Penang, a reputable tourist destination in Malaysia, is well-known for its UNESCO World Heritage Site in Georgetown, the state’s vibrant capital. Georgetown used to be an important trading hub of the Straits of Malacca, known for its British colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses and mosques.
Now, it is a modern city filled with shopping malls, skyscrapers, swanky-looking cafes and restaurants. There is a lot to explore in this modern city with old-world charm. But if you only have a day in the buzzing Georgetown, here’s a list of the top 5 things to do in a day to get the most out of this exciting city!
1. Tour the historical Chinese settlement in Penang by the waterfront
Right in Georgetown, just down the road from Chulia Street beside the Kapitan Kling Mosque at Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld), you will find one of the last remaining historical Chinese settlements in Penang by the waterfront.
Each jetty is named after a Chinese Clan, and there used to be seven Chinese Clan Jetties by the waterfront. However, only six remain now as one was destroyed by fire. It is best to visit these historical Chinese settlements either in the morning or late afternoon while the weather is not too hot. Furthermore, if the weather is good, you may even be able to catch the sun set by the waterfront in the evening.
The Chew Jetty is the most established Chinese Clan jetty, occupying the largest waterfront area with the longest 304-metre walkway and 75 units of stilt houses. There is even a temple, as well as quintessential souvenir shops and eateries for you to take a breather while admiring the beautiful scenery along the waterfront.
At the entrance of Chew Jetty, you will also see a large UNESCO World Heritage Site signboard, indicating that it was established since the mid-19th century with its ancestors originating from China’s Fujian province. Residents are still living in these stilt houses, so while you marvel at the fine works of this century-old heritage site, remember to keep your volume down and not get overly excited!
2. A peek into the lives of the Straits Chinese at Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Over a century ago, it was common for the Chinese traders in Penang, Malacca and Singapore to marry a Malay wife and they started to form a prominent community of Chinese known as the Straits Chinese, or the Peranakans. This Straits Chinese community adopted selected Malay and colonial British practices because of the interracial marriages.
The unique lifestyle and customs they had created had left a great cultural impact to the locals up till today, especially in terms of cuisine and language. For a peek into the lives of these influential Peranakans, check out the Pinang Peranakan Mansion located at Church Street in Georgetown.
In this mansion, the typical home of a rich Peranakan a century ago is recreated to offer visitors a glimpse of their lavish lifestyle, customs and traditions. There are more of 1000 pieces of antiques on display to showcase the unique culture of the Straits Chinese here.
For 20 MYR per adult (5.14 USD), and free admission for children below the age of 6, you will be able to visit the mansion for a better understanding of the lives of the Peranakans. The mansion is open daily from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm and complimentary guided tours can be conducted for groups of 5 or more.
3. Have fun taking photos with the interesting street art
In conjunction with the 2012 George Town Festival Celebration, the Mirrors George Town street art project was created to capture the essence of Penang with various captivating street murals in the city.
Since then, Georgetown has gained much popularity amongst cultural heritage buffs around the world to check out its lively and whimsical street art. Grab a copy of the Georgetown tourist map, which lists down where all the street art are located in the heritage city.
Currently, there are a record of at least 22 intriguing street art, mainly located along the streets of Chulia Street, Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai), Armenian Street (Lebuh Armenian) and Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld). It is best to spend at least two hours or so to hunt these art pieces down in the city, so that you can enjoy and take as many quirky photos with the interesting murals!
4. Savour local hawker delights
It’s hard to be hungry in Georgetown, because you are spoilt for choices with a restaurant or local hawker stall in sight every few steps you walk in the city! Hence, it comes as no surprise when CNN selected Penang food as one of the best in Asia. No matter how time-strapped you are, you do need to grab your three meals, isn’t it?
For breakfast, treat yourself to a bowl of cheap yet delicious Koay Teow Thng (rice noodles soup served with fish balls or duck meat) or simple yet tasty kaya (coconut jam) toast with Penang white coffee.
Sink your teeth into a delightful plate of Tiger Char Koay Teow (fried rice noodles with beansprouts, cockles and prawns) or the crisply fried Penang Loh Bak (five-spiced pork rolls as seen in picture above) at Kafe Ping Hooi located at 179, Carnavon Street for lunch.
Before you leave Georgetown, don’t forget to check out the vibrant open-air Chulia Street Night Market with hawker push-cart stalls opening from around 6.00pm every night. Do what the locals do, enjoy a delectable bowl of famous curry noodles or wanton noodles (flat yellow noodles, either served dry or in soup, garnished with leafy vegetables and small meat dumplings) by the roadside stalls.
In between meals, you can also try the famed dessert consisting of a bowl of shaved ice, palm sugar syrup, coconut milk, kidney beans, and thin green pandan-flavoured rice flour noodles known as Chendul from the popular Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul at 27 and 29 Lebuh Keng Kwee.
It is a perfect way to cool off from the sweltering sun in Penang!
5. Purchase delectable Cantonese pastries at Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Shop
Last but not least, don’t leave Penang without grabbing some local delights home. Many travellers to Penang like to bring home the well-known tau sar piah (a type of Hokkien-style pastry filled with red bean or mung bean paste), but try something different by going to Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Shop for its tasty Cantonese-style pastries next time.
Established since 1979, the most popular item in this pastry shop is its Signature Trishaw Egg Tart at 2 MYR (0.50 USD) per piece. Don’t underestimate this plain-looking egg tart, for you will fall in love with its crispy but not overly flaky crust as well as fluffy and fragrant egg filling.
Try the other signature item - the Pandan Salted Egg Pastry at 1.90 MYR each (0.50 USD), stuffed with generous pandan paste & a full egg yolk. Ming Xiang Tai pastries are all stuffed with generous fillings and not too greasy. They are perfect as local souvenirs back home as they are packed in presentable boxes.
Make the most out of your day trip in Georgetown
Penang’s capital, Georgetown, is packed with tourists all year round, so it is crucial to make the most out of your day trip for a pleasant and memorable holiday. These top 5 must-do activities are applicable at any time of the year for a fun-filled trip. If you have more time to spare for your next Penang trip, check out other noteworthy posts on what to do in Penang for a wonderful holiday!
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