Walking Guide to Penang’s Georgetown
November 12, 2016
If you’ve been following me since I started this blog, you’ll have already read about my previous two articles on Penang – 5 Things to do in Batu Ferringhi and Exploring the Street Arts of Georgetown. Besides being famous for its street art, Georgetown is also well-known for the numerous cafés that popped up in the recent years, delicious street food, interesting museums and their Peranakan heritage. It’s my very first time in Penang so I was very excited to explore as much as possible but I didn’t get to eat as much street food as I thought I would. So, today I’ll be giving you a guide on which cultural landmarks to check out and the museums you should visit in Georgetown. I’ll leave the places to eat and where to stay for my next article!
Please grab a map of Penang upon your arrival and you’ll realize that most places of interest and cafés are clustered together, making it very convenient for you to get around on foot. You can also rent bicycles for as cheap as 8 Ringgit ($2.57 SGD) for 2 hours to explore Georgetown.
If you’re around the Esplanade, you’ll see many colourful bears forming a huge circle. These are the United Buddy Bears, which are painted, life-size fiberglass bear sculptured developed by the German businesspeople, Klaus and Eva Herlitz, in cooperation with sculptor Roman Strobl. The raised arms of these Buddy Bears signify friendliness and optimism hence exude a positive mood.
Besides the United Buddy Bears, you’ll see important landmarks such as Penang’s City Hall, Town Hall, Fort Cornwallis and the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. Built in 1903, the City Hall is the headquarter of Penang Island Municipal Council and the First World War’s monument for fallen soldiers is located here. The Town Hall was previously a social venue for Penang’s elite back in the 1880s. Its classic colonial elegance was the backdrop for a scene in the popular film, Anna and the King. There is also an ornate fountain nearby which was presented to the public by Koh Seang Tat in 1883.
If you head further towards the direction of the sea, you’ll reach Fort Cornwallis, which was built when Captain Francis Light first landed in Penang. This ancient sentinel of Georgetown guarded the island’s cape. If you’re interested, you can visit it between 9am to 7pm daily and it costs 20 Ringgit ($6.43 SGD) for foreign adults and 10 Ringgit ($3.22 SGD) for foreign kids.
Another structure that’s hard to miss in the Esplanade area is the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. This 60-feet clock tower, commissioned by the wealthy Cheah Chen Eok was built in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Each foot represents a year in the Queen’s reign.
Temples, Mosques and Churches around Georgetown
Georgetown is almost similar to Singapore in terms of racial harmony as they have Chinese, Indians, Malays and Peranakans living and interacting with each other in the city. Therefore, you’ll find many different temples, mosques and churches where people from different races and religion visit.
The most popular temple is the Goddess of Mercy Temple, dedicated to Kuan Yin. The first foundation was laid in 1728 by Chinese settlers and completed in 1800. It gets super crowded, especially on weekends as everyone wants to get a glimpse of this temple. There are different dialact groups in Penang, as well as, people from different Clans hence, you’ll come across the Teochew Temple, She Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi, Khoo Kongsi and many more.
The Teochew Temple is a prime example of Teochew architecture. It was built in 1855 and moved to its present site in 1870. In 2006, the temple received the Award of the Merit UNESCO Asia-Pacific for Culture Heritage Conservation. She Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi features classic Chinese architecture with the surprising addition of British lion heads on the temple. The lions symbolize the Straits Chinese loyalty to the British colonial powers. This is one of the oldest Hokkien clans in Penang. Khoo Kongsi, on the other hand, belongs to the Khoo clan. This temple features fine Chinese architecture and craftsmanship.
The most impressive mosque is the Kapitan Keling Mosque. It is founded in 1801 and is the largest historic mosque in Georgetown. Designed in Moghul architecture, it features beautiful minarets and domes. Seeing it in the day time is totally different from the view when it’s lighted up at night.
Quite similar to the Little India we have back in Singapore, this little quarter of South Indian culture is the place where early Indian immigrants first settled down in Penang. It is the island’s epicenter of Indian music, savoury cuisine, exotic spices and authentic goods. I enjoyed stepping into the spices shop and picking out unique ones that I’ve not seen before as the friendly Indian shop-owners will willingly explain how I can use those spices when preparing food. There are also many rickshaw pullers in Penang’s Little India and I really admire their strength as they don’t look that young.
Located along the Weld Quay are Penang’s historical clan jetties, home to families of traders, fishermen and dock workers. Built in the 19th century, these traditional houses are built over the sea on stilts and are connected by wooden walkways. Some friendly residents would welcome you to take a peek inside their houses.
Bazaar Chowrasta is the famous wet market in Georgetown where you can get fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables so you’ll be rubbing shoulders with many locals who purchase their groceries here. It is a morning market so visit early if you need time to explore the interesting things sold here. Do be careful when walking around this market as the floor is wet and slippery. I bought homemade spicy dried shrimp sambal from a stall. They make the sambal themselves from scratch daily to ensure its freshness and no preservatives have been added so it’s recommended to consume it within a week at most. You’ll also find bean paste biscuits and nutmeg which cost up to 30% cheaper here compared with other shops in Georgetown who are out to take advantage of tourists. This wet market doesn’t only sell fresh produce, you can also find souvenirs, unique handicrafts, paintings, furniture, cheap bags, clothes and accessories here.
I went to a couple of different museums in Penang but two of them showcased almost similar exhibits so I’ll only recommend my favourite 3 museums to visit in Georgetown. The Wonderfood Museum is a specialty museum celebrating Malaysia’s food heritage and in particular, Penang’s vibrant street food scene. I was so enticed by the extremely realistic food replicas, definitely a feast for the eyes! You shouldn’t visit this museum on an empty stomach! There is an exhibition area where there are giant food replicas of Assam Laksa, Chendol, Satay, Nasi Lemak and Char Kway Teow, just to name a few. There is also another area where you get to pose with the food replicas so get your cameras ready and I hope you’ll have as much fun as I did at the Wonderfood Museum.
Address: 49 Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street), Georgetown, 10200 Pulau Pinang, Malaysia (Beside CIMB Bank)
Telephone Number: +604 251 9095
Opening Hours: 9am to 6pm daily
If you love snapping lots of pictures, I recommend visiting the Upside Down Museum. There are friendly employees guiding you on your poses while capturing shots for you so just think of this museum as a place for your photoshoot. Both the interior and exterior of the museum are upside down, with different kinds of sloping angles. It is fun to challenge your visual and balance by turning your ordered life topsy-turvy! I really liked how most of the photos turned out. Well, pictures speak a thousand words so I’m sure you’d rather look at the pictures I’ve taken in this museum than read what I have to say.
Address: 45 Lebuh Kimberly, 10100 Georgetown, Penang
Telephone Number: 04 264 2660
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 8.45am to 6.30pm. Sat, Sun & PH 8.45am to 7.30pm.
The last museum I would recommend is the Camera Museum but don’t get it mixed up with the Asian Camera Museum. I guess only photographers would be interested in learning about the history of cameras and being taught how to use the ancient cameras but be open-minded as you might find something interesting about this museum. The Camera Museum is the first camera museum in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. It is divided into four areas, namely photography, exhibition hall, camera exhibition hall, souvenirs and café area. This museum showcases more than 300 old and new cameras and you’ll get to learn about the camera’s origin, history and many interesting stories here.
Address: 49 Lebuh Muntri, 10200 Georgetown, Penang
Telephone Number: 04 261 3649
Opening Hours: 9am to 8pm daily
There are other museums such as the Penang Time Tunnel where you’ll get to travel through time back to Penang in 1592, Fluorescent Fantasy Museum and many more so if you have a lot of time to spare in Georgetown, I hope you’ll have a blast museum-hopping!
Here’s some advice
Take extra care of your valuables and belongings and it’s best to carry your bags in front as some of the more touristy spots can get extremely crowded. When you’re crossing the streets, do be careful of cars as it can get quite jammed up in the narrow streets sometimes and some impatient drivers would swerve out of a sudden when changing lanes. Put lots of sunblock and drink plenty of water as it can get extremely hot in Georgetown. If you’re cycling, remember to lock your bicycles and always carry your valuables and belongings with you whenever you stop for photos or for a rest somewhere. Do not put anything in the baskets of your bicycles if you’re going to walk away from your bicycle!
Georgetown has so much to offer and I’m sure my guide is just a very basic one. If you’ve more places to recommend, feel free to comment and let me know! I’ll be sure to check out your recommendations on my next visit to Penang. Meanwhile, I hope this guide is useful to some of you and hope you have a great weekend!