As I sit here in our housesit writing in chilly Oxfordshire, England I am dreaming of the warm days we spent in Georgetown, Penang. Although we have been to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos this was our first time in Malaysia and we were excited to visit a new destination. Georgetown was a late addition to our itinerary on the suggestion of friends and family particularly as we were told Penang has the best food and great street art – they know us well! And they were right.
Georgetown was our first stop in our month of delicious tropical adventures and we were both excited to start this new phase of our lives, and exhausted from packing up our lives in New Zealand. The first thing that hits us in Penang is the wave of heat at 7pm. The type of heat that reminds us very quickly that we are back in South East Asia, back to hot days and nights, and new discoveries around every corner.
As generally happens when I head off on holiday and start relaxing, I got sick with a nasty cold three days into our week. Being sick when travelling sucks, but what can you do. So rather than a week of Georgetown exploration I only had three days but thank goodness for delicious Malaysian soups, tropical fruit and air conditioning which helped me manage my cold.
Hopefully, this quick guide to a week in Georgetown gives you some insight into how great Georgetown is, and why it should definitely be on your list to visit!
Where is Georgetown, Penang
Georgetown is the capital of Penang and is located at the North Western tip of Penang Island. It is Malaysia’s second largest city. The centre of Georgetown has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Georgetown has a wonderful mix of Asian and European architecture and has gained a reputation as Foodie Central in Malaysia. Sitting at the crossroads of Malay, Chinese and Indian Cuisine it is not hard to see why the food is so spectacular.
Getting there and getting around
We flew to Penang from Hong Kong – an easy flight, and the last of almost a full day of travel. We had arranged for our hotel to pick us from the airport, however Uber and taxis are fairly easily accessible too. It took about 45 minutes to get to our hotel. Arriving in Georgetown was a bit of a shock to the system – it was hot. Very hot. 33c and very humid hot. When we weren’t walking around we used Uber. It was very efficient and very inexpensive.
Our budget for a week in Georgetown was $1000/£500 – with 3/4 of the budget being spent on accommodation. For all food (we ate like kings), incidentals and a couple of medical items our budget for the week was $250/£125. So, Georgetown is a great value destination.
What did we do?
We spent a lot of time exploring the City. For the first few days, we took advantage of our jet lag and headed out to explore Georgetown before the City woke up. Georgetown is beautiful and there is plenty to see and do, and in the three days, I was up to doing things we managed to pack quite a bit in.
I was particularly interested in seeing the Street Art in Georgetown and was not disappointed at all. Street Art in Georgetown was kicked off in 2008 by the Government commissioning an exhibition titled ‘Sculpture at Work’. These original wrought iron art pieces can still be found in Georgetown, and have since been joined by an ever-growing list of iconic and beautiful street art. I hadn’t realised how much of the Georgetown Street Art I had already seen in books, but it was extra special to be seeing it in person. By hitting the streets early we were able to see a lot of street art without hordes of other people there too. You can get a map from your hotel and create your own self-guided tour to find the Street Art.
We love to get out and walk around when we hit new places. You get to see a different side of a place on foot – you can veer down narrow alleys, peer into stores, and smell the city. Things which you can’t do from a car. We have no problems hitting our 10k steps a day, and spend hours wandering – often without maps – to see what we discover. The old streets of Georgetown have been recognised by UNESCO as part of a World Cultural Heritage Site. By wandering the streets we get to admire the mix of Chinese, Muslim and colonial era architecture. It is easy to get distracted in Georgetown – old tiles, windows, street art, different building styles shoulder to shoulder with stores selling modern wares. If you head to Georgetown take the time to walk around – it really is the best way to see what the town has to offer.
An important rite of passage when travelling in South East Asia is hitting up the night markets. Once the temperature cools slightly, many locals head to their market for dinner – taking the opportunity to eat fresh, delicious food cooked by experts. Different Street Food markets are open for breakfast and lunch, and are slightly more sedate – but the food is equally as delicious and plentiful. We did a lot of eating in Georgetown (see below), the street food markets always provide a unique atmosphere. We managed to go to one about 10 minutes walk from our hotel – and it was heaving with people. So good, so delicious – we had fresh satay, fresh coconuts and coconut pancakes! As you can see plenty of people – must mean the food is great – right? Yes indeedy. Don’t be afraid to get in there and try a few dishes – even if you aren’t quite sure what it is you are eating. Give it a go – you never know you may make an amazing culinary discovery, or find your next favourie.
Food (of course)!
The food in Georgetown has to be some of the best food we have ever tasted. Just around the corner from our hotel were a couple of street food markets, which we dove right into as soon as we arrived. By asking the folk at the hotel we discovered more street food markets and got to try some amazing food – oyster pancakes anyone? Friends and family also provided a list of restaurants to try – amazing Indian, Chinese and Malay restaurants serving superb food- which we did. We did not have one disappointing meal the whole time we were there. Even when I was crook, the soup from the Street Food vendor was amazing and hit the spot. Of course, the other thing you must eat in Georgetown is the tropical fruit – it would be rude not too! Andy wrote about it here.
Work (yes, work!)
I still had work to do so found a fantastic co-working space in Georgetown. aCAT Penang was the perfect place to park up and work. Really good facilities, wifi – and a well-stocked kitchen with loads of snacks. We have discovered some great co-working spaces around the world and this is definitely one of the better ones.
Check out our Top Things to do in Penang post for more ideas for your visit to Georgetown.
Where to Stay in Georgetown, Penang
We stayed at the lovely Noordin Mews in Georgetown. This boutique hotel is located in a historical building in Central Penang, a short 10-minute walk from Georgetown Old Town. Our room was huge and fronted onto the lovely pool at the hotel. It is a small hotel with very helpful staff and beautiful facilities. If you are heading to Penang, you should definitely check out the Noordin Mews, we think it is one of the best places to stay in Georgetown.
So, should you visit Georgetown?
Absolutely, yes! We loved it and want to go back and spend more time exploring and soaking in Penang life. Georgetown is a great place to go if you are nervous about visiting Asia – it will show you there is nothing to be nervous about. Even for well-seasoned travellers to this part of the world, Georgetown has lots to offer you won’t find in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia or Laos. So, Georgetown gets two thumbs up from us!
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You might also like these posts from our South East Asian travels:
- Top Things to do in Penang
- South East Asian Packing Essentials
- Is Visiting Ho Chi Minh City Worth It?
- Where to Stay in Hanoi