George Town, Penang as a Travel Destination
From Chiang Mai To Kuala Lumpur
It was the end of our Thai visas after 3 months of being there and most of this time we spent in Chiang Mai. So we wanted to go exploring something else in Southeast Asia. We always wanted to go to Bali, but there was only 1-month visa on arrival for us, and we thought that it would not be enough to explore this beautiful island along with islands nearby. After doing some research, we decided to try obtaining tourist visas in Penang before going to Bali. So we don't need to leave Bali every month, and with these tourist visas, we can stay there for 2 months without leaving Bali after the first month.
There were no fights from Chiang Mai to Penang, and I booked one to Kuala Lumpur. There are 3 common options how you can reach Penang from Kuala Lumpur. Flight is the most expensive, and it's less than an hour away. Train and bus are more budget options, but take more time and less comfortable. We decided to go by train right on the next after we land in Kuala Lumpur. So we could make it to our train early in the morning and be in Penang at lunchtime.
The flight from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur lasts only 2 hours. We arrived late evening and went straight to the city by bus. It's quite easy to get to the city center from the airport. You can go by high-speed train, bus or taxi. A bus is the cheapest option, and it's very comfortable.
We didn't expect Malaysia will be that different from Thailand, but even nature is different. The air seemed drier than in Chiang Mai, trees and everything are different. People don't smile like in Thailand. People in Malaysia look more serious, but maybe we tired after our flight and it was too early for any judgments.
We booked our hotel for one night ahead of time. It was close to train station. So we'll have enough time in the morning to get to the train.
Fortunately, the last stop of our bus from the airport was right next to train station. So we decided to go there and buy tickets on mornings train to Penang.
The hotel room wasn't bad, but it had no windows inside, which is frustrating. Especially in the morning when you need to wake up, but don't see a natural light in your room. You think it's still night and it's confusing in some way. But, whatever, we just needed it to have some sleep before our train in the morning. For the future, we'll take it into account, and we'll make sure that a hotel room has at least one window.
From Kuala Lumpur To Butterworth By Train
The guy who sold us tickets at the train station said there is no direct train to Penang and that the last station is in the Butterworth. It's a town nearby Penang island. They are connected by a bridge, but it works only for cars. So we needed to take a ferry from Butterworth to Penang.
The train was surprisingly good. It's clean, modern and fast. They even provide with a quick bite on board. Nothing special, but feels like a good service.
When we arrived at Butterworth station, it wasn't obvious to find a way to ferry. The main entrance was surrounded by taxi drivers, which is a quite common thing for Asia. There were no navigation and seemed like everything outside the train station is under construction.
I didn't have mobile internet, but I downloaded an online map of Malaysia in Maps.me app before we left Chiang Mai. It's really helpful to have it in situations like this. I'd say it's the only thing that guided us on the way our of the train station and helped us to find the way to ferry that we needed.
We ignored taxi drivers and went by the route that Maps.me gave me. It wasn't an easy way. Basically it's curvy and with a lot of stairs up and down. It's not a big deal if you travel with just a backpack, but a 20kg bag makes it harsh in some way.
Surprisingly, ferry tickets were very cheap. It cost us less than a dollar for a single ticket. 30 cents if I'm not mistaken. I'm more than confident that taxi drivers would ask for at least $20 or $30 to get us to George Town in Penang. So it worth the efforts to spend some time on research and plan a little bit ahead of time.
From Butterworth To Penang By Ferry
The ferry was very simple. There were people mashed with cars on it, and it takes like 10-20 minutes to get to Penang.
I thought we'd make a couple of nice shots of the island until we arrive, but it didn't look promising. It doesn't look like beautiful and wild Thai islands, but more like a city on the island. No beach, no palm trees, dirty and rubbish water, not pretty buildings in the coastal area.
The ferry arrives right in George Town, capital of Penang island. It feels and looks different from other parts of Malaysia. I'll explain why a little bit further.
Basically, Penang is like an island and state of Malaysia. The interesting thing about it is that it's multicultural. The city is known for British colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses, and mosques.
The first day in George Town was really exciting for us. First thing first we found our hotel which wasn't far away from the pier. It took like 10-15 minutes to walk and find the hotel we booked.
We stayed at B Street Hotel. It's a nice place with clean rooms and friendly guys at the reception. I'd say it was an oasis for us and the only place where we could get relatively stable internet connection in the whole George Town.
The only thing that is annoying was that this was the second hotel where we were asked to pay taxes of staying at Malaysian hotel. Probably this was included in the visa fee before, and since there are no fees anymore, they figured out how else to make money on foreigners. But, I'd pay visa fee instead. I believe it's less annoying then paying taxes let's say if you came there on holiday.
After checking into our hotel in Penang, we went to explore the area around and have lunch.
I usually use Foursquare app to find a place, but that time it was difficult to figure out what place to check out. Even places with good ratings had sketchy photos, and we were not ready for this. So we decided to find a shopping mall and maybe a food court in it to avoid surprises.
So we found 1st Avenue Mall on the map and went there. The first impression was that part of the mall is in reconstruction state, but it wasn't bad. Eventually, we found the food court. However, lots of places there seemed dirty. Especially where it's Indian cuisine. We managed to find a nice option for us and then went to our hotel to get some rest.
Our Story With Visas To Bali
Next morning we took Uber and went to Indonesian consulate to apply for visas.
The driver was a nice and very positive guy. He spoke English well and told us a little bit about the development of tourism in George Town, things to do in Penang and how he's trying himself in different professions. He even gave us an Uber coupon for further rides to explore more places.
Things in consulate went pretty straightforward. We took application blanks, filled out everything and a lady on the entrance checked everything before we were called to the window to pass the whole package with photos, flight tickets and everything that was requested.
Unfortunately, we were rejected, and we didn't get tourist visas that day. The consulate officer told us that they no longer issue tourist visas and the only visa we can apply is social visa, but it requires more documents like for example a letter from a sponsor that lives in Bali. Which is not a big issue and we could use agents who could organize everything for us, but we weren't sure that it worth it and we want to stay there for 6 months. So we decided to just get the visa on arrival stamps and then see how it goes.
Things To Do In Penang for Digital Nomads
Since our flight from Penang was in 3 days, we wanted to get most of it, and the initial idea was to explore Penang and George Town as much as possible.
Also, we had some work to do. So we wanted to be productive and at the same time spend time nicely seeing new things, trying local food and visiting some of the places. Because from the Internet resources George Town seemed promising.
The Internet speed is a bottleneck for Penang. It was challenging to have a decent connection even with enough speed for web surfing and checking email. It drops quite often, and most of the time you just wait for connection and the whole process doesn't feel productive at all. Just a waste of time.
We couldn't do much unless we were staying at the hotel where the Internet connection was relatively good and dropped much more rarely than in cafes we've been to.
Some Of The Cafes We've Visited
Yin's Sourdough Bakery And Cafe
Favorite breakfast place. Reasonable prices, nice panini, and coffee.
The Twelve Cups
Nice coffee, but loud and unstable Internet connection.
We went there for burgers. It's quite good, freshly prepared and you can add fries. Good selection or burgers with different meat and buns.
Places To See
Probably the most visited part of George Town. Lots of street art and relatively clean street. Ideal for tourism purposes.
Small green corner close to street art area.
Another good area in George Town that looks good and where we had a pleasant walk to our breakfast place a couple of times.
Kapitan Keling Mosque
You can't pass it if you're in George Town. Most of the buildings in George Town are small, and this one looks massive and different because of its Muslim architecture.
Here is the map with all the places that I can recommend:
In general, there's a trouble with places to have a walk and enjoy for a long period of time. As long as with supermarkets and convenience stores.
It seemed like this place is not for tourism and we need to get out of there as soon as possible. I made some research and found that most of digital nomads and travelers who come there don't spend more than 2-3 days. I think it's enough to have an impression about the place.
Finally, we were ready to go to our next destination. We had a flight from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, then to Bali.