Penang is for Street Art and Hawker Centre Lovers

Want to know something kind of crazy? On my four-month round-the-world trip, during which I visited 10 countries total, I visited only three new countries.

And the only new one in Southeast Asia? Malaysia.

But thankfully, Malaysia was so historical and surprising and different from anywhere else I’ve been (besides Singapore, perhaps), that it made me feel like a less lame traveler.

Out of all the Malaysian cities I saw, I fell hardest for Penang. From the crumbling Chinese shophouses to the Peranakan mansions to the creative bursts of street art all over the city, Penang was a dream for this colonial history-loving traveler.

Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Penang_shophousesI bunked up in Georgetown, Penang’s historic and touristic center, for four nights. It turned out four nights was too short a sojourn, and I found myself wishing for more time at trip’s end.

I missed a lot: the Photography Museum, Kek Lok Si Temple, a Peranakan cooking class. What can I say? It was about a zillion degrees outside and after more than three months of travel I just wanted to soak in my surroundings, rather than bop from tourist site to tourist site.

But despite my wishes to avoid any and all humidity, I managed to see, eat and do quite a lot.


Visiting the Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Since childhood I’ve had a fascination with both colonialism and the inner workings of Chinese households. (Which probably stemmed from Ties That Bind, Ties That Break. Anyhow.)Penang3Which is why I absolutely loved the Pinang Peranakan Mansion– an immaculately restored Straits-Chinese home filled with turn-of-the-century treasures like Victorian furniture, vintage china and bedazzled Nonya slippers.

I spent hours there taking photographs and examining the hundreds of antiques on display, as well as fervently wishing I could time-travel back to early twentieth-century Penang and attend a soirée at a wealthy Peranakan trader’s home. Alas.


Wandering the Clan Jetties

The clan jetties of Georgetown have stood for more than a century. They began as sheds used as resting places for the dock-workers, and eventually developed into communal dwellings with a Chinese clan occupying each jetty. (Interestingly, the same six clans still occupy the jetties.)IMG_9837

I found it neat that people still live in the stilt houses- while wandering I spotted motorbikes, pet cats and laundry flapping in the wind. While there were lots of tourists, the jetties truly still are family homes.

While there’s nothing to do at the clan jetties per se, they’re worth a wander while in Georgetown.IMG_9859

Searching for Beautiful Street Art

I apologize for these overexposed street art photos- in Penang I made the fatal mistake of trying to take photographs in Asia during the day.

But despite these so-so pictures, the street art in Georgetown was seriously impressive. My British travel buddy Dylan and I spent an entire afternoon combing side streets and found some beautiful murals. And waited our turn to pose with them of course.IMG_9820 IMG_9828 IMG_9832

I particularly loved work by Lithuanian-born arutist Ernest Zacharevic. Most of his work depicts Malaysian children doing everyday things like swinging on a swingset, playing basketball or flying a kite. But what makes his work so special is the 3-D nature of his work, with the inclusion of real objects.

IMG_9896 IMG_9899IMG_9817IMG_9804IMG_9904IMG_9936 IMG_9937

Eating at the Hawker Centres

When in Malaysia eat as the Malaysians eat, right?

In Penang I was delighted to find Singapore-style hawker centres, filled with a similar mixture of Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian stalls I came to love in the Little Red Dot.

CF Hawker Centre

One particularly sweltering afternoon while seeking cold water and fans, Dylan and I popped into the CF Hawker Centre. There we noshed on wanton mee and popiah, though sadly neither were quite as good the ones I had in Singapore.

I particularly appreciated the… unsavory selection of Western food, which included “Hawaii Chicken with Cheese”, “Chicken Gordon Bleu” and “Jumbo Sausage with Black Pepper Sauce.”


Red Garden Food Paradise

Our second hawker centre of the trip was Red Garden Food Paradise.

When we arrived for dinner we were far too early- the vendors hadn’t even started grilling. So we filled our stomachs (and our time) with a round of beers, which as always in Malaysia, was over-priced.

(To be fair I guess that’s what you should probably expect in a predominantly Muslim country.)IMG_9967

And when at long last the vendors started cooking, we tucked into chicken rice (soon to become my Malaysian staple), stewed eel (blergh) and chicken satay with peanut sauce (a favorite of mine from my time in Indonesia).


Staying at Roommates Penang

While in Penang Dylan and I stayed in at Roommates Penang, a quaint hostel located in central Georgetown. I absolutely loved the traditional Chinese shophouse façade, as well as the location: Roommates is located near all the UNESCO sites, street art and hawker centres.


I’ve stayed in dozens of hostels in Asia, and I can safely say Roommates is a good one- first off, the AC was glacial- essential in Malaysia in June. Secondly, I loved the privacy of the cubby bunks, and that the dorms only fit four people.

One downside was the lack of a common area- as someone who is always looking to meet other travelers I would’ve loved an area to socialize. Still, watching illegally downloaded Game of Thrones in our private, air-conditioned cubby bunks was pretty glorious.

Have you ever visited Penang? 

. . . . . . . . . . .

 A big thanks to Roommates Penang for hosting me in Penang. While they offered me two nights, I stayed a few more because I sincerely enjoyed my stay.

Enjoyed this post? Subscribe here!

Subscribe here to receive new Ashley Abroad posts straight to your inbox.

I'll never send you spam. And you can unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.
About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

44 thoughts on “Penang is for Street Art and Hawker Centre Lovers”

  1. Red Garden Food Paradise!!!!!! I’m not sure what I loved more, the name or the food. I would go back to Penang just to eat there again and again. Also, because I was suffering from a severe sunburn and could barely spend time outside without feeling like I was suffering from heat stroke…

  2. I know a lot of people focus on visiting new countries all the time, but sometimes I like visiting old haunts. Since you’ve already been there, you can discover new places and see things in a whole new light! Street art is one of my favorite things to find while abroad. I love these pictures!

  3. I’ve been to Penang twice now and somehow I still haven’t been to the Clan Jetties. I love Penang so much and I know I’ll be back. I’m putting the jetties on my to-do list! I love nothing more than wandering around and taking pictures, so it looks like my kind of place :)

    • The Clan Jetties were definitely interesting but paled in comparison (at least for me) compared to the Peranakan Mansion, hawker centres or street art. But if you love to take pictures then it’s definitely a great place!

  4. Penang looks gorgeous, great photos Ashley!
    I was there for one night and didn’t get to see the place at all. We arrived after a full day of bus travel from Thailand and stayed in this really bad place, then left in the morning. You’ve totally changed my perspective of the place :)

  5. This post and your photos brought back so many memories. We loved Penang especially for its artistic side. I noticed a lot of the murals we saw are starting to fade, shame! I guess that is the destiny of street art.

  6. Such gorgeous photos and crumbling colonial-era buildings are definitely my thing! The Zacharevic works are amazing, I’ve now seen a couple of bloggers posing by them and they look so real.

    I’ve had Malaysian food once and really liked it. Here’s to hoping the next time is in Malaysia :)

  7. I stayed in Penang for about a week and didn’t like it very much. It must have had something to do with my bad general state of mind at the time because reading this post really makes me wonder why the heck I wasn’t happy there! There was one thing that I did ADORE though: the food!! Wow! I had very different foods than you did, it was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much. If you ever go back, check up on the Pernakan staples, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them more than the wanton mee and popiah :D

    • I can’t even imagine how difficult all that must have been for the country. I was there before the plane crashes so I never got a chance to ask the locals about the effects they had, but I would certainly be interested to know.

  8. Hi, is it okay if I use one of your pictures for my blog/ portfolio (for college), just as the background for my page? The one in Lim Jetty. I just thought it looked nice.

  9. I’m spending nine days in Penang in Feb! I usually travel so quickly around places that I thought it might be nice to just relax in one spot for a while.

Comments are closed.