This Is Why Penang, Malaysia Is Our Next Long-Haul Love Affair

This Is Why Penang, Malaysia Is Our Next Long-Haul Love Affair

With a spice-laden cuisine that spans sizzling street food to Michelin-starred restaurants and a diverse landscape peppered with nature reserves and beaches, Penang makes for an unforgettable getaway

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to Penang Island’s state capital, George Town, and you’ll
find an enduring legacy of the north-west Malaysian region’s
historic spice trade played out through its beguiling blend of old
and new architectural styles. But it’s not just the city that
enchants; the whole state has an idiosyncratic charm all of its
own. Visitors can look forward to exploring palm-fringed beaches
and an ever-evolving culture of gastronomic excellence that draws
foodies from all over the world. Read our essential guide and get
ready to discover it for yourself.

Penang on a plate: seven top tips for visitors

Street art by Ernest Zacharevic, Malaysia
Photo credit: nosonjai /

Art around every corner

George Town is a delight to walk around, with its mix of wide
avenues and narrow alleys lined with a jumble of buildings from
different historical eras. And it’s not only the charming
shophouses and hand-painted tiles that make it so appealing – it’s
the surprise artwork that pops out at you wherever you go. In 2012,
Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created six unique street murals
across the capital. These thoughtful pieces made use of existing
structures – peeling window frames, antique shutter doors – and
often depict young children enjoying the simpler things in life:
riding a bike; hopping onto a school bus. Since then, many other
artists have added their marks to George Town’s walls, and while
they’re not all as evocative as Zacharevic’s original series,
nostalgic street art has become one of Penang’s most distinctive
features. Start your art walk on Armenian Street, where you’ll find
arguably Zacharevic’s most famous Penang piece, Little Children on
a Bicycle, as well as newer pieces by other artists, including Love
Me Like Your Fortune Cat, painted by the art collective ASA.

George Town, Malaysia

Michelin-starred dining

Penang has only recently been awarded its first duo of coveted
Michelin stars – an overdue recognition for such a vibrant, dynamic
dining scene. Both of the restaurants to have received a star
reflect Penang’s distinctive personality. First, there’s Au
, a fine-dining institution that offers up fresh
interpretations of European dishes, with chef-patron Kim Hock Su
using top-quality local produce to lend a local flavour to the
classics. Then, there’s Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery, a beloved
family-run restaurant that champions Peranakan cooking. A fusion
cuisine you won’t find anywhere else, Peranakan cookery draws on
traditional Malay, Chinese and Indonesian flavours to deliver
fragrant, spice-laden dishes. At Auntie Gaik Lean’s, you’ll find
some of the most authentic examples of this nuanced fare, all
prepared to chef Auntie Gaik’s secret recipes.

Street food, Penang, Malaysia

Authentic flavours

Penang is not all about fine dining, though – far from it. Some
of the best eating in the city can be found at its street-food
stalls, or in bustling, noisy hawker centres. Stand in line for
char kway teow, fried flat rice noodles studded with prawns and
fragranced with charcoal smoke, fresh from the wok. Or join a
snaking queue around a nasi kandar counter loaded with rich, spicy
curries, meats and vegetables, and pile your plate high. Some of
the best places to try multiple famous Penang dishes at once are
the food courts, with each stall offering a different

Cheong Fatt Tze, The Blue Mansion, Penang, Malaysia
Cheong Fatt Tze, The Blue Mansion

Heritage icons

The most immersive way to soak up Penang’s rich history is to
base yourself in one of the state’s many beautiful heritage hotels.
The most famous and most photographed of these is Cheong Fatt
Tze, The Blue Mansion
, an incredible example of how history can
be brought thoughtfully into the present. Built in the 1800s, the
mansion-turned-hotel has been meticulously refurbished, its
traditional Chinese-inspired architecture rejuvenated by
craftspeople and conservationists. Whether you stay at the hotel or
book a guided tour, it’s worth learning more about the property,
its ornate details and fascinating backstory. Then, there’s
Edison George Town
, a colonial mansion reimagined with a light,
modern touch, and the Eastern & Oriental, known locally as the
“E&O”, a timelessly elegant hotel that has been welcoming
guests for 138 years.

Khoo Kongsi, Penang, Malaysia

A living history

Throughout Penang, nestled between hotel blocks and shopping
malls, you’ll find living, breathing reminders of the port town’s
incredible past. Case in point is Khoo Kongsi, a
gated cluster of houses and meeting places designed and built in
the 1850s to support and celebrate the Khoo family clan in Penang.
Step through the gates to find yourself transported to a completely
different world. The establishment is fronted by the ornate Leong
San Tong (Dragon Mountain Hall), a traditional clan temple where
members of the Khoo family once gathered to pay tribute to their

Batu Ferringhi, Penang, Malaysia
Batu Ferringhi

Surrounded by nature

Alongside its thriving urban life, Penang still has pockets of
nature scattered throughout the state, from pristine rainforest to
sunny beaches. The most famous of its beaches, Batu Ferringhi, is a
popular spot for watersports and in the evening is transformed with
food stalls and a buzzing market. Make the 10-minute ferry crossing
over to Pulau Jerejak, a small island just off Penang’s coast, for
a quieter beach day. For superb snorkelling and campsites,
meanwhile, head to Monkey Beach, found in the national park on the
north-west tip of Penang Island. A must-visit is The Habitat, a
permanent rainforest reserve atop Penang Hill, where you can learn
all about the rainforest and its inhabitants, wander the Treetop
Canopy Walk and even camp under the stars.

How to get there

It’s easier than ever to explore Penang, whether you’re driving
or flying. George Town is just a four-hour road trip from
Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, and Penang International
Airport sees direct flights every week. Book your trip to Penang
with Qatar Airways, the World’s Best Airline and
winner of Skytrax Airline of the Year 2022 – the only airline
awarded for a record seventh time (World’s Best Best Business
Class, World’s Best Business Class Lounge Dining and Best Airline
in the Middle East).

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The Lowdown

Ready to touchdown in Penang? Visit Qatar Airways to book your trip

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