Oh, how we’ve missed you, Malaysia. After two years of not being able to visit our northern neighbour, we now can freely cross the borders to and fro thanks to the reopening of borders between Singapore and Malaysia. The only thing you’ll have to worry about is waiting in line to get your passports stamped. Just like the old days!
Of course, you can avoid all the frustration of being stuck in a causeway traffic jam by simply taking a flight from Singapore. And what better destination to fly to than Penang’s beautiful George Town for your grand Malaysian expedition?
From its food to its heritage, the charming city of Penang holds gallons of surprises for those who have not been! For those who have, all the things you love about Penang — including its famous char kway teow dishes and Instagram-worthy street art — await your return. Let’s explore what we’ve missed about the city.
The delicate taste of Penang food
Forget about the culinary wars between Singapore and Malaysia; let us all unite in our love for glorious food. The breadth of delicious food across the streets of Penang knows no boundaries — all appetising for our wallets and our refined Southeast Asian taste buds.
1. Penang Char Kway Teow
In Singapore, we have the popular fried kway teow but there is just something magical about the char kway teow in Penang. While it is a familiar dish served at late-night food haunts in Singapore, the wok hei masters in Penang elevate its taste with a smoky aroma that permeates the noodles, eggs, chives, cockles and prawns.
Opinions of which place serves the best one differs, but most people would agree that George Town’sAh Leng Char Koay Teow deserves a spot at the top thanks to the usage of duck egg and water to give the plate an extra creamy, moist taste. Go premium by forking out RM14 (S$4.40) to get some jumbo mantis prawns thrown in.
Address: 343 Jalan Dato Keramat, 10150 George Town
Operating hours: Thursday to Tuesday - 10:00am to 3:30pm. Closed on Wednesdays.
2. Penang Prawn Noodles
Speaking of prawns, it is not a proper Penang seafood adventure without tucking into a hearty bowl of Hokkien prawn mee. CY Choy Road Hokkien Mee is where you want to be to try this signature Penang dish, old-school style.
Standard orders (RM4; S$1.26) come with noodles swimming in a thin (but very punchy) pork broth, prawns, pork cutlets, fishballs and crispy fried onions. A good spot to go for those who cannot handle the spicier versions offered in other eateries.
Address: 533 Lebuh Pantai, 10300 George Town
Operating hours: Opens daily from 7:00am to 2:30pm
3. Penang Laksa
Do not expect the type of creamy laksa you’re used to. Penang specialises in asam laksa, which uses a tamarind-based broth with mackerel, lemongrass, galangal and chilli — so expect a sour, fishier taste in lieu of the sweeter coconut-based curry typically sold in Singapore.
Savoury bowls of asam laksa can be found nearly everywhere in Penang, but the best place to enjoy one with a view of the sea is Laksa Tempurung Ombak Damai. Serving up the dish with a plethora of ingredients, the way they pile everything up will have you reminiscing about another famous Penang dish - nasi kandar. Served in a coconut shell, the laksa here comes fully loaded in tangy spices, crisp vegetables, and the option of a boiled egg to fill you up at just RM6 (S$1.88). Best enjoyed with a cooling cup of coconut shake and icy cendol for dessert!
Address: Jalan Gertak Sanggul, Kampung Suluk, 11920 Teluk Kumbar
Operating hours: Monday to Thursday - 3:00pm to 7:30pm; Saturday and Sunday - 12:30pm to 8:00pm. Closed on Fridays.
The beauty of Penang street art
Aside from food, most people would know Penang as a city filled with colourful mural art. Walk around the streets of George Town and you’ll see vibrant art everywhere, from the alleyways to traffic pillars.
It all started in 2012, when the Penang Municipal Council hired a Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, to spruce up the city’s rustic walls with art inspired by the locals. As a result, the once-sleepy streets of George Town have turned into tourist attractions in their own right.
1. Little Children on a Bicycle
This iconic mural along Armenian Street has brought so much change to the area thanks to the bevvy of people from around the world who flock there just for a photo. Not many would know that “Little Children on a Bicycle” is based on real siblings Tan Yi and Tan Kern, who Zacharevic chanced upon as they rode past him on a bike. The bicycle itself is part of the installation, so you can actually try to hop on it for a posed shot — just be sure to lather up on your sun care under the blistering heat.
Address: 2 Lebuh Armenian, 10300 George Town
2. The Awaiting Trishaw Peddler
This giant mural is the largest mural painted by Zacharevic as part of the city-wide art project — and a fitting tribute to trishaw uncles who often congregate at a trishaw station across the road. Trishaws have been a common sight in George Town, carting tourists around the streets. That is, until the pandemic struck leaving them struggling to find customers. Today, the trishaw mural serves as a reminder of Penang’s heritage and its heydays as a tourist attraction.
Address: 50-26 Jln Penang, 10000 George Town
3. Cat murals
Cat lovers would be happy to know that Penang artists love their felines too — enough to incorporate them into many of the street art in George Town. Adorable and artistic, they were painted to raise awareness about stray animals and encourage people to adopt the city’s stray cats and dogs.
The giant orange cat mural at Armenian Street, for example, is based on a real cat called Skippy! A feline with a deformed leg, Skippy was adopted by a family in Langkawi (it passed away in 2019, but the mural lives on). Be sure to find other cat murals around George Town — it is said that there are a total of 101 cats painted across the city.
Address: Various, refer to this guide.
The richness of Penang heritage
There is a good reason why the historical core of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. With one of the largest collections of pre-war buildings in Southeast Asia, it is recognised as having a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in the region.
1. The Clan Jetties
Created by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century, the clan jetties are one of Penang’s most significant historical spots. Comprising houses built on stilts above the water, the area was formerly used as dockside warehouses where goods were stored after being transported by boat.
Eventually, the clans who own the industrial warehouses converted them into houses for their families, and the jetties are where their descendants continue to live. Tourists are free to walk across the jetties on the wooden piers and see what life is like in a floating village. As one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, be sure to whip out your mobile phone to capture snaps of small villages — a sight that is uncommon in Singapore.
Address: Pengkalan Weld, 10300 George Town
Operating Hours: Opens daily from 9:00am to 9:00pm
2. Kek Lok Si Temple
As the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, Kek Lok Si is a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from across the region. This entire temple complex at the foot of Air Itam mountain was built over a period from 1890 to 1930 and is home to multiple architectural triumphs, including a seven-tiered Pagoda of the late Thai King Rama VI, 10,000 statues of Buddha, and a 36-metre-tall bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin.
With vibrant, colourful prayer halls and beautiful gardens, it serves as a focal point of Chinese festivals in Penang. Come by during the Chinese New Year celebrations and you’ll see the temple bathed in lights late into the night for 30 days straight.
Address: Jalan Air Itam, 11500 Ayer Itam
Operating Hours: Opens daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm
3. Eastern & Oriental Hotel
Of all the unique and affordable hotels to consider for your next holiday, the Eastern and Oriental Hotel is one to add to your list. Older than Singapore’s own Raffles Hotel, Penang’s first grand hotel stands as one of the many colonial buildings that pepper the city. With figures as famous as Rudyard Kipling, Charlie Chaplin and Sun Yat Sen counted as past guests, you can bet that rich history flows within the hallways of the hotel, which now hosts luxury restaurants and accommodations.
Old world charm remains just as strong today — the Grand Dame of Penang keeps its original colonial-style guest rooms alive, complete with Victorian details — all with a spectacular view of the sea and the Penang skyline. With two large outdoor pools, a poolside bar, and more, do not forget your swimwear when packing your luggage.
Address: 10 Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 George Town
Operating Hours: Opens daily, 24 hours
Things to note while travelling in Penang
- Only partially or non-vaccinated travellers to Malaysia have to undergo a COVID-19 reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test two days before departing for Malaysia if they are arriving by air. No pre-departure test is needed for arrival by land.
- Travellers will have to download and register your profile on the free MySejahtera app (iOS and Android) and keep it activated at all times for contact tracing purposes.
- Masks are still mandatory indoors, but encouraged when in crowded outdoor areas.
- Restaurants and eateries are only permitted to accept dine-in customers that have been fully vaccinated and have no symptoms.
With all these in mind, a trip from Singapore to Penang should make for a downright exciting overseas trip, especially if you have not been back to Malaysia for years. Regardless of how long you’re planning to stay in this charming city, there is plenty to experience for a memorable overseas trip after such a long time being cooped up in the Little Red Dot.
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Best time to visit
No matter the month, you can’t escape Malaysia’s tropical heat and humidity, so it all depends what you’re looking for during your visit. But just be sure to avoid the rainy seasons, which fall typically between August to November as well as April to May. The best time to head down to Penang would be the drier, less humid months of January and February. Which is great, because the Chinese New Year displays at Kek Lok Si Temple during those months are spectacular.
Bus services and taxis are readily available for tourists to get around Penang — though the latter is not recommended due to the reputation of taxi drivers refusing to use meters and charging tourists extra for the ride.
If you’d like to stick to public transport, getting around by bus would be a good idea. Various bus services operate from the main bus station in the Georgetown city centre, and all of them transport passengers to main tourist attractions. The bus that you’ll want to take note of is the Central Area Transit free shuttle service that picks passengers up from Weld Quay Bus Terminal and makes stops at designated major attractions.
Otherwise, there’s always the option to rent a car. Hawk Malaysia is a reliable local car rental company with multiple car pick-up spots across Georgetown. Prices go for RM314 (S$99) and above a day, depending on the car’s size.
The official currency of Malaysia is the Ringgit (RM).
Get to Penang from Singapore in less than 2 hours! Currently, there are direct flights to Penang International Airport via AirAsia, Scoot, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines. Search for airfares and book your tickets here.