As a last hurrah of sorts with four friends – one friend was leaving and heading back to Manila for good – we had come up with the somewhat spontaneous plan to spend one weekend in Penang. It’s northwest of Malaysia, known for its historical significance (Georgetown is part of the UNESCO Heritage list), its street art (Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic‘s works are all over Penang), and its food (hands down, best laksa ever for only MYR6).
It’s such a great place to be in. If you happen to be visiting this part of the world – Singapore / Malaysia – choose to allot at least two days in this charming destination. Stay for the art; stay for the food. If that isn’t enough, then stay for the beaches, which we’ve heard are quite lovely. In any case, it’s a treat in itself to spend the whole day walking around Georgetown, and when it gets too hot, streets are littered with small cafes, each of which is unique and oozes chill vibes and good coffee.
A flight from Singapore to Penang lasts more or less an hour, via a number of options (Jet Star, Tiger Airways, Air Asia or SilkAir). If you’re lucky and if you book early, round trip flights can cost less than S$100. We flew out of Singapore on Friday night and got to Penang at around past eight in the evening.
There are a number of hostels all around Penang. When we were there I got the feeling that you could easily book a flight to Penang without any reservations and you’d still find somewhere to stay in when you arrived. There were a number of them along Love Lane, and on the fringes of Georgetown. I had a friend who stayed in this hostel named The Frame Guesthouse (I remembered seeing it on our trip, because it was pretty cool how the entrance was so unassuming and yet so intriguing!). But considering that this was going to be our “last” trip all together, we thought we’d splurge a bit on the accommodations and stay in a proper hotel.
We stayed at Museum Hotel which at the time had recently opened. To be honest, it’s not the nearest to the more interesting bits of Penang, but it’s a fairly nice shophouse-turned-boutique-hotel and the walk isn’t at all bad. The hotel staff were wonderful people and they made things comfortable and cozy from the minute we arrived to the minute we left. There were free biscuits and tea the entire time, and breakfast was okay to say the least.
The nice thing about Penang is that the interesting bits are all within walking distance, no matter where you’re staying in. No need to ride buses or taxis (unless you’re headed for the beach or Penang Hill). Grab a map of Penang from the airport / your hotel / your hostel and you’re good to go. And even if you weren’t looking for a particular place to eat or particular street art to pose in front of, the weathered look of the shop houses is so appealing that you wouldn’t mind wandering aimlessly in the streets just in case you find something cool that isn’t typically in the trip guides.
(Note: Watch out for a store / cafe that sells pretty postcards and has a red mailbox outside their store. You can write your postcards right then and there, stamp a pretty stamp onto your card and post it right away. The owner takes the photos of Penang himself and he’s got a cat who’ll fight you for the stamp you’re about to use on your card.)
On the recommendation of a friend native from Penang, we made our way to China House on Victoria Street (Beach Street, depending on where you’re coming from) for lunch and coffee. It’s one long shop house renovated to house a couple of independent restaurants / cafes, a bookstore and a mini exhibition space, to name a few. We liked the vibe so much that we ended up visiting the next day again!
Go for the hawker food, too. Penang’s got the best-tasting laksa in my opinion (and again, only for MYR6!) paired off with the best-tasting lime juice with longan. And I’m really not exaggerating – I thought I loved the lime juice and the laksa here in Singapore; apparently, I adored Penang’s. Don’t forget to try out their char kway teow too. If I remember right, we had our awesome share of hawker food along Kimberley Street.
Two of our friends were also raving about a restaurant known for Peranakan cuisine – Kebaya (which forms part of the boutique hotel, Seven Terraces). I’m not one to seek out particularly good places to eat when we go out of town (I was really content to have a repeat of the laksa if I could), but they were more foodies than I would ever be and said it’d be worth it. They’d made reservations the night before we flew there, and before heading out to the airport for our flight back to Singapore, we had dinner in this restaurant that turned out to be so, so good. Heads up, though; it’s a bit hefty, price-wise, compared to everything else in Penang!
The Street Art
I would post everything if I could. There’s so many that it could be a post on its own. Searching for Penang Street Art on the web could probably lead you to pictures of the kids on the swings, kids reaching out through window bars, a kid standing on a chair reaching for another window, and a kid who looks like he’s about to run away on a motorcycle. You’d probably have seen the one with the basketball, the fuzzy orange cat chasing the black rat, and the ballerina. Point is, there’s a lot and it almost feels like a scavenger hunt when you spend the entire day searching for them on the streets.
Penang makes for an excellent weekend away. You could pretty much escape the hectic city life and while away a whole afternoon sipping coffee, really!
Pictures were taken with an iPhone and a Fujifilm x100s // Post-processed with VSCO or Adobe