Soak in the quintessential Penang experience with virtual art exhibitions, podcasts, cooking classes and workshops – all without leaving your couch
Brimming with hip cafés, Insta-famous murals and quaint boutique hotels, Malaysia’s northwestern state of Penang practically wrote the hipster playbook. No trip there is complete without a visit to George Town, its capital city known for a vibrant arts scene, street food culture and postcard-pretty attractions – experiences that are easily accessible now that virtual travel has stepped up in a big way. Ready for your next armchair vacay? We know we are, which is why we’ve put together an itinerary that will hopefully inspire a #traveltomorrow trip.
10am: Start the day with an inspiring podcast
Kick start your morning with some food for thought: A podcast version of the George Town Literary Festival 2019 is available in its entirety on Spotify. For the uninitiated, this annual event, which celebrates the best of Malaysia’s literary talents, is the country’s largest literary festival. Listen to chinwags on global hot button topics such as “Women Writing the Body”, which touches on women writing about subjects like eroticism, as well as book readings by local Malaysian authors.
11am: Drool over popular Penang delicacies
Get some lunchtime inspo by watching a short documentary highlighting the city’s food culture. Streaming on Netflix is Jason’s Market Trails, a series by Malaysian host and foodie Jason Yeoh, who’s been dubbed the “Anthony Bourdain of Malaysia”. Each half-hour episode showcases food markets and street stalls around the country, and Yeoh makes a stop at Penang’s famous Chowrasta Market. Getting hungry? You betcha.
Noon: Tuck into a hearty local brunch
Imagine sinking your teeth into a savoury flatbread that’s at once crackly and pillowy-soft, after dipping it into piping hot curry. Roti canai is a popular Malaysian breakfast staple, and in Penang, stalls serving this dish are plentiful. But don’t worry if you’re stuck at home – you can make your own roti canai thanks to a series of online tutorials by Penang-based cook and culinary school owner Nazlina Hussin, who is hosting daily sessions on Facebook.
2pm: Check out an online exhibition featuring the artist behind some of Penang’s famous street murals
Known for producing a series of six iconic murals on the streets of Penang, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic – who is based in George Town – is participating in an online exhibition by Lisbon-based cultural platform Underdogs Gallery. “Right Now” showcases works produced during the Covid-19 lockdown by artists from across the world, while revealing how these creatives are “coping both physically and emotionally” to this “new reality”.
3pm: Crack the durian code
News flash: Durian season is upon us. In Penang, locally grown variations such as the rare and intense Black Thorn and the sweet and creamy Red Prawn have garnered a following in Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore. The appeal of this pungent fruit has even wafted over to modern Malaysian restaurant Communal Table by Gen in George Town, which recently launched a series of Instagram Live videos on making durian desserts. Curious about the King of Fruits but still not sure where to start? Check out this video on everything you need to know about Penang durians.
5pm: Whip up assam laksa for dinner
Nowhere else in Malaysia is more closely associated with laksa than Penang, which is known for its assam laksa. Unlike some variations that feature a coconut-based curry soup, this noodle dish contains tamarind and fish broth, which lends a tangy aroma. The labour-intensive process of preparing it from scratch may seem a little daunting for some – luckily, we found a 10-minute cheat sheet by Penang-born Malaysian-Australian culinary personality and MasterChef Australia season two winner, Adam Liaw.
7pm: Get up close with native critters on a virtual after–dark tour
The Habitat on Penang Hill, a 20-minute drive from George Town, is a nature attraction that sits on the fringes of a 130-million-year-old rainforest spread across a cluster of hills. Its “After Dark Virtual Tour” sessions, which let viewers observe wildlife captured by camera trap footage in the park accompanied by dialogue between local naturalists and nature guides, have been a huge hit. The live-streamed events, which were held on Google Meet in April, are still available on The Habitat’s YouTube channel here.