Penang: A Guide To Explore Georgetown On A Budget

Famous for its collection of street art that covers the walls, oriental-styled shophouses blend with colonial architectures, Georgetown is a vibrant city that attracts more and more tourists each year. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, marvel on the town’s rich heritage influenced by its European colonizers, starting with Love Lane. And of course, don’t forget the food! It’s a sin to miss the incredible street food mixing with the Malays, Chinese, Indian and Western influences.

Getting to Georgetown

By plane – There are numerous international flights to and from Penang directly.

By car – Take the North-South Highway to get to Butterworth. Travel time is less than 4-hours from Kuala Lumpur depending on the traffic. Once you are in Butterworth, you have two options: cross the Penang Bridge or transport your vehicle via the ferry for a minimal fee.

By train – KTMB travels daily from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth, travel time is approximately 4-6 hours depending on what type of train you take. Upon arriving in Butterworth, proceed to the ferry terminal to board the ferry that will take you to Penang Island.

By bus – There are buses leaving from KL Sentral and KL International Airport. Travel time is about 4.5-5 hours depending on the traffic. The bus terminates in Penang Sungai Nibong bus terminal, which is 20 minutes from George Town. From there, you can either take a taxi or hop on Bus 401 that will take you to George Town for RM2.50.

Best Time to Visit

Georgetown gets HOT and it’s humid, which makes the heat worse for most traveller. In the middle of the day, the sun can be really fierce. If you want to enjoy at a cooler time of year, then November to January is probably best. Do avoid the holidays and long weekends as these are the most touristy period. February to April are quieter months, giving you a lot more peace to appreciate the place better.

Wet season runs between May to October, so there are less tourists at this time of year. However in general, Georgetown will usually see a few hours of heavy rain and the remainder of the day will be dry. This is another period to enjoy the city without much tourists and cheaper accommodations.

Getting Around

The best way to get around Georgetown is by foot, bicycle or the free CAT shuttle bus that can take you to Georgetown’s major attractions. The frequency of the bus is every 20-30 minutes starting from 6 am till 11.30 pm. Since it is a free service, you can hop on and off as often as you want.

Taxis should generally be avoided because many drivers are reluctant to use the meter and will try to rip you off by selling you a package of tourist attractions. If need to, a better alternative is Grab taxis. It is used extensively in Penang and prices are super cheap.

If you want a more unique experience, try hiring a trishaw driver.

Where to eat?

The coffee house: This typically has a covered, open-air seating where various food cart vendors are stationed along the outside. You can order dishes from any combination of the food carts and the coffee house owner will take your drink order. Drinks and food will arrive to your table whenever they’re ready, and you’ll pay separately for each.

The specialty shop: These restaurants specialize in just one or two things, and they usually do them really well! It may be Dim Sum, Wanton Noodle, Hainanese Chicken Rice, or Bak Kut Teh (pork rib broth). Often they’re open until everything sold out or half-day. Either way, if the locals are flocking to it and you see everyone eating the same thing, take that as a very good sign.

Street Stalls: The most popular and inexpensive place to eat are at the hawker markets. It is usually open in the evening as you will be seated along the roadside without shelter. Otherwise, it’s a eat-as-you-walk experience as you find yourself buying small snacks from one stall to another.

Things to do in Georgetown

Tour the street arts

The walls of Georgetown have been painted with impressive murals that you’re likely to stumble upon while walking around. Be prepared for some lines if you are visiting in high season, but there are hidden artworks you may also get lucky and find you have one all to yourself.

In addition to all of the beautiful wall murals, there are about 52 steel-rod funny sculptures scattered around town which provide old tales about the streets that they are found on. 

Admire Pinang Peranakan Museum

The Peranakans, also known as the Babas and Nyonyas, is a distinguished community of refined Chinese unique to this part of the world, especially in the Straits Settlements. The former home of a wealthy merchant, this 19th-century mansion now transformed into Pinang Peranakan Museum showcasing over 1000 antique and collectible items of the Peranakan culture.

Eat the traditional desserts

Penang is a foodie city and there are lots of options, from hole in the wall cafes that you stumble across to the street stalls for food on the go. As the saying goes “there’s always another tummy for dessert”, so don’t miss these sweet treats!

Is Georgetown expensive?

The Malaysian currency is the Ringgit, and current exchange rates sit around US$1 to RM4.50. If you have been travelling around Southeast Asia, you’re likely to find Georgetown to be slightly expensive. A private room in the middle of Georgetown cost about RM60 (US$14), but a meal on the street cost as little as RM10 (US$2). Nevertheless, this is one destination you shouldn’t miss while in Malaysia!

Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!

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Aloha! I'm Bunzy, a curious dreamer who is passionate about roaming around the world getting lost, experiencing new cultures and meeting the locals. My superpower is to be able to sleep anywhere, anyhow!

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