Long known for its commerce and shopping, Penang has always drawn multitudes of eager shoppers and bargain hunters. Shopping malls, night markets and antique shops can be found in various markets and shopping malls. August is the best month to go as there is an annual shopping festival.
Locals and foreigners alike flock to Penang to take advantage of the festival and great deals that you can get. One of the best tips we can offer to you is this. Haggle. Haggling is the culture in Penang you should do your best to haggle for the best price. But be mindful that haggling is usually only acceptable at the pop-up stores and night markets.
But why is shopping in Penang unique? Let’s find out!
The vibrant, thriving capital of Penang is Georgetown. It was once the most important trading hub within the Straits of Malacca and well-known for its juxtaposition of modern skyscrapers, pristine shopping malls, condominiums with British colonial-era buildings, shophouses, mosques and various markets. Considered as one of Penang’s top shipping destinations, Georgetown has 3 distinct shopping areas. Shopping centres, street markets, and independent stores.
Four of the most popular malls in Penang are within walking distance of each other and, the walks to each of these malls aren’t just down plain, boring, sterile streets. You will pass independent stores, markets, pop-up stores and street markets. Probably the most well-known mall in Penang is the venerable KOMTAR. While it has aged and has lost a little of its sheen and lustre compared to newer malls such as 1st Avenue and Penang Times Square, it is still one of the most prominent buildings in Penang especially at night as it looms over the rest of the city. A sky bridge actually connects to the KOMTAR bus terminal which allows you easy access to and from KOMTAR from almost all of Georgetown.
Those who aren’t keen on shopping malls and want something more adventurous and quirky should head to Little Penang Street Market. From handmade craft-stores, vintage goods, jewelry, spices, carvings and hand-sewn Kebayas. One thing to note is the monthly Little Penang Street Market held on every last Sunday of the month. A popular festival with both locals and tourists, cultural shows, live music, art displays and more create a buzzing atmosphere that lasts throughout the day.
The Lorong Kulit Flea Market is considered a top destination for shopping in Penang. An exotic, eclectic collection of trinkets, knick-knacks and more, you can find hunting knives, antique binoculars, compasses, flasks, Disney figures, stationery, books, clothes, furniture, decorations and so much more. If you arrive early, you may be able to score some deals before the crowds really form as shop-keepers may be more willing to settle for a lower price than they’d usually accept as there are fewer people around.
A few other quick recommendations I can make for shopping in Georgetown in the interest of brevity are,
- Cecil Street Market – Lebuh Cecil: A wet market by day and a large open-air restaurant at night, foreigners will likely be more interested in a night visit as during the day, it is a wet market where locals buy groceries.
- Pulau Tikus Market: A mere 20 minute walk away from KOMTAR, This night market is filled with street food stalls, stores selling branded watches and shoes of questionable pedigree
- Ghee Hiang: A venerable, revered store for tau sar peah (bean pastry balls)
Image Credit: Penang WS
Known as a haven for amazing hawker stalls and super fresh seafood, Gurney Drive has long been a gastronomical draw for foodies. The ultra-modern Gurney Paragon Mall and the Gurney Plaza are also located in Gurney which makes it a great place to shop, eat, shop again till your cravings are sated. International brands can be found in both of these malls in contrast to the more local and traditional goods you can find at street markets.
The Paragon Mall is an upscale mall with an attached luxury apartment complex that is similar to the Garden’s Mall in Mid-Valley Kuala Lumpur, Singapore’s Paragon Mall (why do they keep calling themselves Paragon?) and Los Angeles’s Rodeo Drive. Billed as a mixed development project, those who enjoy the finer things in life will be right at home in The Paragon Mall.
Gurney Plaza is the second largest mall in Penang and boasts a dizzying 380 stores packed into nine floors. Catering to the nearby luxury districts and apartments, budget-conscious shoppers can still find some great deals there at some of the more unique stores within Gurney Plaza.
Image Credit: Penang WS
A beach resort located North West of Georgetown, Batu Ferringhi is known for its sandy beaches, seafood restaurants, and water sports. A spice garden, bamboo garden, and normal garden can be found near the west side of town, oh and It is also known for its legendary night market and bazaar. Batik pieces sold at the market can be found at local galleries and shops making them a great gift item. Hundreds of stores at the market offer almost anything you can think of. Haggling is can be heard from every corner of the market and the sound of revelry from diners at the various food stalls and restaurants mix with the clamour of the crowds looking for the best bargains.
One tip we can offer is that if you don’t like the price of an item, walk away. It is likely that another store nearby has the same item and may have a shopkeeper willing to go to a better price for you.
We’ve mentioned that haggling is the way of life here and while daunting at first, can quickly become part of your interactions with shop owners.
- Find out what the locals pay. If unsure, checking out travel forums is usually the best way to find out
- Customs have changed over the years and it is usually the night markets such as the Batu Ferringhi market where haggling is still acceptable.
- Be respectful. Don’t be overly aggressive
- On the flip side, don’t be a pushover either
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