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If there’s one area in Malaysia you have to visit, it’s George Town. The capital of Kuala Lumpur may have its twin towers and Kota Kinabalu may have its imposing mountain, but George Town has the art, heritage and excellent food.
Given its long history as an international trading port and a British colonial headquarters, it’s little wonder George Town has centuries of heritage, food and culture to share. The arts community has also grown significantly since 2008, furthering the area’s reputation as a gritty, authentic and creative centre. Wondering how best to explore this evolving city? Culture Trip has the 10 best things to do in George Town right here.
Thanks to George Town’s sizeable Buddhist and Hindu communities, the city boasts a temple in every other block. The more prominent ones include the Goddess of Mercy Temple, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple and the Wat Chaiyamangkalaram (which has the third longest Buddha statue in the world). If you’re willing to venture a little from the city centre, you’ll also find the Snake Temple where, yes, there are live pit vipers slithering in the garden and curled up beneath the altar (don’t worry, they won’t hurt you).
Sri Mahamariamman Temple – Lebuh Queen, George Town, 10450 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia, +60 4 264 3494
Wat Chaiyamangkalaram – 17, Lorong Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia, +60 16 410 5115
Snake Temple – Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Bayan Lepas Industrial Park, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia, +60 4 643 7273
Every self-respecting city has a conscious arts and culture scene, and George Town, by that metric, is most definitely the most self-respecting city in Malaysia. At the heart of its flourishing street art and boutique cafés is a thriving community of artists, poets and bohemians, who all gravitate towards the Hin Bus Depot and the popular China House bar/cafe. For the handicraft enthusiast, the local Sunday market at the Hin Bus Depot is a must-visit.
Hin Bus Depot – 31A, Jalan Gurdwara, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
China House – 153, Beach St, Georgetown, 10300 George Town, Penang, Malaysia, +60 4 263 7299
Between August and February, the city plays host to several nationally renowned festivals, including the spectacular month-long George Town Festival. Between food festivals, literary events and hot-air balloon take-offs, there’s a little something for everyone. Have you missed the August-February window? Check out this page for other events throughout the year.
Situated near the Penang ferry terminal, the Clan Jetties in George Town are water villages dominated by seven historic Chinese clans. In the early 1900s, the clans played out a bitter rivalry over the monopoly of cargo and access to the waterways. These water villages ‘float’ above the water on stilts and are typically made of wood and aluminium. Communal houses normally include a long walkway and a small temple.
Only in George Town will you find a church next to a temple next to a mosque. And not just any church, temple or mosque either – St. George’s Church is the oldest purpose-built Anglican church in Southeast Asia, with Masjid Kapitan Keling proudly standing next to it as the former state mosque built in 1801. Even older than both of these religious centres, however, is the Goddess of Mercy Temple – first built in 1728. This shy and rather short Taoist temple is integral to the lives of local devotees who celebrate annual feast days for the Goddess of Mercy.
St. George’s Church – Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Georgetown, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Masjid Kapitan Keling – 14, Jalan Buckingham, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia, +60 4 261 4215
Goddess of Mercy Temple – 30, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia, +60 4 261 4137
When you’re in George Town, it’s very possible to eat well for under RM10 (US $2.50) per meal – and the best way to do that is by frequenting the street vendors on Chulia Street. This area comes alive after 6pm, where you’ll find food stalls on either side of the road sharing their business with trendy bars and cafes. Culture Trip recommends the wantan noodles (yellow noodles doused in soy sauce and topped with barbecued pork) and the cendol (sweet cold dessert with filling).
If there’s one thing that has catapulted George Town into the international hall of arts and culture, it’s the street art. Featuring wall murals by renowned artists such as Ernest Zacharevic, Bibichun, Jesus Moreno, Alex Face, Nafir and Kenji Chai, as well as lesser-known talents who may not have been authorised by the Penang Public Arts Review Panel (PARP), the street art in George Town is not to be missed. Check out this brochure for a recommended trail.
Did you know that the Peranakans used to lock a pair of live chickens in a basket on their wedding night? When they removed the basket lid in the morning, it was said that the first bird to leap out would presage the gender of their first-born child. If you didn’t know this, it’s time you took a trip to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. Entrance costs RM 20 (US $5), which includes a guided tour and inside information about how the Peranakans used to live.
29, Church St, Georgetown, 10200 George Town, Penang, Malaysia, +60 4 264 2929
Feel like having tea with former chief minister Lim Guan Eng? The Made In Penang Interactive Museum brings you floor-to-ceiling artwork that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, ‘tricking’ you into thinking that dinosaurs do exist and pictures can come alive. Family and couple-friendly.
Nightlife in George Town may begin in the bars of Chulia Street and Love Lane, but it ends at the Muchacha, Qe2. This beach bar is located at the Weld Quay, floating just above the water to command a staggering view of the black, blinking sea. Live music happens every Friday and Saturday, so put on your dancing shoes!