7 reasons to check out Penang in July

7 reasons to check out Penang in July

This month the George Town Festival hits the UNESCO listed Malaysian city, to show off its food, its history, its movies and lots in between
George Town festival
The George Town festival features various colorful cultural performances.

The George Town Festival has been in full swing for a little more than a week now, showing the world exactly why Penang state in Malaysia is worth the time of any traveler. The month-long event to celebrate the second anniversary of the state's capital city as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has seen the streets buzzing with activity as the Penangites show off the finer points of their diverse culture. 

If you needed a reason -- or seven -- to visit George Town, then you’ve come to the right place, as we run down the best bits for the rest of the festival. A city deeply enriched by its multi-ethnic population, the capital of Penang state is bubbling with all manner of cultural delights.

July 7 was the big day here, with street performances and all kinds of tomfoolery going on, but there’s enough happening for the rest of the month to keep even the most discerning traveler happy. 

1. Food fans rejoice

By far the tastiest aspect of George Town is the excellent food. Almost all of the region’s top gastronomic bases are covered, with the best in Indian, Chinese, Malay and Indonesian cuisine on hand to tempt your palates. 

Showcases of traditional food brought the food out onto the streets this week, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. You need only walk up the road or round the corner to find a great dining spot. Try the Red Dragon food court on Letih Street, Panjaab Cuisines on Chulia Street and the kick-ass noodle stand on Pantai Street near the Khoo Kongsi temple.

2. Art for a start 

The George Town Festival is all about showcasing the work of inspiring artisans and there are exhibitions littered all over city for the whole of July.

Speaking of inspiring, Penang’s own Leon Lim, profoundly deaf since birth, has taken time out of his busy schedule in New York where he received his bachelor of fine arts and now resides, to make a giant public art display using 100 old chairs, at the junction of Union Street and Penang Road, until July 31.

Also until the end of the month, self-taught Penangite Fuan Woo has a glass art installation that’s worth a look at Kopi Cine on Stewart Lane.

3. Throngs of songs 

On July 22, Wawasan Open University on Sultan Ahmad Shah Road offers a humorous look at Malaysian life with Mamak Mee-Ah, a musical spoof that would surely draw a chuckle from a stone. Opera fans can then get their fix on July 29 and 30 when award-winning Japanese soprano Ranko Kurano will be belting out excerpts from arias, again at Kopi Cine on Steward Street. 

4. The proud people

George Town festivalWalking around George Town during the festival, the unparalleled warmth of the locals gives you an indication of why travelers fall in love with Penang. There’s no hassling, no hustling and no scamming -- the people are what make George Town such a love-fest.

There’s a great sense of pride on display this month, and resident Penangites love nothing more than chewing the fat and helping visitors out with directions or offering tips on where to eat, play or sleep. 

5. Guesthouse paradise

Penang is like a traveler’s dream, with oodles of guesthouses along the famed Chulia Street and beyond. Most of these places are dirt cheap and run by long-time residents who get straight to the point with advice on what’s hot and what’s not around George Town.

For all the inside info you need, check out the Love Lane Inn, just off Chulia Street on Love Lane, with rooms for about US$10 and a lively owner, Jimmy, who can sort you out with maps, visas, tips and beer. 

6. History in photos

They say a photograph is worth a thousands words, so goodness knows what they would make of Penang’s photography exhibitions this month.

Throughout July there are all sorts of memories on display in photographic form.

Nanyang Folk Culture will be showcasing the Last 24 hours of Penang 2009 at Alpha Ultra Gallery on China Street from July 17 to 31, while the Town Hall will be home to Peranakan Penang, depicting the historical culture of Penang’s Chinese immigrants, from July 18 to 31.

7. Movies, movies, movies

The end of July is the time to be in George Town for movie lovers, with a host of screenings. On July 30 and 31 at Wawasan Open University, catch a screening of "The Red Kebaya", voted best film at the 2007 Malaysian Film Festival. Also at Wawasan on July 31, "Road to Dawn" offers a snapshot of the life of Chinese revolutionary and political leader Sun Yat-sen. And if you’re after a murder-mystery fix, Singapore director Glen Goei’s "The Blue Mansion" will be playing on July 30 and 31, at the same venue.

As always, for more information, visit the George Town festival website for all that’s happening this month.

As a freelance journalist over the past six years Matt has reported from Thailand, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Matt’s stories have been run by AFP, IRIN, Guardian, Reader's Digest and many more.
Read more about Matt Crook