I’ve recommended George Town on my Top Spots in Malaysia for the famously high-rated food, cute cafés, nice people, street art, scenery and history.
The entire town of George Town is a highly visited UNESCO World Heritage Site on the island of Penang. It’s in the north of the Malaysian peninsula off the west coast, below Langkawi. It makes a perfect first stop if traveling down from Thailand by bus or train.
Usually highly visited means overrated and crowded to my mind, but that’s not the case at all here. There’s a USA 1950’s vibe going on in George Town. Streets are filled with mom and pop shops, there’s a refreshing absence of big businesses (no McD or Starbucks!), and a plethora of cute, unique cafes. You’ll get an instant idea of the interesting cultural climate of Malaysia as the Indian section, Little India, is only a few steps away from a church, to the right, and a mosque, to the left.
It is often said that travelers get stuck in George Town. They plan to sight-see for a few days and end up staying two weeks, for example. It happened to us too!
If you’re a budget backpacker searching for a hostel, ask to be dropped off (if arriving by bus) on Chulia Street. Chulia is in the center of town and intersects with Love Lane. On these two streets you’ll find hostels. We stayed at Broadway Hotel as it was cheaper than hostels for three people and clean and private. It was on the corner of Pasar, or Market Street, right before Little India.
The bus system in George Town is really great and will take you all the most important places around the island. Take a bus to the beach, a night market, a butterfly garden, an orchid garden, a national park and more. The buses run frequently. You’ll even see propaganda on the buses to get all the religions in the area to get along! The two bus hubs are at the pier, where you will arrive if coming by boat, and at the KOMTAR Tower, Penang’s tallest building, so you’ll see it from just about anywhere.
There’s also a Shuttle Bus that will bring you around the town for free!
On a rainy day, we took a bus all around the island and were able to get some great views.
**When leaving, the ferry from George Town to Butterworth is free. The ferries leave regularly, I believe every 20-30 minutes, but am not sure when they stop in the day. The bus fares quoted around George Town to get to other towns were pretty expensive. To save at least 50%, take the free ferry to Butterworth and get a bus from the local bus station near the ferry. The price drop you’ll see is significant! We paid about $USD 4 each to take a local bus from Butterworth to Ipoh. The bus was big, comfortable, and left on time. The aircon was cold though so, bring a jacket!
If you want to take in some history, walk around Fort Cornwallis and see the lighthouse. We didn’t find the entrance fee worth the price however, but walking around the outside worked for us.
Don’t miss the Protestant Cemetery to learn more about the settlement and history of the area. Here you can find the grave of George Town founder Francis Light, once the captain and a trader for the British East India Company.
Both St. George’s Anglican Church and Church of the Assumption are beautiful, historic, well-preserved and worth a look!
Have fun on an artwork scavenger hunt. There’s lots of amazing and hidden street art to see, as well as interesting historical metal art structures.
Go to Penang Bowl for bowling on a rainy day. We are always looking for bowling for Grace. She used to be involved in Special Olympics bowling and loved it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find bumpers with bowling in SE Asia! There’s bowling with bumpers in Kuala Lumpur, but not at Penang Bowl, so you’re on ya own! 🙂
But, oh man will you look silly if you do this:
Get a map of all the things to do a short bus ride north of George Town. I can’t remember what they all were, but there was a lot. If you luck out on sun, there’s a ton of hiking to be done in Penang National Park.
Check out the innumerable unique cafes.
Try delicious samples and buy chocolate covered coffee (or durian, ew) at the chocolate museum.
And of course,
Best Places to Eat
George Town is all about the food.
Don’t kill me, but seafood ain’t my thing, so I never tried the assam laksa, etc. that everyone raves about. There are lots of great blogs that cover where to find the local specialties, so I’ll trust that you will find them if interested.
For two weeks, my mom, sister and I balanced out Western-style cafe food with street Indian cuisine. The cafes were great, but they were a bit pricey for our very low budgets. We evened it out by eating lunches at the cafes and dinners in Little India, roughly. Our hotel was right in Little India and the best chicken, rice, and naan was only around the corner. We got a HUGE chunk of chicken with rice for $2 at our favorite street-food vendor. There was also a samosa maker down the street who sold the best curry served with naan bread to sop it up.
Just wander around Little India and you’ll be sure to find something.
Our favorite place around was The Daily Dose. After arriving and getting settled into the town, we headed over to this cafe only a few hundred meters from where we were staying. The food was the best we found around, but so were the staff. After eating, it being already late at night, rain began to pour down. Seeing that we had no umbrella, one of the staff members gave us an umbrella to use and take home with us and to return whenever was convenient. The kind gesture set our impression of George Town off on the right foot. We went to the Daily Dose so often that we soon became friends with the kind owner and her staff. We are in contact with the lady who offered the umbrella to this day!
The health drinks are pure veggies and fruit, blended right before you. I highly recommend everything about this place. For some reason I always think about the adorable little homegrown mushrooms they put on the Aglio Olio when I think about this restaurant. I miss them. Check the Daily Dose out, you’ll be glad you did. 🙂
Literally just around the Corner from the Daily Dose, 20 Chulia Lane Cafe did a delicious breakfast combo and an irresistible homemade apple pie and ice cream. The owners sweetly gave my Down Syndrome sister a bowl of ice cream on the house.
There was a newly opened Italian restaurant just a block or two down from the Broadway Hotel on the main street. Barista Cafe & Casa de Pizzeria will hook you up with some great pizza and fettuccine alfredo. 🙂
The Mugshot Cafe on Chulia has great yogurt and cream cheese bagels. They always threw cranberry sauce on the cream cheese for free when we ordered bagels. 🙂
Tell me what you think of cozy, friendly George Town! I hope you love it as much as I and hope you found this post helpful.