Tales From Two Expats Living in Penang

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Many expats choose to make Penang their home for a variety of reasons. Here, we give them the chance to talk about what brought them to this charming island and why they have chosen to stay.


Francois Sigrist

Francois Sigrist is a long-time resident in Asia and has lived in Penang and Langkawi on and off for twenty years.You can catch up with Francois at the Park Royal Resort in Batu Ferringhi where he is the GM. He was the host for the recent Expat/IWA Mingles held there.

Work brought me to Penang in the fi rst place. After having been transferred from Switzerland to Bangkok in 1988, I moved to Kuala Lumpur before the beautiful island of Penang in 1994.

My family has been based in Penang, mainly due the school for the children as most of the time as I was traveling due to my work location in Hanoi and then Langkawi. In fact I was in Langkawi for six years. Penang is for me a ‘big village’ – it has the advantages of a big city but the interaction of a small village; everyone knows each other! Really it is small but there’s a lot going on and it’s very accessible for everyone.

Honestly, before I came to Malaysia I had no much idea of what it looked like. In my mind I saw a large land covered with a dense wild jungle where Jim Thomson disappeared all those years ago. Kuala Lumpur was at the time pretty small and with so many fewer buildings and less sophistication.

But Penang has changed as well. Bloomed is the word I would use to describe what’s happened here over the last few years. Real estate has really expanded, in some areas perhaps too much, but it is probably the price of civilization and development. One thing which is great, is that George Town is now protected from being destroyed because of the granting of UNESCO World Heritage status and it is now just a question of time to see the old city to become a major pole of attraction for our island. Our beautiful and lovely wild nature, in the north of the island, of course, is the other pole of attraction.

I find the streets of George Town to be iconic. I love the sound of a spatula scratching the bottom of the wok when cooking char kuey teow and the rich aromas and tastes of food cooked and eaten on the street. Another of the things that expats and visitors alike enjoy is the great multicultural environment and the way all races and ethnicities meet and mingle in Penang.

One of the things I live about living in Penang is that it’s still safe, and that you are only a short flight from any major capital in the region. It’s still affordable (but I don’t know for how long) and still pretty close to nature. Of course there are downsides: I am not a fan of motorbike noise and their kamikaze driving habits!


There are so many things a visitor must see when they visit Penang it would take a lifetime of visits to see them all! But top of my list is George Town with its fantastic heritage,The National Park at Teluk Bahang and Turtle Beach.

There’s so much delicious food in Penang it’s hard to choose a top three but my favorite restaurants are:

  • Uncle Zack by the beach at Park Royal Penang which has a fantastic setting and great food (I said it not because I work here, but because it is true!)
  • Spasso’s at Straits Quay for their great quality steak.
  • Tsunami Village, which is a simple café, great seafood on beach front, very local and relaxing atmosphere. I do miss the four seasons of Europe with their changes. I also miss certain foods which are hard to get or unavailable here and the organization and order of a developed country. But it’s more than made up for by the food, the climate, the heritage, the nature and, of course, my friends here… some expats, but probably the majority are Malaysians.


Pauline Harwood

Pauline is a former model who now runs a modelling academy in Penang. But she doesn’t just teach young men and women to model, she holds regular soirees for “vibrant ladies in their prime, fun events which build confidence and well-being.You can catch up with Pauline at one of these or on her website www.phmodelsacademy.com.

I came to Penang, as many people do, on the recommendation of friends who live here half the year. After living in Spain for a number of years, I decided to try Malaysia. I had no idea what it would be like, but having been here for over three years, I fi nd I really enjoy the lifestyle in Penang.

I like the diversity and richness of the different cultures, as well as the genuine friendliness of the people. Penang has changed quite a lot since I came here. One of the really good new things is PenangPac (the theatre at Straits Quay) has opened. I love the theatre and enjoy going to most of their performances. I like walking round George Town taking photos and watching the heritage sites being developed in creative ways, as well as noticing the ever-changing skyline of Penang itself. You’re never far from the sea, which has its own beauty and rhythms, and we have some great shopping malls, which I like to visit.

One of the less attractive features of life here is the way they that they transport babies and children on motorcycles. Sometimes my heart is in my mouth when I see two or three children on one bike and the driver weaving in and out of traffic. I also fi nd that no matter how nicely I ask or explain in restaurants that I would like my food in a certain order, e.g., starter, main course, then dessert, they almost invariably manage to get it mixed up with starters and main courses arriving together. However, this is a small price to pay for such delicious food.

If you’re visiting an office or a shopping mall, or especially a cinema, for the fi rst time, let me give you one piece of advice. Bring a shawl or a cardigan as some of them are freezing! I don’t know why they turn the air-conditioning up so high. I love the climate of Penang but sometimes the humidity is very high which can make you very uncomfortable, not to mention dripping wet, but I certainly prefer this to the cold weather.

There’s so much to see here.You have to take a trishaw around George Town and explore the little streets.Walk around the Chulia Street/Love Lane area and look at the buildings and street art – it’s really amazing. Go up to Batu Ferringhi an enjoy beach life. Take a boat to Monkey Island. Have a beer in one of the beach bars and watch the sun go down.Truly Lovely. Penang Hill is a great place to have a panoramic view of all of the island.Walk up if you have a few hours spare and of course if you are fi t enough!


My favorite restaurants in Penang include:

  • That Little Wine Bar, because it’s relaxing and great place to make new friends.
  • Ferringhi Gardens, which has such a beautiful setting with waterfalls and fi sh ponds and all manner of fl owers and plants, including orchids. It is so nice just to be there – almost a mini jungle – and the food is good as well.
  • Steak & Frits, 23 Love Lane, for the steak with chips I love the meat from here. They only serve steak, but it is delicious.
  • House of Udang Galah for their fresh freshwater prawns and Chinese food, as well as their aromatic Duck and Homemade Yam and Vegetable Ring.
  • Passage Through India, Good Indian food. I especially like the vegetarian dishes. I am renting but maybe one day I will buy if the prices come down.

I would say my friends are pretty evenly split between expats and local Malaysians. I have met some lovely people through my business and other expat friends. I do miss my family from my home country, but I don’t miss the weather. I don’t think I could ever live in the UK again as I could not stand the cold winters! I truly feel Penang is my home now.


Source: Penang International April 2013 – May 2013

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