The best things to see, eat and do in Penang
February 4, 2019
by Time To Coddiwomple
Just off of the West coast of Malaysia, Penang is known as a travelers paradise with its eclectic mix of history, street art, hipster cafes and delicious food. Whilst most things on offer are undoubtedly meaty, we managed to discover some veggie and vegan gems hidden in Georgetown.
How to get there
If Penang is your first stop in Malaysia, you can fly straight to Penang international airport from most countries, or get a domestic flight from Kuala Lumpur (KL).
If you’re following the popular backpacker trail through Malaysia, the best and most affordable way to get to Penang is by bus. Booking buses online is super easy, just a simple search will bring up a host of websites and tour operators. I would recommend redbus.com and then book with CS Travel and Tours. Expect to pay around RM20 per person (approx. £4) for an air-conditioned, recliner bus from Ipoh or Cameron Highlands.
There is a bridge connecting Penang to the mainland, but most people tend to get the ferry as it’s more direct and a marginal cost. The ferry goes from Butterworth and runs roughly every half an hour (every hour after 10pm) from 5:20am until 00:10am. A one way ticket costs RM1.20 per person and takes about 15 minutes.
Where to stay
Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel
If you are coming to Penang to party and meet new people then the only place to stay is Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel. You’ll be greeted with shots at the hostel bar and whisked off on a pub crawl before you can say “I love Penang”. Prices for dorm beds start from £7.
If wild partying isn’t your scene, then I would recommend the much more chilled Chalet One around the corner. This cute colonial building is tucked just behind the bustling Mecca of Love Lane, yet it’s surprisingly quiet. The staff are helpful and friendly, the rooms are clean and the air con is top notch. Dorm beds from £7, privates from £17.
Best veggie/vegan places to eat
The Sushi Kitchen
I cannot big this place up enough! Since I stopped eating fish a couple of years ago, I’ve tended to give sushi a miss, as veggie options didn’t excite me in the same way – until now! Everything on the menu is vegan and their ethos is to forego meat substitutes to let the plants do the talking. The set menu is extremely reasonable (RM24 per person) and includes a starter, a selection of sushi, a main and unlimited green tea. We loved the Global Warming Maki rolls so much that we postponed our onward journey, so we could come back the next day to devour more of the deep fried goodness! *Top Tip: On the walk to The Sushi Kitchen make sure you take a picture on the bench outside Son & Dad Barber Shop.
The Mugshot Cafe
Whilst the food here isn’t particularly vegan friendly (there are a few veggie options) The Mugshot Cafe deserves a special mention as they serve soya milk! If this doesn’t sound particularly noteworthy to you, trust me after several months travelling in Asia a sighting is almost as rare as a wild elephant. Expect to pay western prices, but the soya cappuccino and the trendy environment is worth it. You can also take a novelty mugshot (what’s your charge?) and browse for some new shades in the glasses shop out back.
The Leaf Healthy House
For healthy veggie and vegan recreations of local favourites this is the best place in Penang. The Leaf Healthy House offers simple dishes, with none of the greasiness often present in Malaysian cuisine, without compromising on flavour. If you’re a tofu lover and feeling adventurous I’d recommend the Slow Braised Ginger Vinegar.
A trip to Holy Guacamole is ideal if you fancy a break from Asian cuisine. Located in the heart of Love Lane, this day-of-the-dead, fiesta-themed restaurant serves world class Mexican food. The vegan options are delicious (I had the mushroom and pumpkin burrito) and the happy hour is a steal! A passion fruit margarita will only set you back RM10 between the hours of 12-10pm.
For sweet treats look no further than Wholly Wonder. Whilst I found some of their main dishes to be a little pretentiously portioned and expensively priced, the desserts and cakes were divine. Try the signature rainbow cheesecake, a homemade snickers bar or a smoothie bowl served in a papaya.
Top things to do
Although our ‘top thing to do’ always involves eating, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy in Penang. Here’s a quick rundown of our favourites…
Go hunting for street art
‘Hunting’ may not be the best description, as you’d have to walk around with your eyes closed to miss the incredible street art on every corner. Be sure to see them all by picking up a local street art map, or you can download one online. It’s easy to explore on foot or why not hire a bicycle for the day, if you can handle peddling in the heat!
Ride the funicular railway and visit Kek Lok Si temple
We’ve grouped these two together as they are in the same area of the city. The best way to get to Penang Hill from Georgetown is the 402 bus. Download the Moovit app for local bus times and info. The funicular railway gets extremely busy, so I would recommend trying to get there first thing in the morning (6:30am) or last thing at night (10:30pm). Tickets are roughly RM30 for a return. At the top you get a great view of the city. Next stop is the Kek Lok Si temple, which is about a 15 minute walk from the bottom of Penang Hill. The temple is stunning, with a great mix of oriental architecture and Buddhist statues, in amongst gardens brimming with flowers and bubbling fountains. *Top Tip: Make sure you hang a wish on the wishing tree.
Take a tour of The Blue Mansion
Listed on Lonely Planet as one of the top mansions in the world, a trip to the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, or Blue Mansion, is a great way to spend an hour or so. Tours run at 11am, 2pm and 3:30pm and cost RM16 per person. For fans of the recent Hollywood hit, Crazy Rich Asians, some of the interior may look familiar! If you’re feeling ‘crazy rich’ yourself you can also dine on a three course meal in the courtyard.
Trek in the world’s smallest national park
As well as the delights of Georgetown, Penang is home to one of the world’s smallest national parks, at approx. 25 square kilometres. Get the 101 bus out of the city to the park entrance, then choose one of the many trails that meander through ancient rainforest to reveal hidden beaches.