George town Malaysia shop houses with food carts main

The Streets of George Town, Penang, Malaysia

George Town is the capital city of the state of Penang, Malaysia. The city center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, when George Town was recognized as having one of the largest collections of pre-World War I buildings in Southeast Asia. 

Indeed, George Town displays its unique architecture throughout the city center. The Shophouses that line its streets display varying stages of dilapidation and renovation. 

Although the renovated shop houses of George Town are beautiful, it is the more dilapidated structures that I find most interesting. Layers of varying paint colors and masonry work put the history of these structures on display. They exude character, texture, and color.

Street art, sprinkled throughout George Town’s historic streets and alleyways, affords additional character and culture. 

The history of George Town’s burgeoning street art scene began when Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created a series of wall murals in 2012. His murals, many interactive in nature, depict the lifestyle of George Town’s local people. Despite his works demonstrating signs of deterioration, they add to the intrigue of Georgetown as visitors hunt them down or simply happen upon them while exploring the town.

Some of the most famous and heavily photographed examples of his work are presented below.

Although cars are a common mode of transportation in George Town, the streets are dominated by scooters. Used regularly as basic transportation and for deliveries, scooter operators run traffic lights, dart between cars, drive the wrong way on streets, and use sidewalks as traffic lanes when time is of the essence. I learned very quickly to be hyper-alert when crossing the streets here.

Still, I enjoy the strong cultural presence of these scooters and they continue to be a favorite photographic subject of mine.

Below, an abandoned scooter finds its resting place outside the shophouses of George Town.

I spent a full year exploring Mexico, where dogs roam and rule the streets in many places. Here in George Town, it is the cats that rule. My observations suggest that the cats of George Town are generally well cared for.

The food.

I don’t think you could walk more than two blocks in George Town without coming across someplace to eat. Hawker centers, small street food carts, coffee shops, small restaurants that specialize in one dish, and trendy modern eateries can be found throughout the city. Due to Malaysia’s cultural diversity, many types of cuisine can be found here. The most common include Malay, Indian, and Chinese.

Although a multitude of dishes can be found in George Town, the undisputed king of cuisine here is the noodle. Noodle dishes of all types can be found everywhere and they are enjoyed at any time of day.

Some of the more common noodle dishes include Laksa, Curry Mee, and the famous Penang Char Kuey Teow. Dumplings and sweet treats called Nyonya Kuih are also common here.

Ah, that delicious hot bowl of White Curry Mee… I can’t get enough. Seriously, it’s a problem.

Charmingly multicultural and gritty, with historic architecture, and a growing art scene, George Town is a fun place to explore. The diverse food offerings, including a delicious bowl of noodles waiting for you around every corner, only adds to the rich experience that can be had here.

All this, and… well, temples.

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30 Comments

  1. Thank you for bringing back some great memories for us. We loved Georgetown for all the same reasons. I am glad some of the more famous street art is still vibrant. I am leaving you a comment in the Senior Nomads FBG page about a book I read while there that brought the city alive for me. If you are a non-fiction reader you might enjoy it (maybe you already have!) It is called The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng. Happy Travels, Debbie Campbell (Senior Nomad)

    1. Hi Debbie: Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a comment. I’m happy to hear the photos bring back fond memories of George Town. Thanks so much for the book recommendation. It’s sounds very interesting. I will try to hunt it down.

  2. Great photos and commentary Skip.
    You accurately capture one if the most unique places in SE Asia… a place we love!
    Thanks for your insight and friendship.
    Peace and cold beers forever!

    1. Hey Tedly. Great to see you stop by. Thanks for your comment. I agree this place is very unique. It is a fun place to explore, photograph, and enjoy food and drinks with locals and people from all over the world. Safe travels.

    1. Hi. Thank you for your comment and encouragement. Happy to hear you feel my images are worth sharing. Please do share this post. Take care and safe travels.

  3. I love your photos! I also am particularly attracted to the beautiful colours and shapes of faded architecture. You have inspired me to check out George Town! Thank you!

    1. Hi Lynn. So happy to hear you found my photos to be an inspiration. This is one of the things that motivate me to get out there to photograph and share what I experience. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me.

  4. Beautiful presentation! I enjoy seeing this place — and all places — through your eyes. Thanks for sharing!
    🌏✌️

    1. Hi Ellen. Thank you for such a nice comment. It is really appreciated. As always, so happy to see you stop by. Safe travels to you.

  5. Oh I am in love! We were in Malaysia when the pandemic began, with a planned trip to George Town though of course had to abandon it and get back to Canada before the boarders closed. Now I’m seeing through your lens what I missed. You photograph the same kinds of things that interest me, and also inspire me in new directions. Clearly I need to get back to Malaysia and this time make it to George Town. Looking forward to the temples.

    1. Hi Alison. Thank you for such a lovely comment. I highly recommend Geroge Town as a place for photographers. I haven’t had this much fun with the camera since San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. I’d love to see what you come up with. Safe travels!

      1. Oh I loved SMA! We first visited for a week, and then a couple yrs later for 3 months. Oh yeah, so much to photograph! Several blog posts. Poke around if you’re interested. Just put San Miguel in the search bar.

        1. We were in San Miguel for 2.5 months. I loved going out almost everyday with my camera while there. Got plenty of exercise with all of the hills. I hope we can get back there one day.

  6. It looks so culturally rich and I agree, the photos of the dilapidated have a real charm to them. Also I think your photos of the murals are interesting in another level. I am sure this is just me, but with them being faded, the people in the murals look ghostly and a little unnerving!

    We were talking to some other friends at the weekend about Malaysia and they love it as much as you do. Through your images, it have been promoted way up our list of places we want to visit.

    1. Hi Neil. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree with your sentiment regarding the murals. There are many more of these to find along with other street art in George Town. I certainly recommend a visit. By the way, the health care we received in George Town was great as well.

    1. Hi Eric. Yeah, I really enjoyed the architecture of those old shophouses. They definitely make great photography subjects. Hope all is well with you.

  7. The predominance of cats may be an Islamic cultural trait. We noticed a lot of cats when we were in Istanbul, and many people, most of whom were Muslim, said that cats were specifically called out in the Quran.

    1. Hey Jason. Thanks for sharing your thoughts regarding the cats. I think you may be right in your assumption. There are certainly a lot of them here. Most of them seem really happy and healthy. I’m wondering if they also help control the rats. George town has its share of those as well.

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