George Town, the state capital of Penang, is an incredible mashup of Asian and colonial British architecture, and a pure joy to explore. This is the kind of thing you hear a lot about cities, that you should just explore. Now I love exploring new places; stumbling upon totally random stuff always feels great, people watching in a new place can be fascinating, clocking the places the locals frequent is a really pathetic feel good, and just learning about a places history can be really rewarding, there is loads of stuff that can make just "exploring" somewhere new a real experience.
However, I always take a recommendation to explore with a grain of salt, I mean it does kind of sound like the thing you'd say about somewhere you just cant think of any reason to go to, like describing something as "nice". This will usually be fleshed out with the usual acoompanying drivel; and why not stop for a coffee here, get some food there, have a beer or two, a great little coffee and cake shop that you must try, a wonderful street of shops you just have to buy something from, and why not ride the extortionately expensive public transport for the full experience. Which is totally cool if you're loaded and don't mind not being loaded by the end of the day. But George Town really is worth exploring. There is a fascinating mix of colonial British and asian archicture; some of the old clan houses are well worth checking out. My favourite was Khoo Kongsi, which cost RM10 to get in and included access to a small museum of the clan's history. A lot of the old city can be easily explored on foot though the public transport is frequent, cheap, reasonably well documented online (google maps support is also pretty good) and not too crowded.
There is so much great food. Lots of cheap local restaurants as well as a host of street food. It has some incredible cake shops. Seriously, the cake...
Alongside the usual bourgeoisie coffee shops, most local restaurants sell great coffee dirt cheap. The coffee they usually serve is 'kopi putih', or white coffee, which is coffee where the beans have been roasted in margarine and is served with condensed milk, so it is a pretty sweet coffee, but delicious. Teh Tarik, another Malaysian speciality, was my drink of choice. A local explained how it was made like this, we take the 'bad tea branches' and brew until it tastes 'horrid', then add sugar, ginger and milk to make it 'tasty' (accompanied by a seriously massive grin) and then he demonstrated the pouring motion, whereby they pour it from one container to another to give it the unique light and frothy consistency. It is awesome and I miss it. And breakfast in Penang is to die for. Roti Canai. This local delicacy feels halfway between a pancake and bread. It is served with curry sauce to dip with, and you can get it plain or with veg and meat cooked in. It is wonderful.
Art is huge in George Town. There are loads of cool little art galleries you can wander through, often open pretty late. A lot of the weird cafes and restaurants also have loads of awesome paintings and crazy sculptures. Adult colouring table mats are a pretty sweet addition too. And what has made George Town famous, the fantastic murals. You can grab maps from the tourist centers that will show you where they all are, but we really enjoyed getting lost and stumbling upon them, feeling all pompous that we found such cool stuff on our own (admittedly someone in our hostel mentioned an awesome one I had missed that I had to search for on google maps before dragging Sinead to go see at dusk and walked up and down a street for way too long before I found it. I was not popular).
In summary, go to George Town! And if you are planning to go, skip the pictures!