Penang was our next destination after a month in sunny southern Thailand. We’d spent enough time on sandy beaches in the Land of Smiles so we decided to find accommodation somewhere in Georgetown’s centre rather than close to the sea. We booked a nice-looking hostel (surprisingly a female-only hostel that accepted couples and solo travelling blokes. You what?) in the middle of Little India, the area that actually turned out the best during the Chinese New Year. Because of the timing, all the Chinese restaurants and shops were shut (Chinatown looked a bit dead) and we had to find some more offbeat things to do in Penang…

Things to do in Penang
Old Jetty | © Crabs Move Sideways

Old Jetties

We strolled from our hostel door to the old jetties on the sea. It was Chinese New year, which meant dangling red lanterns and decorations all around. We first went to a jetty with no tourists or shops about. There were only some local fishermen and a dog that wouldn’t let us pass. Then we went to the more touristy one about 100 meters across the water. There were plenty of souvenir shops, cafes and some cheap Uno cards that we bagged to keep us entertained for the rest of the trip. The old wooden stilt houses were really nice to wander, between men dozing in hammocks and people selling iced drinks.

Things to do in Penang
Street Art | © Crabs Move Sideways

Street art

The old town of Penang is full of amazing street art. The wealth of murals will keep the camera ticking over. We instantly spotted the most famous one of two children riding a bicycle, painted by London-trained artist Ernest Zacharevic. Seeking out graffiti is one of the coolest things to do in Penang – just walk around and get lost. There’s little paintings and thought-provoking images scrawled over walls where you’d least expect it. Kudos to the person who can find the man with his legs dangling from a first-floor window.

Things to do in Penang
Little India | © Crabs Move Sideways

Little India

Since our 2015 trip to India, we’ve had a deep love and nostalgia for the subcontinent. Staying in Little India took us back to that place, only in a slightly less-hectic, occasionally theme-parky sort of way.  The smells, the people and the atmosphere recreated a chowk from Mumbai. And then there’s the food! I don’t think we’ve had such a good thali anywhere else outside of India. Okay, so you won’t come across cows on the streets but the vibe is there. Oh and no tuk-tuks, but taxis in Penang are cheap as chips.

Things to do in Penang
Chinatown | © Crabs Move Sideways


Penang is considered the most Chinese of Malay cities. We’d heard it was an amazing place to try some great Chinese food. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to it ourselves due to the New Year closures. On the bright side, we saw some dragon dancing and amazing drum shows just before midnight. There were some fireworks too. The celebrations were completely different to our New Year parties. There’s no boozing. (Shock. Horror). It’s all more spiritual and family-orientated. It was a great experience to be in Asia at that time. Maybe next year we’ll head to China.

Penang Hill

Taking a funicular up Penang Hill might not be the best idea for folk with a fear of heights – it goes steep enough to give any ski lift in the Alps a run for its money. The views are good (but perhaps not as great as we expected, so we wouldn’t call it a number one on our list of things to do in Penang) and the queue to the train is waaaay long (enough As?). There are some bars and restaurants up the top but they’re all pricy. Discouraged by the queue, we decided not to use the funicular down but to walk instead. Terrible idea. Cue two hours of scrambling black-slope-steep roads in the pitch dark as monkeys howled overhead and 4X4 trucks occasionally careered the hair-pin bends. A bloke even started chasing us at one point and we had to hurtle it to keep our heads

Penang was our favorite place in Malaysia, so if you get the chance, we’d say don’t hesitate to go there. There are plenty of things to do in Penang, and we’re sure there’s even more outside of CNY. The architecture is beautiful and the people are great – especially in Little India. If you’ve got any more tips to add, we’d love to hear them in the comments below…