Nov 13, 2020
From vintage George Town to the beautiful beaches, be it homey, heritage or haute, these are where to stay in Penang now.
Like a hushed insider secret that’s been hidden for too long, the wild bay of Teluk Bahang, Penang Island’s northwestern-most corner, is finally easing on the radar thanks to the new soft-opening of Penang’s latest five-star seaside resort, Angsana Teluk Bahang (doubles from RM650).
The trusted brand couldn’t choose a better location for its first Malaysian property: forget street art and UNESCO heritage vibes, for Angsana begs to differ by claiming its own secluded beach spot. And unlike the other coastal resorts along way-too-packed Batu Ferringhi beach, a mere 10 minute-drive, Angsana truly feels like a forgotten-world away.
The resort has 250 sea-facing rooms, three swimming pools, and (for now) two of what will eventually be five fine dining restaurants—all-day spot Jendela, serving Asian-fusion dishes (meal for two from RM100), and noir-chic No.11, with special French-inspired set menus for couples (RM550 for two including a bottle of wine). The lush nature of Penang’s Taman Rimba, a lesser-known nature reserve that leads serious hikers to the top of 805-meter-high Bukit Laksamana, the island’s second-highest peak, literally has Angsana’s back.
From the wall-windows of Jendela (which actually means “window” in the Malay language), guests can see northwest Penang’s farthest coves, part of a protected national park, blend into one long, viridian promontory where Muka Head, the old lighthouse, proudly patrols over the sea. Tables spill on a wood-tiled patio where the line of sun beds strung along the sea-facing infinity pool inspire cocktail stops. A barrage of swaying palm trees lures most to the quiet beach below, where visiting the bar fronted by colorful beanbags and umbrellas is the best excuse to tuck toes in the sand.
Rooms are large, welcoming, and blend modern-chic touches, wood, and local Peranakan hues. Soak in the bathtub or relax on the private balconies that overlook the serenity of the sea. Chilling here forever is tempting, but the famous beaches of the national park nearby—with its canopy walkway, marine research cluster, and a turtle conservation center—are all great reasons to get out and about, or stay for another day.
Urban Ivory Tower
Bangkok-based hotel chain OZO also chose Penang to open its first Malaysian property, in October. Set in the heritage buffer zone, right next to the UNESCO-protected core of the historical city, OZO George Town is a vertical urban hotel concept boasting 360-degree views on the heritage buildings and the Straits Sea. The rooms, housed in the first 19 floors of this newly built tower, have plush beds and make ample use of warm, light wooden furnishings, pairing homey comfort with all the bells and whistles of contemporary modern-chic design. Family suites come with two bedrooms and interconnecting living rooms.
On the 20th floor, the main lobby opens up on a fantastic aerial view of George Town and its 249-meter-high guardian KOMTAR, Penang’s highest skyscraper and home to the tallest glass skywalk in Malaysia. The lobby’s walls are adorned with vibrant local images by Penang photographer Sunny Tan, who provides his own take on the hidden corners of ever-charming George Town. Staff are also keen to point out the key historical buildings and sights that extend like rows of dollhouses in the city below, and also suggest where one should start a food walk.
We reveled in the panoramic views of 21st-floor EAT restaurant, which leads to a terrace-cum-swimming-pool overlooking Penang’s northeastern coast. Then we descended to visit some of George Town’s most historical hawkers, like 90-year-old Transfer Road Roti Canai and Sumatran restaurant Nasi Padang Minang, both just a 5-minute walk from OZO’s door.
Heritage Boutique Charms
Not far away from OZO is another new kid on the block, Macalister Terraces (doubles from RM180 after current discount). Opened in December 2019, it’s making its real debut only now after having shut during the worst of the pandemic. With an open courtyard that doubles as private parking connected to three street-facing heritage suites, the 20-room Macalister Terraces pairs the best of local heritage with the latest architectural trends, and stands out from the crowd by using a simple yet strangely underutilized Penang recipe: integrating boutique hospitality with visual and street arts.
Step inside and Macalister Terraces welcomes you with a mural art installation right inside of the lobby. All the rooms on the ground floor cluster around a cozy chill lounge-slash-art-gallery featuring work by established local artists like Bibichun, Kangblabla, Abdul Rashade, Sattama and Tiggmanje. Owner Angelina Cheong is keen on offering this space free of charge to any visiting visual artists, provided they will donate a percentage of their artworks’ sales to a charity organization of their choice.
Upstairs, a corner room filled with vintage chairs and an old world metallic fan snugs into intimate, tiny terrace where low tables overlook on the roof tiles of traditional shophouses all around, thus conjuring that timeless, unmistakable George Town atmosphere that makes a most perfect backdrop for a drink among friends. With all the bounty of local food available at the doorstep, breakfast is not included: guests are encouraged to get out and explore.
Le Embassy (doubles from RM150) is another George Town city hotel restored from a 1957 building. The rooms retain their original large size and blend new touches with the original structure, all in walking distance to Chulia Street and the best of the old town.