My Dad’s First Airbnb Experience: A Weekend in Penang

Celebrated Father’s Day a week earlier by treating my dad to a trip to a short weekend getaway to Penang last weekend. Born and raised in Malaysia, my dad loves Malaysian food (as do I), he loves traveling as well, so why not merge the two?

My dad has never booked his accommodation through Airbnb before, always opting to stay in hotels as he has his qualms about “staying in someone else’s house”. Not only did I get to spend some quality father-daughter time with my dad during this trip, I introduced him to Airbnb and its philosophy of getting to know locals, experiencing and looking at their culture through their eyes, and ultimately, belonging anywhere.

Getting my dad first row seats on Tiger Air, which flies direct to Penang from Singapore. First row seats grant you priority boarding, and extra leg space for tall people like my dad!

For this Penang trip, we booked an Airbnb apartment located near the marina in Penang, a 10 minute drive from George Town. Our host Eric is perhaps the most hospitable and friendly host I’ve met from all my Airbnb stays. I will leave my compliments and never-ending praise for him for the later part of this post.

Upon arrival (a half an hour drive from the airport), Eric greeted us at the lobby of the apartment, helped us with our luggage and showed us around the apartment. One of the concerns my dad – and even most of my friends have, is how safe is Airbnb? I’ve personally never had any trust and safety issues with my apartments, but that’s because you have to know how to pick your apartments well before booking them. Communicating with the host is imperative if you want to know more about the building/ house/ community you are living in, so communicate! Messaging the host will cost you nothing, in fact, it will only make you feel more assured and confident about your booking. Furthermore, hosts are encouraged to reply everyone that sends through an inquiry, as not replying will affect their “response rate” rating, and having a low response rate rating is not desirable as this will deter potential guests from booking with them.

Some apartments I’ve stayed at in Paris and New York require you to have a security pass to enter, just like the one in our Penang Airbnb as well. Check with your host if your apartment has such a feature, if you require one to make you feel more comfortable and at home.

Our apartment was nothing short of perfect. It was clean, comfortable, and came with everything equipped in the kitchen and laundry. The decor was completely designed by Eric – who is an interior designer by day – and my dad was so blown away by the cozy and spacious decor that he couldn’t stop raving about it. To quote him, the apartment was “better than a bali villa” and that he didn’t want to leave the apartment upon checking out.

The housewife in me will say this – I love Airbnbs that are equipped with washers and dryers for clothes, in fact, that is one of the requirements I look out for whenever I’m booking an apartment for more than 5 days. Washing and drying your clothes will be entirely free, and you don’t have to worry about laundry as you’ll get fresh clean clothes for the rest of your trip! This came in really handy when I was in NYC for a month recently.

Another issue some virgin Airbnb guests will have is, is an Airbnb apartment clean? Since you know, I’m living in someone else’s house. Most of the apartments I’ve stayed at are pristinely clean, and hosts will usually hire or enlist the help of a professional cleaner to give the apartment a thorough cleaning up before every check in. You can read reviews left by other guests, and check out the listing’s cleanliness level before booking, to know that you’re getting an apartment that is up to your standards.

Some hosts will also spend time sitting down and chatting with you, sharing with you travelling and dining recommendations. Ultimately, the best part of any Airbnb travel is getting to know each other so you’ll feel at home and less like that of a stranger.

This apartment is great as it comes with a swimming pool, gym, and tennis court – all accessible by the residents of the building. On the ground level of the building, is a marina, supermarket, Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and restaurants, even if you’re a 10 minute drive away from George Town, you are never missing out as the marina is always surrounded by people at night.

My dad’s reaction when he found out he didn’t need to get a Malaysian SIM Card because Eric provides all his guests with a portable wifi device. Not all apartments provide such a device, so do check any listing’s description for more information!

Eric recommended we take a short cab ride to a nearby hawker centre to get our dinner. My dad and I zoomed in on our favourite Penang Char Kway Teow, accompanied with a dish of Wan Ton Mee, to get our tummies satisfied.

You can choose to get around Penang via a number of ways. Cabs are available, though not readily, and you would have to haggle with cab drivers for a rate as they do not operate on a metered service. You can rent a car too, but I would not suggest that if you are unfamiliar with Malaysian roads. There are also public buses, and a Penang Hop-On Hop-Off bus which my dad and I opted for as this Hop-On bus will take you through all the major attractions in Penang. All you need is a day-ticket, and you can get on and off anywhere you like.

We hopped off at Jalan Penang in George Town, and as we walked along Jalan Chowrasta, we found ourselves caught in the middle of the hustle of George Town’s morning market. The crowd, noise and scene will always bring back memories of when I would follow my grandma to markets in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, whenever I visit her.

Towards the end of Jalan Chowrasta is a coffee shop that sells to-die-for Penang Prawn Mee. I highly recommend this place if you’re looking for good and authentic Penang Prawn Mee.

Did I mention, there is an additional way to get around Penang, and that is to rent a motorcycle?! Rental rates are incredibly affordable (SGD $15 – 40 for an entire day), and so my dad and I rented the most instagram-worthy motorcycle there is, a pastel holiday-fitting canary-yellow Vespa. My dad used to ride a motorcycle to work when he worked in China, so he’s an expert at riding one and navigating through major traffic on it – to the dismay of my nerves and poor heart.

I would also highly recommend you rent a motorcycle if you can. George Town can be quite a walk and you don’t want to be trudging through Penang on your own two feet under the dreadful summertime weather. Plus riding a motorcycle means parking is so easy as you can stop and park anywhere you like. Getting to and from one place to another was such a breeze.

One of the really happening streets in George Town is Lebuh Armenian, its vibe almost similar to Haji Lane in Singapore. The street is lined with restaurants, dessert haunts, and souvenir shops.

For really awesome Penang Char Kway Teow at George Street, visit Lao Hu Char Koay Teow at Lebuh Carnavon. My food and sightseeing recommendations in this blog post is of course, not the most comprehensive or exhaustive. Luckily, I have a few lovely readers and followers writing in and leaving comments respectively on what I should eat and do, here’s sharing with you what they recommended:

– Narrow Marrow Cafe at 252a Carnavon Street (recommended by @darrengoon)
– Ivy’s Kitchen at 58 Jalan Chow Thye (recommended by @adelta)
– Genting Cafe at Gelugor (recommended by @laypohlas)
– The Alley cafe at 5 Stewart Lane (recommended by @wilsonmoy)
– Basil, Le Bistrot at 9 Kek Chuan Road for quality French dining (recommended by @wilsonmoy)
– Dinner/ Supper: Gurney Drive (recommended by @karjun.k and @bollianaxo)
– Lunch: New World Park (recommended by @wilsonmoy)

One interesting part of George Town is the Clan Jetties. The Penang Hop-On Hop-Off bus has the Clan Jetties as one of its stops, so if you get the day pass for the bus, you will not miss this! The Clan Jetties are unique because people still live on these houses on stilts. Visiting these jetties, you get a glimpse into what the definition of “home” means to different people. It is admirable that these families choose to stay true and close to their heritage, instead of moving to bigger, fancier houses on land. If you’re up for the challenge, you can even rent a private Airbnb room on one of these jetties, check out the really cool listing here.

During our last day in Penang, Eric so kindly offered to be our host cum travel guide for the day by bringing us to his favourite dining spots in Penang. We started off with another one of our many bowls of Penang Prawn Mee. What made this bowl extra special was the fact that Eric came up with the recipe for the soup stock himself! He then leaves it to a storeowner to recreate his stock and sell the noodles. He then shared with us recipes and must-have ingredients for all the signature Penang dishes like Kway Teow Theng, Penang Satay, and of course, his Prawn Mee.

In the evening we went to Pulau Tisuk Market to indulge in some local street food. We didn’t have enough people to stomach the entire “Lok Lok” meal – a Malaysian equivalent to steamboat (pictured below), so we ordered separate dishes and shared them over a nice get-to-know-each-other talk.

I’m really thankful for Eric for all the hospitality that he’s shown us. In one instance, after all the immense amount of food my dad consumed (I mean, come on, how could he have resisted?!), his stomach felt a little bit unwell (which we kind of expected), and Eric so kindly brought us medication to make my dad feel better – this display of dedication and care from a host certainly goes unparalleled.

I do wish all hosts were like Eric, and I have to admit hosts like him are hard to come by, especially since he has set the standard so damn high. During this trip with my dad was easy, but on my normal travels when I’m alone, having a friendly and hospitable host makes such a difference. Every effort in making ensuring your stay goes smoothly, makes you feel so at home and at ease.

Don’t forget to sign up for an Airbnb account via this link so you can get $33 off your first stay. For the link to our Penang apartment once again, click here. I’ve also come up with a wishlist of all the nice and pretty places in Malaysia you can stay at, in this Wishlist are listings that already come with good ratings and reviews, so take up the challenge and experience Malaysia with Airbnb, trust me, it’s gonna be pretty amazing.


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