Georgetown on Penang Island in Malaysia is undoubtedly a jewel of South-East Asia. It is a place where different cultures and religions converge – predominantly Malay, Indian and Chinese. Walking through the streets your senses are awakened! Appreciate the street art, the colonial heritage buildings, the food and sounds. We spent two weeks volunteering at Chateau One Guesthouse (through Workaway), had a wonderful time and recommend spending at least three days in Georgetown to take all the different impressions in! ‘Budget Things to Do in Georgetown, Penang’ covers:
- a short history of this multicultural city
- our top picks for things to do
- two overrated activities
- a breakdown of our expenditure
A short history of Georgetown Penang
In the distant past, the Penang region was a popular trading route connecting China, India, the Middle East and Europe. It was favored due to its location on the strait of Malacca which connects the South China Sea with the Indian Ocean. Consequently, a diverse blend of cultures formed in Malaysia.
The English arrived in the 16th century and convinced the Sultan to allow a British settlement on Penang Island in exchange for military protection. Over time the British presence grew in the region, and colonization spread across the entire country in the 19th century. Malaysia was finally returned to independence in the early 1960’s, and today the remaining result is many beautiful colonial buildings and structures on the island.
Top Budget Things to Do in Georgetown
Georgetown is one of those places you can just walk around and find heaps of budget things to do. However, for the more distant attractions we hired a scooter for about RM40* per 24h period. This way, we had more freedom to explore and saved time more effectively. If you would rather not ride a scooter, the bus system is actually decent in Georgetown, and runs to most of the popular attractions for about RM2* per way.
Wander the streets, admire the buildings and get a feel for Georgetown
As mentioned above, you can find many beautiful colonial buildings in Georgetown. Walking through the streets pay attention to historic facades, detailed doors and different colors.
Along Jalan Kek Chuan you will find renovated colonial buildings which are the most colorful ones in Georgetown. These houses are now mainly boutiques, restaurants and cafés.
Look out for storytelling street art
Probably the most popular Budget Thing to Do in Georgetown is to seek out and appreciate all the street art. The murals tell a story of the city’s history, and raises awareness for its direction in the future. It is common to see street art portraying locals as street artists aim to capture the essence of the city.
Tip: you will find many blogs online and brochures in Georgetown with out-dated and missing information on street art locations. Some artworks have actually completely deteriorated, and they look nothing like the photos advertised.
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Although we recommend to follow the official penang street art map, you can find details about additional and newer artworks on the map below which was made by The Travel Scribes.
Walk down the ‘Street of Harmony’ – Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling
The three major religions in Malaysia are Islam, Hinduism and Taoism. All the different religions coexist harmoniously and peacefully. In Georgetown you can find a street known as ‘Street of Harmony’ along which 4 places of worship from different religions are located within a 400m stroll.
- Kapitan Keling Mosque (Islam)
- Goddess of Mercy Temple Penang & Yap Kongsi (Taoist)
- The rear side of Sri Mahamariamman Temple (Hindu)
- St. George’s Anglican Church (Christian denomination)
We have never experienced a street with so much religious variety and were truly amazed by it. It’s quite a unique experience to see the different styles of religious buildings, smell the incense sticks, hear the various chants and prayers.
Overlook the area from the top of Penang Hill and Heritage Trail
Penang hill is the highest point of the Island, and offers spectacular views of Malaysia’s second largest city – Georgetown. Besides the wonderful view, you can find a Hindu temple, a restaurant and more on top.
To get up, we chose the easiest hiking route which starts at the botanical gardens gate. From here it is usually a 3h, 5km steep (really steep) ascent up a paved road. If it suits your budget for Georgetown, you can hire a Jeep 4×4 to take you up for RM160* per vehicle. There is also a cable car, which you can take up for RM30* return trip.
After a few meters into the hike – soaking in sweat from the strong heat, questioning if we should have just spent the money on a comfy ride – we decided to hitchhike and were soon picked up by a lovely pick-up truck driver. Sitting in the back of his truck with the wind cooling us we definitely found the best option!
We made our way down via the ‘Heritage Trail‘. The steps are very steep and at times it’s unclear where to continue. But overall, we enjoyed this walk and its views 🙂
Explore the Jetties
The clan jetties of Georgetown actually represent six different communities of chinese families. These century old jetties are named after the different chinese families which settled here and created small villages on them.
Fun Fact: The residents of the clan jetties, even to this day, have not needed to pay tax as they technically don’t live on land.
- Chew Jetty: most touristic and the biggest to walk around.
- Tan Jetty and Lee Jetty: smaller thus less busy. They are more peaceful to sit, relax and watch the boats cruise on by.
Join a cooking class at the Brick Cafe
Coming to Asia this year, we planned to join a traditional cooking class to learn how to prepare a new delicious meal. Searching across Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown and the Cameron Highlands, all we could find were cooking classes for average prices of RM220* per person. This didn’t really fit in out budget for Georgetown. Thankfully, we then came across a cooking class at the Brick Cafe for way less!
The Brick Cafe is a locally owned restaurant (by Lisa & Remy) which offers a blend of home-cooked German/Malay inspired food. Lisa offers private cooking classes for RM80* per person. You learn how to prepare a Malay style vegetable curry (with also a chicken option), Roti Jala (Malay net bread); and Ondeh Ondeh (coconut dumplings) for dessert. Of course you get to eat it afterwards!
There are no specific times for the class as Lisa tries to accommodate what’s best suitable for you. Our class was said to be 2.5 hours, but easily went over 4 hours. With all the chatting and laughs with Lisa it felt like cooking with a good friend! She is very knowledgeable with Malay ingredients, and we feel we have learned a wealth of cooking information. After the cooking class, Lisa will send you a full recipe for the dishes to cook at home for friends and family.
We loved the cooking class and meeting these wonderful people. Simply contact Lisa on Whatsapp (+60 18 942 2365) for a cooking class, or even just to visit the cafe for some delicious food!
Admire artwork and hang out at the Hin Bus Depot
The former Hin bus depot has been transformed to an outdoor and indoor place for art. At this place in Georgetown you can find heaps of budget things to Do: art exhibitions, murals, little craft stores, different kind of workshops and cute places to eat or have a coffee. The vegan café Wholey Wonders also offers yoga lessons for a very affordable price. If you are in Georgetown on a Sunday, you should check out the Sunday Pop Up market which takes place at the Hin Bus Depot.
Head to their official website for more information: https://hinbusdepot.com/story.html
Watch the sunrise
There is always something wonderful about getting up early and watching the sunrise. It makes the day start humble and simple. Being awake before most others in Georgetown and sitting along the shoreline, the otherwise bustling city feels peaceful.
Our favorite spot to check out the sunrise in Georgetown was by the Esplanade Park. We loved this spot as it offered a view of the sunrise and mountains in the distance contrasting to the waking harbor city behind us. You have a view of a shipping lane, and we witnessed cruise ships and container ships go by and dock.
Top Budget Things to Do near Georgetown on Penang Island
Visit Kek Lok Si Temple
Spreading across 30 acres this Buddhist temple is the largest in Malaysia. The temple begins at the foot of Air Itam Mountain where you can find the impressive Liberation Pond; full of thousands of turtles! Dan was like a child, excitedly trying to figure out which of the turtles was the biggest.
Prayer rituals happen daily. We witnessed many monks and Buddhist followers chanting and praying in the main hall…it truly felt sacred. To witness the prayers you can access the main hall which will cost you RM2*.
Next to the prayer hall is the striking Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas which is a whopping 7 stories tall. Inside the pagoda you can find a series of staircases that will take you up right to the top. From here you get a stunning view of the temple below and Georgetown in the distance.
Continuing up the temple, you will find an elevator which will take you right to the top. Here you will find a massive bronze statue of Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) sitting at 36m tall. It will cost you RM15* to get to the top and back.
Tip: If you are planning to visit Kek Lok Si during the Chinese New Year period (late Jan to late Feb), you will get to see the temple’s Display of Lights, with many LED/Neon lights and thousands of Chinese lanterns.
Admire the Floating Mosque of Tanjung Bunga
For what this mosque lacks in size, it makes up for in its beauty! This mosque sits on a number of stilts on the beach front. It is a seemingly small mosque, but has a capacity of 1,500 worshipers. As high tide approaches and water flows beneath the mosque, it is said to appear to float.
Tip: As with many mosques in Malaysia, there is no cost to enter the premises. The mosque faces east across the sea, and is a perfect spot to watch the sunrise.
Relax at the beach at Batu Ferringhi
Penang is typically not known for the best beaches. The Malacca strait is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes which has contributed to the reduction of water quality and a murky appearance of the sea. However, Batu Ferringhi is the island’s beach haven.
Batu Ferringhi is a wonderful place to chill by the beach, tan and enjoy a beer (we went to Frandy’s Beach Bar and Restaurant). In addition, there are many water sports activities available such as Jet Ski hire, paragliding, tubing etc.
Tip: We stayed at OYO 497 ESQ Hotel in a private room for one night. It was a great value stay with aircon and TV for RM80* in total.
Our opinion on Snake Temple and Monkey Beach/ ‘Penang National Park’
This temple has living – apparently poisonous – snakes inside. It is one of the smaller temples and, aside from the few snakes which live there kinda on display, not especially fascinating. In our opinion, it is not worth spending time on the bus or money on a Grab to get to this temple. However, if you have rented a bike for the day it’s nice to have a glimpse.
Monkey Beach/ ‘Penang National Park’
Monkey beach is the most popular destination in the Penang National Park. You can get there either by boat for about RM50* per way; or by walking. The only problem is that the trail has become quite run-down, and is even collapsing at some sections.
Note: The trail is officially closed due to these damages. A boat trip is the only officially permitted way to get there, even though we saw many people still walking there as well. From our understanding, the National Park does not take responsibility for injuries on the closed trail.
No doubt Monkey beach used to be beautiful in the past, but it is in our opinion nothing amazing anymore. With several restaurants and shacks along the beach, you can sit back, have lunch and enjoy a drink or two. Watch out for the cheeky monkeys, as they love to sneak past and rummage through people’s belongings!
What made this place lose its charm for us and actually made us feel quite sad, was all the scattered rubbish, and people offering ATV or horse back rides on the beach. How this area still qualifies as a National Park, remains a big question to us.
To sum up: if you don’t have much time on Penang/ in Malaysia, don’t worry about the National Park. While walking through the park will give you some good exercise and you’ll find a few great views along the way, you honestly won’t miss out on anything if you skip this area.
A breakdown of our budget and expenditure during our time in Georgetown
For the total of 15 days we spent in Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi, we had only spent RM1,279* each. This was an excellent result working out to be around 18€ each per day. We were able to save RM446* each in accommodation costs because we volunteered at Chateau One Guesthouse for 5 hours per day, 5 days per week. This was one significant reason to our really low expenditure.
Additionally, we had a daily food budget of RM50* each. Most of our meals were in the cheap-eats category around RM8-15* (however, sometimes splurging on the more expensive eats). For a review of favourite cafes and places to eat in Georgetown: head to our Georgetown Food Guide.
Our activity costs were also low, as wherever we could, we would mostly explore the city ourselves by foot, rather than paying for museums or tour guides. This is just our style though – there are heaps of cool tours, paid activities and museums to visit all around Georgetown!
|Georgetown – 15 days – 10-Feb to 25-Feb 2020||MYR|
|Transportation||Cost Per Person|
|Getting to Georgetown|
|Bus from Kuala Lumpur – 5 hours||RM38.00|
|Ferry to Langkawi – 3 hours||RM74.00|
|Local Transportation (Bus and Grab)||RM15.00|
|Daily food, snacks, coffee and other drinks (15 days x RM50)||RM750.00|
|– Averaged across our 16 days on Penang|
|Miscellaneous (Souvenirs, Clothes & Equipment)||RM220.00|
|Total Everyday Costs||RM970.00|
|Chataeu One Guesthouse – Georgetown||RM0.00|
|– We volunteered at the Guesthouse and stayed for free|
|OYO 497 ESQ Hotel – Batu Ferringhi (Total RM80)||RM40.00|
|Total Accommodation Costs||RM40.00|
|Activities and Adventures|
|Cooking class at the Brick Cafe plus drinks (RM80 + RM15)||RM95.00|
|Kek Lok Si Temple – Main Hall Admission||RM2.00|
|Scooter hire plus fuel (Total RM80 + RM10)||RM45.00|
|Total Activities and Adventures||RM142.00|
|Total Costs in Georgetown (MYR) – Per Person||RM1,279.00|
|Amount in Euros*||272.13€|
|*Confirmed exchange rate 1€ = RM4.7 (12th March 2020)|