georgetown penang with kids

I know you want to dive into Georgetown Penang with kids, but do read our previous post, and if you don’t have a clue who we are, why not read our bio.

The Midnight Train (bus) to Georgia (Georgetown)

We arrive in Penang centre into the warm, sunny weather, refreshed after a great night’s sleep on the night bus, which followed a WONDERFUL time in Kota Bharu.
That’s what I would love to have written, but sadly, it’s so far from the truth it’s unreal.

 

So before looking at what to do in Georgetown Penang with kids, let’s talk about the night bus. The night bus was….an experience. Careering through the night, stopping unannounced at service stations (as the driver switches all the bus lights on; thanks!), while I wouldn’t say it was unpleasant, it certainly wasn’t fun. The strangest moment was stopping, at around 2am, at a sort of bus station in the middle of nowhere, where all the cross-country transport seems to have a break. There’s a large cafeteria and a couple of hundred travellers eating, having a rest, and watching the Brazil vs Costa Rica World Cup match on the big screen. We’ve no idea how long we’re stopped for, so I disembark and enjoy the football and a 3RM burger, which wasn’t half bad, truth be told.

The children sleep, Heidi gets a couple of hours, and I manage an hour or so, before we arrive at Butterworth ferry port at 0430. We catch the first ferry over, and then a bus into the centre of Georgetown and find ourselves sitting outside a 5 star hotel using their wifi at 6am while we look for somewhere for breakfast that opens early. We’ve decided to wait until we arrived here to book a hotel, given that we’ve got the full day, but our brains are barely working.

We find Yin’s Sourdough Cafe online; it opens early, has wifi, and is one of the best bakery-cafes in the city, so we head there and settle down to some strong coffee and some superb french toast. Heidi looks after the two monsters while I head off to explore some hotels, before settling on the Rope Walk Guesthouse, which will be our home for the next few days. It’s slightly more than we wanted to pay, but we’ve arrived just before the weekend, so prices are higher and availability is less.

We’ve planned to stay two weeks here on Penang (the island), having read great things about the place. It’s extremely popular with tourists, and we’re struck immediately by how many white faces we see, compared to our previous trip up the east coast. This is apparently a popular stop with travellers coming down from Thailand, and we can see why. There’s the UNESCO World Heritage designation of the old town (where we are staying), rich history and culture, lots of street art (which the city has become famous for), and great food (including Little India) and museums aplenty.

We’re the kind of people who like to go off the beaten track, so it’s slightly disheartening to be just another 4 westerners in a popular spot, but it’s popular for a reason, right?

what to do in georgetown penang with kids: where to stay

We are staying just off Kimberley Street in Chinatown, and though a busy (and slightly noisy) area, we’re delighted with the location. The streets around us are filled with hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and at night the streets fill with hawker stalls cooking fried chicken, noodles, rice, duck, spring rolls, and much more besides. A plate of noodles with egg and chicken will set you back 5-6RM (£1 or so) and we didn’t experience anything that wasn’t really terrific. There are a couple of stalls selling a plate of noodles for 2RM (about 40p) and they’re also tremendous, if you’re on a super-tight budget. If you’re wondering what to do in Georgetown Penang with kids, Kimberley St dining is one.

Around us are a series of museums, including the Upside Down Museum (novelty value is high but it’s certainly fun, especially if you’re having a chill day, as we were when we went), the Penang State Museum, Penang House of Music, Pinang Peranakan Mansion, and the Asia Camera museum, among many more. We’re within walking distance of the Komtar bus station (from where you can catch local buses across the island), the Pacific supermarket, and the huge mall. A ten minute walk in the other direction is Little India, where we ate at Sri Ananda Bahwan and Karai Kudi, (the former we visited twice) and found them to be among the best Indian food we’ve ever eaten (we were around 50RM for us all and we left totally full).

AROUND LITTLE INDIA: FORT CORNWALLIS AND THE PROMENADE

Just on the edge of Little India is Fort Cornwallis, an old ruin which we chose to not visit because we’d heard there wasn’t that much to see of note inside. There is, however, a great little playpark outside it and in front of the park there’s a large, manicured green, which our two loved running around on. In the background of the green are two imposing, victorian-era colonial buildings in the form of City Hall and Town Hall. The promenade runs along the side of this area and provides a great vantage point of the coastline. People gather here at dusk to watch the sunset, socialise, and eat at the food stands. There’s a little playpark on the promenade, and we had a lovely evening going for dinner then walking along, as the sun set in the distance.

 

PENANG HILL: a ‘what to do in georgetown penang with kids’ must

A ‘must do’ on Penang is to visit Penang Hill, so we obliged. It’s a 30 minute or so bus ride out (2RM for adults each way, kids free) and go the funicular up to the top (30RM per adult return, 15RM per child return, though PY Jr Jr didn’t have to pay). The funicular is a LOT of fun, moving as it does at a fair clip up the 2km or so of track.
When at the top of the hill you immediately get an unparalleled view over Georgetown. It’s fairly commercial up here, with restaurants, artists drawing caricatures, minor attractions with extra costs involved (fancy going on the ‘love walk’, anyone?), and erm, an owl museum. Answers on a postcard, please.

It feels touristy up here but not totally tacky, and we grab some food from the reasonably-priced cafe, then head to the playpark and then for a walk up the road which takes you further up the hill. This was the best bit, really; getting away from the crowds and into the peach of the forest. We watched monkeys play in the trees, and took in the view. Penang Hill is well worth doing, especially for the funicular. Top tip: sit at the bottom of the train on the way back down. It goes pretty quickly the children were in hysterics as we hurtled, rollercoaster-like, down the steep hill.

PENANG STREET ART

No ‘what to do in Georgetown Penang with kids’ post would be complete without talking about street art treasure hunting! Georgetown has become famous for it’s street art. The tourist information centre (on Lebuh Pantai) as well as all the hotels, have maps outlining where they all are (they’re dotted around the city), and they make for a great treasure hunt to tick as many off as you can. The ones in and around Armenia Street are predictably very busy, but the real joy is in finding the lesser-visited ones down side streets, and seeing the paintings that are badly faded, knowing that they won’t be visible for a lot longer.

CLAN JETTIES

Down by the waterfront, are the Clan Jetties; the old wooden piers, along which are lined shacks, where the different factions of the prominent Chinese community (‘clans’) would be based. We visited a few, and they were certainly interesting, but not mind-blowingly so. It was sad to see to much litter around these culturally-significant areas.

PENANG NATIONAL PARK

Around 45 minutes away on the bus (101 or 102), beyond Batu Ferringhi, is the national park (entry is free but you do need to register at the information point). This is essentially a walk through the forest along the coastline to a series of pretty and interesting beaches. The first one is 35 minutes (for an unencumbered adult walking with purpose) from the park entrance, and while you can get boats to each point and/or back, they are expensive, so we opt to walk to the first beach and back.
It takes us an hour and a half but it’s a great walk. Parts of it involve climbing over branches and up and over rocks, but there is a clear route to follow. We enjoyed stopping to watch thousands of ants going about their business, seeing monitor lizards swimming in the sea, seeing the giant squirrels amble around, and Heidi and PY Jr even saw a snake cross their path.
The beach was beautiful and we stayed for an hour or so while the younglings played in the sea. Well worth a visit.

HERITAGE DAY

We were lucky insomuch as it was the annual UNESCO World Heritage Day in the middle of our visit, where the city celebrates becoming a World Heritage site. Several streets were closed, and there were performances of music, dance, traditional arts and crafts, and foodstalls aplenty. We spent a happy evening-into-night bimbling around Georgetown soaking it all up.

A Note on the Blue Mansion

This 38-room blue building was built in the 1880s and rescued in the 1990s from falling into terminal decline. It’s one of the most famous attractions in the city, and there are tours to take you round. We just wanted to get a picture of it, and were told we couldn’t even walk in front of it to do so by the security guard; one is required to pay for the tour (not cheap) if one even wishes to just take a picture. The house itself is beyond a high wall, so unless you want to take a tour, it’s a waste of time.

 

HIN BUS DEPOT

The old Hin Bus Depot has been transformed into a space for independent shops and cafes, and on a Sunday, rows of local crafty folk set out their stalls for people to peruse and buy. There’s music playing, a coffee van, and generally a great, chilled-out vibe, with people doing yoga, kids running about, and everyone just generally enjoying their Sunday. It’s not far from the centre and is a very pleasant place to spend the afternoon.

 

food & drink highlights

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roti canai

This fresh, light bread is baked to order at any number of stalls around Malaysia, and usually comes with a little pouch of curry for dipping. It’s like a light naan bread and is utterly moreish and delicious. There’s a stall inside Komtar bus station selling them (with egg mixed in) for only 1RM each, the cheapest we’ve found.
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coffee & friends, kimberley st

Just round the corner from our hotel, I spent a lot of time here using the good wifi and drinking the strong coffee. The staff are friendly and the black americano, at 6RM, is the best value I’ve seen since we arrived. The pancakes are superb, and good value at 12RM.
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the mugshot cafe

Feted coffee shop (with adjacent bakery) on Lebuh Chulia, I went often, because it opened at 8am, earlier than many cafes. The coffee is first rate and the wifi generally, though it occasionally drops off. An americano will set you back 8RM.
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iced coffees (kopi)

Cafes and hawker stalls everywhere sell this particular cold drink made of strong coffee and laced with sweetened creamer (it’s like condensed milk). Just the tonic for the hot weather, and will cost you from 1.50RM-3RM.
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unusual dessert

There are two brilliant places to get dessert on Kimberley street. One is called the ‘dessert house’ or similar. Both are excellent, and will serve you up some tremendously-unusual pudding for 2-5RM. Almond milk, rice in sweetened milk, and sweet brown rice juice (that’s as good as that description gets, unfortunately but it tastes great!) should all be tried.
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street noodles

Wide, flat noodles are the basis for char koay teow, a Singaporean-Malaysian fried noodle dish which is extremely popular here. We had some most days and a dish will set you back 2RM-8RM.

 

Overall, we’ve really enjoyed Penang, and are sad to be leaving. Two weeks in one place was very nice, and we’ve only done that once before on this trip, in Cherating. We’ve had the chance to really get to know the place, take day trips out to get off the beaten track, tried lots of food, and had ample time to meet people. One of the ‘people’ highlights was a random Indian pensioner coming up to us while we waited on a bus and striking up a conversation that started with him asking about our trip, went through him showing us the empty biscuit packet he was carrying (‘very good…very cheap’), and ended with him lecturing us that we should have gone to India instead so much that CPY eventually fell out with him and our elderly friend took the hump and literally turned his back on us. Hey, you can’t please all the people all the time.
Georgetown is beautiful, though we had moments, as you do, when you see the ‘real’ country and appreciate it for what it is, bad as well as good. The sight of chickens in crates outside markets, stacked one on top of the other, gave us real pause for thought, and litter (plastic bottles in particular) is a huge issue here. Also, nobody warned us about the rats. Wander at night near the closed markets, look down the dark alleys, and you’ll see them scurry around. It’s not a massive issue as they stay away from the main streets, but worth mentioning.
All in all, a beautiful, historic city, with so much to see and do and eat. Hopefully we’ve answered any question about what to do in Georgetown Penang with kids and have shown there’s plenty to get on with!
We’ve today had our pancake breakfast at Coffee and Friends on Kimberley Street, and head for the four-hour bus journey back to Kuala Lumpur, to do things we didn’t get the chance to last time we were here.