Penang, Malaysia

Some of the most interesting places in the world are crucibles of culture and tradition achieved through exploration, invasion and trade. George Town, the old centre of Penang Island, provides tourists with a fascinating cultural cocktail. Let us show you a little from our recent two day stopover – a few sights and some of the food of Penang, Malaysia.

Penang food hall 4

Penang’s street food scene is one of the most vibrant in Asia. There are six famous food halls in Georgetown as well as many street vendors – way too many for us to try in a couple of days!

Want to explore Penang? Choose your mode of transport: bicycle, ride your own quadbicycle, car with driver or even trishaw (pictured). Mostly you can walk, but it’s hot and humid and sometimes a ride for a few dollars is worth it!

Penang Peranakan houses

Architecture is one of the standout attractions in the UNESCO World heritage suburb of Georgetown. These Peranakan shop houses show the influence of seven cultures. They’re quite run down, though. Several museums and houses open to tourists (such as the Blue Mansion and Peranakan Mansion) have been immaculately restored, but unfortunately that’s not the norm.

Penang steel street art 2

Our hotel, a heritage Chinese mansion in Chulia Street was just around the corner from Love Lane, where rich Chinese housed their mistresses. Today it’s a backpacker area, the only reminder being this street art and a few ‘lady boys’ who’d taken up a possie outside one of the bars.

Penang Street art 4_CD

‘Children on a bicycle’ – One of our biggest surprises was the street art project. Well documented on tourist maps, you can walk around the streets of Georgetown, photographing as you go.

Penang Street art 5_CD

The art sits on unexpected corners, beside doorways and inside shops. There’s a clue to its discovery – look for the group of tourists outside.

Penang coconut ice cream and coconut water

Thirsty work, all this art hunting! We stop at a coconut ice cream stall close to Armenian Street. A fresh young coconut is scraped into shavings, topped with scoops of coconut ice cream, red beans, corn and fresh pineapple. Fresh coconut water accompanies it. Electrolytes renewed, we continue our adventure.

Penang Street art 1

Look who we found just around the corner! ‘Reaching up’ in Cannon Street. The chair is real, the boy reaching up to the window, a painting. Although many different artists have contributed to Georgetown’s street art, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s paintings, commissioned in 2012, are some of the most famous. They show everyday scenes of Malaysian life, using local people as the models.

Penang steel street art 1

‘Between a hard day (sic) work and rest time, many love to bring a stool and listen to a storyteller down at the street.’ Cool!

Penang Street art 6

Tracking around Penang’s labyrinth of streets, photographing artwork and sights, watching people in their daily work, was a great way to explore the old city.

Penang Rd chestnut stall_CD

This chestnut roaster marks the beginning of our visit to the Penang Street food area which includes fish markets, market stalls and vendors.

Penang cooking ingredients_CD

Need some dried fish to deepen your curry’s flavour?

Penang_Making rice crepes_CD

Making fresh rice paper. This was amazing to watch. With the dough consistency correct, a hand is all that’s needed! He pulls his hand away and a thin layer of dough remains on the plate. She flips it with a spatula and the rice paper is cooked.

Penang Rd Chendul 2

Ice confections are really popular in Malaysia. This one, from a Penang Road stall, is really colourful.

Penang Rd Chendel stall

Founded in 1936, Penang Road’s famous TeoChew Chendel serves a ‘must eat’ dish. There can be a long line up at this Penang Road stall. All the ingredients in plastic tubs are spooned into the melamine dish. Eat it standing up – no chairs here!

Penang Rd Chendul
TeoChew Chendel – Pandan flavoured palm flour noodles immersed in a light coconut milk, sweetened with gula melaka, served with kidney beans.
Penang Rd Koay Teow stall
Next to the TeoChew Chendel stall is the Penang Road Koay Teou stall. Time for lunch!
Penang Rd Koay Teow
Koay Teou makes a great lunch for around $2. Juicy prawns, vegies and noodles cooked together with an egg makes a tasty meal!
Penang Hill
Penang Hill’s cable railway gives an amazing view over the island. It’s packed with tourists, but the ride is worth it. The rail track is 2km long, ascending almost 800m – a must do trip.
Penang ice desserts_CD
Be sure to check out the fruit juices and ice desserts at the cafe on top of Penang Hill. Penang is well known for its street food and tropical fruit. This stall combines both.
Penang stilt houses 3
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, George Town was a thriving port. Many Chinese settled around the quay with floating and stilt houses built along the docks in areas known as the Clan Jetties. Chew Jetty is the best preserved of these with 75 houses still intact.
Penang stilt houses
The stilt houses of Chew Jetty are joined by wooden walkways; an amazing area to explore. Our brief time felt very voyeuristic. Can safely say that living in a stilt house is definitely not the lifestyle for me!
Penang Satay stall
This satay stall just outside Chew Jetty has everything! Choose your stick and dip it yourself for half a ringit each (16 cents).Interested mainly in street food, we ate at food halls, buying food from vendors, instead of frequenting restaurants. Not only was the food far cheaper, but it gave us an authentic food experience (albeit not too spicy by choice)! Sweet and sour snapper was our most expensive dish at RM30 (AUD$10)!
Penang food hall 3
Prawns anyone?
Penang acai
A trip to the Tropical Fruit Farm showed us what acai berries look like! Lots of tropical fruit to try.
Penang passionfruit flowersThese passionfruit flowers were gorgeous, the fruit pendulous – about three to four times the size of our passionfruit in Australia.
Penang Kek Lok Si TempleHeritage, culture, art and food could summarise our time in Penang – so rich a cultural experience, all within the small space of Georgetown. Consider a trip. There’s so much more to explore! This is only a snapshot of two days’ worth!

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Penang, Malaysia