Best shopping streets in Penang

The Time Out Penang team explores the different areas on the island and come away with unique shopping experiences

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Lorong Kulit

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

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George Town
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Batu Ferringhi

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

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Batu Ferringhi
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Market Street

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

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George Town
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Penang Road

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

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George Town
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Beach Street

It is worth walking this historic trading street from end to end. It takes you back in time and reveals the goods that are still traded through Penang and introduces you to traditional tradesmen like the rattan weavers and the aluminum workers. It also offers some great, if quirky, retail therapy.

Wonderful teas can be purchased at Ten Yee Tea Trading Sdn Bhd (33 Lebuh Pantai. +604 262 5693). Be sure to sit and sample teas before making your selection. At Souq Al-Arabia (58 Lebuh Pantai. +604 262 8778/souq-al-arabia.com), you can purchase sugared almonds, pomegranate syrup, flavoured vinegars, olives stuffed with orange and exotic nut mixes. Shaik Dawood (92 &142 Lebuh Pantai. +604 261 0313), one of the oldest spice traders in the area, stocks all the spices, rose water and saffron for you to take away. Yong Lee Xing Enterprise (89 Lebuh Pantai. +604 262 6762) deals with all your urges to sew – ribbons, zips, elastic, threads, buttons, needles and binding in all colours can keep you occupied for hours. Sree Meenambigai Store (91 Lebuh Pantai. +604 262 7170) will have you buying beads by the bucket. Your head will spin for the many, many necklaces on offer. It’s worth visiting just to meet the eccentric old woman who runs the store; she gives out candy. Pop into Ghee Hiang (95 Lebuh Pantai. +604 228 1077/www.ghee-hiang.com) for the best fragrant sesame oil and delicious biscuits, then head over to S.M. Badjenid & Son (184-186 Lebuh Pantai. +604 261 1222) to order canvas umbrellas from a range of coloured canvas and made-to-order awning.

Once you hit the fire station, cross over to Chulia Street and enter the wholesale and warehouse area. Teow Hin Chan (224 Lebuh Pantai. +604 261 6659/ Facebook Teow Hin Chan) stocks bamboo steamer baskets, ice grinders, enamelware and spice pounders. If you want your own stainless hawker-style kitchen get it made at Top Maple Enterprise (297-G Jalan Pantai. +604 261 3178). Round off your trip by visiting a living heritage rattan maker Seang Hin Leong (393 Lebuh Pantai. +604 261 3748) and watch the family at work on a large array of baskets, stools and chairs. Rebecca Duckett-Wilkinson

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George Town
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Campbell Street

Start at the end of Penang Road end and enter under the arch erected to mark its beginning. Rummage through the treasure trove at Guo Qiang (158 Lebuh Campbell. +604 263 0988) for bead and shell jewelry, tie-dye skirts, patchwork blouses and wooden slippers. If you are looking for customised shirts and caps, stop in Sky Bluecaps Enterprise (126 Lebuh Campbell. +604 264 3382). They are happy to discuss a logo, lettering or special design.

Don’t miss Jing Yu Tong Industries (142 Lebuh Campbell. +604 229 9892) which specialises in tea and associated paraphernalia such as paper packaging, woven covers, bamboo tubes, aluminium tea caddies, wooden plate stands, teapots and strainers, and packets of dried flower tea. The smiling ladies only speak Mandarin but sign language does work. Make a stop at Poh Aun Tong Medical Hall (125 Lebuh Campbell. +604 261 5825) and watch the weighing of herbs and concoctions.

The thriving family business of Loh Yoon Poon (82 Lebuh Campbell) is stacked to the ceiling with goods, pickled fruit jars and dried sour plums. This is the place for specialty canned and dried foods, where mushrooms, pumpkin seeds and canned abalone sit beside bottles of HP sauce, Lea & Perrins, Marmite and Tabasco. If you need to get a new watch, step into the Rolex outlet of Woo Hing Brothers (96 Lebuh Campbell. +604 261 5287/www.sisma.com.my). If you need a watch repaired or are looking for vintage wristwatches, go to See Chun Watch Dealer (69 Lebuh Campbell. +604 261 9502). This is still a family business, having started in the 1940s and located on this street since 1957. This is where you get your grandfather’s watch fixed because it’s become trendy again.

Take time to browse through the cluster of diamond and gold jewelry dealers – Cheong Loong (46 & 48 Lebuh Campbell. +604 261 1141) has a selection of modern and retro styles. For that extraordinary gift that will make wives tremble, go to Nam Loong (5 Lebuh Campbell. +604 261 3400). Their lavish use of stones, antique-inspired products and wonderful workmanship will tempt you and this is where you’ll find that heirloom piece that’s passed down from generation to generation. Rebecca Duckett-Wilkinson

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George Town

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