If you’ve been to Penang in recent years, you’ve most likely spent some time in the historic George Town. You might also have noticed the booming street art scene – since Ernest Zacharevic’s murals shot the city to international fame back in 2012, there have been several other noticeable projects and independent efforts that have covered even more walls of Penang in beautiful art.
If you only have time to check out the highlights of Penang’s street art scene, check out my detailed guide to street art in George Town. This particular post covers areas outside of the core heritage zone, places you might not ordinarily venture to on a short trip to Penang. Some of these spots require a bit of work to get to, so I’ve tried to suggest some other things around the area you could see/do if you add this to your itinerary.
Most of the street art works in this section are a result of creative space Hin Bus Depot and the various festivals and projects that they organised. The now annual Urban Exchange 2014 and 2015(with Urban Nation) and Different Strokes with graffitiprints.com saw both local and prominent overseas street artists transform the buildings of Penang with murals and street art. UX2015 especially sought to go beyond George Town, which is why a number of these artworks are outside of the heritage core.
Another handy resource I used for my 2016 trip is Travel2Penang, which is pretty detailed and the street view maps were simultaneously useful yet hard to read somehow
*Remember that street art is transient and ever-changing and I might have overlooked some spots!
Hin Bus Depot
This abandoned bus depot was transformed from crumbling old building to edgy contemporary art space. Started in 2014, their first exhibition was Ernest Zacharevic’s Art is Rubbish, and you can see some remnants of it still on the grounds. Since then, they have hosted various other art exhibitions and programmes, including a regular Sunday pop-up market.
The art space itself is pretty unusual: there is an indoor space where standard exhibitions can be held – when I was there, an exhibition called ‘Relationshift’ was ongoing. There is an open-air sheltered space where I saw some artists working and having meetings, as well as the old exposed walls where the visiting international street artists have left their mark. Here’s what you can see:
How to get there
Take RapidPenang bus 302 or 401 to Gama Supermarket along Jalan Gurdwara – there should be a big red ‘Gama’ sign on the top of the building so it’s quite visible. From there, using the super tall Komtar building as your guide (you can take many buses here too, it’s about 5 mins away), walk away from Komtar down Jalan Gurdwara. Hin Bus Depot should be on your right – you’ll see a sign for it overhead. You can drive there as well – there is parking inside the centre and along the streets around the area.
If you are up to it, take a walk along the nearby streets to check out some other works around the area. More in Part II below!
Around Hin Bus Depot
There are a bunch of street art works in the streets around Hin Bus Depot – since you are already in the area, why not take a walk around to find them?
Jalan Nagor / Nagore Square
Nagore Square is a mall concept that takes up most of Jalan Nagor (also sometimes written as Jalan Nagore) – the shophouses here have been cleaned up so it looks like a spruced-up version of actual George Town core. Many of the Urban Xchange works from 2014 and 2015 can be found along this stretch.
Start from Jalan Burma and walk up Jalan Nagor:
How to get there
Take RapidPenang Buses 101, 102, 103, 104 or 304 to New World Square along Jalan Burma. Another landmark you can use is Penang Plaza. From there it’s a short walk to Jalan Nagore. There is a big Nagore Square sign across this street so it’s hard to miss.
Not sure if it’s because I was there at odd timings, but Nagore Mews and a lot of the shops at Nagore Square see a little bit quiet. Perhaps it is still rather new? There is a food centre (New World Park) if you want cheaper eating options, but I also had a pretty good massage at Yang Shen Tang along Jalan Burma, a massage centre – they have ‘happy hour’ pricings in the afternoon before 3pm as their crowd tends to come in quite late after work, so if you go there early like I did, you can walk in without having to make any appointments
Raja Uda (Butterworth)
Some of the Urban Exchange works have made their way across the straits to Butterworth, mainland Penang. In particular, this place is called Raja Uda. It’s a pretty long road, but the works are situated along one particular stretch.
Start from the cross junction of Jalan Rada Uda and Jalan Telaga Air / Jalan Permatang Pauh.
Bonus – to the left of this artwork is a clearing and what looks like an abandoned carpark. There is a large star installation that looks like it’s lodged in the middle of this concrete structure. It was a key art piece for UX2015 and looks especially impressive when lit up at night!
Bonus piece for intrepid explorers – this piece by Portuguese artist Vhils for UX2015 is quite near the Ferry Terminal, not quite on the way to any of the other works if you are taking the bus, but if you have a bit of time, walk over to check this one out!
How to get there
Take the ferry from Pengkalan Weld aka Jetty – it should be free from Island to Mainland (but it costs 1.20RM from Mainland to Island). The ride itself is about 20mins long. From there, it’s a bit of a walk from the ferry landing point past the KRM railway till you get to the bus interchange. Take bus numbers 605 to Jalan Telaga Air and then take 604 from Jalan Raja Uda back to the Jetty to follow my guide, or you can flip them around and walk in reverse as well.
I highly recommend you don’t try walking to Raja Uda like I did – at one point this was the longest road in Malaysia and I didn’t realize I was attempting to walk over 2.5km in blazing afternoon heat! Take a bus like sane people – the bus takes about 10-15 mins from the bus interchange, and from there it’s a much more manageable walk.
Some of my own thoughts: Raja Uda feels like a suburban area in that there’s no major tourist attractions to see here, though apparently there is good food around the area. Also, this town is not set up for pedestrians. You hardly see anyone walking on the roads mostly because there are hardly any pavements or pedestrian crossings. Most people get around on motorbikes or cars, but as Malaysia goes it’s fairly slack about rules, so just be careful when dashing across the roads, and look out for motorbikes going the wrong way and drains with no grates.
Some way-finding help:
Balik Pulau (South-West Penang)
This name literally means back (balik) of the island (pulau), and it feels a little like this town has been tucked away from everything. The artworks (mostly by Russian artist Julia Volchkova) here can be found on one main stretch in the busiest part of town, though Balik Pulau actually refers to the entire surrounding rural area as well.
I suggest starting your journey from the bus stop just after Shell station along Jalan Balik Pulau if possible, so you will end up near the bus interchange at the end. I’ll talk a bit more about why in the ‘How to get there’ bit below. But first, artworks!
How to get there
I took RapidPenang public bus 401/401E from the airport which took about half an hour and cost 2RM. You can also take 502 if you’re coming from George Town – 401/401E can also take you all the way to George Town’s Pengkalan Weld / Weld Quay terminal (also called ‘Jeti/Jetty’) – it takes 1.5hrs but costs just 4RM. 502 should be a faster journey.
Try and drop at the Shell station along Jalan Balik Pulau road if possible, so that when you end your walk after the Ernest Zacharevic work, you are close to the bus interchange and can wait in a nice sheltered area with seats for your bus out of the area. The bus stop near the Silat master heading away from Balik Pulau doesn’t even have a sign, just a butcher stand nearby.
Some way-finding help:
Given the distance from George Town, you might want to make a half day trip out of this. Balik Pulau is a much more remote place and popular for durian and Laksa. The main street itself is mostly shops and food, so you could look into cycling/hiking around the area if you are so inclined.
If you have any additions or corrections, do drop me a comment or an email please! I created this guide based on my own experiences and research, so I may have missed out some things or gotten locations wonky, so do help me make this guide better!
Looking for more street art? I have plenty of street art guides for Singapore and other Asian countries, as well as some more international areas like Lisbon, San Francisco and Melbourne – see the full list here.
Jaclynn Seah is The Occasional Traveller, a Singaporean lady with a full-time day job who loves to travel. She started writing to remind herself and other fellow deskbound wanderlusters to remember to take that time off from work and indulge that travel itch. Loves solo travel, hunting street art and capping a long day of exploration with a nice cold beer.