I cannot buhlieeeeve how affordable this getaway was. Penang was so cheap by holiday standards it shoulda been illegal. I originally intended for it just to be a casual getaway, but after heading there I just had to write a BSG for it – it was practically begging to be done!
So! Here’s the story. A few of us university friends were planning to go to Mt Bromo in Indonesia after the final examinations. Now, mountain climbing is not my thing but they enticed me with the promise of pony rides up the mountain. Fine. I was game. Everybody booked their tickets one afternoon for about 99SGD return but I was out studying at Starbucks that day and I didn’t want to book tickets over a public-ish network, so I said I’d go home and book it.
I went home, checked, and it was $200 for the same flight dates.
Whaaat? I was not about to pay two hundred dollars to climb a mountain I didn’t want to climb in the first place, pony or no pony. Besides, everyone else paid less than a hundred for it and I felt swindled and all other righteous feelings! So, depressed and forlorn, I ran a search for nearby places I could just pop to anyway while all my friends were off climbing a mountain in Indonesia.
Somehow I landed on Penang. I texted Cindy (who flat out refused to climb a mountain from the start) and bam – that’s how Cinch, her boyfriend Leroy, and I, ended up in Penang for a short getaway in the middle of May.
For 3D2N in Penang was, believe it or not, under $200, which made me feel very okay about trading in Bromo for Penang, especially since the entire trip cost less than my air ticket would have. 😀
We bought our air tickets return from Tigerair for about $77. We paid about $40 total per person for airbnb. And we spent an approximation of $60 each while there – I stupidly changed 100SGD to ringgit but was left with a lot of extra. The other two were smarter – they changed $60, and stuck to it. So since we basically spent all on the same things and divided our meal costs, I’m approximating the expenses to $60.
One exciting thing we did this trip was figure out the Malaysian bus system, which honestly, is a bit of a hot mess if you’re not a local. Firstly, getting information on it is horrendous. Google maps will not be your friend here – it’s hardly even updated. Getting people to explain it to you is also a hopeless endeavour. We went into a booth marked INFORMATION only to be told that it was a police post and that they couldnt tell us anything about bus routes.
HOWEVER, a really pro tip (IMHO) is to just approach a cab driver hanging around the bus station/ terminal and ask them what bus goes where. They’re usually quite happy to help. And you can’t beat 1.40RM for a ride home – it’s basically fifty cents in SGD.
I strangely didn’t see any trains when I was there. Getting to and fro the airport was also pretty easy – it’s a standard price for taxis, about 47RM one way. HOWEVER AGAIN, we discovered on our way back that it was waaaaay cheaper to book an uber – it cost us 28RM total, which is nearly half off. I know, right?
PS. if you’re a first time user, my promo code is jeq1l thanks you get ten bucks credit
It was such a short and spontaneous trip that I didn’t end up working with any of my usual sponsors because in my head I was like aiyah, three days only.. If we had been there longer, I’d have gotten the wifi egg from y5buddy like I normally do. Unfortunately, it didn’t even occur to me: somehow in my head Malaysia being so near Singapore meant I could use my phone in Penang as per normal. Ha ha ha.
We bought SIM cards at the airport. There are a bunch of telco booths once you disembark, and we spent like 21RM/person on prepaid unlimited data + some calls and texts which was honestly quite wretched because it was slow like a baby learning to walk. Still, it was serviceable – we got our whatsapps out and all that, and we were contactable, which was good, even if it did take five minutes to attempt and reattempt uploading a single picture to instagram.
We chose to stay in Georgetown, Penang, because it’s supposed to be the most ‘happening’ of places. The option of staying in a traditional heritage home and a modern apartment was up in the air until the reasonably priced heritage homes all got snapped up while we were being indecisive pansies, so we just went with a modern three bedroomed apartment in Penang Times Square which was surprisingly cheap for what we got. I think it was something like ninety bucks a night at the point of booking, which worked out to 30/person/night, but I had some credits leftover from when people signed up for airbnb with my link so yeah it finally worked out to 40/person in total. So thanks, guys.
You can sign up for airbnb and get your $33 bucks voucher here.
We walked everywhere from our apartment, which is ok, but the heat is quite hardcore in Penang so chances are you’ll walk to the end of Georgetown where the bus terminal is then take a bus back to wherever you’re staying. It’s honestly a lot more manageable that way.
Honestly guys? Things to do in Penang should be renamed things to eat in Penang. Because, sure, there are a bunch of other things to do, but what everyone is really in Penang for is Asam Laksa, am i right? I mean, the place was named third best for food in the world!
Let’s face it guys, if you go to Penang, you’re going to be a fatty after three days with bad cholesterol levels. Lets call a spade a spade, ok? The food is just too good, and it’s all shamelessly unhealthy. But so good! So make your peace with that, or diet appropriately before/after going.
1. Asam Laksa and Penang Hokkien Mee
Okay, disclaimer. So maybe the reason I’m so keen on all these dishes is because they’re all relatively new to me. Growing up my idea of local food honestly began and ended at Chicken Rice and U-mian. I tried my first mouth of Laksa in my second year of university at Toastbox (Lexy gave me a bite), and since then I was hooked!
Penang laksa is very different from normal laksa in that it’s kind of sour, instead of milky. I like both versions, but when in Penang..
We went to the famous Joo Hooi Cafe for this. I won’t claim to be an expert on laksa, but I thought it was pretty good.
Joo Hooi Cafe
475 Jalan Penang (at Lebuh Keng Kwee aka Keng Kwee Street),
10000 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
2. Have Dim Sum for Breakfast
I know right? I didn’t know dimsum was a thing in Penang. Or maybe it’s just this place. Either way, it was quite something. It was so good we came back twice, for breakfast on the two mornings we were there – and if you repeat a dining option in a city known for a variety of dining options then you know it’s the real deal..
We felt like we were actually in Hong Kong, eating there. It’s a very traditional sort of dimsum/tea house – you walk up and order the pastries and dimsum from a counter then they write it down on a card and you pay for it all in the end. And it’s fantastic! Everything is so light and fluffy and delicious!! Favourites include the lor mai kai, charsiewbao, and siew mai. It only cost us… seven SGD total per person or something. I remember it being less than ten each time and thinking I LOVE OUR CURRENCY!!!! THANK YOU SINGAPORE MONETARY AUTHORITY FUND BOARD DECISION MAKER ECONOMICS-MAJOR THINGIES.
It also actually opens when it’s supposed to, unlike most other places in Penang that open as and when the owners wake up to start work (at least, that’s how I presume it worked because they follow NO RULES). Quite reliable as a breakfast option and a perfect way to start the day. I’m surprised the people living in the area aren’t all blobs because I would totally be if I lived in the neighbourhood. DIMSUM EVERYDAY!
If I could recommend one thing in Penang I think this would be it.
Prosperous Dim Sum
Address: Lorong Abu Siti, 10400 Georgetown, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Phone:+60 10-383 2588
Hours: Open today · 5:30 am – 2:00 pm
3. Penang Wanton Mee and Various Unhealthy Things
I know, I know. Bizarre. But the thing is, we didn’t plan our meals according to the dishes, we planned them according to location. So when we hit one location we would order a bunch of things to share and try, and the famous Gurney Drive Hawker Centre is a heart attack waiting to happen..
Things we ordered: Wanton mee, Hokkien mee, Orh Lua (spelling?), Skewers, Fried chicken skin and tofu.
These things were ordered based on feeling feeling and the recommendations on foursquare as usual. I personally liked the hokkien and wonton mee, and the fried unhealthy plate of calories that made me hate myself afterwards. It was surprisingly good. Most times these things just sound like a guilty pleasure and when you have it you’re like ick, oily. But this was really very good. Impressed.
On the other hand, the skewers didn’t taste like anything and the orh lua was a lot more flour than anything else, so..
Soya bean was the drink of the trip, yum.
Okay, so these were the memorable meals this trip. Unfortunately we didn’t get to try the famous Penang Curry Mee anywhere because the curry mee stores were all closed wherever we went, but I think we were quite comprehensive in our attempts otherwise. Everywhere we went, the three of us ordered a bunch of things to share, which I think is a very big part of how we managed to try so much and still keep costs low.
I was having drinks with Steph the other night and as we chatted briefly about Penang, she turned to me and said:
“I mean, yeah, I want to go.. but you always see the same pictures of Penang online, you know? I feel like I’ve already been there.”
Which is basically the story of every other cheap nearby destination for the ever restless Singaporean community, really. And it’s true. Who hasn’t seen the photos of a friend or friend of a friend standing by some street art posing shamelessly with it? I knew this and swore I wasnt going to do that touristy embarrassing thing but even I couldnt resist when I saw a giant cat mural.
So there’s that, if you’re the touristy sort – the street art hunt in Georgetown, a collect em all kinda phenomenon. They’re harder to find than you’d think.
Besides that, we also walked down to the Clan Jetties, which still houses the older generations of Penang folk but which is also now named a UNESCO World Heritage site, attracting quite a number of tourists. It’s a relatively pleasant thing to see, the old houses on stilts overlooking the waters, but the wrinkled faces peering suspiciously out of each house broke our hearts. I wouldn’t like it if people randomly stormed my neighbourhood snapping pictures of my house – a few of them actually had no photography signs nailed on – and it being a UNESCO world heritage site can’t have helped the situation much. We walked on past the houses and sat at the edge of the jetty for an hour or so, cooling off after the long walk, watching the waves, before finally packing up and heading back.
Lastly, and I’m not sure if this should go under the food section, Penang’s cafe scene is pretty up and coming itself. We visited two cafes while we were there, the Kopitiam cafe (the best thing about it being its air-conditioning) and the monkeycup cafe, which actually had really decent coffee. Live music is apparently also a thing in Penang, and although we unfortunately didn’t catch any gigs while we were there, I’d definitely try to do so if I were headed there again.
There’s no denying that food in Penang is great, but pre-trip when I heard that Penang was a food city, I’ll have to admit it didn’t cross my mind that it was dubbed such because there’s nothing much else to do besides eat in Penang. It’s no Bangkok, so it’s not about to give you a whole host of experiences consisting food, massages, shopping, nightlife… but to be fair, it’s also a whole lot nearer and cheaper, and you really can’t argue with $200 for a short weekend getaway!
We also had a lot of fun there despite ourselves – we basically combatted the heat by working around the afternoons, waking up early to explore then cooping up in the airconditioned airbnb apartment in the afternoons with wine and a movie while waiting for it to get dark and cool enough to venture out again. (See, this is why you book accommodation near the city centre.) Definitely would recommend for friends looking for somewhere really cheap and near – and when else can you be spontaneous without breaking the bank too much? That’s right, y’all.
See you in a few years when I’ve recovered from all the laksa I ingested this trip, Penang! x