Penang Guide for Digital Nomads

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The Malaysian island of Penang is often overlooked as a Southeast Asian digital nomad destination. Most of the commonly discussed digital nomad spots in this region are either beach towns, islands, or major cities; however, Penang is a unique destination that offers a blend of all of these elements. Penang provides an equal mix of island and modern city life for remote workers and digital nomads.

Penang Overview

Known for its island part, Penang is a Malaysian state that stretches from the mainlain into the famous island. Its island part is connected to the mainland by two bridges and is well-known for its UNESCO World Heritage site of George Town. Penang offers a unique blend of cultures, sandy beaches, delicious street food, and historical architecture. The island enjoys a tropical rainforest climate, ensuring warm weather all year round. 

English is widely spoken in Penang. At the heart of the island is George Town, the second largest metropolitan area of Malaysia. Consequently, it has a more laid-back vibe compared to Kuala Lumpur. Penang also offers a more affordable cost of living, accommodation, food, and transportation. 

George Town street
Colonial shophouses occupy large areas of George Town streets

Internet and Connectivity

Since a stable internet connection is non-negotiable for a digital nomad, Penang doesn’t disappoint. You will have no issues with internet connectivity during your stay in Penang. High-speed Wifi is widely available on the island with an average broadband internet speed of 100.55 Mbps, according to Ookla

If it happens that you need quick work done on the go, the 4G connection covers the entire island. Of course, you will need to purchase a local SIM card to be able to connect via 4G. 

Places to Work from

Penang isn’t just about the touristy part of George Town; it is a hub for many tech companies and international universities. As a result, it is full of motivated young professionals with entrepreneurial energy, which resulted in the establishment of many coworking spaces.

Our top coworking picks are Common Ground and Settlements, both located in George Town. If you prefer something out of George Town, you can try The Venture, which won’t disappoint you with its stunning seafront view.

If you enjoy working from cafes, Penang has plenty of work-friendly coffee shops. You can find modern coffee shops with fast wifi and comfy chairs all over the city, and also local coffee shops in the colonial shophouses of George Town. One of the cafes I spent much time working at was Wheeler’s Coffee.

Working from Wheeler's Coffee
Working from Wheeler’s Coffee

Transportation

Penang’s well-connected public bus system links all the major destinations across the island. The MyRapid Pulse app, available for iPhone and Android, can help you find bus routes and calculate fares.

Taxis are the main alternative to public buses. Also, ride-hailing is available using Grab, the leading ride-hailing app across all South East Asia.

If you stay in George Town, many destinations will be within walking distance from your accommodation. Unlike many major cities in Southeast Asia, Malaysian cities are generally walkable, and Penang is no exception.

Things to Do

The island is home to many beautiful beaches, historic landmarks, and cultural attractions, perfect for weekend sightseeing or during remote work breaks.

Explore Georgetown

George Town is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the main attractions of Penang. It is famous for its colonial buildings, street art, Chinese shophouses, street food, and piers. You won’t get bored if you spend days walking around George Town and nights hanging out and partying there.

A collage of George Town's street art
A collage of some of George Town’s street art pieces

Visit Kek Lok Si Temple

Located in the Air Itam area, Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. It is a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from the surrounding countries. Despite its religious significance, it is known as a tourist attraction with many souvenir shops and vegetarian restaurants located inside.

Visit Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple

Penang Hill Trek

Penang Hill offers some stunning views of George Town and the Mainland. You can hike to the highest peak, which is 821m higher than George Town, or take the funicular train.

Besides the spectacular scenery, there are many attractions up Penang Hill, including historical buildings, temples, and the highest coffee shop in Penang.

Trek to or camp at the Monkey Beach

The Monkey Beach is accessible through a 45-minute trail into the jungles of Penang National Park. You will see breathtaking scenes during the trek and occasionally encounter some monkeys. 

Monkey Beach is known for camping, with a few campsites located at its shore. You can spend the day at the beach and return to George Town by any boats stationed at the beach by sunset. Otherwise, you can trek your way back through the same trail.

Monkey Beach during sunset
Sunset view from Monkey Beach

Explore Street Food and Night Markets

Malaysian cuisine consists of a unique fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. Of course, Penang has its own distinctive style, with some must-try dishes like Asam Laksa and Nasi Kandar.

Nightlife

Penang stays lively after dark. Most night activities will be in Goerge Town’s Chulia Street, Gurney Drive, and the Batu Ferringhi.

Exploring night markets is a popular local experience. They are common in Penang to explore street food and shop for local goods. The most notable one is the Batu Ferringhi night market. For a more local experience, you may need local help to know the weekly market locations in the less touristy neighborhoods. 

For the party scene, Chulia Street and its surrounding alleys are the main attractions for backpackers and budget travelers. There is also Gurney Drive with its seafront that transforms at night into a bustling street food scene. Batu Ferringhi offers beachfront bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the sunset and live music.

Is Penang the Right Place for You?

Whether you are a nature lover or a big city-dwelling digital nomad, Penang offers the best of both worlds.

In my opinion, Penang may not be a preferable location for most digital nomads. However, it can be a perfect short-term escape (a few weeks to a few months) for digital nomads based in Thailand, Vietnam, or even Kuala Lumpur.

Author

  • Amr A.

    Amr is the founder and the main author of Nomadic Memoir. Working remotely since 2015 and location-independent since 2016, with professional background is in the software industry as a web/mobile developer, a technical writer, and a project manager, in addition to running a digital agency and a 3d printing service.

    View all posts

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