George Town, Malaysia

It is rare to visit a city whose entire core is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. George Town on Penang Island in Malaysia warrants the honor. You will enjoy exploring its plethora of temples, colonial landmarks, nighttime hotspots and foodie experiences. Welcome to the “Pearl of the Orient.”

Share this
View MAP

1 Approaching Penang Port in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Approaching George Town – the capital of Penang state – from the Penang Strait is exciting. With a population of over 700,000 people, it is the second largest city in Malaysia. The “Pearl of the Orient” is a unique blend of colonial buildings huddled at the base of modern skyscrapers. Since Penang Island was purchased by the British East India Company in 1786, George Town has grown into the epicenter for business, culture and tourism. The entire historic section of George Town has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pengkalan Weld, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

2 Tourism in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Tourism is growing significantly in George Town. Nearly seven million domestic and foreign visitors fly to the city each year. Over 1.3 million more arrive on cruise ships at the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal. This is an excellent location for berthing. After disembarking from their ship, passengers are immediately in the historic core of George Town. For example, Fort Cornwallis is only a few steps away from the terminal. This travel guide provides an excellent walking path to many of the city’s important landmarks.

1A, King Edward Place, Pengkalan Weld, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

3 Fort Cornwallis in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Captain Francis Light began advocating to the British to establish a settlement on today’s Penang Island in 1771. 15 years later, he negotiated a lease from Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah and became the island’s first superintendent. One of his first initiatives on behalf of the British East India Company was to build Fort Cornwallis. The fort’s namesake was Charles Cornwallis. He was the British army general who surrendered to George Washington in 1781 during the American Revolutionary War. The wooden foundations for Fort Cornwallis were finished in 1786. It was strengthened with brick and a moat in 1810. Although the moat is gone, this modified drawbridge is still the entrance. Inside you will be treated to colonial buildings, old British military hardware including 17 cannons and staff dressed in colonial costumes.

Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

4 Jubilee Clock Tower in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Penang was part of the Straits Settlement from 1867 until 1942. As a crown colony, the Settlement’s governor had more power for self-government yet was still controlled by the British monarch. So, when Victoria celebrated her 60th year as the Queen of the United Kingdom in June of 1897, George Town wanted to honor the occasion. A prosperous local Chinese businessman Cheah Chen Eok commissioned the Jubilee Clock Tower. The 97 foot tower with a Moorish design was not finished until 1902, a year after Queen Victoria died.

Jubilee Clock Tower, Beach Street, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

5 Malayan Railway Building in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

At the start of the 20th century, the British invested heavily in a rail system throughout the Malay Peninsula. As part of the infrastructure, the Malayan Railway Building was built in 1907 along Weld Quay, a parcel of reclaimed land along the waterfront. Oddly, the station did not service trains. Instead, it was a ticket office for passengers to board a ferry across the Penang Strait where they would catch a train at Perai on the mainland. Now called Wisma Kastam, the building is the headquarters for Royal Malaysian Customs Department.

Wisma Kastam, 10, Gat Lebuh China, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

6 Nightlife in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

If your ideal vacation itinerary includes sleeping away the morning so you can party until late, then you will not be disappointed with the nightlife in George Town. Your options are endless. For a bird’s-eye view of the city, consider Sky Bar on top of the Bayview Hotel or Coco Cabana Bar on the 68th floor of the KOMTAR Tower. There are backstreet bars galore plus international chains such as the Hard Rock Cafe. Other bars feature music of every genre or create your own karaoke style. For an incredible view of the Penang Strait, consider the QEII 360 Waterfront Venue at the end of a pier along Weld Quay.

8A, Pangkalan Weld, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

7 Goddess of Mercy Temple in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

When this temple was built in 1728, Hoklo people (Han Chinese) came to worship Mazu the sea goddess. In 1824, it became a Taoist temple dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. Buddhists believe she places the souls of the departed on a lotus and sends them to the Pure Land. Taoism is a Chinese philosophical tradition or religion founded in the 4th century BC. At the core of their teachings are the Three Treasures: compassion, frugality and humility. Notice the man holding joss incense sticks above his head. Traditionally, he will bow three times in front of the temple and repeat the pattern in all four directions before entering. The Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Teng) is a popular place to pay homage on the eve of Chinese New Year.

Kuan Yin Teng, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

8 St. George’s Church in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

The British East India Company bartered with the Sultan of Kedah to acquire Prince of Wales Island (now Penang Island) in 1786. However, the British would not have their first, purpose-built Anglican church until St. George’s was built in 1818 and consecrated the following year. The Georgian Palladian design was created by William Petrie, the island’s first governor. This is the oldest Anglican Church in Southeast Asia. St. George’s Church is listed among the 50 National Heritage Treasures of Malaysia.

1, Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

9 Penang High Court Building in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

The Judiciary of Malaysia has evolved extensively since the Supreme Court was founded at Fort Cornwallis in 1808 based on a Royal Charter of Justice issued by King George III. The following year, the British East India Company built George Town’s first courthouse. For about 29 years during the mid-19th century, it also had jurisdiction over Singapore and Malacca. In 1903, the new Penang High Court Building opened with a Palladian design by architect John McCallum. The historic structure was extended in 2005. The Malay name is Mahkamah Tinggi Pulau Pinang.

Kompleks Mahkamah, Lebuh Light, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

10 Town Hall in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Town Hall was George Town’s first municipal building. It had a very short lifespan in that role. Barely after Town Hall was finished in 1880, the Municipal Commissioners complained it was inadequate to house their growing staff. So, they commissioned a larger structure next door that was finished in 1906 and would later become City Hall. Town Hall then became a social haven for European elites. It is now a special event venue. Town Hall is located at Padang Kota Lama. Also called the Padang or The Esplanade, this is one of George Town’s oldest neighborhoods.

Jalan Padang Kota Lama, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

11 City Hall in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

George Town was founded in 1786 and was a British crown colony from 1867 until 1957 when it was granted city status. That is the year when this former Municipal Building, built in 1906, was renamed City Hall. It is located adjacent to its predecessor, the Town Hall, at the Padang parade grounds, also called the Esplanade. This exquisite Edwardian Baroque structure offices the local government for the city of George Town and the Penang Island City Council.

Jalan Padang Kota Lama, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

12 Kapitan Keling Mosque in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

During the late 18th century, George Town’s status as a free port enticed thousands of traders and merchants to the fledgling settlement. The British appointed a Kapitan Keling (captain) to manage the growing community of Indian Muslims. The first was Cauder Mohideen. In 1801, he founded the Kapitan Keling Mosque. Today, the word keling is considered derogatory, but the name of the city’s largest Islam mosque has not changed.

14, Jalan Buckingham, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

13 Entry to Khoo Kongsi in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

A kongsi is a Chinese social organization among people of common descent. The famous Chinese clan house in George Town is Khoo Kongsi located in Cannon Square. It was founded during the 17th century by immigrants from the Fujian province in China. As they grew into wealthy traders within Penang, the Leong San Tong clan became a tight-knit community with their own government. Their first temple was built in 1851. After Khoo Kongsi was destroyed by fire, this replacement was finished in 1906. Guarding the temple entrance at the top of the grand staircase is a pair of green stone lions. Also notice the elegant round stone windows with intricate carvings.

18, Cannon Square, 10450 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

14 Central Hall Khoo Kongsi in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Khoo Kongsi is also called Leong San Tong. This Hokkien clan temple has a Southern Fujian design. The main structure has three halls. This Central Hall (Cheng Soon Keong) is the temple’s primary altar. It is dedicated to Ong Soon Yah and Tai Sai Yah. These two Jin Dynasty warriors from the 4th century are the patron saints of Khoo Kongsi. Surrounding the room are the names of mythological heroes plus the founders of the Khoo Kongsi association.

18, Cannon Square, 10450 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

15 Ancestral Hall Inside Khoo Kongsi in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

There are two other halls inside Khoo Kongsi. One is Hock Teik Soo, dedicated to Tua Pek Kong, the Chinese God of Prosperity. This is the altar in the Ancestral Hall (Ee Kok Tong). It commemorates the first twenty generations of the Sin Kang Khoo Clan. The Chinese believe it is critical to pay homage and pray to their ancestors because their spirits influence and shape the lives of the living.

18, Cannon Square, 10450 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

16 Nine Old Men Mural Inside Khoo Kongsi in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

This detail of the “Nine Old Men” mural is one of several in the Rear Corridor of Khoo Kongsi. It depicts a mid-9th century meeting with Bai Juyi, a Chinese poet from the Tang Dynasty. This summit was intended to promote good health and longevity. These bearded elders are calmly studying the twin fish chart. In Chinese philosophy, this represents the yin and yang between heaven and earth. Off camera are four other men huddled over a game of chess.

18, Cannon Square, 10450 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

17 KOMTAR Tower in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

In 1974, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, while the second Prime Minister of Malaysia, laid the cornerstone for a 27 acre urban development project in George Town. When this skyscraper opened in 1986, its name was an acronym for the prime minister. At 816 feet, KOMTAR Tower is the tallest building in Penang. At first this architectural gem was a success. It housed commercial and Penang state government offices on the upper levels plus an extensive shopping mall on several lower levels. After years of decline, KOMTAR Tower was extensively renovated from 2012 to 2016. It is once again an exciting attraction to tourists and local Malaysians.

KOMTAR, Lebuh Tek Soon, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

18 KOMTAR Tower Skywalk in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

On the 65th floor of KOMTAR Tower is a traditional observation deck plus the vertigo-inducing Rainbow Skywalk. This cantilever glass bridge provides a panoramic view of George Town from 816 feet. Many of the city’s other 680 high-rises and skyscrapers are clustered along Gurney Drive seen at the top of this photo. This waterfront area is attractive for its promenade, shopping centers, hotels, restaurants and bars plus legendary street cuisine served from countless stalls and carts. This is a great chance to try Malaysian food at its best.

KOMTAR, Lebuh Tek Soon, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

19 Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Cheong Fatt Tze (1840 – 1916) was a very successful Chinese businessman in Penang. His widespread ventures – including agriculture, banking and shipping – earned him the nickname Rockefeller of the East. He also became the Chinese Consul in 1890 while Penang was part of the Straits Settlement. In 1897, he commissioned an elaborate homestead. When it was finished in 1904, it became known as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Some people call it Blue Mansion because of its unique indigo-blue façade. The estate has 38 rooms and five courtyards. It also adheres to feng shui, the Chinese principals of design to harmonize people with their environment. Today, the mansion contains a restaurant and a boutique hotel. The heritage property is also open for tours.

14, Leith Street, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

20 Rickshaws in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

These rickshaws on the porch of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion are not just charming decorations. The two-wheeled vehicles – some are pushed and others are pulled – are a common form of transporting tourists around George Town. The rickshaw was invented in Japan in 1869 and quickly spread across major Asian cities until their steady decline in the 1920s and 1930s. A variation is the trishaw (also called a becak or cycle rickshaw), a three-wheeled vehicle with pedals. Most of the drivers are delightful. They tend to be knowledgeable and passionate about their city and are eager to show you the highlights with pride.

14, Leith Street, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

21 Red Garden Night Market in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

This parking lot behind the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is empty. Why? Because the Red Garden Night Market and Food Paradise does not open until 5:30 pm. Then, its lively vibe of food, music and shopping continues until 2 am. The hawkers offer every imaginable type of Malaysian, Indian and Chinese cuisine served quickly, priced cheaply and eaten at cramped tables. The merchandise vendors sell their handicrafts, jewelry and clothing. And the cadence of music performed on stage maintains a loud, pounding intensity. This is a great place to pick up a souvenir, sample local food, sip a cheap beer and enjoy incredible people watching.

20, Lebuh Leith, 10000 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

22 Eastern & Oriental Hotel in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

In 1884, the Sarkies Brothers had a vision for building grand accommodations along 900 feet of George Town’s waterfront. The first was the Eastern Hotel. In 1885, the adjacent Hotel de l’Europe was acquired and renamed the Oriental Hotel. They became the Eastern & Oriental Hotel four years later. The Armenian brothers experienced such huge success that they became hoteliers in Singapore, Rangoon and Burma in Myanmar plus Batu in Indonesia. Visiting the E&O in George Town is like stepping back into the height of luxury during the colonial era, especially after extensive renovations and additions where concluded in 2013. The hotel typically receives a five-star rating.

10, Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

23 Entry to Wat Chaiyamangkalaram in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

Wat Chaiyamangkalaram is a Thai Buddhist Temple located in Pulau Tikus, a suburb of George Town. The wat (Thai name for temple) was founded in 1845 when Queen Victoria gifted five acres to immigrants from Thailand known as Malaysian Siamese. Approximately 50,000 Thai Malaysians live in the country today. Most of them practice Theravāda Buddhism. This temple is an unusual site in Malaysia but mirrors those found in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.

17, Lorong Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

24 Hall of the Thousand Buddhas at Wat Chaiyamangkalaram in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

Hall of the Thousand Buddhas is the main vihear or prayer hall at Wat Chaiyamangkalaram. Flanking the entrance are two nāga sculptures. Depicted here as dragons, these monsters from the water shelter the Buddha and are protectors of the scripture. The two ghoulish-looking guards are devas. In Thai, they are called yakshas and the female counterparts beside them are yakshinis. Inside the hall is a large reclining Buddha, hundreds of smaller statues plus a mausoleum holding the ashes of the community’s ancestors. You need to remove your shoes before entering.

17, Lorong Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

25 Deva Guarding Wat Chaiyamangkalaram in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

This tall statue guarding Wat Chaiyamangkalaram is a deva or devatā. In Thailand, these mythical creatures are called yakshas or yaks. They have been guardians of Buddhist temples since the 14th century. Their green face, protruding eyes, white fangs and ever-ready sword are meant to frighten away evil.

17, Lorong Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

26 Reclining Buddha at Wat Chaiyamangkalaram in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

The spectacular highlight of Wat Chaiyamangkalaram is the reclining Buddha. This position represents Shakyamuni Buddha on his deathbed at the age of 80 in either 544 or 545 BCE. Having already reached nirvana in his lifetime, he is preparing for parinirvana, the ultimate state after death. This gilded Buddha colossi – also called the sleeping Buddha – is an enormous 108 feet long, the world’s third largest. Look closely at the eyes and toenails. They are made from mother of pearl.

17, Lorong Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

27 Entry to Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

Dhammikarama Burmese Temple is located across the street from Wat Chaiyamangkalaram in Pulau Tikus. When founded in 1803, it was named the Nandy Moloh Burmese Temple after the woman who donated the land, Nonya Betong. It was created to serve the community of Burma (now Myanmar) immigrants. They began settling here in the late 18th century. Their primary occupations were fishing, trading and cigar making. The temple is also a kyaung, meaning a Burmese Buddhist monastery. It has been designated as a Penang State Heritage Site.

24, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

28 Chinthe at Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

Before entering the main prayer hall at Dhammikarama Burmese Temple, you encounter two chinthes. A pair of these lion-like creatures (leogryphs) often guards the entrance to Burmese temples and pagodas. They evolved from a legend about a princess who married a lion and gave birth to a son. Years later, the son killed the lion without realizing it was his father. In atonement, he commissioned lion statues to protect the temple.

24, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

29 Buddha Statue at Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

Inside Sima Shrine Hall (also spelled Sime and Simla) is this 27 foot Buddharūpa statue. The standing Buddha displays the abhayamudrā pose with the right hand raised with the palm out while the left hand points down. The gesture (mudrā) connotes the achievement of enlightenment while protecting people from their fears and delusions.

24, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

30 Panca Rupa at Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

An intriguing display at the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple is named Guardian Protectors of the World. These two creatures holding the globe combine the powerful features of several animals. These include the trunk and tusks of an elephant, the hooves of a horse, the scales of a carp, the face of a dragon (toenayar) and the wings of a garuda, the mythological king of birds. The Greek term for a multifaceted creature like this is a chimera.

24, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

31 Stupa at Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

The largest of the stupas at the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple is also the oldest. The inner section was built in 1805. Then it was encased with a golden shell in 1838. A stupa (also called a chedi) in its current form was first used to bury Shakyamuni Buddha over 2,500 years ago. The most revered stupas around the world contain a Buddha relic. Others are used as a mausoleum for religious followers. The bell shape of this stupa represents nirvana.

24, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

32 Arahant Upagutta Shrine at Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Pulau Tikus, Malaysia

The gilded Arahant Upagutta Shrine is part of the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple complex. Originally built in 1840, it was replaced 1976. Inside is the image of Shin Upagutta. The Burmese believe he achieved nirvana and is a protector against danger, problems and illness.

24, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions
TOP