I first came to the state of Penang, Malaysia in April 2014. It was only 3 days, but I still remember that clearly. When I was there, I instantly fell in love with the food, the people, and the culture there. It’s a no brainer to go back there again and spend more time. So I did.
I was in George Town, Penang for 14 days this time. Found a good and cheap hostel, which I only paid RM 20 per night, and made it my “homebase”. From there, I wandered around and soaked myself with everything Penang.
Let’s have a rundown on every aspect of Penang that I like and dislike.
Simply amazing. Delicious. Yummy!
I would say that Penangese food is the second best I’ve ever tasted, just after Vietnamese. It was really good and cheap, the recipe of great food.
Penang’s Char Koay Teow is the best one. There’s something different between Char Koay Teow in Penang with the other Char Koay Teow, even if it still also from Malaysia. Penang’s Char Koay Teow is just the best.
In Penang, there is a Kopitiam culture. Kopitiam is a “coffee shop”, where several food vendor sell their food, and they share a common eating area. Basically, it’s a traditional food court. The best thing about it is that you could find Kopitiam virtually at every corner of the city. You could never short of options. Usually, they sell Koay Toew and it’s variant, Wan Tan Mee, Fried Rice, Chicken Rice, Hokkien Char Mee, Oyster Omellette, etc.
However, if one isn’t careful, it could get ugly really quickly if one make Kopitiam as the source of one’s food. I noticed that not a lot vegetables provided there. If one is just in Penang for few days, then it’s okay, but to be there for rather long time and make Kopitiams as one’s only source of food, it would be really bad. I felt really guilty when thinking about this, because I always ate at Kopitiams for several days
However, don’t worry, Economy Rice to the rescue. Economy Rice is a kind of restaurant where you just get a plate of rice, then you just pile up the dishes you want from a lot of options of dishes. Here, vegetables are abundant. Also, usually Economy Rice is home made in small scale, so it’s really good. Once you are finished piling up the dishes, the seller will judge it by the number of dishes and how much portion per dish you just piled, so don’t take too many!. For a vegetable dish and an egg, expect to pay around RM 4.
Economy Rice for Indonesian people should be familiar. It’s a Malaysian version of “warteg”, a “warung” just like Economy Rice that could be found all over Java. However, Economy Rice is definitely a notch better than “warteg”.
Another favorite of mine is Nasi Lemak Daun Pisang. Basically it’s a small portion of Nasi Lemak, wrapped with banana leaf. You could find it all over Penang, esp. in Malay and Indian food stall. One of those is just RM 1(!!!). But, to get full, I usually need at least 3 of those.
Penang is rather small island, but it doesn’t mean that it only has a handful of activities.
Sure, if you just stay in George Town area, your option will be limited. However, outside it, a lot of activities could be done. My favorite would be along the northern part of the island.
First, it’s the national park. I really like it! In 2014, when I was in Penang for the first time, I hiked the national park. In this occassion, I hiked it again. It has a really good trail, with a great reward at the end: great beaches which are a bit secluded. There are two trails there: Pantai Kerachut trail and Monkey Beach trail. They’re about the same in length, about 3.5 km one way. So, expect to hike around 7 km to get the taste of each trail. You could also hire a boat if you don’t want to walk or don’t want to do round trip hike. The price is negotiable, but we ended up paid RM 20 per person.
It’s really humid there in the national park. So be prepared with a towel and minimum 2 liter of water if you plan to do round trip. Also, better to get to the bus terminal in Komtar or Jetty super early at the morning, like 7:30 AM if you’re staying George Town to avoid the heat, as the bus will take around 1 hour to get to the national park.
Second, it’s the Penang Hill. Do it right, and Penang Hill becomes a great destination. Do it wrong, and Penang Hill will be a disappointing, touristy, expensive destination. The choice is up to you.
If you want the expensive way, you could just get on bus 204, and get a train to the summit of Penang Hill for RM 30(!!!) round trip. For RM 30, you could see a touristy, expensive, cliche, nothing to see destination.
If you want to do it the correct way, instead of bus 204, get on bus 10, and stop at the Botanical Garden. There, you should see a Moon Gate. It’s the start of the Penang Hill hiking trail. From there you could hike your way all the way to the top of it (around 800m).
The trail is a jungle trail. It’s around 6 km one way, give or take. We did it in around 2.5 hours. The air is cool there, and in the morning, it’s really fresh. Just, make sure to bring a lot of water! For me, 1.5 liters of water is not enough, so maybe 3 liters would be wiser.
When you’ve arrived at the summit, you could back down by again along the same path, or just take the train. The fare is RM 17, but it’s definitely worth it because you’ve seen so much in your hike
Day and night to Indonesia. Virtually everyone here can speak English. Even there are some people that make English their first language. I’m really impressed by that.
One thing that also really impressive here is that the fact that three really different races live together. There is Chinese, Malay, and Indian. The different couldn’t be more contrast, unlike Indonesia. They could also retain their culture there, which is a really really good thing. Basically, there is a freedom of expressing their culture there.
I met a lot of good local people here. Even just being in the hostel alone. I could spend hours and hours of talking with them about Malaysia, Indonesia, and the world.
Also, maybe this is just a confirmation bias. But, all of the travelers I met in Penang are all awesome. Maybe I’m just being in the right time and the right place, or maybe it’s because of the vibe of the city that draws certain type of travelers here. But, I’m really comfortable talking to every travelers I’ve met in Penang during my stay there.
However, I think to get the most from the locals here, I should at least know two languages: Mandarin and Malay. Big plus would be Hokkien and Teochew, as the majority of the Chinese here are either Hokkien or Teochew. Alas, I posses nil of those.
Not so good thing
The only thing I dislike about George Town is the weather. It’s even hotter than Yogyakarta or Jakarta!
During the day, peaked at the afternoon, the sun is scorching hot, just well over 35 C! Combined with the humidity, you get a perfect weather of sweltering body.
Early in the morning is cool though. I ran in the morning, just after the sunrise, and it was cool. Also, Penang Hill is really cool, like day and night there from George Town.
Also, the internet is a bit let down all over the city. I’ve tried Starbucks and Old Town White Coffee in 1st Avenue Mall, but they sucked. Starbucks provides super slow internet with two hours (only!) time limit. While Old Town White Coffee’s wifi is a bit better, it’s still sub 1 mbps! Definitely left something to be desired. I didn’t try to use mobile data in Malaysia, so I couldn’t speak anything about it. If I came back here again, which is just a matter of time, I would definitely get one. Hence, I spend a lot of my working time in the hostel lobby.
So, that’s it from me, my two weeks experience in Penang.
Granted I haven’t seen all of Malaysia, but so far, Penang is my favorite state in Malaysia. If I have to live in Malaysia, Penang is the one I would choose.
Now, when you’re reading this, that’s mean I’ve left Penang. I went by train that brought me from Penang to Bangkok in just under 20 hours. But, that’s for later post.
Until next time!