Guide: Penang, Malaysia

MTW’s quick Guide to Pulau Penang off the top of his head. I haven’t been back in many years so a few things could have changed. I tried to keep things general so the info isn’t too dated. Please enjoy.  



Gurney Hotel – It’s got four bars. The crowd is mostly Chinese and therefore good for a lot of free drinks with no trouble. There’s always foreigners in the crowd, easy to approach. I used to meet English girls that taught school there. Big place and a place we went a lot to – every taxi driver will know it. It’s on the landmark Gurney Drive, a big sea wall with some decent views of the ocean. This is in Georgetown.

Chulia Street – This is the main drag for backpackers. There’s an English pub on this street that is fully air-conditioned. There’s all kinds of bars that cater to young travellers. There were a few bars on this street that I avoided because there were full of Australian services men and therefore dangerous. I drank at the Reggae Bar a few times, which is fun and chill. The Nigerians that frequent the place tend to be a little aggressive. This is in Georgetown’s Chinatown. The street called Lover’s Lane just off of Chulia Street is famous for its Lady-Boys, who can be aggressive towards men. 

*It is a Muslim country so you probably don’t want to dress like you would if you were going out in Europe (at least at first until you see what the vibe is like). You will see Chinese girls dressed in all kinds of revealing cloths but they could very well be prostitutes that don’t mind being harassed all the time. Men in Penang will squawk at you in this weird way to get your attention and calling out to women on the street is pretty common. It’s mostly harmless and a sad form of flattery.


Things to See

Chinatown – Chinatown is right in the heart of Georgetown. The Chinese seemed to be having celebrations and ceremonies the whole time I was in Penang. The festival of the Hungry Ghost tends to be the most interesting but they always seem to be up to something. The Chinese food is not like an English take away but still very tasty and should be tried. The Chinese tend to speak less English than the Indians and Malays. The architecture is old Chinese mixed with old colonial England and is great for photos. I have photos of the jungle growing up through these old mansions that look very artistic and historic.

Little India – Little India is quite close to Chinatown. It is smaller but more intense. You see religious shops selling all kinds of decorations. Like everything in Penang, it’s all about the food. The sweets are excellent and the people seem genuinely friendly. The madras coffee that is sold on the street and in restaurants is some of the best in the world and they put on a big display of pouring it in all of these wild ways. Italian girls have told me that the Madras coffee was even better than the coffee in Italy. Check out the Hindu temples around town, they are the most surreal and colourful things you will come across. Huge temples full of amazing statues of Gods.


Batu Ferringhi – The markets were excellent when I was there. I used to buy stacks of CDs for one euro each. Prices may have changed but do bargain with anybody selling things on the street. The prices are very negotiable. If you are more than one buying CDs, put them together in a stack and tell them how much you want to pay. You will save up to 50% off the price. The shopping should be good as long as the government hasn’t cracked down on trade in pirated goods. The restaurants are very good along the road that runs along the beach. The hotels all have great pools for sunbathing. The weather is always excellent.

The Snake Temple – People will talk you into going to the [simpletag]Snake Temple[/simpletag] but I was very disappointed and don’t particularly like snakes. There was a guy with a snake around his neck scaring people. The temple was full of boring snakes hanging in trees. There weren’t interesting and the place came off as a tourist trap.

*I’m trying to think of the other places people will talk you into going. I wasn’t really a tourist there so I’m not sure what else was on offer. There’s a few malls around that aren’t really cheap compared to things sold on the street and are rather dull.


Madras New Woodlands – This place was very popular with my friends while I was in [simpletag]Penang[/simpletag]. It’s fully air conditioned…after you’ve been there awhile you’ll understand why I mention air conditioning all the time. It’s incredibly humid. The food is all vegetarian and excellent, clean and formal compared to the street vendors. Thali is a set meal so you can try a whole bunch of different things for a really reasonable price. It’s only served at lunch. Ask the waiter for suggestions for starters. This place is right in Little India and the coffee is exceptional.
Address: Sdn Bhd, 42-A, 1st floor, Jalan Telawi Lima, Bangsar Baru, 2825-8256

Banana Leaf – This isn’t a restaurant but more a style of eating. It’s southern Indian cuisine. Most Indian food in England is North Indian. In Malaysia it will be South Indian. South Indians serve rice and curry on a banana leaf for a plate. They will usually use their hands to eat, which is a delicate and subtle art. I’m no good at it so I make a mess. I’m sure the waiters will offer you a spoon and fork. The waiters will come around with a big bucket of lentil curry and put it on your rice and then offer you all kinds of Indian pickles and salads. This a cheap and interesting way to eat and most Indians speak English so you can just ask them what kind of restaurant it is or snoop around look for banana leafs. Restaurants are usually open air so you can just walk in, look around and leave if you don’t like it.



Nasi Khandar – [simpletag]Nasi Khandar[/simpletag] is a large buffet that is often served on the street. [simpletag]Malaysia[/simpletag]ns are very proud of this and enjoy seeing foreigners trying their delicacies. There is often Malaysian curry and all kinds of things to choose from. Avoid things like chicken livers that float in the curry. They are like an awful paste in your mouth. Everything else is usually great. You only pay for what you take and the waiter usually sizes up the meal before you begin eating. He or she decides how much it costs, then writes it down on your bill. After nightclubs close people often go have nasi khandar before they go home. I did all the time. It was like an after hours place just with no booze and great food. A lot of the best chat in the evening happened at these places.

*Chinese food, tandoori, nasi goreng (fried rice), mee goring (fried noodles), satay are all good. I ate street food all the time and ate in little open air restaurants. The food is the best in the world and cheap. I lay awake at night daydreaming about the food in Penang. Every meal was excellent and even better if it was accompanied by large bottles of Tiger Beer. I spent much of my year sitting in open air restaurants drinking Tiger Beer eating three or four meals over several hours. It was so hot I never gained any weight and looking back on it…it seems like paradise.

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