WHY IS GEORGE TOWN IN PENANG SO FAMOUS? IS IT WORTH VISITING PENANG DURING A TRIP TO MALAYSIA? WHAT ARE THE BEST REASONS TO VISIT GEORGE TOWN?
Penang is a small island located on the west coast of Malaysia.
In fact, Penang is one of the best things to see in Malaysia if you ask us… Less known to travelers to Asia, compared to Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, Penang is nevertheless full of charms, cultural heritage and the food capital of Malaysia!
We particularly enjoyed spending time in George Town, the capital of Penang. In 2008, the city was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Still not sure whether you want to visit Penang and George Town? We have compiled a list of the best reasons why you should visit George Town in Malaysia.
REASON 1: George Town in Penang is the culinary capital of Malaysia!
For most of us, eating good food is important (even essential).
In that case, George Town is for you, as it is nicknamed “Malaysia’s Culinary Capital”.
The food in George Town is really exceptional. There are so many specialties at affordable prices.
For the best street food in town, head to Love Lane (here), and Kimberley Street (here). For great fusion restaurants, fancy cafes and more western influenced food, visit Beach Street (here) and Armenian Street (here).
If you fancy Indian food, simply walk around Little India, you will find countless delicious Indian restaurants (location of Little India in Penang).
Famous dishes in Penang
- Char Kway Teow is a national favorite. It is a dish of flat rice noodles sautéed in soy sauce, prawns, cockles and bean sprouts.
- Popiah is a kind of fresh spring roll. Think soft pancake-like skin wrapped in stewed radishes, fresh vegetables and a sweet, gooey sauce.
- Asam Laksa is a spicy-sour soup made from fish, served with thick white noodles. In Penang, asam laksa gets its tart, fishy taste from tamarind and mackerel.
- Nasi kandar is a meal of biryani (flavored) rice served with curries and side dishes. It is a Malay meal, originally from Penang.
- Rojak means “mixture” in Malay. That’s exactly what rojak is: a jumble of deep-fried batter, tofu, cuttlefish, and fruit smothered in a thick, syrupy sauce and sprinkled with peanuts.
- Lor mee is a dish of yellow noodles and/or bee hoon (rice vermicelli) dipped in a thick, dark sauce.
- Mee Goreng: If you love noodles, you can’t leave Penang without trying the local mee goreng. Mee goreng is a fried noodle dish. Thin yellow noodles are fried with garlic, onion and shallots.
- Fried Oyster Omelette! This is our favorite in Penang. Also called oh chien, this dish is made with eggs, oysters and tapioca flour. Simple but divine taste! You gotta try.
For many, food is one of the best reasons to visit George Town in Penang, but not only…
REASON 2: Street art IS EVERYWHERE AND IT’S BEAUTIFUL!
Street art is one of George Town’s favorite features for travelers. We also fell in love with these works of art.
Paintings and sculptures blend into the walls of the city’s buildings. Blending so well with the decor of the city, you can sometimes pass by without paying attention. But with a closer look, you will notice the fabulous work that has been done.
Who is at the origin of street art in George Town? For what purpose was it set up?
It all started with a contest launched by the Penang state government.
On September 7, 2009, an international competition was held aimed at exploring innovative ideas in art and design to then exhibit works on the streets of the city. Of the 40 participants (Malaysian and foreigners), it was the artistic studio Sculpture At Work that triumphed with its original concept “Voices of People”.
These are the same artists who created the famous Hard Rock Café guitar in Malacca.
Then, 52 unique and humorous illustrations in the form of iron sculptures were installed against the walls of buildings in the city.
During the George Town Festival in 2012, Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to paint his creations on the walls of the city, including the most famous “Kids on bicycle”. Since then, other artists have contributed to the popularity of street art in George Town.
It is an endless pleasure to walk the streets in search of the paintings and sculptures created by these artists of undeniable talent.
How to find them?
at the tourist office you can get a map which lists the street arts in Penang.
However, you can simply walk around George Town and you will many of them in pretty much every streets.
Some of our favorites are “Boy on Motorbike” (here), “Kids on bicycle” by Ernest Zacharevic (here), “I want Bao” (here), Boy on Chair (here), Brother & Sister on a Swing (here). We recommend to pin those on Google Map, not to miss it, as some of them are located in small alleys which you wouldn’t necessary see.
REASON 3: LITTLE INDIA AND CHINA TOWN IN GEORGE TOWN ARE SO AMAZING!
This dynamic district covers 3 main streets: Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Queen and Jalan Pasar. Inside these, you will inevitably hear this traditional music that animates all Little India.
Many shops can be found in the area. They bring color to the streets of George Town.
But what we adored above all in Little India, were the stands of Indian culinary specialties. All these preparations make you want to taste them one by one. Everyone is working on their recipe, to name a few: tandoori chicken, naan cheese and all kinds of colorful pastries.
George Town has a large population of Chinese descent, most of whom are clustered in the Chinatown district. It is bordered by the following streets: Lebuh King, Lebuh Stewart, Lebuh Muntri and Lebuh Campbell.
At these places, you will have the opportunity to come across local food stalls, both savory and sweet. Among the most famous pastries, there are the Bean Paste Pastry made from bean paste where a message is written on the top of the cake.
Chinatown is also a unique shopping area. Products such as jade, traditional costumes, crystals, herbs, medicines and traditional Chinese antiques can be found here.
Make sure to also visit the Clan Jetties, which was built by Chinese immigrants. Today it forms a beautiful floating village. Another good reason to visit George Town in Penang.
REASON 4: PENANG IS FULL OF HISTORICAL BUILDINGS
Cheong Fatt Tze, the Blue Mansion
The building was built in the 1880s at the request of Cheong Fatt Tze, a powerful Chinese businessman. Built in a traditional style, this mansion has 38 rooms, 5 paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 wooden windows.
Today, the residence is partly used as a hotel and a museum. You can then choose to visit the house for an hour or spend the night there.
The house has also won several awards such as the Best of Malaysia Travel Awards in 2008, making it one of the most important attractions in George Town.
Penang Khoo Kongsi
Built nearly 650 years ago, this house brought together Chinese people belonging to the same clan to venerate their ancestors. At the time, 5 major clans separated the community.
It represented a way to engage socially and spiritually with their ancestors and the outside community. Today, this type of house is used for the education of children or to manage conflicts.
Located on Jalan Acheh, it is one of the most ornate kongsis (“clan house”) in Penang and the most beautiful of the other 4 clans.
This impressive architectural feat symbolizes luck and prosperity. Stone carvings adorn the entrance hall. Murals depict birthdays and weddings. Statues of the 36 divine guardians are scattered inside. The large paper lamps hung above your heads give off an orange glow. Stunning ceramic sculptures of carp and dragons line the roof.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion
At the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, where you can fully appreciate the noble Chinese Way of Life in the 19th Century.
Indeed, Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a 19th century Chinese house of a wealthy family in Penang. This is now converted into a museum which showcases the culture and traditions followed by the Chinese during this period.
Through a visit of the somptuous Mansion, you will learn more about the Chinese beliefs, their customers and the importance of Feng Shui.
The mansion is a real treasure with so many things to see.
Reason 5: George Town a multicultural city with various religious sites
Kapitan Keling Mosque
Built in 1801, it is the largest mosque in George Town.
The prayer room inside, already very spacious, seems twice as large thanks to its atypical decor. Pretty calligraphy is displayed on the walls and the stained glass windows highlight magnificent geometric arabesques.
The white marble floor is sometimes covered with a few prayer rugs scattered all over the place.
It is of course possible to visit the mosque. All you need is proper attire: pants or a long skirt for women and a shirt for men. You will also have to remove your shoes before entering the building.
Another good reason to visit Goerge Town!
Kuan Yin Temple
Built in 1728, it is the oldest Buddhist temple in Penang. It was erected in honor of the goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin.
Its architecture is rather classic with high ceilings and stone and ceramic sculptures partly representing dragons.
In the prayer hall, you can see small red lanterns hanging above you. You will also come face to face with the statue of the beautiful goddess. The two wells in the outer courtyard, where you can deposit incense, are intended for the public, while those inside are reserved for the monks.
Sri Mariamman Temple
Built in 1833, this Hindu temple, dedicated to the god Lord Subramaniam, is the oldest on the island. Its facade perfectly illustrates the typical architecture of Hindu temples.
Its impressive entrance tower (“gopuram”), 7 meters high, includes 38 sculptures of soldiers, gods and goddesses, floral decorations, swans that offer magnificent colors. If you look closely, you will notice that there are 4 levels inside.
In the sanctuary, you will see the statue of the god Lord Subramaniam expertly decorated with jewels as well as a collection of more than 40 statues of deities and lions.
These are some of the best reasons to visit George Town in Penang. Of course, there is so much more to see in Penang. Here we listed the 20 best things to see on the island.
Now that George Town has no more secrets for you, we hope to have shed some light on your hesitations. As far as we are concerned, we really enjoyed our stay here. We strongly recommend this destination to those who are passionate about history, art and gastronomy. Let us know in the comments if you would like to go!