Where to stay in Penang is a complicated question. Every digital nomad is different, and we all have different preferences. Some of us need big cities to feel connected and alive, others of us need beaches, some of us prefer solitude. The allure of the digital nomad lifestyle is being able to live exactly how and where you want. You’ll have plenty of lifestyle options and choices of where to stay in Penang.
Most digital nomads situate themselves on the northern side of the island. We also chose to live here for the access to community and other expats. There are a few other neighborhoods between Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi that make popular choices for digital nomads, but we’ve found ourselves spending the most time in these two areas, and don’t mind the transit time between them.
If you’re planning on spending just a few days to a week in Penang, I definitely recommend situating yourself in Georgetown. Georgetown is the cultural center of Penang. Here you’ll find Chinese temples, Hindu temples, Mosques, and Catholic churches all on the same street. Step into a hawker center at lunch time and you’ll see every kind of food available in one place.
You can find many different styles of home in Georgetown. From heritage homes to highrises, there are many choices to pick from. The price for rent will vary greatly depending on whether you go for a private room or an entire apartment. You may be able to stay in a nice place for cheaper if you’re willing to share the house with a host. If you’re going for a shared room, I would definitely recommend visiting the host first and spending a little time there to decide if this is someone you can live with for an extended period.
You won’t quickly run out of things to do in Georgetown. Just walking down the street is an adventure. With so many ethnic groups, it seems that there’s always a festival of some kind happening. You usually won’t even know until you turn a corner and suddenly stumble into it. We love walking the streets of Georgetown, admiring at the elegantly decayed colonial buildings, taking in the smells, both good and bad, trying new foods, and immersing ourselves in the vibrant hustle. It’s easy to feel at home in such a diverse place. People speak English here very well, so the culture is easily accessible. If you want to know something, you only need to ask.
Part of what makes georgetown so great for Digital Nomads is the abundance of cafes. On the other hand, the major downfall of Georgetown is that wifi can be quite spotty, and many places don’t even offer it. The good news is that you can find homes with much better wifi outside of Georgetown.
Browse Accommodations in Georgetown
For a long term stay in Penang, Batu Ferringhi is a great choice for digital nomads. Batu Ferringhi is about 30 minutes from Georgetown by car. A GRAB car into Georgetown costs about 20-25 MYR each way. You can also take the 101 Rapid Penang bus to all supermarkets or into Georgetown for less than 5 MYR.
Batu Ferringhi is a beach town on the northern shore of Penang Island. This is where we decided to spend the 4 months we’ve lived in Penang.
We chose Batu Ferringhi for its quiet, laid back vibe, access to nature, and faster wifi speeds. Our house was clocking over 100mbps!
In Batu Ferringhi you’ll find nice residential neighborhoods with semi detached homes. These are large two family homes with a shared wall. Most of these houses have three to four bedrooms, and you can get a private room here for very cheap. We booked a private room with en suite bathroom with Penang Homestay Rooms.
There was fast wifi (100mbps), plenty of common space, and a full kitchen which meant that we were able to cook lots of nice, healthy meals at home. We loved the community we found there. We comfortably worked from home often and met lots of other nomads passing through in our 4 months here. At some point we even had two online English teachers living in the house together, and had no trouble teaching on their wifi.
We realized that we would be able to be much more productive (and save money) by having a home that we could actually work from. There aren’t a lot of great working cafes around Batu Ferringhi. There’s one spot called Little Joe’s but don’t expect too much. The best option for cafe working is probably Starbucks. Before you eye roll me to death, check it out. It’s one of the nicer starbucks’ we’ve encountered because of it’s access to the beach. Be warned though, the wifi at this Starbucks is a bit dodgy at times.
Our home in Penang was about a ten minute walk to the beach, had great views of the mountains, and was conveniently close to some restaurants and great local food stalls. Be sure to check out the Long Beach hawker center, we found ourselves eating there more often than we’re comfortable admitting. There’s also a turkish/arabic restaurant that we love called Rubin Mardini which serves great hummus at a fair price. Watch out for the more touristy restaurants along the main drag. You’ll end up paying a lot and leaving sorely disappointed.
You won’t find a lot going on on a given day in Batu Ferringhi. The best things to do around here are the beach, and the batik factory. You can also easily access the Penang National Park from here. At night, Batu Ferringhi has a very touristy night market. You’ll find mostly chinese made souvenirs, tee shirts, watches, bags, the normal crap you find in all the other night markets. For a real local night market, check out the Tuesday Night Market in Tanjong Bungah.
Penang isn’t known for the world’s greatest beaches. Batu Ferringhi beach is ok, but there are lots of resorts along the beach so it can get quite busy. If you want to escape the crowds, take a car just a few KM to the beach across from the Penang Spice Garden. If you plan on swimming, watch out for jellyfish.
Gurney Drive is the main shopping area of Penang. You can find a lot of high-rise buildings here with sea views. Unfortunately Penang is in the process of a massive land reclamation project along the shore next to Gurney. Not the most beautiful sight.
This is not a budget area. There are a lot of luxury high rise buildings here. If you’ve got the budget, go for it. Otherwise you may want to reserve Gurney Drive for your date nights, escapes to the movies, and shopping adventures. Gurney Drive is home to two of the biggest supermarkets in Penang. Cold Storage is in the basement of Gurney Plaza, and Jaya Grocer in the basement of Gurney Paragon.
Just in from the Gurney Drive former coast line, is Pulau Tikus. In this area you’ll find the major hospitals like Glen Eagles, Adventist, and Island Hospital. Beside these massive medical institutions, are residential neighborhoods will smaller family style houses, with a few tall apartment buildings peppered in for good measure and smaller shopping districts.
Tanjong Bungah is halfway between Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi. Here you can find faster wifi speeds than Georgetown, but with a more suburban atmosphere. Tanjung Bungah has a nice wet market for fresh fruits and vegetables, and a great night market on Tuesday nights. You’ll also find a selection of international restaurants in this area and smaller hawker centers with local specialties like char kuey teow, and naki kandar. Tanjung Bungah has good access to nature in places like Pearl Hill Park. For digital nomads, there is a new coworking space in Tanjung Bungah called The Venture. Hopefully it will survive.
Tanjong Takong lies between Georgetown and Tanjung Bungah. It’s one of the newest areas in Penang because it was built on “reclaimed land,” meaning it used to be part of the sea. It’s one of the more walkable areas with a more western feel than the rest of Penang. There’s a very nice shopping mall at Straits Quay with a beautiful marina behind it. You can walk along the docks in the evening and get a look at the nice boats docked there. This is one of the more expensive places to live in Penang, but what you pay in price you’ll make up for in convenience. Here you’ll find two grocery stores Tesco, and Sam’s at Straits Quay, there’s also a Korean Mart. You’ll find plenty of restaurants as well as yoga, dance studios, and even a sensory deprivation float center at the Vantage Strip Mall. There are a few fun things to do around here including the Penang Avatar Garden.
These are certainly not all of the places Penang has to offer. These are just the most popular areas for digital nomads. We would definitely encourage you to do some of your own exploring, and if you find a great neighborhood that we haven’t listed here please let us know. We would love to check it out and include it in a future update of this guide.