Alternative George Town in Penang
January 26 2016
The historic centre of George Town, Penang, in Malaysia has certainly become a popular tourist hotspot since becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the historical centre of Malacca in 2009. In that time, the city has transformed considerably, not only in terms of improving its infrastructure and implementing restoration of dilapidated buildings, but also by how much tourism it now receives.
The city now has a cool alternative side, which is slowly coming up in popularity. Sure, there’s Fort Cornwallis, the street art, the Camera Museum, the Clan Jetties, and the temples — all of which are worth seeing — but you’ll be sharing the experience with a lot of other tourists.
Here’s a brief guide to discovering all the coolest alternative places in George Town that no one’s talking about…yet.
Coinciding with the granting of UNESCO World Heritage Status to the Old Town, there was an initiative launched by the local government to brighten up some of its walls with street art. The first initiative was carried out by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, and included now very-famous pieces, such as the two children on a bicycle, or the boy on a motorbike.
Both these, and many of his other works, have been worn away pretty badly, and visiting them can be a little frustrating given how many other people there are swarming around, trying to pose for pictures with them.
But, fear not! There is plenty of other street art to be found in George Town if you steer away from the busy Armenian Street. There are some fantastic pieces by two female street artists: Vexta, from Australia, and Volchkova, from Russia.
There’s also the Hin Bus Depot, a former bus depot that has been transformed into an art space, with indoor and outdoor sections. The indoor section mostly serves to display temporary exhibitions of painting and sculpture, while the outdoor space features murals by Zacharevic, as well as several other international artists, such as Twoone and Sabe
Coffee culture has exploded in George Town over the last few years, and there are now dozens of cool cafes. Highlights are The Alley, right in the Old Town (which has vegan churros!); Mugshot, not far away; and Bricklin Cafe, next door to Hin Bus Depot.
Some others worth mentioning are Wheeler’s Coffee, with bicycle themed art and which stays open late; Black Kettle, which is one of the few cafes that has soy milk; and Junk, which is a hoarder’s heaven that serves drinks in mason jars.
Son & Dad Barber
Need a haircut? Come straight to Son & Dad Barber, a hip little joint in the Old Town. Though it’s right by the touristy Armenian Street (home to the best-known and busiest of Zacharevic’s pieces), this place is full of young local boys and is decked out in a 1940s American barbershop style.
The staff, all good-looking chaps part of the family, wear matching uniforms and Panama hats while they quaff your hair and chitchat with you about how George Town has changed in the last few years.
Perhaps not a very special looking place at first sight, this cosy little vegan Japanese restaurant is wonderfully inviting. The intimate setting, with traditional low tables you sit cross-legged at, as well as communal dining tables, feels more like someone’s living room than a restaurant. Everything on the menu is organic and vegan, with no MSG, white salt, preservatives, or artificial colouring. Plus, they give free refills on green tea!
Also, take note of the rainbow stairs and the sign saying “Legalise Gay Marriage” on the door. While this is the only place in the city that explicitly advertises itself as fully vegan, there are plenty of other great options for eating vegan in George Town.
Read more about George Town in Penang, Malaysia, right here on Sam’s travel blog.
Have you ever been to George Town? What’d you think about it? Let us know your thoughts down below!