Guide to Backpacking Georgetown, Penang on a Budget

Colonial mansions from glory days past, quirky street art, exquisite Indian food, crazy traffic, and friendly stray cats – that’s Georgetown, Penang for you. Just a short ferry ride from Butterworth, Georgetown is the biggest city on the island of Penang. It’s a popular destination for backpackers travelling through Malaysia, and by the looks of it, many backpackers appear to have gotten stuck on this island decades ago, and are still hanging around with their long beards and stripey linen pants.

What to See


Kek Lok Si Temple – Also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, this is the largest Buddhist temple in all of South East Asia. Getting there is a bit tricky. You’ll have to take a local bus to Air Itam, which will drop you off in the market. The trail that leads up to the temple is hidden in the maze that is the market, so ask around and locals will point you in the right direction. If you find that your legs are exhausted by the time you’re halfway up the hill, fret not, there is a cable car that can carry you the remainder of the way to the very top. Kek Lok Si Temple is a massive complex, which although very much commercialized, is definitely worth a visit.

Botanical Gardens – There will be days when all you want to do is escape the burning sun and tropical heat; your answers is to head straight for the Penang Botanical Gardens located in the outskirts of town. The gardens are a lush paradise where you can wander under the shade of tropical trees, while cheeky macaques follow you closely. Best of all, admission to the gardens is absolutely free! You’ll have to take bus #10 from Complex Komtar in Georgetown, and it will cost you 2 Ringgits.


Weld Quay Clan Jetties – Located along Georgetown’s waterfront is a community that lives much the same way their ancestors did over 150 years ago. If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to live in house on stilts above the water, then you’ve come to the right places to find out. The quay is home to six jetties, each started by a different Chinese clan. The biggest of them all is the Chew Jetty. This is a great place to wander on foot, but be mindful of the locals riding their bicycles and motorcycles on the pier.

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The Old Town – Wander around the heart of Georgetown on foot. The architecture is crumbling, and many of the buildings are in need of repairs, but the town’s colonial charm still remains. Just watch your head as you walk down the sidewalk because many of the arches have shrunk in size as construction has taken place on the ground level.

Where to Eat

Restoran Kapitan – For the best Indian food in Georgetown you need to visit this specific establishment! Their tandoori set will leave you craving seconds, and their palak paneer is equally as tasty. Pair the meal with a refreshing cold lime drink or a mango lassi, and you’ve got yourself a little slice of India in Penang.

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Hawker Food – If there’s one thing we’ve discovered in Malaysia, it’s that street food is king! You’ll find street vendors cooking up local Malay and Chinese delicacies on the side of the road. Lebuh Chulia or Lebuh Centra are great places to go for food, but you can find these stands scattered around the city’s main thoroughfares.

Stardust Cafe – This humble little cafe belongs to the Stardust Hotel, and it doesn’t look like much upon arrival. However, they sure can whip up some great food in that tiny bar-style kitchen. The Stardust Cafe serves up the best tomato and cheese omelettes in town, and they also have a delicious banana oatmeal porridge.

Where to Sleep

Stardust Hotel – Located along Lebuh Chulia, the main backpacker strip, this place is in a great central location, but is also quiet at night. Private rooms come with a fan (35 Ringgits), or for a few more Ringgits you can get a room with AC.

Noordin Mews – If you feel like splurging for a couple of nights, then the Noordin Mews is the place to go. The Noordin Mews isn’t terribly cheap at 275 Ringgits a night, but sometimes that’s the price to pay for a place that feels like an oasis in the center of an incredibly hot and humid city. AC/swimming pool/room service/the most attentive staff/a hearty breakfast – yes please!

Have you been to Penang? What would you recommend?

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Maria

    Some how I missed a detail. I sat down with coffee, burned my tongue cause it’s too hot, dealt with that and scrolled past the title of this post. Then I couldn’t recognize Georgetown and I’ve been there a million times (probably no exaggeration there). Suddenly I realized you’re not in DC. and re-read the post. *laugh* You’re Georgetown is very different “mine” and definitely cooler. 🙂

    1. says: Audrey

      I didn’t know you guys had lived there. Georgetown is a great little place! I especially enjoyed all the food options there. 🙂

  2. Great tips for those thinking of visiting and some cool images, plenty of colour and atmosphere to tempt those that are undecided. Not sure when I’ll be back out that way but might have to check Georgetown out now.

    1. says: Audrey

      I hope you get to visit sometime. Georgetown is a great little spot to explore. 😉

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