Jess Buchan

Imagine a place where local food and art combine together to create a combustion of colour and flavour. Where culture creeps through to the present day, both on wall and plates. Where life is celebrated visually and gastronomically. Well, there is such a place and it’s called Penang, a small island off the mainland of Malaysia.


Take a step back in time in Georgetown.

Known as the ‘Pearl of Malaysia’, Penang is a mixing bowl of culture, culinary and creativity. Topping the world’s best food destination list for several years running, Penang is foodie heaven. If there’s one thing you can guarantee here is that you’ll never, ever go hungry. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown has a distinct old world Asia vibe, with wooden rickshaws bouncing along cobblestone streets, past Chinese shop fronts and burning incense offerings smoking on the curb side.


Art is everywhere in Georgetown.

It’s hard not to lose yourself to the smells, sights and visuals of Georgetown. Wafts of chilli float through the air as street food vendors sizzle up tasty delights. Colourful street art cover the crumbling brick walls, drawing in flocks of tourists with their selfie sticks and silly poses. I spent four days in Penang and was so drawn to the place I returned a week later to stay for longer. I ate until I could eat no more and everywhere I walked I kept finding new bits of art, popping up right in front of me. Below are some not-to-miss areas of Penang.

art in georgetown

Have fun with the beautiful murals like this one - ‘Children on a Swing’ by Louis Gan.

Visiting the Old Town in Penang

Dilapidated brick walls decorated in art, depicting everyday life make up the streets of charming Old Town. Vendors line the busy streets, especially in Chulia Street where scooter, car and street vendors battle it out for space on the road. Make sure you try an egg tart at Ming Xiang Tai Pastry shop and sample some asam laksa and satay at Red Garden Food Paradise to start your food journey. Follow the Heritage Trail around the Old Town and discover not only the infamous street art but Penang’s history. You’ll find the big Insta-famous murals easily however it’s the more subtle works of art that are impressive; the tiny picture painted above your head or the sneaky political message stuck onto a power box.

egg tart

Just one of the many things you should try in Penang - the egg tart.

Checking out Little India in Penang

A sensual overload right in the middle of Georgetown. Loud Bollywood music blasts from speakers and ladies in colourful saris waddle down the street. Smells of exotic spices lead you into dimly lit restaurants where busboys run around with freshly cooked naan and cups of steaming masala chai. The food is always cheap and delicious in Little India and often you’ll find yourself sharing a table with a family who know all the right things to order! Kapitan or Thali NR Sweets Café are just two of the delicious restaurants you should try. For the best value ask for the Thali set meals which are cheap but delicious!

thali set meals

Thali set meals are often the best value and give you a good variety of things to try!

Shop at Gurney

Just a Grab (Malaysia’s version of Uber) drive away is the fancy part of Penang. Filled with lavish malls, big sky rises and very well dressed tourists, it’s not culture you come for to this part of Penang – it’s the shopping! Western influences are strong here and it’s hard to remember you’re in Malaysia at all. There is a hidden gem tucked away near Gurney Plaza however - the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre is worth the trip out of the Old Town alone. A complex filled with street vendors where you’ll find many of the local favourites, such as char koay teow, Rojak, curry mee and the popular dessert, cendol.

night markets in penang

The famous Gurney Drive Hawker market is not to be missed!

What to do outside and surrounding Georgetown

The fun isn’t just around Georgetown though. Pay a visit to Penang Hill for a lovely view of the area. Catch some rays at Monkey Beach (just don’t let the monkeys take your things!). Go hiking through Penang National Park or for a quick stroll through the Botanical Gardens. There is also an abundance of wacky and interesting museums in Penang. Pay a visit to Wonderfood Museum, the Ghost Museum, the Upside Down Museum, the 3D Trick Art Museum and the Camera Museum in-between food stops and you’re guaranteed a good time!

wonderfood museum

Wonderfood Museum is full of giant recreations of local food. It's great for kids (and big kids)!

Whatever you come to Penang for, you’ll definitely leave satisfied and wanting to return. With so many things to do, it’s the perfect destination for all ages! Add Penang to your bucket list and your stomach will thank you!

Tips and tricks when visiting Penang:

  • Use Uber or Grab to get around. They’re much cheaper than taxis and are very accessible. There is free wifi available around the Old Town making it easy to order one without having to buy a Malaysian SIM card.
  • Go and see the street art early in the morning to avoid crowds. Grab a map with each artwork marked out and get walking early. By mid-morning you’ll have to line up for a photo at some places, which can ruin the fun
  • There are pop-up markets and art exhibits happening all the time. A popular one being the Hin Bus Depot Sunday market which is a platform for local artisans and small business owners to showcase their stuff.
  • Try everything and anything! You’re in the home of the best food in the world, so go crazy! 


Jess Buchan is an Aussie travel blogger who has lived in Europe and loves to share her travel stories on her blog, Instagram @ablondeandherpassport and Twitter @ablondeandher.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.