It’s been called the street art epicentre of Asia and, for good reason. Around almost every corner in the lanes of Penang you’ll find art both big and small; kittens hiding above doorways, children riding stationary bicycles or huge, expansive pieces covering the side of old heritage buildings. To help you explore them all, we’ve put together what think is one of the most comprehensive Penang Street Art Map on the web.
Yes, the street art fades and new pieces pop up often, but we think we’ve cracked a killer guide that will help you navigate the streets, spotting art as you go.
Your Penang Street Art Map – A handy Google companion map
We’ve gone into a lot of detail in this guide, showcasing some of the older works by artists like Ernest Zacharevic but your best companion is the handy Google map we’ve created.
To use it? Click on the expand button in the top right corner, which should open it within your phone’s Google Maps application. From there you can use it as a typical Google Map.
Not sure if you’re at the right spot, just click on the spots we’ve highlighted and, wherever possible, we’ve uploaded a picture!
The most famous Penang Street Art murals
- Little Children on a Bicycle
- 101 Lost Kittens Project (a series)
- Brother and Sister on a swing
- Indian Woman
- I Want Pau
- Boy on a Bike
- Trishaw Man
- Reaching up / Boy on a Chain
- Kung Fu Girl
- Folklore by the Sea
Getting around George Town, Penang
Now the best way to witness all of this street art is by foot – most of it is very walkable and you’ll also discover ones that aren’t even on our map; that’s how jam-packed George Town is with art.
You can also hire a bicycle – you’ll find bikes and electric bicycles rentable from the city (like the ones pictured below), or often your hotel or hostel will rent them out at a pretty reasonable price.
You could hire a trishaw from a local, with them peddling you around. Personally, we aren’t huge fans of this option and find it a bit ‘touristy’ but if you have mobility issues, this is a great option.
Lastly, if you want to visit some of the pieces that are further afield, like the new container art at the mall, then we’d advise you use the Grab taxi app. If you don’t have it already, then do download it.
Penang Street Art History
Now street art wasn’t always seen so favourably in Malaysia. Like many other cities in the world, this form of art and associated graffiti was considered vandalism, and those artists involved faced heavy fines.
However, with social recognition of street art increasing on the global stage and pioneering artists like Banksy lighting up the art scene in places like London, Berlin and New York, so Malaysia started to soften its stance.
Soon after George Town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 2008, the approach to street art started to change. That following year (2009) saw cartoon steel-rod sculptures erected around town (we’ll talk about those later), to create interesting artworks on the slightly dilapidated walls of the town.
Then, in 2012, the first real pieces of painted art came to George Town. Courtesy of Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, who was commission to do six pieces for the George Town Festival. He named them ‘Mirrors’, a reflection of life in George Town, and immediately the pieces garnered international acclaim.
Then dubbed ‘Malaysia’s answer to Banksy’ by the BBC, Zacharevic (or ZACH) has gone on to produce more work for Penang but also travelled to our favourite place in Malaysia, Ipoh, to create a street art trail there.
Today you’ll find high end street art in George Town, Ipoh, Malacca (Melaka), Kuala Lumpur and even small town Muar, and the scene is well and truly thriving throughout Malaysia.
Street Art Area: Chew Jetty
Many people will start their street art walking tour at the Chew Jetty, just as we did. Here you have four major pieces worth looking at.
Ah Mah and Ah Soon
The first might be a little tough to spot since, when we visited, it was hidden behind a very large food stall. Essentially Ah Mah and Ah Soon is just as you are about to enter the market area, on the left-hand wall.
Painted by Simon Tan, it shows a grandmother (ah mah) with her grandson (ah soon). It was actually his second wall mural in the area after Ah Kong and Ah Mah (grandfather and grandmother) which was unfortunately defaced and subsequently removed.
Woman on a Scooter and Bicycle Beneath a Window
If you move down the jetty, you’ll find Woman on a Scooter and Bicycle beneath a window on your left-hand side, dotted amongst the stalls.
Folklore by the Sea
Your last stop is an interesting one: Folklore by the Sea.
It’s interesting since the original mural was Children in a Boat, painted by the famous Ernest Zacharevic. However, it faded so badly that in December 2018, Yip Yew Chong from Singapore decided to ‘retell it’ by painting a similar vision over the old site.
His current piece, Folklore by the Sea is about the Chinese settlers who found their homes there at the Penang waterfront.
Street Art Area: Armenian Street and surrounds
If you just stroll along this street (Gat Lebuh Armenian), you’ll see why it’s a huge hotspot for street art. The street and the offshoots or surrounding lanes are absolutely teeming with amazing pieces. A few of our favourites area:
I Want Bao / I Want Pau
Just before the intersection with Victoria Street is another renowned work, this one by WK Setor. Gracing the side of the Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Shop, actually Setor is a friend of the owner, who asked him to do the wall painting.
Sometimes incorrectly named as ‘I want Bao’ (instead of Pau), the mural shows two kids looking out from a window towards a parked bike full of rattan trays, probably with steamed buns inside.
101 Lost Kittens – Skippy the Cat, Please Care and Bathe Me and the other cat murals
Along the street and branching off into a side alley as well as Cannon Street are the fruits of George Town’s largest street art campaign: 101 Lost Kittens.
Mainly featuring our favourite furry friends, cats, these murals were created by a collective of artists, called Artists for Stray Animals (ASA) including Tang Yeok Khang of Bukit Mertajam, Natthaton Muangkliang of Thailand and Louise Low of Kuala Lumpur.
The first ones were done in 2013 and aimed to raise awareness around stray animals. It’s been so successful that cat murals continue to pop up all over town
Some of the major ones are along Armenian Street like Skippy, the giant cat mural.
You’ll notice that ‘Skippy’ has faded quite a bit, so he is difficult to discern. However, the little note to the side is still clearly legible which notes that Skippy – a stray cat – sadly passed away at the beginning of 2019.
If you’re wanting to find Please Care and Bathe Me, you’ll need to pop down the small alley on the right-hand side and go to the end, where you will see the back wall of Singapore House. There, set against the yellow wall down on the right-hand side, you’ll see this smaller mural.
Little Children on Bicycle
Definitely one of the most popular pieces in George Town, apparently in high season people queue up to get a photo with this piece!
Painted on the wall of a shop, this is another Zacharevic piece done back in the 2012/13 festival. It shows a little girl taking her brother on a ride, and many tourists try to get their own weird and wonderful piece with the two cute kids.
Teach you Hokkien
Near what is the ‘end’ of the Armenian street art street (although not the end of the actual lane) is this bright purple coloured artwork. Its technically on Soo Hong Lane but the building, the Museum of Glass, is on Armenian Street.
This piece threw up a bit of a ruckus in the community due to the garishly painted purple wall, but things seem to have settled down since.
More Cats, The Chef, Men Pushing Door and More
If you turn right just after the Teach you Hokkien piece, you should find yourself in our second favourite alley in George Town which, according to maps, doesn’t even have a name.
What it does have is art in droves! We loved the mural of two men trying to push over a door, a woman in red almost pirouetting while doing her hair, a chef who seems in love and another cat mural, set against a canary yellow window.
Cats and Humans Living Happily Together
This one might seem impossible to find, based on the map, but the trick is to actually walk inside the gates of the Cheah Kongsi temple, and you’ll find it there! It’s another one of the pieces made for 101 Lost Kittens, and is meant to show a procession of Taoist deities in the streets of the city.
Of course, the people are interchanged with cats carrying banners and religious symbols!
The Gayo Tiger
Now if someone has given you the ‘official’ street art brochure from the city of George Town, you might find yourself scratching your head to find this one – we sure did. The city does provide a flyer but it only has a fraction of the art, hence us going in search of our own, and putting this handy guide together.
Anyway, back to the Gayo Tiger. It seems many people miss the tiger since its actually inside a coffee shop! We found it by accident, while going into Gayo Coffee for somewhere to sit, relax and grab a drink.
We highly recommend you go to Gayo since they have a wonderful coffee and cake menu (we liked the smoothies too), it’s an absolutely huge coffee shop with so much seating, the Wi-Fi signal is very strong and it has a beautiful old tree in it too, perfect for Instagram selfies!
Street Art Area: Lorong Lumit and surrounds
Now this lane topped our list as our favourite place to see street art, because it felt more off the beaten track. When we were there we saw local Penang residents sweeping their front porch, one or two people breaking the silence on the back of a motorbike, and many a sleepy kid being shuffled off to school.
The most prominent piece on Lorong Lumit is undoubtedly Indian Woman, and we count it as one of our faves too. Created by Julia Volchkova, who did a few murals in George Town, she completed this one in 2015.
It showcases an older Indian woman with her hands in a prayer posture. We like this since it’s in the shadow of a banyan tree which almost obscures it, but it feels like nature and art are fusing together.
Newer tagging styles
If you’ve been to places like Berlin or most European cities, you’ll recognize the style in Lorong Lumit more easily. It harks back to ‘tagging’ or more contemporary graffiti art, and for us was a nice departure from the more realist pieces we had seen in Penang.
More Cats on Cannon
Now head back towards the old town, using Cannon Street (Lebuh Cannon) to guide you, with a few striking murals along the way.
You’ll come across three murals that are part of the 101 Lost Kittens – Cat in A Blue Window, Cat in a Ring and a gorgeous one painted onto a bamboo blind, Cat with Balloons.
Reaching up (or Boy on Chair)
One of the original pieces from Zacharevic’s ‘Mirrors’, Reaching Up depicts a small boy reaching up to a hole in the wall, perched pretty precariously on a wooden stool. Like his other pieces, this one often has a line of people waiting to take a photo, unless you go early.
Street Art Area: Ah Quee and Chulia
Arguably this isn’t its own area, since its right next to Armenian Street and many of the other famed works but, to help you divvy up your time to see all the amazing street art, we will treat this one like its own district to explore.
Boy on a Bike
Yup, another famous work by Zacharevic, this is on the side door of a shop and shows a young boy hanging around on his motorbike, watching people go by. This is one of those ‘postcard perfect’ pieces that attract a lot of visitors wanting their shot, so you are warned!
Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur
You won’t have to walk far, since this is literally next to Boy on a Bike. It shows a little boy taking his dinosaur for a walk. You’ll notice the dinosaur is almost deliberately very simply drawn – the idea was to make it seem like it’s from the creative mind of the kid himself.
The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This
Around the corner is a (very faded) but famous mural that is part of the 101 Lost Kittens project, the Bruce Lee Cat Mural. It shows Bruce Lee, that martial arts legend, trying to kick two stray cats.
It’s meant to remind people to treat stray cats with kindness and underneath it is a small notice (in English, Chinese and Malay) that Bruce Lee of course would never have done this to cats.
As you walk down from Ah Quee towards Gat Lebuh Chulia street, there is a street called ‘Art Lane’, which as the name suggests, is almost crammed full of street art. Its only open from 9am to 7pm each day, so time your visit accordingly.
Children Playing Basketball
Located next to a lovely little bakery on Chulia street is one of the works by Louis Gan, a deaf and mute artist who has also made a huge contribution to Penang’s street art scene.
This was his second piece in George Town (the other, Brother and Sister on a Swing is soon to come), and wasn’t very well-received when he unveiled it, since many said it looked ‘sloppy’ as the boy was out of proportion and the girl was almost levitating off the ground.
Brother and Sister on a Swing
However, if you just cross the road from the Basketball piece, you’ll find Gan’s first and most acclaimed work: Brother and Sister on a Swing.
Adorning the walls of a printing warehouse this must be the most photographed of all the Penang murals, maybe even in all of Malaysia.
It shows two young kids on the swings and is meant to showcase how special the sibling bond is, just like the artist, Louis, himself has with his brother. The two children pictured are the kids of the owner of the printing house, SBS Paper Products, who had invited Louis to paint the mural.
Old Soy Milk Stall
Just beside the children on a swing piece is a piece depicting an elderly lady serving bowls of soy milk to waiting children. It’s also worth checking out.
Street Art Area: Muntri Street and Upper Chulia
Close to St George’s Church (definitely a must-stop location in itself) and the Penang State Museum is the bustling street art area around Muntri street. Here you’ll find quite large, impressive pieces as well as lots of smaller bits around the busy Love Lane Area.
The Indian Boatman
If you loved Indian Woman by Julia Volchkova, you’ll definitely appreciate the Indian Boatman. She really does know how to capture human emotion in her pieces and this one is absolutely remarkable!
The mural is on the side of Clockwise Hostel, a guesthouse on Stewart Lane and is meant to celebrate the lane’s role (particularly the alley called ‘Boat Alley’) in the maritime industry in Malaysia.
Kung Fu Girl / Little Girl in Blue
Walk up Chulia street and you’ll spot smaller pieces like Ballerina on an Archway before you spot the much larger installation, Kung Fu Girl.
Its nestled between Leith Street and Love Lane, and shows a little girl hanging by her hands. You might notice that nearby is a steel art installation showcasing where world-famous shoe designer, Jimmy Choo, first learned his craft! More on this later.
Prominently painted above an archway on Muntri street is Gabriel Pitcher’s Big Mouth mural. There are actually four more murals at this location, the Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel, but the others are inside so you will need to book a room to see them!
Girl on a Turtle and Tree Lady
Now turning left to go back to Chulia street, and you’ll find your two last pieces for this area: Girl on a Turtle and The Tree Lady.
We liked Girl on a Turtle, which is actually a collaborative piece, done by (none other than) Ernest Zacharevic along with Argentinian master, Martin Ron. It focusses on a girl riding the back of a sea turtle – Zacharevic painted the girl and Ron the turtle, combining their different skills in this spectacular piece.
Street Art Area: Other spots to visit
The spotting of street art feels like a never-ending pursuit – even while writing this guide we thought of all the ones we had missed and couldn’t neatly fit into a category. So, here are a few others that we thought were worth a visit:
Ice Cream Rose
You’ll notice this one on Beach Street (Pantai) by the large sign that says No 265 outside it, and then you can’t miss it. It’s an enormous mural featuring roses in an ice cream, just as the name suggests.
This piece is part of the Hin Bus Depot and Urban Xchange Crossing Over project.
Trishaw Man / Trishaw Pedaler
This gigantic piece faces the Red Garden Food Paradise which, incidentally, is somewhere you must visit to try Penang’s delicious hawker food. The mural shows an old trishaw peddler waiting for customers. At 15m x 15m this is the largest mural painted by Zacharevic in Penang.
Container Project 2020
We mentioned that street art is ever evolving and on our last visit, a whole new lot was sprouting up all over the city! It is the Penang International Container Art Festival and sees new pieces being created in George Town, Jelutong, Balik Pulau, Butterworth and Kawan.
The George Town piece takes a proud stance in front of the Prangin Mall, and has a stack of shipping containers prominently displayed. On one side is a trishaw man and on the other is a woman painting on batik cloth.
Street Art Steel Sculptures – Marking George Town
Now as you’re traipsing the streets of Georgetown in hot pursuit of street art, you might notice a lot of steel art pieces on the walls? These are part of a project called ‘Marking George Town’.
Essentially when George Town was made a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 2008, the city launched a contest to physically ‘brand’ Penang.
The winning studio, Sculpture at work, was then commissioned to create over 50 sculptures made of steel and immortalizing different facets of the city’s history, which were installed in key places. These were made by four prominent artists: Julian Kam, Reggie Lee, Baba Chuah and Tang Mun Kian.
They chronicle everything from where shoe designer Jimmy Choo learned about shoes, to where the ironsmiths worked, or even where local fishermen dried their day’s wares.
Where to stay in George Town, Penang
We really did love Penang and a lot of that had to do with not just the street art, but the colonial architecture, the food and where we stayed. Here are two of our top recommendations for places to stay in the city.
Mid-range to Luxury: With a fantastic location, the Royale Chulan Penang is steps away from the water, located right near the pier (ideal if taking the ferry to Langkawi), the clock tower and the Fort Cornwallis. We were blown away by the views from the rooms, the incredibly comfy beds and the friendliness of the staff. We highly recommend this property if staying in George Town!
Budget: The Spices Hotel is a good option, as its also near to some of our best street art murals. It’s a small budget hotel but has all the amenities you need, like Wi-Fi, air conditioning and a nice common area to chill in.
Where to eat in George Town, Penang
Penang is a foodie’s paradise. You need to visit the hawker stalls to try everything from char hoay teow to Penang assam laksa and rojak, a salad of bean curd, fritters, fruit and cuttlefish! Here are a few favourite eateries to add to your list.
Ali’s Nasi Lemak: This hawker stall (incidentally located just behind the Royale Chulan Penang hotel), is the local’s favourite for the national dish of Malaysia: Nasi Lemak. It can be a little spicy, so you are warned!
Karaikudi: Indian food is part of the Malay culture and we think the best is offered up at Karaikudi, located smack bang in the middle of George Town’s Little India district. This humble restaurant offers all the traditional Indian food you know and love.
Two Frenchies: What can we say about this French bistro other than we ate there two nights in a row?! Yes, we love Malaysian food. But this French restaurant has it all just right: some of the friendliest most helpful staff we’ve ever come across, a menu to die for and beautifully, ethically-sourced ingredients. Please do try the sharing tapas board, the chocolate mousse and the rice pudding!
Red Garden Food Paradise: It’s really an experience – Red Garden offers you all the Malaysian food options you could think of, under one roof. Nasi Biryani, clay pot curry, kueh tiao soup, curry me – you name it, Red Garden has it.
Black Kettle: If you’re needing somewhere to get some work done while slurping your flat white, we would definitely suggest Black Kettle. We successfully worked about six hours in this café which is really large, has plugs for digital nomads, very fast and strong wifi plus the most heavenly almond croissants!
Other things to do in George Town and Penang
We spent nearly a week in George Town and feel like we didn’t even tackle all the cool things to do! That said, here are a few highlights of attractions and activities we would recommend:
Do the colonial heritage walk
Check out some of the colonial buildings, like St George’s Church, or the Clock Tower, or even take a stroll to the City Hall and Town Hall, to snap a picture.
One thing we would avoid is Fort Cornwallis – we didn’t find this valuable at all and were a little annoyed we paid to enter it.
Check out one of the many museums
George Town is crammed full of amazing museums to visit! You could get more insight into Pernakan culture at the Pinang Pernakan museum, or head to the Chocolate and Coffee Museum. Get some weird and wacky photos at the Upside Down House or try the top rated activity in Penang: a tour at Cheong Fatt Tze, The Blue Mansion.
Go temple hopping
Whether you’re able to head out of the city to Kek Lok Si Temple (and we advise you do!) or need to stay closer in town, there are a number of great temples and other religious buildings to see in Penang. Like the Kapitan Keling Mosque, or Khoo Kongsi, or even the Sri Mahamariamman Temple.
Go up Penang Hill to The Habitat
Take the funicular up to the top of Penang Hill (after all, it’s only 30 MYR / 7.30 GBP / 5.60 GBP) per person) and catch a glimpse of the amazing views over the city. If you have the time, we’d highly advise you go to The Habitat there and do a 90 minute guided rainforest walk.
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a tour guide for the street art in Penang?
Definitely not. If you follow our map or just follow your instincts in the old town, you’ll be bombarded with incredible street art.
What should I pack for my Penang street art tour?
- It’s generally hot in Penang, so pack water to stay hydrated.
- You don’t want to look like a lobster after your walk, so put on sunscreen.
- You need to take a lot of photos so take your camera or make sure your phone is fully charged!
- Sturdy shoes. We did all our walking in flip flops but we do think it would have been better to wear sneakers!
So, there you have it! Our Penang Street Art Map and walking guide is complete, and it’s a doozy! Please do let us know if any information in this guide has changed? We obviously couldn’t profile each and every piece but if you feel we’re missing an important one, please also do get in touch or drop us a note in the comments!
Also, if you are a street art addict, we’d highly advise you get yourself to Yangon, Myanmar which has some of its own undiscovered street art. Check out our guide to Yangon’s street art.
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