By Aran (from the UK)
The Penang nightlife scene is a lot of fun once you get used to the slower pace and the way things work, but it is not a top destination for party animals.
The island has a long and interesting history which, of course, means that there is plenty to see and do. Only a short ride from the border with Thailand, it offers plenty of relaxation for those who want a much needed break from it all.
Georgetown is the island’s capital, so it is not surprising that this is where you will find most of the action. I’ve never been much of a fan of Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia in general, but I have to say that Penang is a place that I am really fond of.
To start with, Georgetown was once a British base in the region, something which means they built lots of really beautiful buildings that give the place a real charm. Because it was such an important hub of trade, Georgetown is also packed with old Chinese ‘shop-houses’, as well as mosques, temples, and other interesting buildings. There is just something really nice about living in a tropical paradise with so many nice things to look at and with so much history.
I don’t regard myself as a local quite yet, but I’ve been living on the island for nearly 3 years now and still love it. Though the Penang nightlife scene is very different from Thailand’s, it still has plenty to offer provided you come with the right laid-back attitude.
The Penang nightlife atmosphere is incredibly relaxed and quite sophisticated in its way. Whilst there are bars selling alcohol, the majority of locals don’t drink it on account of being Muslim, but that does make for a lively late night coffee shop scene where people put their feet up and catch up with friends. A late night coffee is quite a change for us Westerners and it does take some getting used to…
Honestly, at first I wanted no part of this nonsense but in the last year or so I’ve really grown to love it now that I have lots of local friends. I have to say that somehow it feels really great waking up the next morning without a nasty hangover to start my day.
For those of us who have lived here long enough, we can spot the ‘weekender’ Thailand tourists who have just come on a short visa run from the islands. They rush around Georgetown with an energy and noise level that is totally unfitting for the place. Most seem really frustrated at the lack of party bars and at the higher price of alcohol and soon head back across the border.
Sex in Penang, by which I mean the commercial variety, is offered in the usual formats e.g. freelance hookers hanging around a few of the bars and streets in town, naughty massage parlours, and escorts. Happy ending massage in Penang can be had at many of the parlours in town but not all, so it might be an idea to ask someone local, whom you trust, for recommendations on where to go.
There are plenty of Penang escorts to found online and judging by the pictures they are extremely attractive. If the extra discretion offered by these ladies compared to other types of working girls is important to you then you have plenty of options. Most Penang escort girls charge by the hour, but if you prefer an all-night experience that this too is on offer. You’ll also be delighted to know that the prices charged by these girls are really quite low – I found a beautiful Thai lady advertising her services at a mere 180 ringgit for 45 minutes, that’s actually cheaper than bar girls in Thailand these days!
Another thing that is absent here is the large number of P4P girls in and around the bars, though in certain areas local ladies will provide such services. Since the majority of tourists here are either Chinese or from Arab countries, there are lots of Middle Eastern and South East Asian working girls on offer. There are also a few East European girls. However, you won’t see any obvious signs of the sex industry like you do in Thailand as it is really frowned upon in Malaysia. Given the limited options to meet working-girls by the bars, it seems that Penang escorts are the way to go if P4P is your thing.
There are opportunities to meet girls that will be eager for sexual relations without a payment involved, as you can read about in this article about Penang girls...
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Penang nightlife sounds a little boring, but trust me, once you relax into it you will be surprised how much fun it can be.
The island has loads of really good places to drink and have a good time. Most of these are located in Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi beach where there is a nice shopping district and a traditional night market. Both these areas have plenty of good bars and lounges where you can drink and hang out with the friendly locals.
The main area where all the action happens is Penang Street. Here you will find lots of really delicious places to eat, drink, and go clubbing. For those of you who don’t know about Malaysian food, well, it is a mix of native Malay, Chinese, Indian, and even Thai. This means that there is literally every taste from East Asia all in one place.
Even after 3 years here I still keep finding great new places to eat as well as delicious new foods to enjoy. A nice touch is that many of the street-food places and restaurants stay open until quite late, meaning that you can grab a quick bite without having to worry about the time.
Penang Street has a walking zone which helps give it that little extra boost in atmosphere. Up and down it, mixed in with restaurants, you will find bars. I often meet friends in some of the quieter ones to get warmed up and then later head to the busy ones to get the night going.
For single travellers hoping to meet some nice local Malaysian women, Georgetown is your best bet. As I said earlier, Penang has become a hotspot for groups of Middle Eastern and Chinese men who are looking for hook-ups. This has changed the Penang nightlife scene a little, but don’t let it put you off. The locals still really love us westerners, so you can still meet ladies here quite easily.
Though Malaysia still follows the traditional Asian code of 'keep it out of sight', more and more 18+ bar signs are popping up everywhere.
These are the places where you will find lots of Chinese and Middle Eastern men, all after the pay to play girls inside. If this is your thing then the majority of clubs will have Chinese, Filipinos, Thais and some Vietnamese.
Other most ‘specialist’ 18+ bars will have African and some Middle Eastern women on show.
A little Northwest of Penang Street is Gurney Drive where you will also find plenty of bars and a few clubs. This area is not as vibrant as Penang Street but it still is worth checking out. Because the Penang nightlife scene is relatively small, if you stay around the place long enough it is inevitable that you will end up heading out to Gurney Drive sooner or later.
It is a really nice change of scene and is more focused on the expat community who prefer to get away from the endless stream of tourists that are to be found elsewhere.
Batu Ferringhi Beach is located about about 5 or 6 miles northeast of Georgetown. The road hugs the coastline and it takes quite a bit of time to get out there. I usually give it 35 minutes to drive out on my scooter, but if there is traffic it can take a bit longer.
The nightlife out at Batu Ferringhi tends to be a little more Asian focused than in Georgetown. This is because a lot of visiting Chinese tourists stay out there while on holiday. As a result there are lots of bars that are orientated more around Asian tastes, such as singing shows and karaoke. You can still find plenty of good bars here with the added bonus of being right on the beach too.
All in all, Penang’s nightlife really can be great. At first glance, you might feel a little disappointed but as you relax into this tropical island, like me, you will really come to appreciate it in a whole new level. The locals are generally very friendly and on more than one occasion I’ve been invited to a table when they have seen me sitting alone. The girl situation is nowhere near as easy as in Thailand, but somehow this adds to the fun of the place.
For me, the best thing about the Penang nightlife is that it will let you blow off some steam but still have some fun without ending up burned out like you get in Thailand. So, if you are looking for a nice tropical island where you can relax and enjoy life, then it is definitely worth a look.
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