Penang Gay Travel
wolfyy’s Penang gay guide to the best hotels, bars, beaches, attractions, and local safety tips.
The Gay Travel Experience: Penang, Malaysia
Celebrating the Chinese New Year in Penang, I was lucky enough to witness firecrackers in the streets, traditionally dressed Chinese locals, and wonderful firework displays from my window every night. I visited Penang on a journey through Malaysia, shortly after visiting Kuala Lumpur.
My fondest memory of Penang was sharing mandarin oranges with my Chinese Airbnb host. He explained to me that every Chinese New Year, everyone buys and eats these easy-to-peel oranges.
Penang has a mix of cultures. Indians and Malaysians inhabit the island along with the many people of Chinese descent. Penang locals are super friendly.
I always felt safe, relaxed, and welcomed as a gay traveler in Penang. It’s a fantastic island for gay travelers to explore local Malaysian culture.
Gay Penang: Hotels & Where to Stay
Cabs are so inexpensive here in Penang that I opted to stay 15 minutes outside of George Town, away from the more sought-after hotels.
Finding accommodations a bit inland will give you a better return on your investment in my opinion. You can stay in a luxury Penang vacation rental or villa, and then get a cheap cab anywhere you desire.
My apartment rental was exactly halfway between George Town and Batu Ferringhi, in a neighborhood called Tanjung Tokong.
The location was perfect for exploring everything the island has to offer. Plus, it’s quite inexpensive. If you want a private apartment, I recommend staying in one of these Tanjung Tokong apartment rentals while in Penang.
If you’re interested in finding a local host, Airbnb is your best bet. This is what I did, choosing a place at The Peak Residences with a fantastic view. It is a complex with a gym, pool, rooftop, and more. Total cost? $32 USD per night!
Lower and mid-priced beachfront hotels in the Batu Ferringhi area tend to be largely overrated by travel websites. I personally don’t think they’re the best option for travelers. You might as well take advantage of cheaper options inland.
The exception to what I said above is staying at one of the luxury Penang resorts that truly only exist in Batu Ferringhi. For example, my partner Michael stayed at Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa and absolutely loved it. It’s a great example of a 5-star hotel that truly can’t be beaten.
Is Penang Gay Travel Safe?
Gay travelers in Penang should refrain from any public displays of affection. Even though the blend of local cultures may make Penang seem less strict, you should still abide by the local customs.
Gay public affection would surely attract negative attention. Other than that, as long as you keep to yourself, there is nothing to worry about in my opinion.
Most importantly, you must remember that Malaysia is a strict Muslim country and the government is extremely conservative. In all official capacities, Malaysia is not gay-friendly.
However, this does not mean that Malaysia isn’t safe for gay travelers. In fact, I highly recommend seeing the wonderful culture Malaysia offers. Just make sure to follow all the standard travel safety guidelines.
Of course, it can be frustrating and disappointing to live, or even be, in a country where basic LGBT rights do not exist. Gay travelers in Penang cannot act as freely as they could in many western cities. For more information about gay life in Malaysia, scroll to the bottom of this guide.
Penang Gay Travel Experiences
Walking through Little India at night gave me those amazing travel chills. The Indian culture here is beautifully boisterous. I couldn’t help but smile as I passed through the streets, flooded with dance music and incense.
Little India is a bit more lively than neighboring Chinatown and offers many more food options.
Penang Beaches: Batu Ferringhi
Without a doubt, if you google Penang Island, travel websites will point out how beautiful Batu Ferringhi beach is. While the location is nice, swimming in the water is not.
At Batu Ferringhi, locals get snacks at waterfront food stalls instead of swimming in the water. Everyone relaxes under the shade of palm trees overlooking the shore. Walking along the beach, you will find many stands from which you can buy fresh juices.
I mention the beach was not good for swimming because the water has debris floating around and one local mentioned to me there are many jellyfish swimming around.
Instead, I enjoyed fresh coconut water in the sun. It was beautiful and delicious. Since the weather can be so hot, I recommend heading here in the later afternoon. A great place to watch the sunset.
Are There Gay Beaches in Penang?
Even though this is a gay travel guide to Penang, remember that Malaysia is one of the strictest Muslim societies in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, you won’t find any gay beaches in Penang, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find other gay travelers at the beach!
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Penang Gay Travel: Explore George Town
The George Town area of Penang is very popular as it is a famed UNESCO world heritage site. The remnant buildings that were built while the British occupied this island are preserved to maintain the history of this quaint part of town.
Georgetown is the hub of nightlife in Penang, as I’ll explain in the nightlife segment below. But, no matter what time you visit, be sure to grab some photos with the painted street art characters.
Little India was my go-to place for amazing food. They have the typical Indian restaurants, and they also have something akin to food halls. I have to admit, I was a bit shy to enter the latter because there were no hosts and it seemed family-oriented. The locals seemed to just “know how it worked.” If you figure it out, give me a shout!
I settled on Chettiar’s Tiffin Café, a basic Indian restaurant with killer food. I ordered spicy ginger chicken, and of course, had a few Tiger beers. It looked like everything in this place was delicious.
I highly recommend Halab Restaurant if you like Middle Eastern food. This option is a bit more formal. Halab has an adorable sectioned-off area from the street. Everything is Halal unless otherwise specified, of course.
In the mood for dessert? Head to The Safe Room for some liquid nitrogen ice cream or ice cream with waffles. The Safe Room is definitely the best ice cream shop in Penang. With free wi-fi, couch seating, and the friendliest staff around, you can hang out here for hours. They also have outdoor seating.
Gay Penang: Temples & Straits Quay
When it comes to Hindu or Buddhist temples, I say let them find you! While exploring Penang, I never once made a trip intentionally to see a temple or a mosque. They just appeared in front of me!
Keep your eyes open as you navigate the streets and you’ll surely find the most authentic temples that aren’t on Google Maps.
Straits Quay is another tourist hotspot in Penang. However, this is only true at certain times. The busy times, or at least the times when it’s not empty, are on weekends. I went mid-afternoon on a weekday and it was a ghost town. While I got a beer and a sandwich, it felt eerily empty. If you go on a weekday, perhaps try visiting later in the evening.
All in all, most of the restaurants in Straits Quay don’t have delicious authentic Malaysian or Chinese food. It’s more commercial.
Central George Town is the hub of all Penang nightlife. While there are no officially named gay bars in Penang (we’re in Malaysia), dozens of bars line a road called Lebuh Chulia playing different types of music.
You can find glowing nooks with shisha, Mexican restaurants playing Latin music, Irish pubs and more.
I passed by a bar called Armageddon, which caught my eye for its neon-lit interior. They were playing one of my favorite songs, and so I had to sit down for a few beers. They have little chess tables out front too.
Little India has its own nightlife, more so with street food. I visited Little India after dark and I loved feeling the energy there at night. Perhaps walk toward George Town from Little India, as it’s enjoyable and easy. The evening is better because it will be cooler.
Penang Gay Travel Tips
If you’re staying for a while and need groceries, head to Tesco! Located west of Straits Quay Marina mall, Tesco is located on the upper level of an indoor shopping center.
Smaller shops are on the first level with a wide array of shops and stands. I picked up a new power bank to charge my cell phone from an electronics booth.
Tesco food items are decently priced, and it’s always interesting to see what types of fruits are sold in countries outside your own. I bought lots of dragon fruit to get my sugar fix for the week.
Gay Life in Malaysia
Malaysia offers zero rights to the LGBT community. Unfortunately, the government is strictly against LGBT people. Malaysia has gone so far as to advise diplomats not to bring any LGBT counterparts and even ban any depiction of homosexuality in the media.
Archaic laws reign in Malaysia when it comes to LGBT people. Citizens of Malaysia can be tried in specific Islamic courts, where sentences for homosexual activity are akin to torture. Any type of same-sex sexual activity is strictly forbidden and the government regulates certain web content.
Keep in mind, while these laws are horrendous and archaic, there are millions of kind-hearted souls living in Malaysia. The actions and opinions of the government do not reflect on all the citizens of the country.
Just as well, police are not patrolling the streets looking for gay people. The country simply has a long road ahead in protecting the individuals of the LGBTQ people, both citizens of Malaysia and ex-pats.