Why Penang is the perfect budget travel destination

Not long after my trip to Johor Bahru, I went to Penang, Malaysia with my mom. Well…I have difficulty on how to summarize my first 4D3N stay in Penang because there are so many amazing experiences that I would like to share with you. But I think, this one sentence is great enough to summarize my short holiday there:

Penang is magically affordable.

Trust me, you might want to plan your next holiday to this island.

Penang View

Preliminary Information:


We went to Gurney and Georgetown area. Gurney is the modern and chic Penang, while Georgetown is the historical and vintage Penang. Both are gorgeous.


The exchange rate of RM (Malaysian Ringgit) to SGD (Singapore Dollar) could be about 2:1 or 3:1. The exchange rate of RM to IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) is 1 RM = Rp3000. For the most accurate information, please check the most recent forex rate.

1. Magically Affordable Authentic Penang Food

I am not gonna talk too long-winded because the number and review would explain the magic. Here are the list of authentic Penang food and the prices:

  • Char (Fried) kway teow, RM8. Gurney Hawker Centre middle stall. Taste: 4.5/5
  • Fried carrot cake, RM5. Gurney Hawker Centre. Taste: 4.5/5
  • Fruit juices, RM3-5. Any stall. Freshness and taste: 4.5/5. I literally drank juice instead of water after almost every meal.
  • Grilled seafood, RM15-25 (depends). Gurney Hawker Centre. Taste: 4/5
  • Hokkien mee, RM2.5. Chew Jetty’s Cafe. Taste: 3.8/5
  • Mixed vegetable rice, RM5~ (depends on what kind of vegetables or meat and the amount of them). In the shopping center’s ground floor, next to Berjaya Hotel. Taste: 4.8/5

Char kway teow from Gurney Drive Hawker CentreFried carrot cake from Gurney Drive Hawker CentrePrawn hokkien mie from Chew Jetty CafeGrilled stingray fish at Gurney Drive Hawker CentreGurney Drive Hawker Centre

The kway teow and carrot cake are bombs. The mixed vegetable rice is super good, but just slightly too spicy for some of the menus. There are surely better eating places there that I have not tried. The list is just to let you know that Penang has great food with super great price and authenticity.

2. Magically Cheap(er) Shopping and Fancy Experience

Do you remember my shopping experience in Johor Bahru that is comparably more affordable than in Singapore or Jakarta?? Penang too. And somehow, I found many things in Penang are generally cheaper than in JB.

  • The same Aldo shoes were at RM80 (from original price RM240) in Penang, but Rp859000 (RM286) in Jakarta as a new arrival. It shows that there was a “trend lag” happening and Aldo is priced higher in Jakarta.
  • The exact same Mango shirt dress were both on sales in Singapore and Penang. Before she went to Penang, Mom bought it in Singapore. But then, the regret came in when she saw the same thing in Penang; it is lower by about RM30 (S$10, enough for my one-day meals in college). 
  • Lavish pastries in Lavish Fusion Bakery is only RM12. S$4 for a delicious pastry in such a beautiful cafe? Where can I get that else where? To be honest I had the best sausage pastry here.
  • Sushi in Empire Sushi (if I’m not mistaken) is about RM1.60-2.60 per fancy piece. They are not just ordinary nigiri.

Gurney ParagonGurney Paragon Copy

Swedish sausage pastry from Lavish Fusion BakeryLavish table at Lavish Fusion BakeryLavish Fusion Bakery InteriorLavish Fusion Bakery pastrieslavish fushion bakery

I did not shop or eat at fancy places that much, so I can’t give more examples. But overall, Penang’s shopping and fancy experience are more affordable than in other cities I know. The quality? 8.5/10. I have no regret for buying my shoes there.

3. Magically Affordable and Fancy Accommodation

Accommodations and hotels in Georgetown, Penang are generally and magically affordable for a tourist spot that is awarded as Top 2 Tourist Destination by CNN in 2017 (and other awards). I have tried Container Hotel Penang, and it’s worthy to share the experience.

For only RM156/double room per night, I got:

  • great artsy fartsy location with vintage buildings and street art all around me.
  • 5 minutes walk to Chew Jetty.
  • unforgettable pastry from Lavish Fusion Bakery, because it is just next door.
  • cute and delicious cookies from the across-the-road Heritage Cookies
  • beautiful hipster-style interior design
  • tonnes of books to read at night
  • a good sleep.

Container Hotel Penang LookContainer Hotel Penang Look CopyContainer Hotel Living RoomOne of the many Penang Street artchew jettychew jetty copy 3chew jetty copyhello kitty heritage cookie

You could opt for cheaper accommodation if you choose capsule bedroom and shared bathroom (could be as low as RM40/capsule per night).

But I want to try other hotels if I go to Penang again. I’m curious.

4. Magically Affordable Transportation

We called for Grab every time we wanted to go somewhere. It is so affordable that walking is not worth the heat and tan anymore. About RM20 from the airport to Gurney or Georgetown, RM 10-16 from Gurney to Georgetown and vice versa, depending on the traffic. Oh, it’s safe too! (At least we were safe and sound during the trip).

5. Magically Affordable Medical Services

To be honest with you, we went to Penang with the purpose of getting a medical checkup for my mom. In addition, I fell ill when I was there due to lack of rest and low immune system (I traveled a lot and still did a remote work wherever I went during the holiday). Because of that, we experienced the magically affordable and high-quality medical services in Penang.

From our experience having our medical check up at Penang Adventist Hospital Medical Centre, we concluded that:

  • Overall health check-up (including MRI etc.) is 1/2 of the price back in Jakarta and so much lower than the price in Singapore.
  • For about RM40, I got my consultation from a doctor specialist, not a general practitioner.
  • Medicines and drug stores’ items are lower in price by about S$5-10 (compared to the ones in Singapore).

Georgetown streetspenang artchew jetty copy 2

In short, our times in Penang was indeed not perfect, mainly because I was ill. However, even though we could not travel directly to the main tourist attractions nor best restaurants there, we still enjoyed and could not forget our vacation, because the overall quality of Penang is high! Now I understand why my ex-roommate loves her hometown so much 🙂

I was well-fed and content even in my sick time. Thank you, Penang. You are wonderful and will see you again!

I even thought of having a budget grad-trip here HAHA no kidding.

1 Comment

  1. […] have been exploring Malaysia this year. I have visited Johor Bahru, Penang, and the last one is Malacca. What I can conclude best from exploring the three cities is Malaysia […]