Penang shopping guide
A quick guide on where and what to get
Best shopping streets in Penang
The city's best streets for shopping
Best markets in Penang
Day and night markets in the city
Independent bookshops in Penang
The best places to shop for books in the city
Night markets in Penang
The best markets for some nighttime shopping
Best shopping streets
Lorong Kulit Market (its translation is Skin lane, a reference to its history as a leather/tannery area, right next to the river) has always been known as the ‘Thieves Market’. It is in many ways a very green market where second hand goods are available and therein lies its charm.Brassware, keys, old watches, coins, old photographs, maps, instruments, Chinaware, vintage items, enamel ware, kitchen utensils, old tools, jewellery are all on display and each visit will produce a find. One has to be prepared to rummage and get your hands dirty. Go in with the attitude that ‘one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure’ and delve into the narrow but well organised passages between stalls. Wonderful vintage handbags, leather satchels, Chinese scrolls, vintage Horlicks jars, enamel ladles and beautiful incense pots can all be found.In addition to the vintage items, there are semiprecious stones (find Pak Wandi), perfumes, medicinal stalls, oils for invigorating various organs (mainly male) and traditional beauty products promoted by charismatic salesmen with headphones and speakers. Also, computer -savvy kids fix laptops and upload music. Don’t forget to find Seng Keat on the weekends. He restores and sells wonderful vintage bicycles and has all the spare parts. If you’re lucky on the day, the local honey man comes in with his honey comb – his honey has the flavour of lemons and is nectar to the senses.Local fruits and vegetables are offered in season but there is a vast array of apples, oranges, grapes and even pomegranates from Spain. Local spicy tapioca crisps, cheap and wonderful toys, toothpaste, footwear, plants, rabbits, clothes by the truck-load are looked over carefully by enthusiastic crowds Local delicacies are cooked up to one side and stop for a refreshing coconut water from the lady vendor at the entrance. Lorong Kulit Market is open every day but closes by early afternoon. Saturdays and Sundays are the best days to go (if you like it busy). Rebecca Duckett-Wilkinson
In the harsh glare of the tropical sun it’s hard to believe that Batu Ferringhi is Penang’s legendary tourist strip. World-class resorts rub shoulders uneasily with haphazardly assembled convenience stores, tourist trap dining establishments and reflexology joints. The air is humid, the sun scorching, and the dusty pavements are practically empty… a few tourists amble along.However, in the late afternoon, seasoned roadside traders seem to appear out of nowhere and methodically wheel out their movable stalls. These roadside stalls and most of the small shops operate seven nights a week, 365 days a year and light up the one-kilometre strip. The difference between day and night couldn’t be more extreme and when the sun goes down, the kitsch comes out. Night time is when Batu Ferringhi reveals her true neon-lit soul and the strip transforms into a frenetic, steaming Asian souk.All the tourists and locals venture out when the temperature has dropped, like moths to fluorescent lights, to wander around the stalls, window shop, haggle and just to absorb the energy. The Batu Ferringhi night market is famous for its pirated DVDs, knock-off luxury watches and handbags. Even the fakes are graded and you can expect to pay more for a ‘better’ fake. The shopping experience isn’t all about pseudo-bling though and visitors should definitely take the time to browse for interesting home fittings, local souvenirs and crafts, handmade jewellery and art. The good, the bad and the ugly are all nicely jumbled up together which makes the shopping experience a typically quirky Penang affair.A few tips: haggling is all part of the game and the vendors expect tourists to engage in some friendly banter. Shopping can be murder on the feet and there are plenty of well-lit, family-friendly foot reflexology outlets all along the Batu Ferringhi strip. Rosalind Chua
This main thoroughfare of Little India has shops that offer a range of goods and services to meet all your needs. At the top of the street, K.V.M. Thulasiraman (13 Market Street. www.kvmsavory.com) is a traditional Indian cakes paradise. Busy shoppers haggle in Syarikat Abdul Gaffar (29 & 29A Lebuh Pasar. +604 261 6803/www.spicehousesince1949.com) and you can find a weird combination of brass, glass bangles and Pooja spiritual items at Kanganam Trading Sdn Bhd (41 Lebuh Pasar. +604 261 8550). All the way down Market Street to your right are goldsmiths selling beautiful filigree dangling earrings and other selections in gold. Devan Jewellers (71G Lebuh Pasar. +604 264 1314), Gayathirii Tangge Maligai (42 Lebuh Pasar. +604 264 5452) and Tamilarasii’s Tangge Maligai Jewellers (56 Lebuh Pasar. +604 262 5452) craft Indian jewellery in gold. Along Jalan Kapitan Keling are more jewellers trading all kinds of precious, semi-precious stones and gems. Visit Anita Saree (108 Lebuh Penang. +604 263 9272) and VKN Sivasamy & Sons (55 Lebuh Pasar. +604 263 4877) for ample saree choices. Head to the first floor for an array of glittering salwarkameez, kurtas, Indian cotton blouses and skirts. Ravichandran Enterprise (59 Lebuh Pasar. +604 642 8118) and most saree stores also carry handsome sherwani, Jodphuri and prince suits with turbans as well as dhoti and kurtas. Pop over next door to Selvi’s Gallery Store (51A Lebuh Pasar. +604 263 6210) for a wide selection of bangles – glass, metal or plastic – with prices starting from RM3.50 for an entire wrist length. These come in all shades, one stack to match any saree you own. Fascinating trinkets and toe rings are found at Mogana Silver Jewellery (71G Lebuh Pasar. +604 261 6457) further down. Choose from a range of bindi decorations for your forehead. These range from pale pastels to deep rich colours and designs. If that’s not enough, add glittering paisley stickers on your arms, hair and belly button. Lillian Tong
Browse for bric-a-brac, collectibles, clothing, art and antiques at the Little Penang Street Market (Upper Penang Road) every last Sunday of the month. Vendors, craftsmen and local artists peddle anything from paintings and plants to hobo bags and woodcarvings. There’s entertainment on hand with live performances, children’s activities, book readings and exhibitions. You’ll find a harem of chiffon belly dance costumes and sequinned bustiers (ideal for your Arabian Nights-themed party) uncovered in Chinatown. Chinatown is roughly bordered by Lebuh King, Lebuh Stewart, Lebuh Muntri and Lebuh Campbell, just off Jalan Penang. This little nook sells Chinese qi pao and Mandarin outfits as well. The turn off to Lebuh Campbell deserves a visit as you’ll find luggage, dried foodstuff from China and souvenirs. Acupuncturists and traditional Chinese medicine men weigh out medicinal herbs on antiquated weighing scales and calculate your purchases on an abacus. Get cheaper by the dozen at Mydin Wholesale Emporium (258 Jalan Penang. www.mydin.com.my) where you can get your stuff in bulk. Once a cinema, this one-stop wholesaler also houses inexpensive kitchenware, electrical items and everything a handy man could want. The costume jewellery range is chock-a-block with brooches, tiaras, plastic slides, barettes and gift boxes. You’ll also spy aromatic perfumed oils, hair tonic and customised perfumes mixtures from frangipani, tuberose and patchouli to civet, muscat and more. Linger at the front façade of Chowrasta Market (Lower Penang Road) for nutmegs, sweetened candies, fruits, and other nibbles. Around the back is a wet market where you get to pick your chicken and have it slaughtered and dressed while you wait. Frogs are a delicacy and you might chance on the gruesome sight of a frog getting skinned. Homemade tofu, vegetables, fresh meat and fish are sold here too. On the first floor are several second-hand bookstores where they stock anything from romance novels and encyclopedias. Have a good rummage and it’s possible to come up with a rare print or vintage publication. Lillian Tong
Penang's best markets
Apollo Market in Butterworth
Hop onto the ferry in Pengkalan Weld to Butterworth and then onto Rapid Penang bus 604 to the Apollo day market in Butterworth. Just ask the bus driver to drop you off to the Apollo Market junction and he will oblige. The food stalls take up a large part of the market which stretches for about half a kilometre. Here, you order your food at the respective stalls before sitting down at a table. Miraculously, your food will materialise before you and bear in mind, when it gets busy, you’re required to share a table and who knows, you’ll get to know new friends. Food wise, sample the traditional food such as char koay kak that’s a stir-fried mixture of radish, bean sprouts, egg and rice flour. This combination does make wonderful comfort food.
Macallum Street satay seller
The night market’s satay vendor is a real showman. His satay, just like him, is popular. Basically it’s marinated chicken, beef or mutton pieces on skewers and grilled over charcoal fire then dipped into delicately spicy peanut sauce before taking a bite. To add texture to the dish, there are ketupat or rice cakes, sliced shallots and cucumber for accompaniment.
Chowrasta market is one of the most famous day wet markets in Penang. Located on Penang Road, it’s walking distance from most hotels in George Town. Its busiest hours are between 7am and 10am when people go to buy their fresh produce such as vegetables, fish, meat and other essential ingredients for most Malaysian dishes. In this photograph of the coconut milk stall within the market, a worker grinds the white flesh of a coconut that will then be mixed with water and squeezed to produce litres of coconut milk to add into curries or desserts.
Jalan Kuala Kangsar Market
Jalan Kuala Kangsar in George Town is a very lively street market that links Campbell street with Chowrasta Market. There are old shop houses and market stalls selling everything from lingerie to durian – the king of fruits, according to Malaysians. Here you see ladies riding in a trishaw just outside of the market. In George Town, trishaws are ubiquitous and a unique way of seeing the sites around town. As a rule of thumb, the cost of an hour’s ride per person is RM30.
Tanjung Bungah Night Market
The ladies obviously know each other and are regulars to this night market each Tuesday evening in the neighbourhood of Tanjung Bungah. It’s a popular spot for residents of nearby areas to do their weekly supply of fresh produce and, as you can see, to catch up on gossip! It’s a skip and a hop away from areas such as Tanjung Tokong and Batu Ferringhi. Oh, while you’re here, seek out the pork burger stall, it’s been said to serve freshly prepared lean, thick patties.