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What's New in Penang


We can't get enough of Penang's legendary street food, shop house boutiques, and multicultural vibe. Contributor MARCO FERRARESE and photographer KIT YENG CHAN head to George Town and the surrounding areas for a glimpse of what's happening in this historic enclave.

Published on Mar 17, 2017

 

IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE that it has been less than a decade since Penang's UNESCO awakening. George Town's British-colonial charm and century-old workshops have helped a generation of heritage-savvy boutique hotels, refurbished hole-in-the-wall bistros and artsy venues redefine the island as Malaysia's heavyweight of urban-cool. Still, the narrow streets burbling with multiple personalities can leave many scratching their heads, so we've boiled it down to the newest and best.

 

NAVIGATING GEORGE TOWN
Catchily named, they are not, but the neighborhoods of Penang's urban core each have their own addictive personalities.

CORE HERITAGE ZONE
Stretching from the seafront promenade Weld Quay west to Love Lane and south to Lebuh Melayu, and cut in half by kaleidoscopic Chulia Street, the walkable core comprises quintessential Penang. Taking in sea views of Padang Kota Lama, bustling Little India and part of Chinatown, the area overflows with heritage buildings. Gudang Café (meal for two RM40) resuscitateed a 1950's warehouse next to Armenian Street's murals. It creates a simple yet convincing concept of Thai brews and Japaneseinspired mains.

Gudang Cafe
Gudang Café, on Armenian Street.

HERITAGE BUFFER ZONE
Campbell Street, a 19thcentury red-light district and 20th-century shopping hub, has morphed into the city's standard-bearer for hip. The bar on the second floor of hotel and restaurant Kim Haus (9 & 11 Campbell St.; drinks for two RM24) boasts a delightful terrace facing charming Art Deco buildings, and has launched daily live music open mics performed by Penang artists. Next door, Café Lagenda (43 Campbell St.; dinner for two RM70) is another new spot that surprises with its Malay-Indonesian fare, an unusual find in a Jazz-themed bar.

Kim Haus
Kim Haus has a fun open mics.

NAGORE ROAD
In this snappy entertainment neighborhood a 10-minute walk west from the Buffer Zone, the bohemian Coffee Addict (209 Hutton Ln.; coffee for two RM24) is an addition to the café culture. Linked to Australian Murobond Paints' shop, with original art by Ernest Zacharevic on the walls, it's the place to take your coffee and Western breakfasts with color-stained fingers. Looking for the areas anchor? It is Nagore Square, two rows of brightly rehabilitated townhouses full of shops, eateries, spas and life.

 


Laura François
Courtesy of Laura François.

Ask an Insider
Laura François
(Thread.bio)

Sustainable fashionista

"The island has good spots for both preloved and ethical fashion," says the Montreal native behind Thread.bio, an online platform promoting clothing brands that care about the planet. "Grab a coffee and head upstairs to The Study and Bon Ton Shop at ChinaHouse (+60 4 263 7299; 153 Lbh. Pantai, George Town), a beautiful collection of Malaysian clothing, accessories and household items. Hipsters should plan a visit to Doubt? Japanese Used Clothing for preloved clothing and fun Japanese styles. Ottokedai is a gem selling one of a kind accessories and fashion from all over the country."


 

         
 

Bus Depot
Hin Bus Depot.

Run Amok
Run Amok gallery.

 

ARTS AND CULTURE
Main player art space and gallery Hin Bus Depot revamped at the beginning of the year with the opening of Run Amok gallery, a home for alternative illustrators and artists, and steakhouse Tavern in the Park (dinner for two RM60), a relaxing glass, brick and wood chalet serving hearty burgers and Australian rib eye steaks.

Multiethnic Penang hosts many interesting festivals and some of Asia's quirkiest religious gatherings. Here are just a few of our favorites:
+ End of January to February: On the first full moon of the Tamil month of Thai, a street parade of penitent Indians carry kavadis—physical burdens as heavy as skewers pierced through the cheeks—to thank Lord Murugan.
+ August: The month-long George Town Festival makes the island a global stage with 100 international and local world-class performances. georgetownfestival.com.
+ Mid-August to September: The gates of Chinese Hell unleash their dead, who 'come back' in paper form during the colorful, though admittedly dark, Hungry Ghost Festival.
+ End of November: George Town Literary Festival brings pan-Asian and international novelists, spoken-word artists and poets to quibble on the status of the written word. georgetownlitfest.com.

 
         

 

TOP TABLES AND TIPPLES
Penang's hottest dining and drinking hot spots inject a touch of modernity in timeless shells.

FARQUHAR MANSION revitalized 1878 Farquhar Street Mission House & Chapel to preach a gospel of fine dining along a charming heritage bend of coastal George Town. The dim-lit, elegant interiors with chandeliers and mahogany pianos pair irresistibly with walls covered in glitzy embossed frames and international Pop Art. The menu—from the oyster chowder with scallops, to the signature lamb rack with prawn-andscallop ravioli—is perfectly choreographed for a special night out. farquharmansion.com; tasting menus from RM148.

Farquhar Mansion
Farquhar Mansion.

59 SIXTY Sunsets are magical here atop KOMTAR, Penang'g highest tower. The 360-degree bird's-eye view of George Town's sawtooth tiled roofs set against the Penang Strait match perfectly with the menu of seafood-based mains à la glazed crab with smoked paprika or kong pho crab with basil and kumara dauphne dumplings. thetop.com.my; buffet from RM88 per peson.

59 Sixty
59 Sixty.

RUINS OF VICTORIA brings a lot of charm into the storage house of Chinese clan Khoo Kongsi: two floors of dining salons focusing on Italian fare—chicken saltimbocca, say—and an open-roofed live music bar. Bar manager Bob Ras Prakash mixes a great Bernadetta Segala, a zesty Campari, gin and fruit drink named after the artist who painted the bar's walls. fb.com/ruinsofvictoria; meal for two RM70; drinks for two RM50.

Ruins of Victoria
Ruins of Victoria.

NARROW MARROW has anything you'd expect from an oh-so-cool Brooklyn hipster bar, packed into a tight, tunnel-like refurbished Chinese shophouse. The signature toddy mojito with traditional palm wine is a great twist on a crowd pleaser, and attracts a mixed expat and local artsy crowd who loves their tunes crackling from vintage vinyl. 252A Lbh. Carnarvon; beer for two RM20.

 


Syerleena Rashid
Courtesy of Syerleena Rashid.

 

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Syerleena Rashid
Hungry politician

"Time is a luxury for councilors, and negotiations are often made over food," says Penang's city council member. "Lunch at Magic Kitchen (4F, 1st Avenue Mall, 182 Jln. Magazine, George Town) is great for international fare and rubbing elbows with Penang's political movers and shakers. For great atmosphere and delicious fusion cuisine, mainstay No Eyed Deer is my favorite; I adore the Laotian laksa, hearty chicken parmigiana and Vietnamese spring rolls. For hawker food, at bustling Restoran Nasi Padang (92 Transfer Rd.) one might end up sharing a table with total strangers, but the Sumatran food here is just zesty, flavored and splendid."


 

         
 

Curry mee
Curry mee.

 

HAWKER CAPITAL
With woks sizzling on every corner and some of Asia's best food-courts, Penang is fully understood only at street level. In the evening, Lorong Baru closes to traffic and transforms in New Lane Hawker Center, where Penang's famous char kway teow (flat noodles with prawns, bean sprouts, chili and cockles), laksa and chee cheong fun (rice noodles) are served steaming fresh. Meal for two RM20. + George Town's main thoroughfare, Chulia Street, may be noisy and busy, but has some of the juiciest wonton and curry mee on the island. Expect a no frills, stool-by-the-roadside, authentic experience. Meal for two RM15. + Red Garden has uplifted the roadside hawker experience for close to a decade with Malay, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Western fare in a covered lot in the heart of George Town. redgarden-food.com; meal for two RM25.

 
         

 

BOUTIQUE BEDDING
George Town remains the best choice to immerse yourself in Penang's eclectic, street-smart character.

+ Black interiors, marble floors and soft lights give Le Dream a classy, timeless neo-noir style. The ample alfresco rooftop café soars over a vista of terra-cotta gable roofs and crowns 43 sleek, crayon-tinted rooms equipped with Japanese Izumi style showers. Next to the reception hall, La Vie offers French-inspired, steak-focused fine dining—think perfectly cooked sirloin served with chives and homemade wasabi—and international wines in a confidential glass-and-marble ambience loved by Penang's well-heeled crowd. ledreamhotel.com; doubles from RM258; dinner for two RM200.

Le Dream Hotel
Neo-noir Le Dream.

+ New kid Kimberley Hotel renovated Jalan Sungai Ujong's neglected block by transforming a four-story prewar heritage building into an elegant boutique hotel. The 118 modern rooms are tinted in hushed colors, around verandas overlooking China Town. The annexed bistro Auction Rooms infuses heritage chic in a spacious loft-like setting, dishing up Western-inspired mains like grilled tilapia and prime Aussie rib eyes. kimberleyhotel.com.my; doubles from RM158; dinner for two RM70.

+ A 1940 Art Deco building salvaged from a bird-nesting-induced slow death, Spices by the Park makes for a quiet urban stay. The six wood-floored rooms have high ceilings and nostalgic black-and-white-tiled bathrooms. The secluded rooftop overlooks the heritage enclave's mosque and clan house. Downstairs, the dreamy gaze of the Indian water bearer, one of Penang's street-art pieces by Russian Julia Volchkova, connects to Urban Spices Café. The Javanese beans, Western breakfasts and Asian-fusion mains here (such as seafood sambal tumis pasta) are great company to while away the day's hottest hours. 89 Acheen St.; doubles from RM250; dinner for two RM50.

Spices by the Park
Spices by the Park.

+ The Edison is the latest makeover to George Town's string of neglected properties. This incarnation of the old Anglo-Indian Cathay Hotel reinvented itself with a boost of Midcentury-inspired furniture, Chinese art and sapient mixing of heritage and modern panache. The 35 deluxe suites are a haven of comfort amidst the ebb and flow of George Town's bustling arteries Chulia Street, Penang Road and Jalan Muntri. theedisonhotels.com; doubles from RM550.

 

GREEN ISLAND
The western side of the island hides lush rainforest and less-visited beaches a world away from George Town's hertitage hustle. Rent a car to explore at your own pace, or ride on the far reaching Rapid Penang bus network (rapidpg.com.my).

 

Penang Botanic Gardens

1. Penang Botanic Gardens, established in 1884, has a wide collection of plants and cheeky resident macaques. Loop around the main paved road, or strike off along trails that branch as far as Penang Hill.

  Penang map   Balik Pulau

5. Drive to Balik Pulau—literally "the back of the island"—via windy Road 6, stopping to gaze at Titi Kerawang waterfall en route. The town, recently uplifted by new street murals by Russian artist Julia Volchkova, still oozes a relaxed old time charm.

Entopia

2-3. Bypass Batu Ferringhi's crowds and continue to ecotheme-park Entopia (admission RM49) for a glimpse in the world of tropical butterflies. A quick drive south, the impressive Teluk Bahang Dam is a worthy pit stop.

 

4. Backtrack to the National Park for an invigorating jungle hike. A canopy walkway is a quick intro to a monkey's point of view. A one-hour hike leads to Monkey Beach, one of Penang's crescents of uncluttered sand. Boats (one way from RM20 per person) can whiz you back to headquarters.

Canoy walk

  Durian

6. Cut through durian and banana farms to Pulau Betong, a Chinese fishermen's settlement of atmospheric wooden houses. The beach nearby faces atoll Betong, and it's a great place to enjoy the most natural side of Penang, and truly electric sunsets.

Illustrations by Autchara Panphai.

 

 


Howard Tan
Courtesy of Howard Tan.

 

Ask an Insider
Howard Tan
(studiohoward.com)

Local Shutterbug

"Art & Garden (admssion RM 30) is filled with artist Fuan Wong's collection of plants, glass installations, and arts and sculptures. Cozy in the Rocket (264 Lbn. Pantai, George Town) is a small cafe decorated with old memorabilia. Dickensian Kang's Antique is packed with antique furniture and vintage items."


 

 

 

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Penang at night.
  • A Chinese dragon soars atop Goddess of Mercy Temple.
  • Kim Haus has a delightful terrace.
  • Auction Rooms, next to Kimberley Hotel.
  • Farquhar Mansion's facade.
  • Farquhar Mansion's interior.
  • Tavern by the Park.
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