Trains, Ferry and a Whole Lotta Food: Roughly 48 Hours in Penang, Malaysia
Some of you know that Sean and I recently launched Go Digital, a bespoke digital agency and as a reward, we booked a little trip to Penang. It has been months of setting it up and what better way to celebrate this new venture than a trip to Penang. Originally we were gonna be good and just stay in Kuala Lumpur but… We couldn’t not go to Penang which is considered the ultimate food lovers destination. So we went for it and I am SO freaking glad we did. It was a short trip but we had just enough time to fall utterly in love with Penang.
How We Got There
Originally we were looking at flying into Penang for the day because I was crazy. We ended up deciding to stay two nights and I am so glad we did. Truth be told we were there one full day and like half a day the other two days. I think you need at least 3 full days to do everything you want to do. This is my only regret but oh well. There are lots of ways to get to Penang. There are international flights from other hubs around Asia and many daily flights from Kuala Lumpur. You can also drive it, bus it or train it. Flying, driving and training it all actually roughly take almost the same time. So we decided to pass doing the security at the airport and take the train instead.
It was fairly straightforward and the seats not too uncomfortable. A little skinny but plenty of leg space. I recommend the F carriage as it seems to be the consistently forgotten berth aka it was quieter. The journey is about four hours and BRING A JUMPER/SWEATER/CARDIGAN whatever you call it. The AC on it is NO joke and you will find yourself shivering all the way to Butterworth. The cost total cost roundtrip including taxes and fees $132 plus the Grab fare. Not bad price and we were able to see some beautiful Malaysian countryside.
The train you want is from KL Sentral to Butterworth. There is ETS Gold and Platinum. They are the same train but one has slightly more stops than the other but it doesn’t really make that much of a difference. The fun part or for others the annoying fact is you gotta take the ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown. Personally, I loved it. It’s a bit of a faff as they are in mid-construction of building a massive new train and ferry terminal so you gotta take a free bus in a very roundabout way. The ferry leaves roughly every 20-30 minutes and costs a staggering 1.20 MYR each and it’s roundtrip!
Where We Stayed
Penang is one of those glorious places that has a place for every budget starting as low as 10 dollars a night and well, upwards to hundreds. We went for the middle cause we were, in fact, #treatingourselves and stayed at Hotel Kimberly. We booked via Agoda and after reading reviews we decided to go with a suite at $50 a night. Complaints that room was small so by booking this room we got a balcony and a bit more space. I’m glad we did as they were right… The room was small but clean, the balcony overlooked the city and you could see the sea in the distance. Plus, the location was PERFECT.
We were on the edge of Chinatown so not even a two-minute walk we had access to multiple delicious food options on the cheap. It took no more than 20-minute walk to get to other popular areas and for those that were too far, Grab is so cheap that you gotta wonder how. Which brings me to probably the best part of Penang… THE FOOD!
Food Glorious Food
Guys, let me be real when I can in the most humbling way say I have been blessed by the food gods. Penang is the food god baby of the world and if you love food then you have to go. It is that plain and simple. Sean and I were there for roughly 48 hours and we ate every 2-4 hours. How do you ask? We shared everything. We got one or two things at a time, then walked it off, played a game, saw a sight and then ate more. The longest we went by not eating was when we were in fact sleeping. No regrets.
What To Eat and Where (You are welcome!)
Make sure eat at a Nasi Kandar. It is not a specific type of food but more on how it is served and it quite popular. We went to one Penang’s oldest ones called Hameediyah and it was pretty good. Expect a line at peak lunch-time and they have two sitting areas. Nasi Kandar is basically a buffet where you pick and choose from what you see. They add it all up and that is it. Its perfect but also can be hard if you aren’t familiar with items. In some ways, it was great cause we got to try things that we otherwise wouldn’t have. It is fairly cheap but if you get a leg of lamb be aware it comes at the steep price of 30 MYR aka $8. The servings are massive and Sean and I shared a ginormous plate for about $16 and got a delicious Mango Lassi.
When Sean first tried to tell me about Rojak, I wasn’t 100% sure about it or really what was in it. I initially thought it was fried mixed fruit in a sauce. It had me questioning him but at the famous Gurney Food Market, we were able to get some. It was not fried and it was delicious. Rojak means an “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay which is exactly what it is. It’s a spicy fruit and veggie salad which in theory shouldn’t work but it does. The sauce is heavy and thick. Just a little sweet and a little hot topped with all the peanuts.
We got ours at (Stall #39) @ Gurney Drive Hawker Centre.
This was by far one of my favorite dishes in Penang. We went to the same guy three times. He was that good. It is basically thin yellow noodles fried in a WOK with garlic, onions, sauce, and protein of choice and it is just so damn good. Don’t believe me how good it is? Just watch this:
We got ours down the street from our hotel on the corner but you will see it being sold everywhere!
Indian at Kapitan
Penang is a melting pot of cultures just like the rest of Malaysia and as such, expect some of the best Indian food outside of India. Little India has multiple places to eat but our guide at The Colonial Museum recommend Kapitan Restaurant for the best tandoori and biryani. When we came around 3, it was still booming with lots of people. It also offers a Nasi Kandar but we didn’t know what this was at the time so we went upstairs and got a menu. They theoretically do offer table service but it was super slow and it’s cash only. To get your food quicker, go to the counter to order. Even if there is a line, it is quicker than waiting at a table. The lamb biryani was some of the most tender meat I have ever had. The chicken tandoori was tasty but the highlight was the biryani for sure. Had me wondering in that moment who I loved more… It or Sean.
This is a signature dish of Penang and you will see it served all over the city. I’m not sure exactly how much I liked this dish but I’m including it because I think everyone should try it at least once. Except if you don’t eat fish. If you don’t like fish, stay clear of this local delicacy. Its a fish and tamarind based. I’m glad I tried it but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it again. Space is precious in my stomach so Mee Goring every time, please.
We went to Laksalicious to try it out!
Picture this: Sean and I are red. It’s hot. Our faces flushed, arms sweaty and we are flagging. Flagging from the delicious biryani but carbs. We see people eating these big glorious ice cones but in a circle, not a cone. We follow the line and there was 70’s Ice. It was the perfect mid-afternoon treat at the hottest time of the day. The way they make it was incredible. A big block of ice, shaved as this woman’s poor hands shape it into a perfect and big circle. Then covered with your flavor choice and two sticks on each end. I got root beer and Sean got Mango. We found a park, sat on a bench and just sucked, licked and bite. It was messy and tasty. It also only cost 8 MYR ($2).
Music, Cocktails, and CAKE
For an evening activity and some delicious cake then The Canteen at ChinaHouse is the place for you. They offer live music every night starting at 9:30 but get there early if you want a table. They have a range of cocktails. Expensive for Malaysia but what are you gonna do. I forgo the cocktails though and instead had a banana cake with passion fruit cream cheese frosting. Honestly, I want this to be my wedding cake it was that good. Sean and I got it to share but let’s just say I distracted him with questions so he talked while I ate. I have no regrets. The music was fun, service atrocious but vibes are nice. It is mainly expats and tourists with a few locals.
Other Foods To Try:
Roti is a popular bread and delicious. You can eat it with a meal or on its own with a bit of dal or other toppings. It is not uncommon to see people just eating it on its own.
Char Koay Teow is a national favorite in Malaysia and is another noodle dish. I
Apom is a thin crepe-like snack with a soft flour center. You can get it savory or sweet but the most popular is banana or coconut shreds in the center.
Oyster Omelette sounds exactly like it reads. Fried and delicious. We got ours made with duck eggs just three stalls down from the Rojak lady.
Gurney Drive Hawker Centre is a must as it’s a great place to try out a bunch of food. Open every night with plenty of tables. Locals and tourists alike can be seen eating many of Penang’s most popular dishes.
Dim Sum is everywhere and can be bought on the street for cheap prices. Making it the perfect snack in-between meals!
What To Do
There is a lot to do yet not all at the same time In Penang. There are plenty of museums, temples, and more to see. When you are on a budget you pick and choose things. If not, I’ll mention a few things that I wish we could have done if time and money allowed it because that’s just the kinda gal I am.
Kek Lok Si Temple
We left early on a Sunday to head to Kek Lok Si temple. We got a grab and it cost us about $6 for a 25-minute drive. The Kek Lok Si Temple is a Buddhist temple and has an incredible view on a clear day. From the top, you can see the sea and the city. It is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. It also has a vertical lift to take you up to see an impressively large Buddha statue. This costs extra but is 5 MYR for a round-trip.
The temple itself is free to explore and we spent almost two hours wandering around the grounds. There are millions of images of Buddha, carvings, sculptures, and murals. They got it all from temple halls to pagodas but what I liked most was that is a blend of two different types of Buddhism teaching. It combines traditional Chinese rituals with that of the local Maayan Buddhism. As such, you see influences from both.
Because it is free, be prepared to deal with some tourist shops which take over certain areas all selling the same thing. If that takes your fancy go for it, who am I to stop you. What Sean and I did to give money was by being participants. We bought “wishes” and wrote a message before placing them on a wishing tree. It was a really cool moment and with the music playing it was great. I am a firm believer in the vibes you put there are the ones that will return to you. So it was a great way to start our time at the Temple. It also only cost 1MYR per wish. They have everything from Happy Life to success in personal endeavors and more. Another way you can donate is by buying a roof tile. They paint your name in front of you and then give you a blessing from a monk to keep in your wallet. Who knows what they actually do with it but the sentiment is nice. I like knowing that somewhere on those grounds is a tile with Sean and mines name on it.
Originally after the temple, we were going to go to the Penang hill and take the cable car up to the see the view but we were pretty happy with the view we got from Kek Lok Si. So Sean pulled up Google and we picked a museum at random. Which is how we spent the afternoon in the strangest museum of our lives and we loved every damn moment of it. I honestly don’t know how to explain this museum. We thought it would be a typical Musume that talks about Penang way back when. Well, when we go there it was a massive house and it was just full of stuff. Random stuff.
I was slightly taken aback and confused and wondered what did we just spend 60 MYR on. GUYS IT WAS INCREDIBLE. You get a guide who will take you through the house. The basic premise is this lady had been collecting antiques from all over Penang for over forty years (talk about rich). She wanted to showcase how the rich Chinese and other wealthy people in Penang decorated their houses. They mainly did this to impress the Europeans who they often would do business with. As such, you have statues from Italy, paintings from a famous artist including William Morris. Literally millions of dollars of items in this house. Just chilling. I got to touch a 25 Million dollar bookcase.
Now, part of me is like YEAH RIGHT IT IS REAL OR REALLY WORTH THAT but its like government recommended soooo… You learn a lot about history and the trade but most;y are just bewildered.
Can one really go to Penang and not see Street Aet? It is everywhere. There are of course a few famous ones. There are also tons of ones just on random streets and corners. I recommend going early in the morning and just walking all over the city with your eyes peeled, fresh juice in hand. Or, if you are short on time check out this place which details a few of the most popular ones from Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic here.
The Clan Jetties
Okay, so this was okay. It was fun to walk through but don’t go out of your way to see these guys. If you stumble upon it, cool. There are lots of them on the water and some are better than others. We went to the one near the ferry cause we were leaving from there. They are supposed to be fantastic for the sunset though.
Other Places Worth Visiting/Checking Out
Cheong Fat Tze is beautifully blue and is a picture lovers dream. You get to go back in time and see houses from the past. It is a bit expensive and since I saw it when I was last in Penang, Sean and I skipped out on it this time.
- Penang Hill
- Penang National Park
- Ride a Trishaw
- Batik Class
- Fort Cornwallis
- Snake Temple
- Butterfly Farm
How Much Did I Love It?
I think the fact that this post is so dang long shows how much I loved Penang. I would go back in a heartbeat for another few days. Its a perfect stop for those in Southeast Asia and a great way to get your taste buds going with some exciting and unique flavors. Also, I found myself having a series of Dejuv moments when walking the streets. Especially at Kek Lok Si temple. When I was in 7th grade we went on a class trip to Penang. Totally did not deserve it. Undervalued it so much. Did not appreciate the beauty, food or culture which is such a shame. I was far more interested in trying to play matchmaker for my friend Suzzy (who is one of my maid of honors by the way) and gossiping about whatever was happening. TSK TSK little Amanda.
See more food posts about Malaysia here!