Choosing Where to Live in Penang – the Top 8 Locations
If you’re an expat planning to move to Penang, your future happiness may depend a lot on where you choose to live. But no pressure! 🙂 I put together this Penang neighborhood guide to help you find an area that suits your interests, personality and needs the best. And to highlight the unique flavor and special considerations for each neighborhood, I’ve enlisted the help of my close friend Sharon Giraud – she’s an expert on the subject and gives neighborhood tours to future expats to help them find the right rental properties. Here are the most popular residential areas for expats in Penang:
If you’ve dreamt of retiring to a tropical resort town by the beach, Batu Ferringhi might be the place for you. The long, lively beach is dotted with hotels, restaurants, jetskis, palm trees and happy vacationers from all over the world taking selfies in front of the ocean. There’s also the night market, which sells every knockoff you can imagine, plus the latest styles in hippie pants and burkinis. “Batu Ferringhi is a bit out there and a car may be essential to get to grocery stores and into town – because it may be a challenge to get a cab or Grab back and forth,” says Sharon. “However, this is a bird and monkey watchers paradise (and snakes and lizards).”
- Very affordable rental properties – sometimes costing less than half of rentals in nearby Tanjung Bungah.
- Flanked by jungle on one side, and the beach on the other.
- Lively area with lots of restaurants, hawker stalls, and night market stalls.
- If you like the outdoors, there are some nice hiking and running trails around the Batu Ferringhi aqueduct, and it’s just a 10-minute drive to Taman Nagara, the national park.
- Limited high speed internet. You can get it in landed houses, but for condos/apartments, the building has to have it, or none of the units can get it – and some of the big developments in Batu Ferringhi still don’t have high speed internet.
- No large grocery stores.
- Truly awful traffic on weekends, school holidays and many nights.
- Lots of tourists, so the area feels more transient than neighborhoody, and it can get crowded.
- Quite a distance to other parts of Penang, which can feel isolating.
- The beach is often quite littered with trash. And since raw sewage gets pumped out into the bay, the sea water quality may not be great for swimming.
Popular among expats and locals, Tanjung Bungah is a quiet neighborhood with a great wet market, a small array of restaurants – including several serving international food – a couple pretty beaches, and the monkey-studded Pearl Hill presiding over it all. There are apartments and landed homes, beachfront condos, and semi-detached homes available in the area. Says Sharon: “I am partial to this area because I live here – easy access to beaches and close to daily shopping as well as many of my friends. Lots of gorgeous high-rise condos with million dollar views.”
- Large selection of upscale condo developments and hillside villas with beautiful views of the sea and mountains.
- Big expat community, with restaurants and shops catering to expats’ needs.
- Great neighborhood feel, and quite safe.
- Lots of classes are offered in the area, from yoga, dance and painting, to Tabata fitness and bootcamps.
- Close enough to the malls and Georgetown to make them an easy trip, but far enough away to escape the heavy traffic and hustle-bustle.
- The purchase and rental prices of properties here are some of the highest on the island.
- A lot of trash washes up on Tanjung Bungah beach after storms, and it can get loud when people are setting off fireworks during festivals.
- If you have to commute to the Free Trade Zone or Kulim, it can be a pretty long drive in rush hour.
- Many condo construction projects create quite a bit of noise for neighbors.
The glitzy seafront retail marina, Straits Quay, and its surrounding condos and villas are the highlight of Tanjung Tokong. Built on landfill, the area has a very new and western feel, and western prices to go along with it. It’s a popular place for expat families to live. According to Sharon: “This is probably the most walkable neighbourhood in terms of access to the seafront walkway, as well as a gated community with landed properties (houses) with yards. Makes it great for families and people with dogs.”
- Convenience is king here – restaurants and shops are all within walking distance, and it’s close to town.
- Large and diverse expat community.
- Lots of activities, classes and performances offered at Penang Pac, located within Straits Quay Mall.
- It’s one of the only areas in Penang with long stretches of well-maintained sidewalks, which is great for running, walking, kids riding bikes, and dog walking.
- Favorite place to live for many families with young kids.
- Very expensive housing – the priciest on the island.
- Large landfill and housing construction projects underway, which can be noisy and may block views.
- Very westernized – it lacks Penang’s signature charm and unique feel.
With two huge fancy malls, a big hawker food center, sea views (kinda) and tons of high rise condos, Gurney is a popular and convenient pick for many expats. It’s always bustling here, and there’s always something to do, whether it’s a movie at the IMAX theater, a stroll along the boardwalk or dinner out with friends, Gurney is a hopping place. Sharon adds: “This is a buzzy area and if you have teenagers makes it perfect for them to just walk to the mall. If you don’t want a car, there is easy access to just about anything you need.”
- Tons within walking distance: grocery stores, hawker stalls, malls, restaurants.
- Very close to Georgetown, and a fairly easy commute to the Free Trade Zone.
- Large array of high rise condos to choose from.
- Constant traffic along Gurney Drive.
- Large landfill project underway just across the street, which is an eyesore.
- Street noise and vehicle fumes can be an annoyance.
Located just behind Gurney Drive is the vibrant neighborhood of Pulau Tikus. Old meets new in this centrally located neighborhood. All mixed together are fancy high rises, ancient local homes, mosques, Buddhist temples, hawker stalls, gigantic colonial homes surrounded by grand lawns and palm trees, a few shanty shacks, and the fantastic Pulau Tikus wet market.
- A true taste of Penang with locals and expats living side-by-side.
- Affordable housing.
- Close to Georgetown and not a bad commute to the Free Trade Zone.
- Close to the Botanical Gardens, hospitals and Gurney Drive.
- Mostly no views of mountains or sea.
- Can be busy at all hours.
- The mosque loudspeaker can be very loud with the call the prayer 5 times per day, plus sometimes lengthy reading of prayers over the loudspeaker.
To live in a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a rare opportunity! Georgetown is the beating heart of Penang, with festivals galore, street food hawkers, beautiful old architecture, old men on trishaws, stunning street art, and ornate temples, mosques, and Chinese clan houses. There are a few modern condos on offer, but most of the rentals are in traditional buildings. “You are going to get accommodation that is old shophouses rather than modern amenities,” says Sharon. “If you are OK with traffic noise and heat and don’t need fast internet, and walking to restaurants is important, then this is your scene.”
- Vibrant, historic location with loads of personality.
- Wide range of world-class food options, from hawkers to high-end restaurants.
- Unique housing – mostly old converted shop houses. There’s also a new condo development by the water, beside the historic E&O Hotel, and a few apartment buildings (mostly older).
- A chance to live among true Penangites in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- It’s always busy in Georgetown, so if crowds annoy you, it might not be right for you.
- Expensive housing.
- Lots of tourists, and not so many expats, so making friends can be a bit challenging.
- Traffic can be utterly gridlocked, especially on weekends and during festivals
- Poor internet connections.
- Rats and heat. (The rats are HUGE).
Jelutong and Gelugor
Sandwiched between Georgetown, Green Lane and Bayan Lepas are the Jelutong and Gelugor areas, which are truly Malaysian neighborhoods. They lack the UNESCO architecture and charm of Georgetown, but it’s within close proximity. Newish apartments sit beside crumbling traditional Chinese and Malay homes, which gives expats a chance to live among true locals. “This is really a working persons neighbourhood and feels like it is the suburbs with a focus on getting the job done,” says Sharon. “Ideal for singles working in the area who just need to get to work fast.”
The Light Collection, a fancy new development, sits right beside the water and is attracting lots of interest from new expats. It’s very affordable and has a range of offerings, from high-rise condo living to seaside low-rise units. But at the moment, it’s not very populated so it lacks a community feel, which can make people feel a bit isolated there.
- Very affordable housing.
- Close to Georgetown and also the Free Trade Zone.
- A great chance to immerse yourself in local Penang culture.
- Very crowded and lots of traffic.
- Not very many expats.
- Far from beaches, jungles and activities.
Bayan Lepas and Bayan Baru
These areas are not very popular among longterm expat families, in part because it’s so far away from everything (except the Free Trade Zone and the Penang bridges). But if your top priority is being near the bridges or factories to keep your commute short, you may want to check out Bayan Lepas and Bayan Baru. Sharon says: “Not really an up and coming place to live as it is so isolated. Many new arrivals wonder if they should find a place near work, but the truth is that not many expat families live out here.” However, for young, single expats, it’s becoming more popular. “I find there are a lot of young-ish people in Bayan Baru/Relau area (likely due to cheaper rents and being close to work), and there actually are a lot of really good food spots in this area and even some bars,” says Lauren B., an expat who lives in the area. She adds that it’s a good option “for the mid-20s/30s crowd looking to balance having a good life and money.”
- Very close to Free Trade Zone, bridges and the gigantic Queensbay Mall.
- Pretty quiet neighborhoods.
- Inexpensive housing.
- Heavy, horrible rush-hour traffic.
- Far from Georgetown, beaches, activities and nightlife.
- Not many attractions here – not much to do.
Hopefully this gives you a good idea about which areas you may want to check out in person. To arrange a private neighborhood tour, you can contact Sharon at: firstname.lastname@example.org. And stay tuned – Sharon and I are working together to create an even more in-depth neighborhood guide for those who want more details about each location.