Penang is a paradise not just for its abundant beaches, its vibrant nightlife or even its cornucopia of street food. Retail enthusiasts will no doubt know this tiny island as a shopping paradise.
Inner-city streets mingle with locals selling the high-tech gadgetry and time-worn antiques; tiny villages have long been home to accomplished artisans who handcraft jewellery and artworks, and the biggest international labels are on sale in their enormous world-class malls.
So abundant is the retail therapy on offer that you could very literally shop til you drop.
The stores open early in Malaysia, particularly at the markets, so early risers can make their way out to the Lorong Kulit Flea Market. Stallholders lay out a vast array of new and old wares, offering tourists an endless range of cultural curiosities and knicknacks.
After an hour cruising through Lorong Kulit, head across town to the Cecil Street Market, to peruse a wide range of clothes and homewares — and an excellent street food section. Prepare yourself for the day with an Assam Laksa or enjoy a lighter snack of Penang Popiah.
By 9.00 am Penang is already buzzing with activity, and the Chowrasta Bazaar, one of the island’s oldest markets, is in full swing. It’s a great place to purchase souvenirs or local treats such as preserved nutmeg.
Once the sun’s higher in the sky you can head across to Armenian Street, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s also the home of some of Malaysia’s best galleries. Take a stroll through the atmospheric little laneways, where you can find artwork from the traditional to the contemporary, unusual collectables such as vintage watches and cameras, and some of the best coffee in the country. Armenian Street also features some fascinating street art on the walls of the heritage buildings (which, of course, you don’t have to pay a single ringgit).
From Armenian street, it’s a short stroll over to Little India, where there’s a colourful strip devoted to saris, sculptures and textiles–– plus everything else in between. It’s also a great place to stop for some curbside lunch–– a plate of steaming tikka masala, perhaps?
By now, it’s time to bring out the big guns and hit the mega malls that have helped make Penang such a renowned shopping destination. Grab a ride north to one of the swankiest, Gurney Paragon Mall, which has 40 top-end fashion boutiques with brands such as Dennie Yeap, a luxury women’s clothes line, Missha, a South Korean cosmetic brand, and Fred Perry, the popular sportswear company. What’s more the mall has a dining precinct with 30 restaurants –– in case you’re still hungry.
Just a short walk away from the Gurney Paragon, the nearby Gurney Plaza has 380 stores over nine floors, with brands like Valentino, Versace, Dorothy Perkins and Topshop in residence.
Queensbay Mall is a little further out of town, but it’s worth the drive: at over 73 acres and 2.5 million square feet, Queensbay is the largest on the island. Grab a cab south to wander among its 500 stores, where you’ll find Liz Clairborne, Nichii and Gap (among many, many more). Or visit the Penang Hills to take in one of the best sunsets you can experience.
Heading back into the city, it's worth visiting KOMTAR. It’s a little less salubrious than Queensbay and Gurney Plaza, but a great place to find a bargain; Penang’s tallest building is excellent for cut-price fashion and electronics like phones and cameras.
Close by is 1st Avenue Mall, which features H&M and Victoria’s Secret, plus an in-house entertainment precinct (just in case you wanted to break things up with some light karaoke), so stroll across for some late-night shopping.
The major malls are all open til around 10.00pm, and, as you can see, there’s plenty to explore. But, once they roll down the shutters, it’s back out onto the streets. The Macallum Street Night market is still pumping til 11pm, with homewares like woven bamboo table mats on offer. You can also find t-shirts, souvenirs and street-food.
Once you’re finished at the markets, it’s worth heading out to the island’s north for the Batu Ferringhi Night Market, open til midnight. With its long hours and colourful mix of stands, the market is one of the island’s most famous. There are hundreds of stalls selling handmade crafts and home decorations.
12.00am til Dawn
Just because it’s 12.00am that doesn’t mean you have to return to the hotel. Restaurants are running 24-hours; if, for instance, you wanted stir-fried duck tongue at 3am, head to the Dan Ban Chinese Restaurant in George Town.
Then, of course, you can just start all over again – though by this stage, you’ll probably need a strong cup of kopi kao, a traditional Malay coffee at the nearby kopitiams.
Think of yourself as quite the avid shopper? Get ready to work out your credit card and test your shopper’s endurance in Malaysia’s bustling retail scene, after all, shopping is the best form of cardio.
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