Malaysia: Street Art, History & Hospitality in Georgetown, Penang
Penang was our first island stop on our big trip! We were so happy to be greeted with so much art, history, and hospitality. Our Georgetown “must-dos” are:
Find a Home in a Heritage Building
When you walk into the heart of Georgetown you’re walking into a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site due to its preserved heritage buildings. One of the coolest things about Georgetown is that you can actually stay in one of these buildings! We lucked out by finding not one, but two of these spots through the Spices Collection Hotels. Spices Hotel and Sweet Cili are boutique hotels that put life back into previously dilapidated shop houses in the heritage zone. Lucky for us, we got to stay in both! Walking into these hotels gives you a glimpse into the unique culture of Georgetown, where trendiness and tradition mesh together seamlessly. Exposed brick, original shutters, and reclaimed wood doors are surrounded by modern furnishing in the rooms and common areas.
Not only is the architecture of the Spices Collection hotels on point, but the vibe and hospitality really made us feel at home. We were warmly greeted in the café every morning, the staff enthusiastically gave us tips on what to see and where to eat in the area, and they even had our ferry tickets delivered straight to Sweet Cili for us on our last day. After being on the road almost 2 months, we were also pumped to have multiple lounges and patios to relax in while we caught up on emails and read our books. Tip: if you’re traveling for extended periods of time, prioritize hotels and hostels with outdoor space and common areas! Believe us, coffee and emails in bed does get old after awhile!
If you’re headed to Georgetown (which you should), we would definitely recommend you take a look at the Spices Collection hotels. Spices Hotel will give you tons of common space to relax (including an awesome rooftop), a great café, and a garden with a 150+ year-old tree growing right out of the building (wowza!!). Sweet Cili will give you the same great architecture, with a more intimate feel and longer walk to the café for breakfast. Both will follow through with a kind staff, clean and well-decorated rooms, and awesome locations in the heart of the heritage zone.
Huge shout out to Spices Collection for hosting us during our stay in Georgetown! Thanks to them, we were well rested and happy as clams as we explored this great city!
Relax in a Café
One of our (many) favorite parts about Georgetown was their café (or canteen) scene! There were trendy cafés on every corner that serve legit coffee, yummy cakes, and fusion food. We had to try as many as possible, obviously! After our café crawl of Georgetown, our favorite spots were:
China House is a destination in it’s own right. China House combines 3 heritage houses into 14 spaces of café heaven. It has a coffee shop, dinner/dessert restaurant, wine bar, regular bar with live music, and several shops.
The highlight of China House is the walkway lined with mouth-watering cakes. We liked China House so much that we popped in twice for coffee, smoothies, and cake. We tried the tiramisu cake, which was a unique and seriously delicious take on this dessert. Our “Mexican” pizza was also a nice, light lunch for us to share. Next time we’re in Georgetown we will definitely carve out time to try many more of their dishes and cakes.
Urban Spice Café
Confession, we only had to walk downstairs from our room to enjoy Urban Spice, but second confession, their food was some of our favorite during our café crawl. We had their roasted chicken sandwich with mango salad, Roti Ketam (with waffle fries, yes!!), chicken skewers, fried stuffed mushrooms, and Gula Melaka cheesecake. Ok, we know, we ate A LOT!! All of the food was de-lic-ious. I NEVER eat salad and I devoured the mango salad, which is complete with the chef’s dressing made in-house. We also thought the chicken sandwich, chicken skewers, and Gula Melaka cheesecake were top-notch. We definitely could have eaten about 15 pieces of that cake!
While some of the other café have a more distinct façade, which draws you in off the sidewalk, the chill vibe and A+ food of Urban Spice Café made it a hit in our book, and bellies. They also have a high tea deal that’s RM50 (~$12 USD) for 2 people, which is a killer way to try a bunch of their yummy snacks.
The Awesome Canteen is one of those spots that draws you in from the outside. It’s trendy exterior screams “come inside!” So, we did. The inside of Awesome Canteen has an open look with high, cement walls and ultra-modern furniture. We popped in here for an afternoon break from the heat, and of course, another sweet snack. We went for the double chocolate banana bread and it was a delightfully chocolaty treat.
Mugshot Café meets the trendiness mark of the other cafés, but adds amazing bagels to the list of things to love. Mugshot Café has a coffee bar, faux outdoor patio seating, and tons of baked goods. We both devoured their yummy bacon, egg and cheese bagel for breakfast. How cool is that egg inside the bacon?! You can also find good coffee and tons of bakery items at Mugshot. We found our happy place at Mugshot Café because it was our first bagel in about 2 months and they had good Wi-Fi! #afewofmyfavoritethings
Go on a Street Art Hunt
**We obviously have a TON of street art shots so check them all out at the bottom of this post!!
While researching Georgetown/creeping on Instagram, I fell in love with the unique street art. It did not disappoint. I already love finding street art while traveling and these pieces took the cake because you can interact with them! Finding all of the art in Georgetown is truly a hunt. We grabbed a street art map from our hotel (most hotels should have them) and spent a day hunting for art along the streets and down narrow alleyways. Not only are the pieces super-duper cool, but it’s also a great way to wander around the UNESCO World Heritage Zone and take in all the beautiful sights. Also, don’t miss the Blue Mansion near the “Rickshaw Man” street art where you can see a gorgeous rehabilitated mansion and learn about Cheong Fatt Tze’s rags to riches story.
Street Food, Street Food, Street Food!
Everyone you talk to and everything you read online will tell you to EAT, EAT, EAT while you’re in Georgetown, and eat we did! The city is literally sprinkled with hawker stands that have delicious and authentic food. We took the trying all the food thing very seriously. We sought out and enjoyed char koay teow, nasi kandar, wan tan mee, cendol, hokkien mee, popiah, chicken and rice, chicken satay, apom, koay teow th’ng, and roti canai. Whew!!
The hawker food scene in Georgetown can be somewhat overwhelming because there are so many options. So, here are a few of our favorite spots to indulge in the good stuff:
- Popiah and Apom-New Lane Food Stall (at New Lane and Macalister Road)
- Cendol-Famous Penang Cendol Stall (right outside the Joo Hooi Café)
- Nasi Kandar-Line Clear Stall (open 24 hours!!!)
- Wan Tan Mee-Hawker Stalls on Chulia Street (Near Chulia St. and Love Lane)
As you’re eating your street food, don’t be surprised if you’re told you can’t sit at certain tables unless you buy a drink or buy a dessert. This isn’t a scam, it’s a random Penang rule. The good news is that said drinks and desserts are super cheap and super delicious. So go on, wash down that delicious steaming pate full of char kaoy teow with some fresh watermelon juice!
Take in the Waterfront
Georgetown is on the island of Penang so you can’t forget about the waterfront! We had a blast taking the 101 bus to Batu Ferringhi beach. It took us about an hour to get to the beach, but the unbelievable sunset was totally worth it. Another must-do along the waterfront are the Clan Jetties. There are six jetties, which are settlements built on stilts. It was a wonderful experience walking through the jetties admiring the lanterns hanging in front of the houses and enjoying ice cream and fruit popsicles sold along the way.
Fun Fact: the residents in the jetties still do not pay any tax as their homes are not considered to be on land.
We can’t wait to make it back to Georgetown, Penang sometime soon! Until then, here are a few more of our favorite pictures: