Malaysia is known as a country whose culture and traditions have firmly endured the hands of time. Indeed, as their slogan goes, one would expect a vibrant, immersive, and exciting Truly Asian experience when visiting the country. However, in the heart of Penang Island in Malaysia lies a city with a well-preserved European colonial core; with buildings from the 1900s still standing and boasting its history. The result is a charming, easygoing, and fascinating hodgepodge of Europe and Asia that’s both old yet novel and contemporary.
If you’re planning on exploring Malaysia on a budget, staying in George Town first for a couple of days would be ideal before heading out to the other parts of the country. The reason behind this would be the extremely cheap cost of accomodation, food, and leisure in the area. You would also really get a bang for your buck since the experiences the place offers is truly fascinating, and the laid-back atmosphere is absolutely perfect for a getaway.
Now, when I say cheap – I really mean hardly-costing-anything cheap. Along with 4 other friends who are also in college, hence our tight budget, I spent 3 of my 8 days in Malaysia in George Town and in those 4 days I only spent around 1,500.00 PhP at most. That’s around 130.00 MYR. Since the food definitely deserves a separate blog post, I will only briefly discuss our food & accommodation experience but I will list down activities you can enjoy in George Town for free.
I did not include the cost of getting from KLIA to George Town in the aforementioned total because we took the most expensive options due to our flight getting delayed and us arriving at an extremely ungodly hour (around 3:00 am), but travelling from KLIA to George Town is quite simple.
- We bought an ETS ticket in KLIA to Butterworth for 60.00 MYR each
- Upon arriving after 4 hours, we took a taxi to our accommodation in George Town which cost us 10.00 MYR each
This was definitely an expensive way to get to Penang but we were exhausted so the comfort and speed of the ETS was actually worth it for our situation.
NOTE: You can cut down the cost by more than half since you can take a bus to Butterworth instead. We were in a hurry and we were not aware of this so we just realized later on that we actually booked a ride for the most expensive option to get to Butterworth. Also, you would not be needing a taxi if you arrive between 5:20 am – 12:40 am because the Ferry to Penang would be open and that costs absolutely nothing. It runs every 20 minutes.
FOOD & ACCOMMODATION
We stayed in a dormitory type hostel (but we had a room all to ourselves since we were 5) and ate primarily at hawkers and roadside eateries, but it should suffice to say that even if we were to arrive George Town with plenty of money to spare we still would have chosen to stay and eat at the places that we did as the food was still an incredibly delicious fusion of indian, chinese, and malay selections (which I will talk about in the separate blog post it truly deserves) and the hostel was comfortable and clean.
We stayed in Red Inn court and the 5 of us paid 60.00 MYR each for the entire duration of our stay.
The staff was friendly and helpful and they spoke English well which was very convenient. Free breakfast, coffee, and tea was also one of the included provisions so we were sold right away. However, keep in mind that this is a dormitory type hostel with shared bathrooms so if you’re not comfortable with that, perhaps it would be better to book elsewhere. Looking for a place would not be a problem since George Town is abundant with other nice accommodations, but it would cost a little higher.
*both photos grabbed from Red Inn Court’s booking page.
THINGS TO DO FOR FREE
It would quite be surprising to hear, but the 130.00 MYR budget that I had spent in George Town was not planned at all. It just so happened that that was really just the amount that I had comfortably spent. This is because most of the activities we did in George Town did not cost a thing and each activity actually could take up an entire day because there’s so much to explore, so basically I only spent my money on food and getting around (but the buses going around Penang only cost 1 MYR anyway).
GO ON A HUNT FOR ALL OF GEORGE TOWN’S STREET ART
Malaysia gets really hot at times and it was scorching when we were there, but we forgot all about the heat as soon as we immersed ourselves in the captivating streets of George Town and most especially their street art which fits right into the relaxed, simple, and unpretentious vibe of the city.
It costs absolutely nothing to go out and take photos with and enjoy the ingenious interactive street art exhibitions and you can make it a fun mission to try and find every one of them, with the help of this brochure.
The vintage stalls and mouthwatering street food you get to encounter while looking for and at the street art isn’t also too bad a company for a daytime adventure.
TRAVEL TO THE PAST BY VISITING THE CHEW JETTY
It may seem like an overly ambitious thought to be able to visit a waterfront settlement that has been around since the 1900s for free, but that is exactly what you can do if you drop by Chew Jetty. The Chew clan built a village upon their arrival as the pioneer Chinese immigrants of Penang and the village had around 10 families there upon their arrival. Now, around 100 families live there and it can also be visited and explored for curious wanderers who want to feel the nostalgic ambiance of the area.
VISIT THE UNIQUE MUSEUMS OF GEORGE TOWN
This isn’t exactly free, but admission only costs 1.00 MYR per person which is basically a donation to help sustain and improve the quality of the museums, so it’s pretty much still worthy of being on this list. The thing I noticed about George Town is that the ambiance of the whole place is very consistent – which for me is a good thing, because I love it – and so their museums are also straightforward, unique, and charming just as the whole city is. The museum was abundant with historical facts and stories but it also gave off an urban and contemporary vibe. I would admit that I’m not really a museum going kind of person, but I enjoyed George Town’s museum a lot.
George Town is truly a must-see for everyone heading out to see Malaysia, and most especially budget travelers. The relaxed and charming atmosphere really make every (tiny) amount you spend here feel like a steal.