Tips and Tricks: How to Visit Penang on a Budget during RMCO

Malaysians collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the Prime Minister announced the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), on the 7th of June 2020. The highlight of his announcement was the fact that inter-state travel could resume from the 10th of June onwards. After a lengthy lockdown, travelling again is more than necessary so I opted to visit a city I not only love but am familiar with. Located nearby Thailand, and along the coast, Penang is a backpacker haven meaning it can be experienced on a budget. Personally, I set aside RM 500 for my entire trip but I’m certain that the budget can be lowered further. If you’re wondering just how far RM 500 can go in Penang then continue reading:

Accommodation

For several years now, I would travel for my birthday, visiting places like Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Kapas, Mandalay, and more. This year, though, due to the Movement Control Order (MCO) I was stuck at home. The money I had saved was waiting for an adventure so when I started searching for accommodation in Georgetown, Penang, I wasn’t budgeting as I normally would. Still, a budget existed meaning I filtered accommodation available on Air BnB down to RM 100 per night then settled for a private room in a heritage house for RM 88 per night. You can use Air BnB, Booking.com, Hostel World, and other platforms to find accommodation perfect for your budget – just don’t forget to filter the price range!

Transport

I entered Penang via rail and ferry, costing RM 159 (return) and RM 1.20, respectively. The accommodation I chose was located directly behind the Thai and Burmese temple – sights I wanted to visit, pictured above. Due to its location, I chose not to walk into Georgetown as a Grab (local e-hailing app) into the city centre would cost between RM 7-9. I actually managed to save money by using Grab Rewards so for example, a RM 7 ride would costs just RM 2 instead after applying a RM 5 discount. If your budget is strict then definitely opt for accommodation within Georgetown, though! Honestly, walking within Georgetown is easy as many sights can be covered within a day.

Sights

This is dependent on you and your style of travelling – for me, sights equate into museums, art galleries, temples, and anything else along or between those lines. After some research, I decided to visit:

• Batik Painting Museum, RM 10; unfortunately, closed when I visited despite stating ‘open’

• Penang State Museum & Art Gallery, RM 1; again, closed when I visited despite stating ‘open’

• Hin Bus Depot, FOC

• Thai Temple (Wat Chayamangkalaram), FOC

• Burmese Temple (Dhammikarama), FOC

• Kek Lok Si Temple, FOC; the Grab from Georgetown to Kek Lok Si was RM 12 and while most of the area (pictured below) is free, it costs RM 6 (return) for the funicular to the giant statue of Goddess Kuan Yin and RM 2 for entrance into the Pagoda

Food

As a foodie, Penang is a dream, with its plethora of dishes, flavours, and prices. A rite of passage for those new to the island would be to visit a hawker centre and the hawker centre I recommend is Cecil Hawker Centre. While the location is not directly in Georgetown, it’s a tolerable walk, especially when knowing that it’s one of the most affordable hawker centres around. Seriously, when I visited Gurney Hawker Centre, I was shocked at the differing price range – at Cecil, I paid RM 3-6.50, maximum, for food whereas at Gurney Hawker Centre the prices mostly started at RM 6-7. Besides that, if you’re vegan and in Penang, then you need to dine at Pinxin Vegan Cuisine as the restaurant curates must-try local dishes such as Assam Laksa, Curry Noodle, Hokkien Noodle, Chee Cheong Fun, Rojak, Kuang Chiang, and more. Another favourite, even among my family and friends, would be ChinaHouse which specialises in cakes and normally showcases up to 20 cakes at a time! Despite the variety, every cake I’ve tasted was even more delicious than the last. As I knew what I wanted to eat, I actually budgeted my meals accordingly and here is more information on the price range so you can budget, too:

Cecil Hawker Centre

Opening Hours: Morning to early afternoon and closed at night

Try: Char Koay Kak, 850 Char Kuey Teow, Popiah, Sesame Rice Ball, Nyonya Kuih (such as Angku Kuih)

Vegan/ Gluten-Free Options: The food listed above is vegan and gluten-free except for the Char Kuey Teow which is best eaten vegetarian

Price Range: RM 2 to RM 6.50 per item

Pinxin Vegan Cuisine

Opening Hours: 11 am to 9 pm

Try: Assam Laksa and Satay Sticks

Vegan/ Gluten-free: The entire menu is vegan, as the name suggests, and mostly gluten-free

Price Range: RM 15 to RM 28 per dish

Pro Tip: Read my detailed food review here

China House

Opening Hours: 9 am to 1 am

Try: Any, or maybe even every, cake

Vegan/ Gluten-Free: ChinaHouse is suitable for celiacs but unfortunately, a vegan cake is a rare sight at the cafe

Price Range: I budgeted RM 20 for ChinaHouse but the cake I chose was around RM 15. Note that ChinaHouse annoyingly charges RM 1 per glass of water now…

So now you know what to budget for if you plan a trip to Georgetown, Penang! Remember, I’m familiar with the city which is why I skipped the usual sights like the Peranakan Museum, the Blue Mansion, Penang Hill, the numerous Nasi Kandar restaurants etc. but if you’re visiting for the first time, I highly recommend researching more on Georgetown as to maximise your time in Penang, the way you like it 🙂

“Street food, I believe, is the salvation of the human race.” Anthony Bourdain

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