Shopping in Penang

Shopping in Penang

Markets to malls, boutiques to bazaars

More on Penang

Penang has been in the trading game since Francis Light first set foot upon her shores to establish an outpost of the British East India Company. The once heavily prized spices and silks are still up for grabs in traditional markets and stores, but added to the mix, there’s mega malls, chichi boutiques, hipster galleries and everything in between.

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Many traditional tradespeople still continue to produce handcrafted goods as their forebears have done for centuries, and as such contribute to Georgetown’s intangible heritage. You don’t have to be a shopaholic to enjoy wandering from store to store to appreciate the skills. George Town World Heritage Incorporated produce a helpful brochure (PDF) featuring everything from Chinese seal makers to tombstone masons.

Meet Mr Tan. : Sally Arnold.
Meet Mr Tan. Photo: Sally Arnold

We’re not suggesting you may like to take home a hand-carved grave marker (although that could make interesting post-holiday conversation), but perhaps a pair of sparkly Peranakan style shoes may make a nice souvenir. Mr Tan at Nyonya Beaded Shoes custom makes the traditional slippers in his shop in Lebuh Armenian, and it can take up to three months to complete a single pair (he ships!). Choose from a range of stock patterns—we like the fun style featuring local fruit including durian, mangosteen and rambutan, or come up with your own.

If checking out the produce and bargains at local markets appeals, Campbell Street Market has been operating since the turn of the 20th century, said to have been built on the site of a former graveyard and given the local nickname “Hutan Mayat” or “Forest of Corpses”. We think the name is still pretty apt, and sensitive folk may want to hold their nose or avoid the fresh meat section entirely at this traditional wet market.

How about the Forest of Corpses? : Sally Arnold.
How about the Forest of Corpses? Photo: Sally Arnold

Another option at the other end of town is the colourful Pasar Chowrasta, here you’ll find everything from preserved nutmeg and other spices to fresh tropical fruit, clothing and secondhand books—delve in and have fun. Both markets open mornings only.

If you’d rather shop for traditional clothes and fabric without the accompanying smells of spices, and durian, Sam’s Collection on the corner of Jalan Penang and Lebuh Chulia, is something of a legend in Penang for its huge stock of quality fabrics and Indian garments, including kamiz, kurta and scarves, as well as beautifully embroidered cushions and fine silks, pashminas and batik wear in both cotton and silk. Stop in next door at Nasi Kandar Line Clear for a bite to eat if you’re feeling peckish.

Browse some batik at Sam’s. : Sally Arnold.
Browse some batik at Sam’s. Photo: Sally Arnold

To really give your senses a run for their money hop-skip it to Little India for a spicy Bollywood-style shopping extravaganza among the many emporiums selling trinkets, jewellery, fashion, Hindu statuary and flower garlands.

Like the spice traders of the past, Tropical Spice Garden’s downtown shop, linked to their actual garden near Batu Ferringhi, sells all things spicy including dried spices, fragrant soaps and spice-themed books and nicknacks. If you plan on visiting the garden, pre-purchase a discounted ticket here.

Tea in all shapes and sizes. : Sally Arnold.
Tea in all shapes and sizes. Photo: Sally Arnold

Tea drinkers will rejoice at Ten Yee Tea Trading where (almost) all the tea in China plus the accoutrements for making the perfect cuppa are on sale. Taste test first in their attached cafe.

For contemporary street market offerings with crafts and homemade produce, Sunday mornings close the northern section of Lebuh Pantai to traffic for Occupy Beach Street (Legally) (07:00–13:00). Stalls sell all kinds of local food, crafts and services. One service we encountered offered “knives massage therapy” which gives you a “massage” by being pummelled by two large meat cleavers (yes, the sharp business edge—chop chop! No bleeding witnessed). A tad more hipster, the Hin Bus Depot arts hub hosts Hin Pop-up Market every Sunday (11:00–17:00) with arty crafty things and food trucks.

Get something to remember Hin Bus Depot by. : Sally Arnold.
Get something to remember Hin Bus Depot by. Photo: Sally Arnold

For traditional souvenirs with more than just fridge magnets and the usual tat, Hong Giap sells a large range of colourful Peranakan ceramic ware, both antique and good reproductions, Royal Selangor pewter, and all kinds of Asian whatnots and doodads. The also pack and ship internationally. Or for older mementos, have a rummage at Grandfathers’ Barang-Barang for antiques and junk store like treasures or in a more upmarket setting, at 179 The House @ China House.

Penang’s heritage hub harbours gift shops galore, and if you’re after arty Penang-themed frippery, look no further than Timura with hip and stylish T-shirts, mugs, bags and other paraphernalia. For a larger range of pan-Asian gifts, Living Story captures the essence of Penang with a charming and quirky range of handcrafted nicknacks in their three stores in Lebuh Armenia, Lebuh Campbell and Lorong Love (Love Lane).

Browsing Bon Ton. : Sally Arnold.
Browsing Bon Ton. Photo: Sally Arnold

In a similar vein, Bon Ton—The Shop sports a well curated collection of crafts, card and books including Penan handcrafted bags from Borneo and batiks. For sassy contemporary homewares and fashions check out 5.4º North on Lorong Stewart. Shop Howard contributes an excellent selection of photographic prints of Penang and affordable local art as well as books and collectables.

For handcrafted treasures, wearable art, curiosities and fine art, don’t miss a stop at the wondrous studio-shop of Penang/Parisian artist Foo May Lyn, Chop Kongsi. Be warned, her map showing directions to the studio has the nearby ATMs marked for a reason.

Gifts for loved ones at Jonathan Yun. : Sally Arnold.
Gifts for loved ones at Jonathan Yun. Photo: Sally Arnold

If bling is more your thing, notable local jewellery designer, Jonathan Yun, owns two neighbouring shops on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, one with his original contemporary styled sculptural jewellery with underwater and botanical themes in silver, gold and precious stones, and the other stocking his vintage collection inspired by Nyonya fashions of yesteryear (you’ll probably want to know were the ATMs are here too). Ask for a discount from the marked price, or check for coupons in some local publications.

Shipwreck treasures in the form of broken blue and white Ming ceramics made into jewellery by Ben Rongen, an Aussie raised Dutchman, former film director turned jeweller are on sale at several boutiques around town including You Le Yuen, a heritage bed-and-breakfast with attached fashion boutique in Lorong Love, which also throws in unique boho style clothing and accessories to entice.

Dingle dangles at You Le Yuen. : Sally Arnold.
Dingle dangles at You Le Yuen. Photo: Sally Arnold

If your hipster threads need updating you may find your perfect style at Sixth Sense with a simple, classic and comfortable earthy aesthetic using mostly natural fibres and colours and a stylish contemporary silhouette. Alternatively swagger in to The Swagger Salon for more streetwear style with caps, T-shirts and jackets branded with their own “Lansi” label—meaning cocky, or stuck-up in the local lingo (now you’re in the know).

Even in this age of digital download, we can’t pass a good bookshop and Penang provides with new and old. Old-school H S Sam Bookstore bills itself as “the most organised used bookshop in town”, and has assembled the collection into useful categories such as “Penang history” and “cheap books”, well worth a fossick. Readers of languages other than English can pick up a decent selection of fiction here too, and Sam’s also provide an assortment of “perfect services” for travellers including travel and visa arrangements and bike hire.

At H S Sam Bookstore. No batteries required. : Sally Arnold.
At H S Sam Bookstore. No batteries required. Photo: Sally Arnold

For Penang’s widest range of books on everything Malaysian and beyond, the cheerful yellow doors of Gerak Budaya Bookshop reveal a treasure trove of contemporary Asian fiction and poetry, history, politics, current affairs, social studies, art and children’s books selected with passion and expertise. This delightful independent bookstore will find collectors hard pressed leaving empty handed. Another store worth your browsing time is local publisher Areca Books’ retail outlet in The Star building running between Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Lebuh Queen.

Sometimes shopping while travelling just means picking up a few essentials, and although mini markets are ubiquitous, occasionally they just don’t stock “that thing”, and a supermarket or larger sundry store is what you need. Mydin on Jalan Penang sell just about everything bar alcohol in this bargain basement Muslim department store, and if they don’t stock what you need, try the Pacific Hypermarket at KOMTAR.

Don’t forget to eat your veggies. : Stuart McDonald.
Don’t forget to eat your veggies. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Mallrats will not be left without their fix, but in Georgetown itself the pickings are rather slim although not entirely bereft—1st Avenue, Prangin Mall and ageing landmark, KOMTAR edge the heritage zone, and a little further west, you’ll find Penang Times Square—all with a fairly standard Malaysian mix of low- and highbrow shops and services.

A trip to Gurney Drive with upmarket Gurney Paragon or Gurney Plaza will offer more sparkle and razzmatazz for your ringgit and here non-shopping travelling companions won’t complain if you leave them with a steaming bowl of laksa at Gurney Drive Hawker Centre.

Although we didn’t have time to venture out, if you want to shop where the (cashed-up) locals go, Straits Quay is a fancy-pants marina come mall operated by the folks who run the E&O Hotel with waterside shopping and dining overlooking luxurious yachts bobbing away on the Straits of Malacca.

Areca Books: 15 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Georgetown; T: (0426) 10 307;; Mo–Su: 09:00–18:00
Bon Ton - The Shop: 86 Lebuh Armenian, Georgetown; T: (0426) 27 299;; Mo–Su: 10:00–19:00
Campbell Street Market: Cnr Lebuh Campbell and Lebuh Carnarvon, Georgetown; Mo–Su: 07:00–12:00
Chop Kongsi: 82C Lebuh Penang, Georgetown;;; We–Mo: 11:00–18:00
1st Avenue Mall: 182 Jalan Magazine, Georgetown; T: (0426) 11 121;; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00
5.4º North: 75 Lorong Stewart, Georgetown; T: (0164) 150 400;; Mo–Su: 10:00–18:00
Gerak Budaya: 78 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Georgetown; T: (0426) 10 282;; Mo–Su: 11:00–20:00
Grandfathers’ Barang-Barang: 191 Lebuh Carnarvon; T: (0124) 556 772;; Mo–Fr: 11:00–17:30, Sa: 11:00–15:30
Gurney Paragon Mall: 163-D Persiaran Gurney, Penang; T: (0422) 88 266;; Mo–Su: 10:00–20:00
Gurney Plaza: 170 Persiaran Gurney, Penang; T: (0422) 28 111;; Mo–Su: 10:00–20:00
Gurney Drive Hawker Centre: Persiaran Gurney, Penang; Mo–Su: 18:00–24:00
H S Sam Bookstore: 410 Lebuh Chulia, Georgetown; T: (0426) 22 705, (0426) 028 667, (0164) 835 016; Mo–Su: 09:30–13:00,15:00–21:30
Hin Pop-up Market: Hin Bus Depot; 31A Jalan Gurdwara, Georgetown;; Su: 11:00–17:00
Hong Giap: 308-312 Jalan Penang, Georgetown; T: (0426) 25 092, (0426) 15 129;; Mo–Sa: 10:00–19:00, Su: 11:00–16:00
Jonathan Yun Sculptural Jewellery: 152 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Georgetown; T: (0426) 31 152, (0164) 749 817;; Mo–Sa: 10:00–18:00
KOMTAR: 1 Jalan Penang, Georgetown
Living Story: 14 Lebuh Armenian, Georgetown; T: (0426) 10 325;; Mo–Su: 10:00–18:00;
Mydin: 258 Jalan Penang, Georgetown; T: (0426) 29 915;; Mo–Su: 09:30–21:00
Nasi Kandar Line Clear: 177 Jalan Penang, Georgetown; Mo–Su: 24 hours
Nyonya Beaded Shoes: 4 Lebuh Armenian, Georgetown; T: (0164) 543 075; Mo–Sa: 08:00–18:00
Occupy Beach Street (Legally):; Su: 07:00–13:00
179 The House @ China House: 179 Lebuh Victoria, Georgetown; T: (0426) 37 299;
Pacific Hypermarket: 1.01–4.01 KOMTAR; 1 Jalan Penang, Georgetown; T: (0425) 03 399;; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00
Pasar Chowrasta: Jalan Penang, Georgetown (near Lebuh Tamil); Mo–Su: 06:30–13:00
Penang Times Square: 144 Jalan Dato Kerama, Georgetown; T: (0421) 09 020;; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00
Prangin Mall: 33 Jalan Dr. Lim Chwee Leong, Georgetown; T: (0426) 22 233;; Mo–Su: 10:00–22:00
Sam’s Collection: 159-161 Penang Road, Georgetown; T: (0425) 00 001;; Mo–Su: 10:00–19:00
Shop Howard: 154 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Georgetown; T: (0426) 11 970;; Mo–Su: 10:00–18:00
Sixth Sense: 157 Lebuh Pantai, Georgetown; T: (0426) 15 813;; Mo–Sa: 10:00–19:00, Su: 12:00–17:00
Straits Quay: Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang; T: (0489) 18 000;; Mo–Su: 10:30–22:30 (some shops and restaurants open till late)
Ten Yee Tea Trading: 33 Lebuh Pantai, Georgetown; Mo–Sa: 09:30–18:30
The Swagger Salon: 37 Jalan Gurdwara, Georgetown; T: (0422) 63 081;; Mo–Su: 12:00–20:00
Timura: 174, Lebuh Victoria, Georgetown; T: (0124) 703 815;; Mo–Th: 10:00–19:00, Fr–Sa: 10:00–22:00
Tropical Spice Garden in the City: 29 Lebuh China, Georgetown; T: (0426) 13 275;; Mo–Fr: 08:30–16:30, Sa: 10:00–18:00
You Le Yuen: 7 Lorong Love; T: (0134) 922 125;

Reviewed by

Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.

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These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.

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