan and we have survived a few of those already!
What Penang Does Have
Penang is not exactly well known internationally, and it is not a common choice for expats and digital nomads, although that may change. However, after 20 days in the city, we left knowing that we will be making extended stays in the near future.
The city of George Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. The cities of George Town and Melaka together represent the historical and cultural significance of the Melaka Strait. In George Town, there are now several thousand historical buildings that are protected from destruction. There is a lot of development going on – shopping malls are an inevitable part of growth – but the city is able to keep its unique feel.
Even McDonalds fits with the World Heritage City theme. This is certainly the coolest McDonalds we’ve ever seen!
Another bonus is that you will find yourself staying in these old houses more often than not. Many people have purchased these homes in order to renovate them and convert them into guesthouses. This is probably the best use for them since they can no longer be torn down.
Booking.com has a great list of guesthouses in George Town, Malaysia and we will receive a small portion of the proceeds should you decide to book through our link!
Penang has a rich history as a trading port which dates back hundreds of years and catered to the demands of traders from India, China, and Europe. The best part about traveling is learning about the history of the places you visit – and Penang has a lot to offer. Here are a couple of places to read up on the history of Penang:
If you’re already in the city then you’re in luck. There are TONS of museums located around George Town. If they haven’t been turned into guesthouses, it seems like all the century-old buildings have been made into museums. Many of these museums deal with the local history of the region, although there are plenty of just-for-fun museums to be found. So when you’re in the city, open up google maps and check out the nearest museums!
The WonderFood Museum is a must-visit in our mind. You get to see hyper-realistic recreations of all the tasty dishes that you can find around Penang and the Malay Peninsula. It might seem strange to pay to look at food, but it really is worth it! There are descriptions next to all the displays that tell you about the dish. Also, check out the map before you exit which lists restaurants and locations of the most popular dishes in Penang. Keep a checklist as you wander the museum and go out for a feast after the museum!
The food in Penang was absolutely amazing, and possibly the greatest culinary experience we’ve had during our travels.
Food in Penang is noticeably influenced by its history as a trading port. Here you will find Chinese, Indian, and local Malay food spilling out onto every sidewalk everywhere you walk. The best part is the great number of immigrants who have helped keep the flavors and ingredients authentic over the years.
There is an abundance of Chinese and Malaysian cuisine waiting to be tried and is quite delicious. However, it was the Indian food that really stole the show. We spent ten days eating what was by far the most delicious Indian food we have ever had! We will hopefully have time to visit India next Spring so we will see if the assessment holds up under scrutiny.
If you visit George Town in the future, be sure to try the Tandoori Chicken – you won’t be disappointed!
Lastly, I’d say that the people in Penang were super friendly! I think the openness and hospitality shown to foreigners is due to Penang’s blending of cultures. We felt welcomed by everyone and were greeted by smiles everywhere we went. Of course, there isn’t much to say here as this is something you will need to experience for yourself.
I hope you all consider Penang as a stop on your next trip to Malaysia!
Follow Our Journey
Previous Stop – Stuck In KL Airport Overnight
Now – In Love With Penang, Malaysia
Next – Onward to Ipoh, Malaysia