Penang, Malaysia, the Street Art Capital of South East Asia

Posted on August 28, 2015

Penang in Malaysia is an island with many good things. First and foremost, it is known for its excellent selection of food courts, restaurants and street side stalls. Second, it is known for its art scene. Most of the action when you are visiting the town will be found in Georgetown. This is the part of Penang which is a UNESCO heritage zone and where you will find almost all of the hostels and restaurants discussed in this post. Penang, however, is bigger than only Georgetown, there are beaches, hills, markets all around the island and even one of the biggest (literally) and most impressive Buddhist temples of South East Asia, the Kek Lok Si Temple.

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But for the purpose of this article, I’ll be zooming in on Georgetown. One of the first things that pops up when you google either Penang or Georgetown are images of the beautiful street art all around town. Most of the well-known murals where commissioned by the Penang Municipal Council back in 2012 and were created by a Lithuanian artist called Ernest Zacharevic, which has now turned into a bit of a celebrity artist on the island. His street art project carries the name ‘Mirrors George Town’ and reflects the colorfulness, playfulness and energy of the town beautifully. With our European mindset, in which you are taught not alter or change the appearance of historically important buildings, you might find it strange to put graffiti on heritage buildings, I know we did. Especially because the buildings in Georgetown are picture-worthy as it is. However, once you start walking around the center and you find these vibrant art pieces to your left and right, up and below of your field of sight, you cannot ignore they did a great job. The art in Penang makes you cheerful as it beautifully reflects the positive frame of mind you will find in most South East Asians. There is a feeling of not rushing things, of enjoying life, enhancing the beauty that is already there and of simply not taking things to seriously. But these are not the only art pieces you can find around town. There are plenty of cats around as part of the 101 Lost Kittens project and some iron sculptures that will teach you some interesting facts about the local history.

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Now you’re probably wondering where you can find the street art. I would recommend walking around the city yourself and not bothering with a tour, it is a great free activity that perfectly can be done by yourself. I could give you a street art map such as you can find here but you’re better off taking the most updated maps you can find in the hostels itself. Most importantly though, you need to keep your eyes open. Blink or look at your phone and you’ve missed one or two pieces. We walked through streets in both directions because if you don’t, you’re missing out. Look up, look down, look around the corners, behind the fences and most of all enjoy. This beautiful street art gives you energy, makes you giddy and combined with the amazing food, it’s the perfect location for city trip happiness. My favorite pieces are “Girl On A Turtle” and “Brother and Sister On A Swing”. Give yourself two to three days in this little spot in the world to enjoy if fully, if only because you couldn’t eat all the food you need to eat in just one day. But more on that food later!

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Note: I still have some lovely photos left of the famous art pieces “Little Children on a Bicycle“, “Boy On A Chair” and “A Man Sleeping in his Rickshaw” but unfortunately due to the bad wifi connections in the Northern Territory of Australia, I will have to upload them at a later point. 

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