By plane. There are numerous flights daily between Kuala Lumpur and Pulau Penang. One way fare starts at RM60. From the airport to the city centre, it costs about RM45 for a taxi (book a taxi through the taxi counter at the airport); about RM25 for Uber.
There are many accommodations in Georgetown, but we chose to stay in Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel. A dorm bed costs RM30 to RM50 depending on the type of room (plus local government tax of RM1/bed/night); private rooms for two persons start at RM 118 (plus local government tax of RM2/room/night). We booked beds in the Loft Room (RM50/bed), which has its own toilet and shower; other dorm rooms have a shared toilet and shower. Room rates already include breakfast of noodles, eggs, sausages, mashed potatoes, paratha, coffee, tea.
One of the things we look forward to whenever we are in Malaysia is the food! Here are the places we ate at (and recommend) in Georgetown (see red pins on map below):
Red Garden Food Paradise - Indeed a food paradise (hawker centre) that will make you go crazy with the plethora of choices.
Esplanade Park Food Court - Another hawker centre with a lot of food choices.
Gurney Drive Hawker Centre - And another hawker centre...but this is a bit far from the city center. To go to Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, one has to take a taxi or Uber (cheaper than a taxi) or the Rapid Penang Bus 304 (cheaper than Uber).
Restoran Nasi Padang Minang - A self-service eatery that offers a wide array of food that I don't know the names of but are absolutely mouthwatering.
Left to right: Red Garden Food Paradise, Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, and the overwhelming spread at Restoran Nasi Padang Minang
Wan Tan Mee - Try their wan tan mee (wanton noodle soup).
Passion Heart - Try their lemon poppyseed cake a la mode.
China House - Try all their cakes! (And check out the art space on the second floor, too!)
Left to right: Char siu at Wai Kei Cafe, lemon poppy seed cake a la mode from Passion Heart, and the cake spread at China House
Teochew Chendul Stall - A famous roadside stall selling cendol or chendol or chendul, however you want to spell it. What is cendol? Cendol is to Malaysia as halo-halo is to the Philippines.
Lok lok Stall - Pick any of the skewered stuff on display, place it in the boiling pot to cook, and once cooked, put some sauce on it (you will be given a saucer so no worries about double dipping) and enjoy. Don't throw away the sticks, the stall owner will let you know your total bill by counting the sticks (the sticks are color coded; price is from RM0.60 to RM1.80 per stick). This Lok lok stall is across the street from Wan Tan Mee.
Cendol from Teochew Chendul Stall (left) and the Lok lok Stall (right)
I noticed that most of the eateries in Georgetown do not allow you to bring drinks from outside (not even water), thus you have two choices: take a drink after you leave the eatery or hawker centre, or buy from the drink sellers (except for the cafes, drink sellers are usually separate from the food sellers).
Go on a treasure hunt for street art and wrought-iron caricatures by walking or by biking (rent a bike for about RM20/day) around Georgetown. Don't just snap photos of the 52 wrought-iron installations scattered around the city, read it. The installations have anecdotes about the street they are installed in. You can download the Street Art Map from the Tourism Penang website or download the Penang Street Art app (thanks for the tip Mariane!) or do it the old school way—get a Penang Street Art Map from your hotel/hostel.
Street art everywhere (Photo by CM Adlawan)
I don't know anything about architecture but I do know a pretty (and colorful) building when I see one.
Aside from admiring buildings from the outside, you can admire two from the inside (see blue pins on map below):
Cheong Fatt Tze (The Blue Mansion) - There are daily English guided tours at 11AM / 2PM / 330PM. Admission fee is RM17. Since the Blue Mansion is currently a hotel, the tour is limited to just the main house and does not include the two side wings. Nevertheless, I recommend joining this tour to hear the interesting story about the owner of the mansion.
Take a break from walking under the heat of the sun by cooling yourself inside these museums (see green pins on map below).
The Camera Museum - A treat for photography enthusiasts! I was most fascinated with the Pinhole Room and the Obscura Room. The Camera Museum is open daily from 930AM to 630PM. Admission fee is RM20. Guided tours are available every hour from 10AM to 6PM.
Upside Down Museum - Defy gravity! (And don't forget to bring your camera to record this milestone!) The Upside Down Museum is open daily from 845AM to 630PM (730PM on weekends). Admission fee is RM27.
Penang State Museum and Art Gallery - A museum that will give you a glimpse of the old Penang through artifacts, photographs, and paintings. The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery is open from 9AM to 5PM Saturday to Thursday. Admission fee is RM1 only.
Chocolate Museum - The Chocolate Museum is open from 9AM to 6PM daily. Admission is free. Of course! Because the museum, which is a little room that tells you how chocolate is made, will eventually lead you to the Chocolate Shop where you can taste almost all of the products for free and would be too tempted (or too embarrassed!) to leave without buying anything.
Left to right: Cameras on display at the Camera Museum, defying gravity at the Upside Down Museum, and a display in the Penang State Museum
There are many other places to see in Georgetown, but those listed above are what we could squeeze in (except for the Pinang Peranakan Mansion which we missed) in our leisurely three-day stay.
We woke up before the crack of dawn and by the time we were ready and waiting by the shore for the pumpboat to show up, the sun was just slowly rising, quietly telling me it's going to be a good day.
It's going to be a good day
We sailed a little after six, but before heading to Balicasag Island we veered in the opposite direction to search for dolphins. We saw not just two, but a pod. They put up an awesome show for us, with one happily doing vertical spins as it moved farther and farther away. If they were happy to see us, we were ecstatic to see them.
After an hour of zigzagging across the sea to get a closer look at the dolphins showing off, we headed to Balicasag Island. There are three snorkeling areas around Balicasag Island: fish sanctuary, sea turtle sanctuary, and the giant clams area. I was dismayed to know that they charged Php 250 per person per sanctuary (too expensive!)...and that doesn't include the snorkel and mask rental (Php 150)! We decided to just check out the giant clams and the sea turtles.
We boarded a small paddle boat and the guide steered our little vessel toward the sea turtle sanctuary. When the guide spotted a pawikan (sea turtle), we all jumped in. I swam around looking for them. In the 30 minutes we were there, I saw about four sea turtles. Then, with difficulty, we hoisted ourselves on the little boat and rowed toward the giant clams area. There we paid little attention to the few giant clams and busied ourselves with the fish.
When the fish didn't want to be fed bread anymore, we again struggled to heave ourselves onto the paddle boat then rowed ashore to board our pumpboat to go to Virgin Island, a sandbar swarming with tourists. We allowed ourselves only a quarter of an hour to explore the sandbar for we had to head back soon to checkout of Dumaluan Beach Resort I.
Dolphin Watching, Balicasag Island, Virgin Island Tour