Malaysia's Cutting-Edge George Town

Conde Nast Traveler
Photographer: Peter Treanor/alamy

George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Close

George Town, Penang, Malaysia.

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Photographer: Peter Treanor/alamy

George Town, Penang, Malaysia.

There are a million amazing places to visit on the other side of the Pacific—we devoted the entire April issue to Asia. But we wanted a place that would feel both relaxing and stimulating…cutting-edge and still undiscovered. Requirements: Instagram-ready architecture, interesting hotels, fab food, nightlife, Twitter access.

We've found it in Malaysia's island-city of George Town, in the state of Penang. Here, Singaporeans prowl the narrow streets for hawker food that's rich in Indian, Malay, and Chinese flavors; Kuala Lumpur's denizens peruse contemporary Malay art in historic Chinese galleries like Galeri Seni Mutiara (118 Lebuh Armenian; 60-4-262-0167); and everyone else is content just lying on the white sand beaches a few blocks from the action in town.

Sound ideal? Then do two things. First, book a room at the right-now Macalister Mansion, whose heritage facade belies modern-meets-Deco interiors and flourishes like a swim-up bar (60-4-228-3888; doubles from $224). It even made our Hot List. Then check out the overnight itinerary we created below. Hey, it could be the start of our next grand tour.

George Town Musts

FOR DRINKING AND SHOPPING China House, a row of 1800s-era shophouses turned into a gallery, shops with handwoven textiles, a bar, and restaurants (153-155 Beach St.).

FOR A DAY-TRIP Pack a picnic from La Bohème (42 Jalan Sri Bahari) and go to Taman Negara Pulau Pinang, a national park of jungle and coconut-shaded beaches an hour’s taxi ride away (60-4-881-3530).

FOR PEOPLE WATCHING 23 Love Lane hotel’s bar is where stylish locals drink Singapore slings and play charades. Upstairs, inexpensive rooms are set around a garden (60-4-262-1323; doubles from $160).

A Perfect Overnight in Penang

5 P.M.: Join local artists and visiting Singaporeans for drinks at China House’s chic Canteen+Bar. (153-155 Beach Street; 60-4-263-7299).


7 P.M.: The bar at Behind 50 Love Lane is for pre-dinner people watching (Muntri Street at Love Lane; 60-12-556-5509).

9 P.M.: Noodles and laksa are in the stalls along Chulia Street, a foodie thoroughfare. Or sit down at Tak Sen for dishes like whole pomfret steamed with ginger and a most unusual but delicious stingray in tamarind gravy (18-20 Carnavon Street; 60-12-493-9424; entrees from $18). The trendier seek Eighty Eight for pork belly cooked for36 hours in wine and Malay citrus (49-A Jalan Kelawai; 60-4-226-2821; entrees from $20).

11 P.M.: Time for bed: The new Macalister Mansion has a preserved British heritage exterior and new adds like a mosaic pool with swim-up bar, and modern-meets-deco interiors (60-4-228-3888; doubles from $310). The less pricey 23 Love Lane is set around a walled garden (60-4-262-1323; doubles, $160).

10 A.M.: Buy an almond croissant at La Boheme (42 Jalan Sri Bahari), and rent a bike at Leong’s Bicycle shop to explore old town or the lush botanical gardens (55 Lebuh Armenian).

2 P.M.: At Kwong Sang House, a café restaurant, snack on tiger prawns while surrounded by collection-worthy Malaysian books (36 Lebuh Leith; 60-12-493-9230) and at Galeri Seni Mutiara the work of young Malay artists seems super contemporary in the Chinese heritage space (118 Lebuh Armenian). On the last Sunday of the month visit Little Penang Street Market’s 50 stalls carrying sarongs and antique curios (Upper Penang Road).

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