Planning your South East Asia backpacking trip? A must-visit is Penang, Malaysia! We have tips, tricks, and a whole list of street foods you have to try!

Penang, Malaysia: Why it should be on every backpacker’s wishlist.

The island of Penang, Malaysia has made a big mark on the backpacking radar, and for good reasons: there’s amazing, cheap food and photo ops left right centre. What more could a backpacker or travel blogger ask for?

Penang Malaysia
Happy to be in Penang!

The main town of Penang is Georgetown. It clearly still owns it’s British influenced name.

It has the most amazing street food.

Really there is and endless list of dishes and food you really should try, but here is a condensed version.

Char kway teow

Penang is famous for its char kway teow, so this is tops of the list. It’s fried flat noodles with soy sauce and spices and it’s really really delicious. No funky flavours, easy on a western pallet. Matti’s personal favourite.

If you’re a noodle person: What the Pho? A Guide to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Char Kway Teow
I’ll have ten please!

Asam Laska

Recommended if you are looking to try something different a new. Imagine spicy, sweet, a bit sour, fish broth over noodles. I would never know where to begin to cook this, but it’s a real flavour party.

Asam Laksa
Fishy, salty, spicy, sour? There is nothing like it.

White Curry

Red curry, yellow curry, green curry, why not white curry? Have your noodles covered in a delicious white curry sauce. It is usually served with various seafood items. Ours had a dark cube shaped something floating in it. We asked what it was… I was pork blood… Oh.

Wash it all down: Egg & Poop Coffee – Examining Asian Coffee (and tea!)

Durian

We came at the perfect time of the year to Penang, durian season! And our amazing family friend, Uncle Steven, hooked us up with his friend and brought us to his durian orchard to try fresh durian straight from the tree! The funniest thing, Matti went from thinking durian is poisonous, to actually liking the fresh good stuff! He ate probably two whole durians. Stuffing himself full right before dinner.

Durian Orchard Penang Malaysia
Enjoying fresh durians in the orchard

Egg tarts & Chinese pastries

Georgetown has cute Chinese pastry shops all though the city. Making sweets using century-old recipes, you bet these will be some great snacks. Egg tarts are always delicious, but be sure to try the other filled ball-shaped pastries. Some may be filled with pineapple, others coconut, or perhaps red bean.

For more amazing food, you’ve got to visit Hoi An, Vietnam. There is a whole list of  foods you’ve GOTTA TRY.

Chinese Pastries Penang
Confession: my dad took a whole box of pastries home to Canada.

You can go from hill top to beach to pier in a day.

There’s tons of variety of cheap places to visit in Penang that will satisfy any type of backpacker. You can take it easy on the beach, or bike up the hill, or explore the culture of the people, possibly all in the same day.

Catch the view from Penang Hill

If you enjoy climbing to the top of mountains, without the actually hiking park, then you’re in luck! Penang Hill is about 800 MASL and has the hard part taken care of. Ride the hill train up to the top in no time. Enjoy 360 degree views of the island without breaking a sweat. Of course, hiking or cycling up are options if you’re into that.

Penang Hill
Views from the top of Penang Hill

At the top there are some temples, cafes and trails to walk (or hire a cart) for other views. It’s a nice place to spend the after and watch monkeys try to reach into garbage cans.

Foreigner price is 30 MYR ($10 CAD) while local price is only 10 MYR ($3 CAD). Another classic example of exploiting foreigner wallets.

You can take the 403 bus from Georgetown right up to the hill for about 2.70 MYR ($0.85 CAD) per person. The bus takes about an hour.

Penang Hill
Emotions flow as Matti sings, Canandian masterpiece, My Heart Will Go On, on the love bridge.

Walk the beach of Batu Ferringhi

When on an island, it’s almost mandatory to spend time at the beach. Batu Ferringhi is where all the upscale resorts are like the Four Seasons and the Shangri-La. You can access the public beach just beside the Shangri-La. Take the 101 or 102 bus for about an hour along the coast.

A funny story; while we were walking along the beach, watching the parasailers going by, a woman approached us. She asked us if we could be extras in a movie trailer that they were filming. Our role was simply to walk down the beach, holding hands, chatting, when the director yelled action. Sounded easy? Oh also this is a paid job, plus lunch! So a few takes later and they got what they wanted. Then we found ourselves enjoying free lunch with some other travellers who played key roles such as: “French couple enjoying coconuts” and “Finnish girl sunbathing”. With 60 MYR ($20 CAD) in our pockets, we concluded that it was a good day to come to the beach.

If you love island beaches: A Backpacker’s Guide to Krabi & Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Batu Feringghi
Being a paid actor is hard work.

Explore the Clan Jetties

It’d be a shame to visit Penang and miss a walk along the clan jetties. Networks of wooden docks over the water house store fronts and restaurants as well as personal homes and temples. Each jetty is tied to a family name keeping its honour alive. The Chew jetty is the largest and most popular among tourist.

Chew Jetty Penang
A cool guy on a cool dock.

A friend of ours, Adaline, brought us, and a group of friends, to the jetty dock during the night and we spent time sharing stories and admiring the mainland lights reflecting on the water.

Clan Jetty Georgetown Penang

Explore Georgetown in 2 Unique ways

Georgetown is getting so hip! There really isn’t anything cooler than graffiti and latte art, is there?

1. Go Street Art Hunting

The thing to do in Georgetown is go street art hunting. Get yourself a tourist brochure and spend the day wandering up and down the streets searching for as many pieces of art as you can find.

Penang Street Art
Avoiding tourists on bikes.
Street Art Penang
“Old Indian Woman”

The big ones are easy, there will be a group of tourists surrounding, taking photos. It’s the hidden ones that are satisfying, like finding and snapping a shot of Mew in Pokemon Snap.

Street Art Georgetown
Made some new friends in Georgetown
Street Art
Admiring a circle of dots.

2. Check out hipster cafes

We were told that ever since the street art livened up Georgetown, all sorts of quirky hipster cafes have come along with it. If you’re into instagraming latte art beside a tree that is growing from the ground inside visit Awesome Canteen. Overpriced espresso with boho jungle vibes can be found at Cozy The Rocket. Both nice spaces to spend a calm afternoon.

Cozy the Rocket Penang
Serious jungle vibes.

Tips on Getting Around

Penang has a decent transit system of buses called Rapid Penang. You can get pretty much anywhere for about 2MYR per ride ($0.66 CAD) in a clean air conditioned bus. The main stations are at the jetty are and the Komtar building. Ask anyone around there and they can direct you to the right bus.

There is a free shuttle bus called CAT Hop-On by Rapid Penang. We never took it, but definitely look into it, and maybe you can get around for free! (If you do, let us know for next time we are there!)

Georgetown Snow Cones
Matti really just is a big child at heart.

We loved the time we spend in Penang. It is lively and very tourist friendly. We would like to thank Uncle Chee Keong for letting us stay at his home, Uncle Steven for driving us around and organizing our trip to the durian orchard, and Adaline for showing us a good time around Georgetown. 

You’ll seriously also love:

8 Things to do in Chaing Mai, Thailand

Explore & Eat Hanoi, Vietnam

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