The reason we came to George Town was to do a hike in Penang National park. But we found the city itself being very interesting and spent here more time then we had planned. If you ask what George Town like? Our answer will be first of all multicultural. That was our first impression of the city and we liked it. In George Town you walk out of your hostel in China Town to have dinner in Indian street cafe under the sound of Muslim prayer. You find a mosque next to Buddhist temple and catholic church. Incredible mix and peaceful coexistence of three different cultures: Indians, Chinese and Muslims.
Brief history of George Town
It was founded by the British in 1786, before it was a fishermen village with some 1000 people living here. Not being very original the town was named after the current for that time king – George III. The first building was of course a fort, fort Cornwallis. Than there were many conflicts, World war I, World War II, Germans, Japanese, Allies, city statue and independence. Nowadays George Town is one of the most important cities in Malaysia, following Kuala Lumpur.
How to get to George Town from Thailand
We came to Malaysia from Amphawa floating market in Thailand, near Bangkok. To get to George Town first take a bus/van (8/20 Baht/0,2-0,5$) to Maeklong train station. Go to the bus terminal, one block away from the station. Take a bus to Rhatchaburi (35 Baht/1$), the last stop. From there about 10 minutes walk to Ratchaburi train station. There is a train Ratchaburi to Butterworth, express slipper, leaves every day at 5pm, the price is 1100 Baht/31$. It takes about 18 hours to get to Butterworth. There are outlets on trains but not next to each seat, only in the middle of the car. At about 8.00 you arrive to the border where you get off the train with all your stuff.
You go through immigration first Thai then Malaysian and get on another train, with seats. Before going to Malaysia make sure if you need or not Malaysian visa. From the border it takes two more hours to get to Butterworth. Once in Butterworth go to the ferry terminal, just follow the signs “Ferry”, it’s less than 5 min. walk. The ferry costs 1,2 Ringgit/0,3$ and takes 30 min. The ferry terminal is close to the touristy area of George Town you can just walk along Lebuh (street) Chulia and in 5-10 min. you’ll start finding hostels and hotels.
Places of interest in George Town
George Town has many interesting things to offer; for children and grown ups, for young and old, for party and food lovers, for museum and outdoor activities fans.
Chinese temple Kek Lok Si
If we had to choose one place to visit in George Town with no doubts we’d go to Kek Lok Si temple. Absolute highlight of the city, impressive and atmospheric place.
To get to the temple you walk through the market with all sort of curiosities, souvenirs, food and clothing. Just before the entrance you’ll pass a turtle pond with hundreds, really hundreds of turtles in there. It looks like turtle soup! You can buy some weed to feed them for 2 Ringgit/0,5$ no other food is allowed for feeding.
Inside the complex you can spend hours; gardens, statues, Buddhas, fountains, bells, candles, so many details! On weekends and public holidays the temple can be quite crowded. The entrance is free except elevator to the Buddha statue (4 Ringgit/1$) and Pagoda (2 Ringgit/0,5$). Temple closes at 6pm, to go up to the Buddha be there before 5pm.
We loved interactive part when you buy (1 Ringgit/0,3$) a wish band or two or as many as wishes you have, write your name on it and hang it on the “wish tree”. There are many wish options from being good at Academics to Love forever.
To get to the temple catch bus №203 or 204 (2 Ringgit/0,5$), can take from 20 to 60 min. depends on the traffic.
If you’re lucky to be there for Chinese New Year (from the end of Jan to the end of Feb) you can see Kek Lok Si temple all lighted up. It looks stunning!
One of the hills around George Town with panoramic views on the city and its surroundings. You can get to the top by funicular train or walk. The slow line train costs 30 Ringgit/7,5$ the fast line 60/15$ both ways, one way costs a half. Attention! The walk starts from Botanic garden not where the train station is. To get to the funicular catch bus №104. Be aware if you go there on weekends or holidays, you’ll find too many people and probably spend some time waiting.
Very interesting place that can keep you busy for a couple of hours. We spent two hours walking around the garden, watching long-tailed macaques, Dusky leaf monkeys, butterflies, birds and turtles. It looks like a jungle, well maintained, with some orchids and cactus pavilions, palms collection, a lily pond, a Japanese garden and many flowers everywhere. Good place to come if you want to escape bustling city.
The entrance is free. It’s opened from 6am till 7pm. Locals like to come here on weekends so it can be crowded. Be aware of macaques the ones with babies can be quite aggressive.
For hiking lovers there is a trail that goes up all the way to Penang hill, the walk starts at the Moon gate, next to botanic garden. Actually there are more than one path to Penang hill, including the paved road, the Moon Gate is just the easiest to find. The up takes 2,5-3 hours, nice work out and way to safe some money. If you don’t feel like walking all the way you can have a nice view over the city after about 40 min. walk up, there is a flat rocky place without trees.
Historical (colonial) part
Beautiful western style architecture mixed with modern and local houses.
- Fort Cornwallis
- Esplanade grounds
- Queen Victoria Clock tower
- Church of the Assumption
- St.George Church
There are plenty of museum from Upsidedown to Camera museum, all these interactive Ghost museum, Fluorescent Fantasy museum, Penang Time tunnel etc. If you travel with children In George Town you’ll find plenty of fun things to do.
Street art, murals. George Town city guide
I love street art, particularly murals since my first trip to South America, which is famous for it. It was a nice surprise to find some really artistic murals in George Town. There are many of them with bicycles and motorbikes, flowers and balloons you can spend hours walking around and finding more and more murals. Some of them are kind of hidden, look around carefully. Most murals are located in the square limited by streets Lebuh Acheh, Pengkalan Weld, Gat Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Cannon.
They are easy to find on Google.maps or just on free maps you can get in hostels, information or cafes. Two big murals (Kung Fu girl and A Man in a boat) are on Lorong Stewart/Lebuh Mutri. Two beautiful murals on Chulia hotel, on Lebuh Chulia.
History of murals
No worries we’re not going to start from a very beginning when the cave people… Just a look back at recent past of murals in George Town, who? when? and why? The streets of George Town transformed when a young artist Lithuanian origin and British education Ernest Zacharevic came with a short visit to the city, as a tourist. Came for short and stayed for long, he’s actually still here. In 2012 he painted some murals for George Town Festival and became very popular here. Now he works as an animator, photographer and artist mostly in George Town and other Malaysian cities. Not all the murals you can see nowadays in the city belong to him, just most of them. Here you can find more info and maps on the street art of Penang.
Bustling streets of George Town
First of all Lebuh Chulia/Chulia Street. The busiest street of Georgetown at night, food stands, music, pots, people, cars, all together. Here you can find accommodation from cheap hostels/guest houses to swanky ones. Huge variety of street food, restaurants, cafes, bars etc. Three places we used to visit a lot (Danish Briyani house, Yeap Noodles and Mugshot cafe) are on this street.
Very similar to Lebuh Chulia, many hostels/hotels for different budget, cafes, restaurants, Chinese food places. At night all alive with street stands and crowds. Our third hostel Kimberley House is on this street.
Lorong Stewart/Jalan Muntri
Not as big as previous two but lovely with many hostels/guesthouses, bars and cafes. Not very busy and crowded at night.
Little India and Ramadan market at Lebuh Queen
Very colorful as usually Little Indias are, many clothing shops, some stands with Indian food. Ramadan market is hold by Muslim community and opened from afternoon till 7-8pm. Not as touristy as other streets and maybe a bit cheaper.
Outside the city
Outside George Town there are plenty of places to visit and things to see, we’ll mention just some of them. Penang National park, Butterfly garden, Escape, Tropical Spice garden, Tropical Fruit farm and Toy museum are all located in the same area, about an hour by bus №101. Out of all mentioned places we visited only National park and did 2-day hike there, for more info on the hike click HERE.
Food in George Town
It became the highlight of our stay in George Town. So much to try! Street Indian food, cheap Chinese cafes and Arabic restaurants, add to these night market with all variety of “aroundtheworld” food and you’ll get a glimpse impression of George town food scene.
Red garden market
All different food. A night market, with huge variety of food, from Mexican to Japanese. Prices can vary from 5 Ringgit/1,2$ to 50/12$, depends what food and stand you choose. We found one Duck place, duck with rice/duck soups for 6,5/1,6$, good and cheap. Or mutton/shrimp/chicken briyani from 6,5/1,6$ to 8/2$ Ringgit. Typical fried rice with something for 6-8 Ringgit or sushi from 5/1,2$. We loved the market and went there every day for dinner. We found the best time to go there is between 7.30 and 8.00pm already alive but not crowded yet, easy to find a table and to get your food in 5-10 min.
Danish Briyani house
Arabic food. It’s not the most budget place to eat in George Town but we loved their garlic naans with sauces, the dal is quite good as well. It was the only things we ate there. The other people’s food looked delicious and portions were quite big. Normal meal prices start from 10 Ringgit. A garlic naan costs 3 0,7$and dal 8/2$ Ringgit.
Chinese food. My favorite lunch place, cheap and tasty. Huge variety of fried rice/noodles with chicken/pork/shrimps, spicy, sweet-sour and curry. Fresh juices, shakes and local drinks. Prices from 6 Ringgit/1,5$. Closed on weekends.
Chinese food place. Quite hidden from the outside, at the corner of Lebuh Chulia and Lorong Chulia. Always full of locals, which is a good sign. A good portion of fried rice with shrimps 6 Ringgit/1,5$.
Mugshot cafe, real coffee. Very nice place with good coffee, sandwiches, smoothies and desserts. We could afford only coffee, Americano/black coffee – 6 Ringgit/1,5$. Prices for the rest vary from 8/2$ to 12/3$. Yogurt dessert with nuts or fruit looked very tempting.
All four mentioned above places are located in the same area, 10 meters away from each other, at the corner of Lebuh Chulia and Lorong Chulia.
Little India has plenty of street food places where you can buy traditional roti, chapati, masala chai, samosas from 0,6 Ringgit. We ate breakfast in one of the places and paid 5-6 Ringgit/2$ for both.
Ramadan evening market in Little India on Lebuh Queen offers a good variety of food, e.g. samosas, all kind of fried dough, chicken, fish, sweet things. Opened from late afternoon till 7pm.
Accommodation in George Town
George Town is full of hostels, hotels and guest houses, I think even if you arrive at Chinese New Year you still will be able to find a place to sleep. We stayed in four different places, we are nomads we move around even when stay in the same town!
Broadway budget hotel
Little India, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, 35F. For our ensuite double with AC, flat scree TV and quite good wi-fi we paid 70 Ringgit/17,5$. Clean nice and quite place, friendly staff. We could store here our extra luggage for free while hiking and camping in the park. No drinking/hot water, no breakfast.
Lorong Chulia, 17B. 28 Ringgit/7$ for bed including breakfast. Very nice places, with lockers, kitchen, good wi-fi, AC in dorms,drinking/hot water, free breakfast (two boiled eggs, toasts, jam, butter and tea/coffee). The hostel is not big it has only two dorms for 8 persons each. The beds are very big, with good mattresses, each bed has its own light, two outlets and curtains, so you get some privacy in the dorm.
Lebuh Kimberley, 59. 28 Ringgit/7$ for bed in dorm. Big hostel with many rooms, have privates as well. Nice lobby area with tables and couches, free cold/hot water, tea and coffee. The dorms don’t have windows, a bit like a cave, the mattresses are very thin and uncomfortable and wi-fi wasn’t good. No breakfast included.
D Mo Inn
Intersection of Lebuh Chulia and Lorong Chulia. 56 Ringgit/14$ for private double with shared bathroom. Ok place, quite basic but clean. Hot/cold water at the reception, AC rooms, slow wi-fi. They have en suite rooms as well for 70 Ringgit/17,5$.
Ferringhi Laundry, Muntri st., 28. 24-hour automatic laundry, very easy to use and cheap. Up to 12kg washing with hot water (25 min.) – 7,5/1,8$, detergent is included. Up to 16kg – 9,5/2,3$$. Drying up to 15kg (25 min.) – 5/1,2$$.
Drinking water machines, for 0,20 Ringgit you can fill 1,5l bottle. We found two at Lebuh Chulia, both are marked on Google.maps. Cheapest water we could find in shops 1,5l for 1,6/0,4$ Ringgit.
Keep change or small money to pay for buses, you have to pay exact, they don’t give change.
For me it was the second time in George Town and I’m glad this time we were more flexible and could spend here more time. For many tourists George Town is a stopover on the way to Langkawi but if you have time we’d recommend to stay here for two or three days, to walk around, to explore and to try. Probably after all you’ll like it as much as we did.