The bustling streets of George Town, Penang offer up sights, sounds, and smells at every corner. From its street art to the street food, Georgetown is a city that seems to live in full view of the public, making outsiders feel like insiders.
George Town used to be the capital of Britain’s colonial outpost in Malaysia. Now, its claim to fame is being the capital of street art in Southeast Asia. In 2012, the city commissioned artists to paint murals for the George Town Cultural Festival, and they have proved popular with tourists ever since.
One of the best things about George Town is that it is a melting pot. From its many temples to its street food, the confluence of Muslim, Chinese, and Indian culture can be seen all throughout the city. This means you can eat all sorts of delicious food throughout the city. Due to its sizable Indian population, Penang has some of the most delicious Indian food in all of Southeast Asia, except perhaps for Singapore. But its street food is where the city truly shines.
Oh, the street food… from its signature asam laksa (a sour, herbal fish stew that tastes infinitely better than it sounds) to chicken wings, claypot rice, barbecue fish, chicken wings, wonton noodles, and more, this is a city that knows truly how to eat – and on a dime, too. Although the street food scene usually picks up at night, it is available all throughout the day. It’s easy to get a bunch of dishes from different vendors throughout each street food center. If you can, bring a friend or a few so you can try as much as possible!
Likewise, you can dine with the city’s Muslim patrons on delicious nasi kandar, a halal favorite. This dish is composed of spiced rice, your choice of meat and veggies, and a smattering of sauces from all the offerings. Line Clear is open 24 hours and is a smash hit amongst locals and tourists alike.
Architecture and Culture
The architecture in George Town is varied, from old colonial buildings in the historical UNESCO buffer zone to gorgeous mosques, temples, and churches. Gorgeously ornate Chinese temples dot the historical center. These temples nod to the long history of the Peranakan Chinese who have called this special island home. Kek Lok Si Temple is one such temple, a bit outside George Town in Air Itam. It is one of the best examples of Chinese religious architecture in Penang. When you go, make sure you try the famous asam laksa (pictured above) nearby!
Back in George Town, there is “Little India,” where people sell saris and flower garlands in vibrant colors. Elsewhere in the city, there are two beautiful Buddhist temples right across the street from one another, in both the Thai and Burmese fashions.
Temples and mosques throughout the city remind you that this is a special place. George Town is a city where people from all different ethnicities and religions can converge and diverge and still respect one another. It’s a feeling a few great cities in the world have. I’d put Penang right up there with Singapore, Stockholm, London, and New York as one of the great multicultural cities of the world. As a lifelong New Yorker, I loved the way the city seemed to accept everyone who came into it with an open heart. Malaysia’s religious and ethnic diversity surprised me. Visiting George Town made me want to learn even more about this beautiful country and the people who call it home.