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Sep 22, 2012 07:55 PM

penang - recommend hotel near street food places

im working through the penang food reviews here to make a list of places to eat on a three-day visit. so far i have kimberley street, Padang Brown Hawker Centre, and a few others. My relatives want to stay at one of the hotels on Gurney Drive but from some basic reading and map reference, my impression is that there will be quite a lot of traffic congestion on the roads and this location is not that near some of the above food places.

i was wondering if i could get some assistance with these questions

- If there are only 2 or 3 days to experience Penang meal-wise (about 6-7 meals, assuming we are going to eat some at the hotel), where would you plant yourselves hotel-wise, and which streets/stalls would you eat at? i'm not interested in fine dining.

- there is a Gurney Drive hawker centre of some sort - if we just end up going there, is that a good summary of Penang street food?

- Gurney Drive hotel - a lot of mention made about the traffic and how its impossible to get out of that place, so it sounds like you're stuck in that area. is this true? if we want to go to places like Kimberley Street , is it impossible to get a taxi? i also want to do some hiking, so far i think the botanic gardens would be fine.

- Any other recommendations?


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  1. sorry i have another question about gurney drive: if there is a lot of traffic there and it's hard to get a taxi to get out to another location, couldn't we just duck down a side road to another road off gurney and get a cab there - is that feasible?

    9 Replies
    1. re: timpani_mimi

      Penang folks are pretty friendly but, unfortunately, taxi drivers in Penang are a different breed altogether: those hanging around the main tourist spots like Gurney Plaza will refuse to use their metre and often quote grossly-inflated prices to foreigners. Believe me - I'd encountered that on more than one occassion.

      Gurney Drive's famous hawker centre comes alive in the late-afternoon/early-evening - it's pretty touristy and you won't find Penangites there, mainly Malaysians/Singaporeans from out-of-town. Prices are high, and the standards of the various food stalls can vary.

      If you exit Gurney Plaza at the other end, and go on Kelawei Road which runs parallel to Gurney Drive, there are public buses which will take you all the way into the old downtown of Georgetown, past dining precincts like Pulau Tikus, MacAlister Road, Penang Road and Chulia Street.

      Traffic along Gurney Drive is very bad only during the long holiday weekends when Malaysians from other states and Singaporean flood into Penang, especially for its street foods. If you go on "normal" times, there really aren't any traffic crawl.

      As a yardstick, you won't need to pay more than RM20 (US$7) to go anywhere within Georgetown. I've had Singaporean friends who were charged RM500 for a 2-3 hours' drive around Georgetown, checking out street food spots and bakeries like Ghee Hiang - they were basically being ripped-off. You can rent a car & driver-guide for a whole day for that amount.

      The best hotels along Gurney Drive are G Hotel (attached to Gurney Plaza) and Evergreen Laurel Hotel.

      If you want to stay in the old downtown near to the eating spots, you can try Shangri-La's Traders Hotel - it's showing its age already. Another option is Hotel Royal ( , which is near New World Park food centre.

      Cititel Hotel ( on Penang Road is a tourist/tour group hotel quite near Red Garden food centre which opens in the evenings (New World Park, on the other hand, only does breakfast/lunch business).

      A new generation of beautiful boutique-hotels - very nice but not cheap - is a better option. They are often deliciously close to where Penang's street food hawkers congregate. The best are:
      - Campbell House (
      - Penaga Hotel (
      - Muntri Mews (
      - 1881 Chong Tian Hotel (
      - The Boutique Residence (

      Georgetown's old quarter is small enough to traverse on foot, and public buses (plus some free shuttle bus routes - just ask) can pretty much bring you around the city.

      1. re: klyeoh

        Thanks so much for the reply. I think we are honing down onto Gurney Residences, which is the cheapest of the three on Gurney. I'm not sold on staying there though, however, I'm not the only one going. I'm still reading up, but it seems a good option to plonk down somewhere in Georgetown and walk the streets rather than stake out at Gurney and drive down to Georgetown for meals, esp. if we only have two days ( 1 day reserved for hiking somewhere)

        I'd like to know your personal take too. If you were just there to eat, where would you stay?

        1. re: timpani_mimi

          Well, if you are not too hung up on staying in a spartan/basic hotel, then I'd choose Sunway Hotel on New Lane ( In the evenings, New Lane transforms itself into one of Penang's most colorful dining spots, with incredible "char koay teow" (fried rice noodles), Penang-style "popiah" (spring rolls), and "chee cheong chook" (pig's intestines porridge) there. It's been visited & featured by food-writers and food travel hosts (Bobby Chinn, Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, Samantha Brown, etc.) for good reason. The hotel's less than 5 minutes' walk from the food centre on the corner of New Lane and MacAlister Road.

          In the mornings, one can walk along MacAlister Road to look for one of the big "dim sum" spots. At lunch-time, one can go to :Lorong Selamat, to seek out the legendary "char koay teow" Nazi-woman-in-red-beret who churns out the best version of Penang's signature dish, and cruelly tells off any customers who made the wrong move or say the wrong thing to her :-D

          MacAlister Road also has good "Nasi Kandar" (Indian-Muslim curry rice) and a well-patronized "Bak Kut Teh" (pork-rib soup) restaurant.

          Penang Road is a short walk away, and one can also go there to seek out Kek Seng Coffeeshop - one of Penang's oldest (it opened in the 1890s) and serves the best "koay teow" soup I'd ever had in my life. Don't miss the "lor bak" (fried meat rolls, prawn fritters, tofu) there, which is incredible.

          1. re: klyeoh

            omg you are the best!

            my heart skipped a beat for a moment when i checked the site and thought there was no pool (a pre-requisite for us, don't ask) but there is one. Your description of what to do above is exactly what I wanted to do, and was looking for. I think that could be my itinerary right there. Now - off to persuade the rest. (Beach view - pshaw!)

            klyeoh ftw!

        2. re: klyeoh

          I'd never had to face taxi drivers in Penang because I'm a local and drive myself around. But I have heard about how they treat foreigners. Sad.

          Anyway, for the above hotels klyeoh mentioned, here are some dining recommendations:-
          1) Near Campbell House: Kimberley Street's hawker stalls in the evening, Campbell Street's Hameediyah murtabak during the day, Tho Yuen dim sum and chicken rice.
          2) Penaga Hotel: Transfer Rd roti canai also mentioned by klyeoh before
          3) Muntri Mews, walking distance to Upper Penang Rd and Red House hawker centre in the evening. If you are feeling very very adventurous, then try the spicy soup Torpedo by Hameed on Penang Road. It's bull's penis soup, haha!
          4) 1881 Chong Tian Hotel: you must try the Cintra Street rice dumpling
          5) Boutique Residence is very near Armenian Street's cultural and historic street. But to find good food, you must walk to the famous Lam Ah beef noodles stall on the corner of Chulia St and Beach St.

          Another hotel to consider is Yeng Keng Hotel on Chulia Street

          1. re: penang_rojak

            Hi Penang_rojak - thanks very much for this great list. I'll be adding this to my compilation. Have been looking at google maps to familiarize myself with street names - and also to start compiling a walking strategy.

            We have actually looked at boutique residence and also the Yeng Keng hotel . That sounds pretty nice actually. I felt that Boutique residence looked far away from new lane on the map. The other hotel we are considering is Traders Hotel, which is at Magazine, and quite near Kimberley St I believe. It seems possible that Sunway may be too rundown for us, or at least its all not decided yet. Can i get your opinion on where the "epicenter of all must-eat food" is? (1881 seems very high end, unless those prices of 1388 RM are per week rates!)

            1. re: timpani_mimi

              RM1388 for Chong Tian Hotel??? I think you should write to them and get them to quote you a more realistic rate than that one.

              Penang's epicentre for eating? Then maybe Traders Hotel is good for you as it is equidistance to New Lane (evening hawker stalls), Kimberley Street ( evening hawkers are better, but they also have a bustling morning hawker centre scene, which also includes themorning market in Kuala Kangsar Road, Carnarvon Street (mainly morning and lunch places) and Penang Road's Kek Seng (morning and lunch).

              There are other places in Penang which are further away and which you need a car, like Pulau Tikus and Ayer Itam, which have rich pickings even more varied than those you will find in Georgetown city centre.

              BTW, you should also explore Penang's Little India (the BEST in this part of the world!). The Indian banana leaf meals and breakfasts are the stuff dreams are made of.

              New World Park (lunch) and Red Garden (dinner) are popular hawker centres for visitors to Penang.

              Penang local residents normally have their own neighborhood hawker centres which have famous stalls, but this can entail quite a bit of driving on your part:-
              1) Island Glades, where the chicken rice at Genting Coffeeshop is the best in Penang!
              2) Bayan Baru where the hawker centre has great nasi kunyit with chicken curry.
              3) Jelutong market with fantastic Chinese nasi lemak, Penang-style where we drench the rice with a think chilli/tamarind sauce.
              4) Ayer Itam market, famous for assam laksa and koay chiap. It is near Kek Lok Si pagoda, so you can have an eating and sightseeing trip.
              5) Tanjung Bungah with its morning markets and Malay food stalls.

              1. re: penang_rojak

                Thanks penang_rojak! My family and I are flying to Southeast Asia tomorrow and getting this information now before we leave is very helpful!

        3. re: timpani_mimi

          Hi All

          Short note of thanks to all contributors to this thread, and to the forum regarding Penang recs. We've concluded our trip and I'm so glad for the
          expert advice offered here. Here's a short update on what we did.

          - we are so happy with Trader's Hotel, we all found the location superb for walking to all the food places
          - were able to walk everywhere we wanted, even down all the way to Little India area
          - hardly took a cab except to the Botanical Garden one day, and one night to Red Garden
          - glad we didn't go with Sunway in the end, it also seems to beunder renovation currently
          - great recommendation.
          - btw, Trader's Hotel has a free bus to their sister hotel at Gurney area for guests. My relatives used it and said that is a nice
          hotel for being by the beach, etc.

          - Places:
          * Coffeshops/Food-courts - New Lane, Padang Brown, Red Garden, Kek Seng Coffeeshop, Joo Hooi
          * Missed - One Corner Cafe (Next time), Sisters CKT, quite a few others because of time
          * Individually famous places - Famous Penang Road Cendol, Goggles Aunty for CKT @ Lorong Salamat
          - Favourites:
          * Char Kway Teow - #1 goggles aunty @ lor selamat), #2 Padang Brown #3 Kek Seng
          * Cendol - #1 Famous Penang Road Cendol (do you know that they have an outlet inside Komtar? price of 1 bowl is $2.50
          * Assam Laksa - I think we have mixed impressions, and we did not make it to Ayer Itam. We like Joo Hooi but Kek Seng's one is much stronger
          * New Line Nasi Kandar - great!
          * Other good things: the mixed doufu & Pasembur at Padang Brown

          I have a questiona bout Penang style Poh Piah which I will post seperately.

          Penang is quite a unique place - feels like everybody speaks hokkien (I mean everybody :))
          Thanks again.

        4. Re: Padang Brown Hawker Centre - go there for lunch or afternoon tea-time.

          My fave item there is the "popiah" or Chinese spring rolls - not deep-fried, but soft and often drenched with a bit of gravy. Absolutely delicious and unlike anything you'd have tasted elsewhere. Ask for the version with additional crabmeat topping.

          Another popular Padang Brown option is the"yong tau fu", the famous stall at one end of the hawker centre has been there for yonks. Again, absolutely delicious.

          2 Replies
          1. re: klyeoh

            Hi KLYeoh, I actually wanted to start another topic about the popiah but I think I'll reply to you here.

            I actually tried the seafood Popiah at Padang Brown Hawker Centre! Quite bemused to see it referred to here because I did not take down this note of yours earlier (I did take down quite a few others). That stall you mention was very popular.

            I don't really "get" this style of Popiah, it is as you say, drenched with a bit of gravy. By this time, we had already tried two other Popiahs in Penang (New Lane, Kek Seng and now here at Padang Brown), so we could assume we had established a baseline that this is the "correct" way of the Popiah here. But in Singapore we are used to a different style and couldn't shake the impression that the Popiah was soggy.

            Its true that it's unlike anything elsewhere, but not sure how to appreciate it. Help me understand! :) (no flames please - this is a legit question. and my parents brought me up just fine.)

            1. re: timpani_mimi

              Think of it as something you'd eat with a spoon :-D

              But you're right, if the Penangites label it "popiah", one *definitely* would inadvertently use other regional variations of the popiah to benchmark or compare against. Well, it did take me a few, um, decades to get used to this Penang version. Then, suddently, one day - as I sat down to eat the 'popiah', together with an old classmate (visiting this region for the first time from Perth), he was relishing it so much that I got into the spirit of things as well. Ever since then, I'd gotten used to wet popiahs from Penang.