If you’ve arrived in Georgetown by boat from Langkawi, Penang’s biggest, bustling city can come as a bit of a shock to the senses.
The taxi touts await you at the ferry dock, the traffic is busier, the city more vibrant. Once you get settled in, you realise it’s a fantastic place to spend a few days, a true microcosm of Malaysia with its corners dedicated to Indian, Chinese and Malay culture.
Walk around Little India, sample a samosa freshly fried on the street and smell incense wafting through the air or shop for a new sari. Then go over to Chinatown, where the temples are filled with worshipers coming to pay their respects. Then take a bicycle trishaw down to the waterfront where you’ll Malaysians from all backgrounds relaxing in front of the great view.
Sleeping: Hotels aren’t Georgetown’s strong point, at least not at the budget end. Unless you want to spend more than 60 RM, expect a windowless box.
We stayed at the Banana New Guesthouse on Chulia Street. Rooms are cheap at just 25 RM for a fan cooled one and there’s free wifi in the pleasant common area. Food isn’t too badly priced for a backpacker place. There are a few things to beware of though. Rooms are tiny and the walls are little more than cubicle panelling. Bring earplugs. Also, the staff aren’t overly friendly. Not unfriendly, just distant. And finally, the rooms are very small and getting your bike in is a tight squeeze. Chulia Street has heaps of backpacker hotels so you could start with this one and move on to others if you don’t like the Banana.
Another option could be the Friendship Motel. The rooms were windowless here too but with thicker walls and air conditioning, starting from 38 RM for a tiny single. There are free computers to use in the lobby, good if you don’t have a laptop.
Eating: There’s street food everywhere you look in Penang. Expect to pay 3-4 RM for a large dish. Often you’ll see a series of stalls clustered together with tables all around. You can sit wherever you like, even if it’s not in front of the stall you ordered from. If they’re around a restaurant, you can sit in the restaurant and someone will come to see if you want any drinks with your street food. You pay for everything as it arrives at your table.
One excellent Chinese restaurant to try is just two minutes walk from the New Banana Hotel, on Chulia Lane. It’s called Shin Kheng Aun and the night we went it was packed with locals. There’s a review of this restaurant with great pictures on the Shiok or Not food blog. We had two dishes of plum chicken, fried greens, rice and two large glasses of tea and the bill came to 27 RM. All the portions were generous and the food was top notch. Highly recommended!
About a ten minute walk from Chulia Street, in an upmarket area, is siTigun – a cafe for cyclists! It was established by a bicycle tourist, we walked by the cafe to check it out but it was closed. They’re open Monday from 6pm-10pm and the rest of the time from 8am in the morning.
Getting here and away: Ferries go twice daily between Penang and Langkawi, at 2:30pm and 5:30pm from Langkawi. Cost is 60 RM per adult and 15 RM for a bicycle, although the day we travelled they ran out of bicycle tickets and didn’t charge us! The trip takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
There are also regular ferries across to the mainland from Penang.