Georgetown Slow Travel Guide: Penang’s Main Gem

We left Ko Phangan to go on to Hat Yai via ferry and minibus and continued from Hat Yai the following day with another bigger van. Next stop: Penang. A former British settlement, Penang is a state off the coast of the malay Peninsula famous not only for its unique architecture,  but also for the is varied cultural background. Georgetown is the capital of penang and a UNESCO heritage site due to its mix of colonial, Chinese and Indian architectural influences. It had become a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, solidifying is status as Malaysian foodie paradise.

Finding Accommodation in Georgetown

There were plenty of guesthouses around Georgetown, so, instead of reserving online, we walked around and checked out of few places. We spent 4 nights in Georgetown, paying about 9 euro per night for a double room with a shared bathroom (en suites are kind of a luxury here). We stayed in the actual heritage zone in downtown Georgetown, which means that the more budget-friendly options have a slightly lower standard. Our room at the Western Oriental hostel was basic, with only a fan and shared bathroom, but it was clean and the staff were nice.

Georgetown Architecture

It’s safe to say that this city is nothing short of spectacular. You won’t see any skyscrapers here. The buildings are kept in their original state and style, thanks to the UNESCO status. From Chinese, to colonial, to Indian influence, Georgetown feels both familiar and foreign, with colourful facades, elaborate temples and even a military fort.

The beautiful Peranakan Mansion
The beautiful Peranakan Mansion

There’s pleny to see if you simply walk around and let your interests guide you. The mix of cultures here has produced a spectacular melting pot of history, architecture and food. To this day, Georgetown remains one of my favourite destinations, precisely for this reason.

Sri Mariamman temple,  the oldest Hindu temple on Penang
Sri Mariamman temple, the oldest Hindu temple on Penang

Georgetown Street Art

In addition to food and history, Georgetown has become known for its street art. Gorgeous murals are scattered all over the city. What started as a social history project in 2009 quickly took on a life of its own as internationally-acclaimed cartoonists incorporated new (and now iconic) works into the cityscape.

Street art in Georgetown
Go on a street art hunt!

The most famous examples of Georgetown’s street art use 3D objects, while others may convey social or environmental commentary. Some are just downright quirky.

Eating Our Way Through Georgetown

Georgetown has a lot to offer in terms of affordable and tasty local food. One of its signature dishes is char kway teow – stir-fried rice noodles with seafood. You can find char kway teow at many hawker stands, but the one that impressed me the most was the Kimberly street stand, where the cook was serving up portions with a lightning speed.

Going non-stop for hours!
Going non-stop for hours!
Finished and ready to be devoured!
Finished and ready to be devoured!

We also spent a considerable amount of time at the hot pot stand on Chulia street. These are great for when you’re not quite sure what you want to eat and how hungry you are. Just grab as much or as little of whatever strikes your fancy – be it broccoli or chicken hearts – dip it into the boiling water until it’s cooked, and enjoy! Each ingredient on a stick is color-coded. At the end, your ‘bill’ is determined by the total value of your sticks. You can be as adventurous or as conservative as you want. No matter what you choose, it will be a delicious experience.

Hot pot items at a street food stand
Most of these were good; some were, um, interesting

In case you want to try out some Indian muslim cuisine, grab a heaping plate of nasi kandar, available at several restaurants. The most famous one is perhaps Line Clear on Penang Street. If you’d prefer a quick snack, try a nasi lemak  – coconut rice wrapped in a banana leaf. For coffee enthusiasts, there is Penang’s white coffee, which is made from coffee beans roasted in margarine and has a distinctive taste.