George Town travel guide written by BTB guest writer and digital nomad, Colin Clapp. See what to do in Penang on a budget – where to eat, sleep, and have fun.
The city of Georgetown is located on the northeast tip of Pulau Penang, an island and cultural hotchpotch situated off the peninsular Malaysian West coast (a few hours from Kuala Lumpur if you travel overland).
It is rich in history and for me ying and yangs between being a developing nation and a developed nation. An ambitious and vibrant place it is home to ex-pats from around the globe who come to Malaysia for a range of reasons.
We wanted an interesting, safe, and comfortable place to call home to start our digital nomad journey and Penang delivered in spades.
What to do in Penang on a budget
5. The Penang Botanic Gardens
The Penang Botanic Gardens were established by the British in 1884 on an old granite quarry site. The garden was and still is a site for research and education but is now more popular for recreational activities such as jogging, hiking, or cycling. Rapid Penang Bus 10 from Georgetown is the only bus that takes you all the way to the gardens and stops in the large car park just outside the entrance.
The gardens and ‘Moongate’ (which you pass on the left on the road into the gardens) are also entry points for several paths that turn into trails leading to the top of.
4. Penang Hill
Penang Hill dominates the Georgetown landscape and the peak can be accessed via a good hike or the Penang Hill funicular train service. Depending on your levels of fitness and the exact routes, the hikes could take you anything from 2-6 hours.
The funicular track stretches a distance of 1,996 meters from lower to Upper Station which is the longest in Asia. Plus the Penang Hill funicular tunnel, at 79 meters long and 3.0m wide with a steepness of 27.9 degrees, is the steepest tunnel track in the world.
When you get to the top there is a vibrant little community of attractions including food and drink options.
3. Penang Street Art
In 2012, Penang’s municipal council hired London-trained Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic and charged him with breathing new life into some of the atmospheric Chinese shop-houses around the inner city. This was in an effort to spawn awareness of the rich history as well as make strolling through Georgetown a little bit more exciting,
The project was a success with Zacharevic turning certain areas into thriving tourist destinations that also became much-talked-about objects of attention among locals.
2. Penang Municipal Park
There’s a lot to do at this sprawling park at the edge of George Town. Formerly known as ‘Youth Park’ there is a water park, skating rink, children’s playground, giant chess set, and jungle gym that guarantee plenty of fun for the kids.
1. Penang Avatar Secret Garden
This new hidden gem resembles the stunningly-lit garden and breathtaking scene from the movie Avatar and has been described by some as “the most Instagram-worthy spot we’ve ever seen!”.
Here in Penang, the mystical lights are draped on tree branches in a myriad of colors, which certainly dazzle ever so brightly from any angle. And since its main attraction is the dreamy lights, it is advisable to visit this secret garden when night falls, when the lights sparkle best.
You should be able to discover this ‘secret’ next to the Sea Pearl Lagoon Cafe and behind Flat Uda located in Tanjong Tokong, which is situated by the beach. Once you get there you’ll see an amazing light show hidden within the trees with lots of places to sit and watch the lights. The location also makes for a romantic date night too.
Where to eat in Penang on a budget
Read anything about Penang, and you’re sure to find references to its great food options. We agree as you’re never far from amazing tastes and textures to accommodate all appetites and budgets.
The city is host to hundreds of cheap hawker centers where you can easily feed a family for a fraction of the price you might pay in the west. Two to check out are the Northam Beach Café and the Red Garden Food Paradise. Depending on when you go you could also get live music!
Little India is also a gold mine of tasty restaurants with our favorite being Woodlands Vegetarian restaurant located at 60, Lebuh Penang.
For something different, also check out Annalakshmi Temple of Fine Arts on a Saturday night from 6pm. This place offers a completely vegetarian (not vegan) Indian all you can eat buffet with payment by donation. You decide what you will pay!
Editor’s tip: George Town isn’t exactly a drinking-friendly destination with high alcohol taxes. However, if you don’t mind sitting outdoors on plastic stools, head to Antarabangsa Enterprise for some of the cheapest drinks in town. Even if you don’t go in a big group, it will be easy to join in with one.
Where to stay in Penang on a budget
We opted for Airbnb when we arrived in Penang and found an abundance of options ranging in price depending on type and location. As we were looking for a long-term stay, we used blogs to hunt down recommended estate agents and then used these recommendations to find ourselves an affordable and lovely apartment we could call home for a year.
If returning for a shorter stay, we’d happily use AirBnB again. Our particular hosts on arrival were amazing; picked us up from the airport, bought our 3-year old a teddy bear, and took us out for dinner! (We felt spoilt and would not expect such generous treatment again).
Others also recommend YMCA Penang as a cheap, clean and basic place to stay with lots of activities there too. See current rates or look at other accommodation options in George Town.
How to get around Penang on a budget
We’ve been committed Uber customers since we arrived in Asia. In Penang, Uber drivers are plentiful and 99% of the time we’ve loved the service. You can link an account to a credit card and family members and then arrange most of your transport needs from an app on your phone. Our family of three use Uber daily both individually and together and spend a rough average of NZ$150 dollars per month.
If you venture too far from the city where it’s unlikely drivers will be available for the return trip, you will need to get a bus to your next destination. From our experience, this too is generally a clean and tidy service albeit sometimes quite long-winded.
I also highly recommend the LinkBike scheme. I paid MR30 for a year’s access to the bikes and use them often for point-to-point commutes around Georgetown.
BTB guest writer – Colin Clapp
Colin Clapp is a Dad, partner, coach, internet marketer, speaker, and a ‘mature’ digital nomad! He’s behind the Parenting, Passports and Profits podcast as well as the family ‘techie’.
He’s committed to lifelong learning, loves books, podcasts, videos, and having way too many tabs open in his browser.
All photos in this article are the property of BTB guest writer, Colin Clapp, except the feature and vertical image which were sourced on Pixabay.
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