George Town is fantastic – I don’t even know where to start: It was the first British settlement in Southeast Asia and became – together with Singapore and Malacca –  a British crown colony in 1867.

View of the modern part of the city of George Town from the Kek Lok Si Temple.

George Town, counting about 710,000 inhabitants, is Malaysia’s second largest city and the capital of the Penang Island.

Pulau Penang is a very diverse island and has therefore always been one of Malaysia’s most popular tourist destinations. National as well as international visitors, among them Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, and Queen Elizabeth II, came here to enjoy unspoiled nature, savor Asian delicacies from different cultures, and admire unique and vibrant street art.

A guided tour of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion aka the Blue House allows you a glimpse at a very wealthy man’s life in old George Town.

And there definitely is a reason that the historic old town made it on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008.

Street Art

Isn’t this the coolest and most creative way of….

Obviously, George Town got on the list for its well-preserved colonial architecture. However, this nomination was the initial spark for transforming the city center into an outdoor museum:

In 2009, the Penang State Government commissioned a street art project called Marking George Town.

The Malaysian sculpture studio SCULPTUREATWORK won a competition with their concept of telling George Town’s through funny cartoons made from iron rods.

Titled Voices From the People, they’ve made 52 flat sculptures that are to be found mounted to building walls throughout the city.

Although the material and make give them a homogeneous appearance, the signature of each of the local cartoonists who invented the motives can be distinguished.

….teaching travellers Penang’s history?!

Then came 2012 and the George Town Festival took place and Lithuanian-born, Penang-based artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to paint six murals.

One of Zcharevic’s first murals depicts a little girl in blue aka Kung Fu Girl. This pieces marks – you’re ready for this, ladies? – the shop where Penang-born and now world-famous shoe designer Jimmy Choo learned his trade!

He has not only depicted local culture and customs, but he also used given props such as bikes, a chair, or windows which made his works a mix of mural and installation. New, ingenious, inspiring.

Children on a Bicycle on Armenian Street – no visit to George Town is complete without a picture of Zacharevic’s most famous piece.

I wonder how many lovely ladies were seated on the Boy on a Bike‘s bike – riding down Ah Quee Street.

Naturally, these works inspire the many admirers to interact – and everyone wants their picture taken being part of some genius artworks.

Young Zacharevic, he was born in1986, has since then been invited to embellish places in Singapore, Barcelona, Lisbon, and the Wynwood Walls in Miami.

Since Zacharevic’s interactive murals are such an overwhelming success, other street artists jumped on this particular bandwagon and are also creating designs including the givens.

Children on a Swing – and me, too – by Louis Gan (them, not me).

An inspiring and inviting mural that created in collaboration by St. Xavier’s Institute, Homesoy, and Vilmedia.

I Want Pau by W K Setor – another cute mural putting a bike in focus.

But you will also notice that there is a remarkable number of cat-murals – hm, what is that all about?!

Cats carrying Taoist lanterns, banners, and some deities in the garden of Cheah Kongsi.

In 2013, the group Artists for Stray Animals ASA ran a new project named 101 Lost Kittens. Thai artist Nathhapon Muangkliang created together with local artists Louis Low and Tang Yeok Khang 12 cat murals.

Hang in there, kitten – which is not the original title of this mural, but something I invented.

Here are two more examples of what I liked best – but there is so much practically everywhere you look that it can be only the tip of the artberg.

Graffiti artist and illustrator Cloakwork from Kuala Lumpur created the mural Only You Can Stop Air Pollution on Ah Quee Street

I love the sensitive, hyper-realistic murals by Russian artist Yulia Volchkova like this Indian Boatman on Stewart Lane.
Chair No 61….

The George Town Festival is an annual, month-long art festival.

In 2016, CHAIRS was a community project taking place during this festival.

It was a social experiment to find out how people react to scores of individually decorated chairs placed at various points around George Town’s heritage district.

By the way, what enthralls me most is with how much respect and care all these projects are treated: Nobody damages or steals the props, no one smears something stupid on the murals – it’s very impressive.

….and the explanation on the seat surface.

The Temples

There are all these different ethnicities in Malaysia and Penang is no exception to the rule: The reason for being Malaysia’s gastronomic capital is buried deep in the pots and pans of Malay, Chinese, and Indian restaurants – whether at elegant restaurants or rustic booths and carts.

The CF Foodcourt, a huge Chinese eatery across the street from the Clans Jetties on Penang’s southern shore.

Apart from their culinary temples, these ethnic groups also have their houses of worships that make a trip to Penang an unforgettable cultural experience.

The Kapitan Keling Mosque, built in the 19th century by Indian Muslims.

The Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple, built in 1833, is Penang’s oldest Hindu Temple.

The Haina Temple Thean Hou on Lebuh Muntri.

The Kek Lok Si Temple, built between 1890 and 1930, is Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple,…

…but also an important pilgrimage center for Buddhists from other countries in Southeast Asia.
You can get there by bus #203 or – if you want to save time – by taxi from downtown George Town.

Great insight into Malaysia’s colorful past is granted at former private mansions such as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion aka the Blue House which you might already have seen in movies like Indochine.

The Beaches

Penang is an island, hence there are beaches. However, I would not necessarily recommend planning a beach vacation here; on this purpose, you should rather consider crossing over to Pulau Langkawi.

Nonetheless, it is hot in Malaysia, stuffing face at the restaurants and chasing art in the streets for hours can be exhausting – you might wanna just stretch out on the fine white sand and take a refreshing dip in the ocean.

Floating village, seen from the Penang National Park.

The most popular beaches like Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah are located north of George Town and can be quickly reached by bus #101 e. g. from the Komtar bus terminal downtown.

Nevertheless, Monkey Beach is said to be the nicest one and while I don’t know about that, I can confirm that it’s the most secluded – which doesn’t make it any cleaner, by the way.

Monkey Beach….obviously.

You can reach it either by boat from Teluk Bahang or you hike for about one hour through the Penang National Park which is nice but cannot be compared to other tropical forests in Malaysia.

The Hill

If you are looking for a more genuine hiking experience in sumptuous nature, I recommend you climb up the island’s central hills west of George Town.
However, the peak is also accessible by a funicular railway from its base station on Hill Railway Road.
Albeit, I have to warn you – on busy days the wait can be extremely long.

Riding the funicular railway.
(Photo: Syed Abdul Khaliq from Shah Alam, Malaysia, Hello! (3440590727), CC BY 2.0)

Like many of these more highly situated places in Asia – such as Da Lat in Viet Nam or Thansur Bokor in Cambodia – Penang Hill, too, used to be a retreat for British colonials.

Today, it is a popular tourist attraction – mainly for the grand views.

Best place to sleep:

Talking ’bout views – the best hotel for this is definitely the Gurney Resort. Actually, there are many great – and taaaall – buildings on Gurney Drive, but this resort has definitely the best service-price-ratio and is also affordable for Cheap Charlies like me.

Try to get a room as high as possible, make time for checking out their amazing swimming pool, and

check out their availability and rates.*

Best place to eat:

I think it would be much easier to tell you about the places where the food is not good. I truly suggest you just walk around and keep your eyes and nostrils open and eat your way through this city of milk and honey.

This gentleman is serving Satay skewers, one of the most iconic Malaysian specialties.

If you insist on a recommendation, then I can tell you that I had the best butter chicken of my entire life at Tandoori chicken and Nan Restaurant across the street from Nagore Dargha Sheriff shrine – and I had my share of butter chicken alright.

Tandoori chicken and Nan Restaurant
93, Lebuh Chulia
10200 George Town

Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited in Malaysia? 

Then go to the main post and take your pick!

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