Destinations Malaysia

Three Offbeat Museums to Visit in Penang

February 10, 2016

After nearly a month in Georgetown, I’m down to my last afternoon here in Penang.

I’m writing this from the hostel’s front patio, where I’ve spent countless hours both working and hanging out with fellow travelers. Over the past few weeks, I’ve crossed paths here with backpackers from every inhabited continent. Some have stayed for only a day or two; others, like me, have lingered, or even left for a few days only to come back for more. Penang, I’ve learned, is that kind of place. It’s the kind of destination that has a lot to do, but not a lot you have to do — perfect for enjoying without feeling the pressure to do and see it all.

I feel exactly this way about the museums scattered throughout Georgetown, which range from traditional to quirky. Trust me when I say that this place has museums suited to every taste — and while none of them are absolutely must-see, they have a whole lot of appeal. While I covered a couple in a previous post about Penang’s Chinese heritage, I still had a few favorites I wanted to share with you. So, without further ado, here are three museums I love in Georgetown, each offbeat in its own way.

THE CAMERA MUSEUM

If you have even the slightest interest in photography, this museum is worth your time. Ranked as one of Georgetown’s top attractions, it has a cozy hipster vibe and leads off with a strong first impression, the main entrance opening up to an exhibition space featuring beautiful work by local photographers. The real highlight here is the museum’s impressive collection of antique cameras, which features some fun novelty examples (Spiderman!) and a few that visitors are free to handle themselves. The museum also boasts a spy camera collection and camera obscura room, both of which I found so interesting that I was disappointed there wasn’t more. While I wished that those exhibits delved deeper, my favorite parts of the museum actually lay in some of its more understated displays: the old photographs of Penang near the entrance, the timeline detailing the stories behind some of history’s most iconic snapshots and the collection of photography books available for browsing over in the museum’s cafe. I left feeling thoughtful and inspired — everything you could want from a museum, really!

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Notes for Visiting: The Camera Museum (49 Lebuh Muntri) is open daily 9:30am-6:30pm. Admission is RM20 (just under $5 USD) or RM10 for students and senior citizens. While the museum isn’t big, it isn’t one to rush — for me, the beauty was in the details! I’d recommend at least an hour, and more if you’d like to relax in the cafe afterward. The museum also offers guided tours every hour.

BATIK PAINTING MUSEUM PENANG

Georgetown’s Batik Painting Museum isn’t nearly so popular as The Camera Museum, but it should be — the art here is absolutely beautiful! I didn’t know this place existed until my friend Jay and I stumbled across it while exploring the city’s UNESCO heritage area around Armenia Street one day. I’m so happy I realized that the building I was admiring was in fact a museum, because I learned a lot about batik here — starting with the fact that I didn’t exactly know what batik was! Before, I’d always thought of batik as a tradition of making bright, beautifully patterned fabric, especially for clothes. It is that — especially on the Indonesian island of Java, where the artform is perhaps best known — but it is also more. In Penang, batik took off as a uniquely Malaysian style of art in the 1950s when the artist Chuah Thean Teng adapted traditional dye-resist techniques used in fabrics to producing beautiful fine art paintings. The process of batik is both time- and labor-intensive, involving the application of wax and paint on cloth. The collection of batik paintings here showcases the history of batik as a form of fine art, featuring work by Teng and his students as well as more contemporary examples from around the world. This was easily one of my favorite finds in Georgetown!

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Notes for Visiting: The Camera Museum (19 Armenian Street) is open daily 10:00am-6:00pm. Admission is RM10 (about $2.40 USD) or RM5 for students. You probably won’t need more than an hour, but don’t take that as a sign that it doesn’t have much to offer — the collection really is stunning, especially if you’re into art!

THE UPSIDE DOWN MUSEUM

This museum is unlike any other I’ve visited. It’s an interactive experience featuring a series of staged rooms that could be out of any normal household — except, of course, that everything is upside down! Staff are on hand in each room to take your photos and direct you how to pose to make the most of the upside-down effect. This, I think, is best visited with a group — what might be awkward and repetitive alone is a blast with friends. We loved our time here so much more than we expected — my cheeks actually hurt from laughing! The pictures, of course, are priceless. (On that note, I’m only going to include a few images from here — I don’t want to give away all of the fun!)

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Notes for Visiting: The Upside Down Museum is open from 9am until 4:30pm on weekdays and until 7:30pm on weekends. Admission for international tourists is RM27 (about $6.50 USD) for adults and RM16 (just under $4.00 USD) for students and children; for locals, the fee is RM16 for adults, RM11 for students and RM8 for children. The experience takes about an hour, but be prepared to wait in line during peak hours. Don’t forget to make sure you have space for photos on your phone or memory card!

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Three Offbeat Museums to Visit in Penang, Malaysia

This post is sponsored by the amazing Georgetown hostel House of Journey. While I’m doing some work in exchange for accomodation here (an opportunity available to all guests at House of Journey), all opinions are strictly my own — I loved it so much when I arrived that I decided to stick around for a few weeks! If you’re looking for a hostel in Georgetown, I highly recommend House of Journey. You can make a booking through Hostelworld.

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6 Comments

  • Reply Maddy February 15, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    Those upside down photos are hilarious. What a strange but awesome idea for a museum! The camera museum reminds me of Stockholm’s Fotografiska museum, which I loved. The museum you wrote about looks and sounds like a more fun version of it.
    These are some lovely recommendations, thanks for sharing! 🙂
    Maddy recently posted…A Road Trip to Baja California, MexicoMy Profile

    • Reply Katie February 16, 2016 at 4:48 am

      I so didn’t get what the Upside Down Museum was at first until we actually visited — LOVED the concept after experiencing it! Heaps of fun. Will definitely remember the Fotografiska Museum for when I make it to Stockholm!! Thanks, Maddy 🙂

  • Reply Birthe (from Wandering.World) February 16, 2016 at 5:03 am

    We had a blast at the Upside Down Museum as well! What a great idea for a rainy day! We saw an information brochure for it in the cab from the airport to our hostel, otherwise we would have missed it. Didn’t know about the other two museums. Fun blogpost!

    • Reply Katie February 16, 2016 at 5:09 am

      Thanks, Birthe! The Upside Down Museum is such a good rainy day activity — any of these, really! Glad that you found it during your trip in Penang 🙂

  • Reply Chantae March 4, 2016 at 7:07 am

    Your photos are amazing! Not going to lie, the Upside Down Museum looks like SO MUCH FUN! I wish there was something similar nearby!
    Chantae recently posted…Penguin Island: Paradise for Pengos or Tyrannical Seagull Hell?My Profile

    • Reply Katie March 7, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Thanks, Chantae! The Upside Down Museum was seriously fun — more so than I expected! I haven’t seen anything like it in Australia or the States, but there seemed to be heaps of similarly interactive museums around Penang!

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