Bleary eyed, my bus pulled into Butterworth Bus Station at 2am. What was meant to be a five hour journey to Malaysia’s north had turned into nearly 10 hours as I had unwittingly arrived into Malaysia on a long weekend. It seemed every Malaysian had decided to head up to Penang that Saturday night and it was a very slow crawl up the highway.
Arriving at The 80s Guesthouse on Penang Island, I crawled into bed hoping Georgetown was worth the long bus journey. I woke to heavy rain, figured that would be right, and fell back asleep. Luckily the rain had stopped by the time I woke up again because I wanted to go exploring.
It turned out Georgetown was worth it and it became a journey of street food and street art.
Georgetown is located on Penang Island and has been an important trading port for centuries due to its location in the Strait of Malacca.
Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the many colonial Chinese buildings, which make the city great for some urban exploring.
Here’s five things to do on your visit to Georgetown.
1. Track down Georgetown’s beautiful street art
Down near the ferry terminal, you’ll find a number of murals scattered along the streets on shop fronts or painted onto retaining walls. The popular murals of Georgetown started in 2012 with a street art project called Mirrors George Town. Since then, more and more street art has been produced along local streets and it’s become one of the city’s major tourist attractions.
The majority of the murals are down Armenian Street. Some are more obvious than others and it was a pleasant surprise finding ones I hadn’t expected as I went around a corner. My favourite murals were Kids on Bicycle, Brother and Sister and Boy on Chair.
If you’re time poor, you can pick up a Georgetown City Map, which has each mural listed to make it easy for you to track them down.
A handful murals are very popular and during weekends you may need to line up to get a photo.
2. Take a ride on a trishaw
Lie back and let your trishaw driver take you on a relaxing journey around Georgetown. The colourful Malaysian trishaws are fitted with a seat you can lie back in. You’ll find them all across Georgetown.
Another popular activity on wheels is hiring a bicycle to explore Georgetown. There are even bike like contraptions you can hire that the whole family can fit on. You’ll find them at Chew Jetty.
3. Taste the street food
Georgetown is a melting pot of cultures and is classed as Malaysia’s street food capital – and with good reason. Wandering the streets, you’ll be met with flavours of India, China and Malay. You’ll have many opportunities for street food around Georgetown – and it’s delicious. Pretty much every street corner has some street food on it day and night. At night, Chulia Road near the corner of Love Lane, is filled with street food vendors selling noodle dishes, juices, and burgers. Go there before you’re hungry though because it’s very busy with locals and can be a long wait.
The food is cheap and cheerful starting around $A1 for a meal so you see why it gets busy. You’ll find tables and chairs there to enjoy your meal, or some places will offer a takeaway option.
You’ll also find street food vendors selling snacks such as curry or egg filled pastries, and sweet treats as you wander around.
In the mornings, you can get street food and fresh fruit on Carnarvon Street.
You can also get cheap food at the Komtar Bus Terminal. Make sure you try the donuts for less than 20 cents – and also the rice wrapped in a banana leaf that is flavoured with spices and your choice of egg or prawn.
The Little India precinct – located in Queen and Chulia Streets – is also a great place to try some Indian street food or sit down at a restaurant for a meal.
4. Wander through the Chew Jetty district
The Chew Jetty Terminal is a cool little section of Georgetown filled with narrow wooden walkways and colourful alleys. Along the main thoroughfare you’ll find an array of shops selling souvenirs, snacks, juices and ice cream. People also live here and while many homes say no photographs, it is still interesting to take a look and wander off the main tourist path to see how people live in this part of Georgetown.
5. Lose the map and stroll the streets
I loved simply wandering the streets of historical Georgetown. There’s lots of interesting places to see, including an array of bright temples, and the streets themselves are a photographer’s dream – filled with lanterns, trishaws and colourful colonial facades. One of my favourite streets was Love Lane, which is where many of Georgetown’s hostels and guesthouses live, alongside many cafes. The buildings along this lane and surrounding streets are beautiful old buildings more than one hundred years old.
Take the time to wander, enjoy a white coffee at one of the many cafes, do some shopping, and keep your camera handy to capture the colours of Georgetown.
If museums are your thing, there’s a couple of quirky museums across Georgetown. One of the most popular is the Upside Down Museum, located on Kimberley Street near the Komtar Bus Terminal.
Other attractions in Georgetown are Fort Cornwallis and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, an excellent example of Chinese architecture.