25 May Ways to Experience Penang Like a Local
A paradise of beaches, a cocktail of cultures, and a kitchen of world-famous cuisine, Penang has something for every kind of traveler. Unsurprisingly, the Malaysian state is nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ due to its charm and multitude of hidden gems. As travelers are increasingly putting Penang on their bucket lists, New York startup AllTheRooms has narrowed down ways to experience Penang like a local, so your vacation is nothing shy of authentic.
Escape the busy tourist crowds and head to this quaint traditional settlement, built along the waterfront. Originally created by immigrants from China, the villages are connected by planks of wood forming narrow pathways. Spend a few hours walking up and down the calm water lined with rustic fishing boats, and admire the colorful homes perched on stilts above the water’s surface. Aim to visit at sunset, when the horizon is illuminated by soft pastel colors and the glow from the mainland is visible. People still live in the area, so remember to be respectful when taking photographs and exploring. The Clan Jetties are easily reachable by taxi or ferry, or visitors can walk from Weld Quay Bus Terminal.
CF Hawker Centre
Found in downtown Georgetown, this food hall is bursting with a wide selection of Malaysian snacks, available at reasonable prices. For any traveler new to Asia, the array of aromas, fresh ingredients, and cooking methods is a delightful novelty. Make sure you devote a few minutes to doing a full lap of the hall before deciding on your dish. Tuck into a spicy coconut noodle soup, savor some tandoori chicken, or salivate over Lok Lok (skewered meat and vegetables in a hot pot)—the choices are endless. Also keep an eye out for tambun biscuits. The tasty golden balls are green bean paste rolled in thin pastry with onions and vegetables, and are a delicacy in Penang. Live entertainment takes place on various nights of the week, so you can enjoy a performance after dinner.
Pasar Malam Tanjung Bungah
Avoid the noise and prices of Batu Ferringhi and head to this small night market, occurring every Tuesday from 6 pm onwards. In its early days, the market was primarily a social event for locals at a cooler time of the day. Today the feeling of friendliness and community can still be felt as you stroll down the road. Stalls sell pretty much anything you could ever need, including food, clothes, and electronics. Tanjung Bungah is perfect for travelers looking to experience the multiculturalism of Penang.
Penang Island Jazz Festival
The annual music festival celebrates all things jazz, hosting an impressive collection of musicians from around the world. A favorite event among Penang locals, the festival has venues dotted around the island but the main stage can be found at the Bayview Beach Resort—an incredible setting where music-lovers can enjoy the sounds of smooth tracks on the sandy shores. Originally organized in 2004 with a relatively small, local crowd in attendance, the event now sees over five thousand visitors, many who come specifically for the jazz festival. The festival tends to take place towards the end of the year, around late November and early December over the course of three days. Keep an eye out for bands playing traditional Malaysian instruments, the kendang drum adds a particularly local feel to performances.
After a day of living like a local, head to the Esplanade, also known as Padang Kota Lama, to unwind and watch the world go by. The spacious lawn is surrounded by palm trees and grand houses, providing the perfect view for travelers to lie back and reminisce about the day. If you have time, prepare a picnic in advance and stop off at a nearby ais kacang store for dessert—the shaved ice and bean bowl is topped with a sugary syrup and is guaranteed to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. Once the sun goes down, the esplanade is peacefully quiet and without any streetlights, the area has a magical feeling of being both eery and comforting at the same time.
Don’t only explore like a local, sleep like one too! Find your perfect accommodation in Penang with AllTheRooms.
Grace Brennan is a writer and copywriter from the U.K. She’s had the pleasure of living in 5 countries, combining her two loves: language and travel. She currently lives in Medellín, Colombia.