So very few people come to Penang state and decide to give Bukit Mertajam (known by locals as “BM”) a try. Set right across the first Penang bridge, on the contrary, BM is one of Seberang Perai’s attractions, and there are so many great things to eat and do in Bukit Mertajam you can’t just ignore it.
Truth be told, most of Penang Island’s “real living heritage” — which has by now upholstered to Penang boutique hotels, old-china-themed restaurants, walls covered with Penang street art, Penang hidden bars and aseptic Penang cafés for hipsters — is conversely very much alive in Bukit Mertajam.
But people keep ignoring Bukit Mertajam, preferring to stay on Penang island, enjoying its Western food restaurants, Penang breakfast, and shopping malls, alternative markets, and holistic health and yoga spaces. Just so you know, there are some pretty good hotels in Bukit Mertajam, too.
Well, let me tell you — it’s not just because my wife is from Bukit Mertajam that I love this little (well, not so much anymore) town. If you are looking to experience Malaysia as it was, or have a look at what Penang state looks like without Penang engrossing nightlife, then taking a stroll in Bukit Mertajam’s Old Town is a must. It makes George Town in Penang look like a fake.
CHECK OUT MORE GREAT FOOD – Best Places in Taiping for a perfect food hunt
Great Things to Do in Bukit Mertajam
The following is a complete list of great things to do in and around Bukit Mertajam. From gorging on great local food that’s been dished up on these streets for decades to striking out on hiking trails and natural sights, Bukit Mertajam has a lot — and nobody knows about it, by the way.
Best Food in Bukit Mertajam Old Town you Must Try
We have already written a list of the best Penang food, but Bukit Mertajam really deserves its own spot. BM Old Town has some very good and traditional foods, all in walking distance along main thoroughfares Jalan Pasar and Jalan Danby
1BM Best Cendol
We didn’t say it. They do in their name — but the cendol here is convincingly delicious. BM Best Cendol is a simple street stall on a street corner with wooden tables tucked under an archway. The cendol (available in different versions, the biasa is only RM2.5 while pulut sells for RM3) is still made out of an ice-crushing box that looks like it’s been pumping since the 1970s.
The cendol portion is big enough, with fine gula melaka and big, pouty beans that perfectly marry with the ice and green spaghetti. A perfect thirst-quencher and a hydration recoverer on any day.
2BM Cup Rice
This historical stall at N.74 Jalan Danby has been working and pumping heavenly rice bowls garnished with black soy sauce and fresh duck meat for the past 60-odd years. They sell like hotcakes. The owner took over from her father-in-law 33 years ago: she told us that “BM will never be Penang’s spare wheel, because our different food attracts people. Believe me, Indonesian and Singaporean tourists buy my rice, freeze the packages, and mail it back to their countries. Some foreigners come here with their local friends, too. Many young people read about me online and come to try my speciality on weekends. Truth be told, I am always busy.”
True enough, be prepared to queue up to get your fix of BM Cup Rice. A normal serving costs RM5, and adding extra meat is RM7 in total. You can choose duck meat and char siew (the delicious Chinese Malaysian grilled pork).
3Get Refreshed at Soo Low Chung
Mr. Cheong’s herbal tea stall has been here on this little corner of Jalan Pasar for the past 50-odd years, where this smiling Chinese uncle pours excellent sugar cane and chrysanthemum drinks. The uncle is very chatty and always has a story or two to tell his customers. When we went last, he said, “Penang’s tourism has left BM behind”. Mr. Cheong, who has manned this stall since the beginning, knows better. “Problem is, on the contrary of the island, there’s no hotel or guesthouse for foreigners here. BM town’s never been properly developed, and I think it’s a waste because this is a ancient and historical place. The Pek Kong Cheng temple (see below) itself is over 100 years old”.
4 Duck and Pork at Kha Zee Roaster
Continuing down the road from Soo Low Chung, you’ll find Khaa Zee chicken rice shop on the left. On a good day, you can’t miss the rows of perfectly roasted ducks hanging from the ceiling of their five-foot way, dripping fat and sauce over a layer of aluminum foil cautiously slung on the floor to protect the pavement. This is Bukit Mertajam’s best chicken rice and duck shop and has also been running for several decades.
5Bukit Mertajam’s Duck Egg Char Koay Teow
Penang island has many char koay teow stalls, but one of the most special and delicious variations of the popular dish can only be found in Bukit Mertajam. Duck egg char koay teow are unique and delicious and can be found in the town at only two locations.
One is Kedai Kopi Mei Li Hwa in Jalan Kulim, not far from Sentosa food court. Also called Restoran Eighty Six, this corner lot shop house has a small food court, but you’d want to visit only the uncle that cooks his char koay teow exclusively using a charcoal grill and clay pots. The taste is textured, smoky, and utterly delicious.
Portions are large and come at 5.50 RM for regular and 6RM for big. One extra ringgit buys a runny sunny-side-up duck egg layered on top. The dish also has delicious crackling pork skin, plenty of prawns, slices of lap cheong Chinese sausage, and a juicy black sauce.
Here is a map:
The second BM duck char koay teow to try is at Jalan Song Ban Kheng. Also known as BM Guotiaokia, this stall used to be located in front of the old train station, but since the year 2018 moved to Taman Quarry. The current location is outside Fresh Food Court in Bukit Mertajam’s Old Town. It’s open from 8 am to 1 pm and 6 pm to 10 pm — sorry am not sure about the closing day. The uncle here packs Char Koay Teow with charcoal flavor, served with duck eggs inside out and sunny side up, topped with a generous amount of stir-fried prawns, pork lards, and Chinese sausage.
The difference with Restoran Eighty Six is the fact this is a street-side stall, and you’ll have to eat by the roadside. Also, we think the portion here is smaller — but a bit cheaper and no less delicious. Verdict: must try them both!
Here is a map for the duck char koay teow at Jalan Song Ban Kheng:
6Noodles and Assam Laksa at Cheok Sah, Bukit Mertajam’s abandoned cinema
Cheok Sah is an amazing — and empty — art-deco-styled cinema — the same where my wife used to come as a young girl to watch her first films. Question: Penang Heritage Trust, why don’t you do anything about it?
People remember Cheok Sah because of the little food court tucked in the alley immediately behind and to the right-hand side of the old cinema. You’ll see a sign saying “BM Kopitiam” and several stalls set under an awning in a back alley parallel to Jalan Pasar.
This is where Bukit Mertajam food lovers come for hearty portions of Jawa Mee, Curry Mee, the famous Cheok Sah Hokkien Mee — they have the best business —, wan tan mee, and the famous laksa and ais kacang.
7Ali Nasi Kandar
Is it worth crossing the bridge and heading all the way to Bukit Mertajam for Nasi Kandar? YES, because Ali is very special. First, this guy has been dishing up the same fiery, silky Nasi Kandar in this spot since 1948. The shop is authentic, less crowded than Penang Island’s joint, and the service is more friendly.
Portions are scrumptious and filling, served over well-cooked and steamy rice. The Ayam Hitam (black chicken) is recommended, especially when served in a killer combo of mixed curries. You should not forget the kuah bawang padu, an onion-based curry. Essential as most other Penang Nasi Kandar.
Here’s a map:
8Lau Pheng Yu Food Court
Lau Pheng Yu Food Court may be the most famous in Bukit Mertajam Old Town, and has been around for the best part of 80 years in the corner of Jalan Asmara.
The specialties here are the famous hor fun noodles with crabmeat, and the original Bukit Mertajam rojak: Orang Hock Rojak (黑人罗惹 in Chinese) or “Or Lang Lojak” in Hokkien (meaning “black man rojak”).
This is what Malaysians in other parts of the country call “fruit rojak”, as it uses plenty of fresh fruits such as pineapple, star fruit, guava, etcetera.
9BM Famous Yam Rice
BM Yam Rice (大山脚芋饭 in Chinese) at 6 Jalan Murthy is another yummy treat in the Old Town. Run for at least 30-odd years by a local family, the yam-flavored rice (which turns brown) here is served along with bowls of pork meat and spare parts. You’ll get pork blood, intestine, pork meatballs, kidney, and pork slices.
They still use charcoal for cooking here, which makes everything taste more “old school”, if you get what I mean.
It’s become popular with locals and foreign visitors who come to Bukit Mertajam for the food, so please take at least 30 minutes to get your order.
10Try the White Black Man’s Rojak… and more
We have already mentioned Orang Hock Rojak, but don’t miss a chance to try Rojak Orang Hitam Putih (meaning “Black White Man’s Rojak”) right across the road.
The name’s origins are disputed: nobody in BM Old Town could tell whether the first Rojak seller was a “black man” (a local Tamil Indian, maybe?). One owner at Rojak Orang Hitam Putih suggested that it’s just a name — each stall wanted to sound similar and different to attract more out-of-town customers.
Regardless, rojak is one weird plate among all the choices of Penang Food — a black sweet-sour sauce garnished with sesame that’s doused over little chunks of fresh fruits or vegetables — and in Bukit Mertajam you can get rojak of very good quality.
To be precise, the rojak here is what southern Malaysians call “fruit rojak” — made mostly with pineapple, star fruit, guava, etcetera.
More Great Things to See and Do in Bukit Mertajam
11Enjoy Bukit Mertajam Old Town’s Way Back When Atmosphere
In Bukit Mertajam, there’s no George Town pretension of being “boutique chic” and trendy. Market floors are still slippery and dirty, and the heritage shop houses that line the streets — some really old and beautiful — are still covered in vines instead of brand-new paint. They are slowly dying under the strokes of the unforgiving tropical sun.
Jalan Pasar, the pulsating earth of BM, is a slice of that tatty Asia which elsewhere is sadly being upgraded to fit with Southeast Asia’s mad rush towards aseptic, globalized Western-looking “modernity”. Come visit Bukit Mertajam Old Town before it all changes, too.
Among our favorite places is Kim Foong Hair Salon, with equipment from the 1970s. They remind me of what Jane Fonda may have used doing her make-up for the movie Barbarella.
On the other side of Jalan Pasar is Joo Song rattan weaver, where an uncle makes his own wooden chairs and furniture. Not too cheap, but definitely worth a browse.
12Visit the Pek Kong Cheng Temple
In July 2019, one of Bukit Mertajam’s biggest tragedies changed the heart of the old town. Sadly, a fire destroyed the best part of the interiors and cultural relics of 134 years old Pek Kong Cheng temple, one of the oldest Chinese shrines in Malaysia. The COVID-19 pandemic did not help speed up restoration works, but three years later, the temple has reopened with a complete facelift and upgrading and is still the pulsating heart of Bukit Mertajam’s Old Town.
In the past, we have been to this temple several times to gaze at its small but sumptuous altar where Teochew, Hakka, Hokkien, and Cantonese people all coexist in worship. There used to be a very appetizing cluster of food stalls set all around this temple, and patrons would eat just before its gates. The unique atmosphere that’s sadly gone. Today, you can still see enjoy a lot of great Penang food at the series of new shops and stalls that have reopened on the left side of the Pek Kong Cheng Temple.
Here’s a map of Pek Kong Cheng temple and its hawker food area:
13See Malaysia’s Biggest King of Hell Burn
Speaking of fires, this is Bukit Mertajam’s best and grandest — and safe, no worries. One of the best times to visit Penang is between August and September when, according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the Hungry Ghost Festival (Yu Lan) is in full swing. This is when the local Chinese believe that the doors of hell open, and all the ghosts return to earth to enjoy some worldly delights they miss in the netherworld.
In Bukit Mertajam, the bamboo and paper-made effigy of the King of Hell Tai Su Yeah, which will burn as the climax of the festival, is HUGE. It measures 8.5 meters in height and is 5 meters wide — certainly the biggest such effigy in Malaysia.
In Bukit Mertajam, the Yu Lan BM Festival Organisation has run this festival for more than 130 years. We really recommend you come to see this celebration in Bukit Mertajam over that held on Penang island.
14Bukit Mertajam Art Walk
This small pedestrian crossing next to Molido Eatery and Gallery is Bukit Mertajam’s attempt to catch up with George Town arty fame. You will not find Penang street art here, but rather a few installations (including a large coffee pot and figurines of children playing) and several images and information about Bukit Mertajam’s real hero: the King of Hell Tay Su Yeah.
Bukit Mertajam burns one of the biggest paper effigies of the Daoist God of Hell in the whole country, and Art Walk boasts some of the best images of the ceremony. It also has a couple of cafes and enlivens up every first and third Sunday of the month when a street market packs up the alley. Come early as it runs from 9 am to 3 pm only.
15Bukit Mertajam’s Traditional wooden shoemaker
Mr. Tan Teik Lang has been making handmade traditional Chinese shoes with durian tree wood for over 55 years. He started learning when he was 12, and you can still find him sitting on a low wooden stool at his hole-in-the-wall shop in Bukit Mertajam. He is able to produce 40 to 50 clogs per day.
These traditional wooden clogs are known as ‘kah kiah’ in Hokkien and are produced only here and in another place on Penang island. They used to be very common household items in the 1970s, especially before rubber slippers took over. Wooden clogs are unisex, have no left or right side, and were worn by everyone — Baba Nyonyas, Chinese, Indians, and Malays. Usually, they are painted red and decorated with flowers and represent good fortune at Chinese weddings.
16Sin Huat Hin Coffee Factory
When taking a walk in Bukit Mertajam’s old town, don’t forget to browse down Jalan India and visit the Sin Huat Hin kopi factory, which has been operating here since 1956.
The company is famous for its black coffee and popular Betta fish brand, which is well-appreciated all over the country and beyond. If you decide to visit, you’ll be able to tour the original factory and see how the kopi is still made following traditional methods and using old-world machinery.
17House of Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee
If you walk along Bukit Mertajam’s main thoroughfare and bump into a decrepit old house eaten by a fall of vines, don’t shrug it off and appreciate it for a moment. This is the house of Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee, the
first Penang chief minister, and was built in 1907. The state of this building is shameful, as Penang’s first Chief Minister kickstarted the state’s industrialization and planned for the first Penang Bridge. Not a very good way to remember a star, but now that you know it, you can pay a visit and honor his memory at this spooky yet magnificent decrepit house.
Here’s a map:
18Sun Yat Sen Memorabilia at Kin Cho Hong association
Few know that Sun Yat Sen, the first provisional president of the Republic of China and the first leader of the Kuomintang, had ties to Malaysia. He stayed in a house along Armenian Street on Penang island and lived in Taiping with a concubine on the location of today’s Antong Coffe Mill — check out our guide to the best food in Taiping.
Sun Yat Sen certainly also stayed in Bukit Mertajam. It’s hard to say where (some mentioned in the house that was converted into Naja Books cafe, but there is no verifiable proof). However, the Kin Cho Hong association nearby Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee’s house still collects some rare memorabilia — including a large wardrobe topped by a portrait of Sun Yat Sen himself. Come and ask the resident caretakers to show you around.
19Sin Weng Heng Claypot and Earthenware Shop
This century-old clay pot and earthenware shop have stood here on Straight Street (now called Jalan Datuk Ooh Chooi Cheng) for over a century. Teoh Teik Seng, who’s passed 85 years of age, refused to close shop even if it’s on its last legs as nobody helped him take over the family business.
Teoh started helping his father, a Teochew native from eastern Guangdong province, in this same location when he was in his 20s and has manned this shop ever since. He still takes care of it with his wife, sometimes sitting for hours between customer visits. The business has been in steady decline since cooking on gas stoves has substituted charcoal grills, but you should visit this place and the shop owner, as he will most likely give you a tour of this old-world Chinese wooden house.
20Praise the Lord at St. Anne’s Church
Founded in 1846, St. Anne’s Church earned the status of a minor basilica in 2019 and is one of Penang and Malaysia’s most important Roman Catholic churches. The first original church was built on top of the hill in 1846. What people visit today is the second church, opened in 1888 and still used up to these days as St. Anne’s main shrine.
The monument — all whitewashed and set against a tropical hill — is beautiful. Still, the best time to visit is during the annual fest of St. Anne, held for 10 days around the main date of 26 July, when 100,000-odd pilgrims come here to worship from as far as Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and even Australia.
Within the church’s compound, you’ll also be able to see the Cherok Tokun Relics (Batu Bersurat Cherok Tokun), the only ancient megalith found in Penang state.
Best Spots for Entertainment in Bukit Mertajam
21Shop and Dine at Juru Auto-City
If foreigners are nowhere to be found, don’t think that Penang’s islanders are in excess in Bukit Mertajam. To them, BM’s means principally Auto-City, Juru’s bustling artery of dance clubs, fancy diners, and car showrooms.
It’s a happening place to go in the evenings, when their Shop-In D’ Park (whose entrance is presided by two iron statues of Predator) fills up with people who come here to enjoy an evening stroll and the dining options — from Vietnamese to Thai and local BBQ and fish — and the flea-market tucked at the back.
Outside, restaurants and bistro galore still abound, with Starbucks, the long-standing Golden Triangle (a Vietnamese, Thai, and Laotian restaurant), and many more options that can grant a few hours of shopping and dining while you hop between places in Bukit Mertajam. Also, don’t forget that just 15 minutes drive away is Bukit Juru, one of Seberang Perai’s easiest and most scenic hiking spots.
22Cafe Hop and Eat at Icon City
Icon City is a commercial development of two-story shophouses in the Bukit Tengah area of Bukit Mertajam. It competes with nearby Auto City — just about 5 minute’s drive away — in terms of dining and entertainment.
Beyond the ubiquitous Taiwan bubble tea shop — a very unhealthy yet super popular drink in Bukit Mertajam — Icon City boasts tons of dining options, from Chinese steamboat restaurants to the western food galore of James Foo and Green Island, with a touch of Japanese at Ittan Izakaya and Kaze, Korean BBQ at Daorae, and other dessert shops and beer bars.
The choice is wide as Icon City packs quite a several establishments, and if you want to see what Bukit Mertajam’s youth are up to, Icon City is the perfect place to hunt them down.
231874 Cross Street Pub & Bistro
In the tradition of Penang’s best speakeasy bars, 1874 Cross Street is Bukit Mertajam’s first hidden pub. Housed in a refurbished shop house along Jalan Arumugan Pilai, you’ll enter through a room packed with vintage Malaysian memorabilia that looks nothing like the large and creatively neon illuminated loft-like bar behind the wall.
Originally established in 1874, this shop was once a grocery shop, but the owner’s grandson decided to turn it into a bar, using the original name.
The signature drink is Guinness beer served inside a pot that looks like a Chinese medicinal drink. There are live bands and ladies’ nights, and it’s one of the hippest places to drink when in Bukit Mertajam.
24Molido Eatery and Gallery
Opened in the middle of 2022, this is the latest addition to the cafe scene in Bukit Mertajam. Set at the beginning of Bukit Mertajam Art Walk opposite a large, refurbished shophouse on the junction of Jalan Stesen and Jalan Datuk Ooh Chooi Cheng, this shabby chic cafe upholstered a former kopitiam, maintaining the original vibes. There are two wide rooms where customers can enjoy a selection of Western-fusion dishes, strong brews, and a collection of local arts and memorabilia. Remember that things here wrap early by 8 pm.
Parks and Nature in Bukit Mertajam
25Hike to the Top of Cherok Tokun
Also called Bukit Mertajam Recreational Forest, Cherok Tokun is a very nice jungle hiking trail, one of the best hikes in Penang Mainland.
You will first go through the Malay town of Cherok Tokun, where you can find food and refreshments, and then across a country road to the park’s beginning.
There are two ways up Bukit Tokun, one on a tarred road and one along a much more fun jungle path — which may not be suitable for non-active types. Keep your eyes peeled for the multitude of insects and giant millipedes that are abundant here.
READ MORE — Complete Guide to Cherok Tok Kun
The hike ends at the top of the hill where there are communication towers and where you have to turn around and descend — use the tar road, as it’s more gentle on your knees going down. There are a few refreshment shops, including a Chinese Tea House, set along a quiet stream at the bottom of the hill.
26See Bukit Mertajam town from the top of Bukit D.O.
This recreational park is pretty close to Bukit Mertajam Old Town and offers an easy half-hour hike to the top, from where you’ll have panoramic views all over the town and the surrounding countryside.
Even though there are many beautiful, giant trees here, this is not really a jungle hike. There is a paved road snaking all the way up the hill, and it’s popularly used as a jogging track. Come prepared with proper footwear and sports gear; you will sweat as you scramble up, but the views are worth it.
This beautiful dam is set within landscaped gardens and a popular place for local joggers and outdoorsy families. It reopened in 2021 after several years of upgrades and closure. To be honest, we preferred the older version, which had a green slope all the way to the water, while today, there is concrete separating visitors from the shore. It’s still a nice spot to come with family or for a jog along the concrete road that flanks the dam, but the best views are from the other side of the dam at the end of Trek 800 in Cherok Tokun.
28Take a Trip to Frog Hill
Also called “Bukit Katak,” Frog Hill was an offbeat place in Seberang Perai that got some momentum as of late thanks to the usual work of Instagram hype. Also called Lombong Kampung Guar Petai, Frog Hill Tasek Gelugor, or Guar Perahu, Frog Hill is an old tin mining site where water is collected into a series of pools crisscrossed by red earth ridges. It’s an otherworldly scenery of jagged red rocks emerging from viridian pools. Some people said Frog Hill is like the “Jiuzhaigou of Penang” — quite an overstatement, but let the locals be proud of their backwoods.
Frog Hill is stunning at sunrise, but you have to get up pretty early to catch it. Indeed, Frog Hill is roughly 30 minutes north of Bukit Mertajam, set at the end of a road that goes through a small village called Kampung Jarak Atas. Remember that the road to Frog Hill is not paved and often gets muddy, so don’t come here unprepared in the rainy season — good footwear and sandals you can quickly wash up are essential.
Interested? Read more in our complete guide and review to visiting Frog Hill.
29Hike at Berapit Hill
If you are still up for more hiking, don’t miss Berapit Hill, a 4,7km loop that’s close to Bukit Mertajam. The elevation gain is about 292 meters, so be prepared to sweat the calories you gained in Bukit Mertajam’s Old Town off.
As an interesting trivia, Berapit is where Malaysia’s badminton champion, Lee Chong Wei, was born and raised.
Back to hiking, there are also two Thai Temples on top of the hill, belonging to the Vivekavana Buddhist Society of Penang. One is called Vivekavana Solitude Grove. It’s a nice place to wait for sunset, relax, and maybe do some meditation.
How to Get to Bukit Mertajam
There are several ways to get in and around Bukit Mertajam, the best of which is by your own wheels. Or you can always get a Grab Car from Penang
Getting to Bukit Mertajam by Bus
If you are coming from George Town, take the iconic Penang Ferry and get to Penang Sentral. The bus station with departures to Bukit Mertajam is on the ground floor. Rapid Penang Bus 702 travels from Penang Sentral to the terminal Bas Bukit Mertajam on Jalan Aston — 500 meters from Bukit Mertajam’s old town.
Getting to Bukit Mertajam by Train
Bukit Mertajam is also an important station on the ETS route between Butterworth, Kuala Lumpur, and the Thai Border at Padang Besar.
READ MORE— How to Do a Visa Run from Penang to Thailand
Check our guide to catching trains from Penang to know more about routes. Once in Bukit Mertajam KTM station, Jalan Pasar is 2km away. Catch a Grab Car, as the heat can be unforgiving.
If you have your own wheels, you can consider a day trip from Bukit Mertajam to the river town of Kuala Kurau, a place we really recommend visiting. From here, proceed to the mangroves of Kuala Sepetang on your way to Taiping and its Bukit Larut Hill Resort.
Best Hotels in Bukit Mertajam
If you want to stay in Bukit Mertajam, you should check out one of these hotels:
Treat Yourself to a Bukit Mertajam 5-Star Hotel
Iconic Hotel may be the best choice. A part of Icon City, it has an outdoor pool and dozens of nearby options for dining and entertainment.
Budget Hotels in Bukit Mertajam
Summit Hotel is BM’s stalwart, in walking distance from the Old Town. In need of a bit of a brush-up, but that’s one of the glorious oldies.
U Plus Budget Hotel is simple, clean, and comfortable, with adequate rooms for this price range.