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Posted by on Oct 20, 2013 in Countries, Malaysia | 25 comments

Sexual harassment in Penang – safety facts for female travelers!

Sexual harassment in Penang – safety facts for female travelers!

This is a post I wasn’t sure I should write… mostly because it’s very unpleasant. But traveling can sometimes push our buttons and get us in a position we wish we didn’t get into.

This is also a warning for everyone traveling to Georgetown, Penang, specially solo female travelers, no matter what budget you’re traveling on, please, make safety your priority! Your life and well being has no price!


The trip from Lanta to Penang was really annoying. We traveled in a mini-van cramped with a few sweaty unfriendly french people and a German couple. The mini-van driver demanded we payed extra money each to cross the border. I refused to pay, which caused some friction. Yes,  it’s a scam… Border crossing is free,  everything is included on the tickets we buy at the travel agency, so no matter what the drivers might tell you – that it’s a special holiday, that these are extra fees, etc- it’s NOT true! It’s a scam!

sexual harassment in Malaysia
The infamous hotel


We arrived in Malaysia very late at night, not at 6pm as scheduled, because of the constant breaks and stops the driver was doing. Devon and James had booked a hostel, I had booked a bed at a good hostel too. The German couple asked where we were planing to stay, since they had no idea of where to go and we told them the name of the hostel. After withdrawing some cash at the ATM we got to hear the news! The German couple took the last 2 beds that were supposed to be ours! We had nowhere to stay and most hostels were fully booked. It was a weekend and a lot of people cross the border for visa runs or to indulge in the famous Penang food.


The view from our window- this is where one the of guys masturbated while looking at us


Out of the blue, Oxana, the Russian girl who had volunteered with me in Koh Lanta, was walking by when we bumped into each other by accident. She told us there was a very cheap hotel near by, run by Chinese people, it was very central in Love Lane – the backpacker street –  and the best option for tonight. Most hostels were booked anyway and our beds were “robbed”, what else could we do?

The name of the hotel is WAN HAI HOTEL, corner with Muntri st.

Carina and I decided to share the room for the night and see how things would go and move to a hostel next morning. We went out for dinner and came back later on.

sexual harassment in Malaysia
The holes on the walls used to sneak


By the time we came back, I’ve noticed something that felt odd. We were surrounded by men only. There were no women around, no couples, no westerners. I had a very strange feeling, the walls were extremely thin and the door felt unsafe, but not dangerous and we had no idea of what was about to come.

Later on, I’ve noticed all the wholes on the walls these creeps use to sneak on other people. The little alarm clock we found out there was used to mark the time… the prostitutes had to provide for their services.

Damm it! Are we at a brothel or something??!! No, it was just a regular hotel…. It was 1am and even though I wanted to get out of there, I was too scared to get out in the middle of the night hunting for a bedroom. So we locked the door very well.

I went to the window to feel the fresh breeze, when I noticed an Indian man staring at me, he open his zipper and… started masturbating. I was shocked and started yelling at him! Carina couldn’t believe it neither!


solo female travel sexualy harassed in Malaysia
A knife by our side and a spray for protection


The people from the rooms next to us arrived and there were strange noises coming in every direction.  Carina insisted on the noises which I thought were coming from the old dusty fans… till the bed of the neighbor started knocking against our wall.

We heard men masturbating. In some of the rooms there were 2 or 3 men.
I was absolutely terrified someone would try to break in our room and rape us.
I noticed noises on the walls as if someone was trying to sneak through the holes in the wall, I laid down fully clothed and covered and kept the room as dark as possible. So during the whole night, we had to keep the lights off.

I was so terrified I couldn’t sleep and kept a little knife and a spray by my side all night.
Carina managed to fall asleep, she had been traveling a lot the last 2 days and was exhausted, but I couldn’t.

Another guy arrived (I’ve heard the steps), went into his room and when he came out he started to masturbate outside our door.


sexual harassment in Malaysia
Carina sleeping deeply


This was our first night in Penang, we just arrived a couple of hours ago and I was already regretting I came here! I was warned many times to avoid Malaysia and specially Penang because of the sexual harassment and all the dangers a female traveler has to face. But I heard it was a gem for vegan food and didn’t want to miss it! Besides, I was not even hanging out late at night, but in my room…
Now, I really wished I hadn’t come!


solo female travel sexual harassment
I couldn’t sleep one minute!

This horrible hotel reminded me of the hotel from the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo Dicaprio. The run down walls, the doors, the type of people staying over… the whole atmosphere was creepy and dark. I’ve stayed at many cheap guest houses in Asia, but never had such an experience.

The sun finally came out, Carina was still sleeping but I was already packing. I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. The perverts next door were up till 5am, making noises. I wish I knew this place was like this before.

We finally got our stuff together and searched for another place to stay. Carina slept through it all, but I was really disturbed! We finally found a great hostel, clean, nice and modern with free breakfast and amazing rooms at Love Lane. Oxana was staying there too and I managed to get a great deal with the receptionist who was a great guy from London, a friendly traveler which was currently working there as a means to make some money.





Unlike Thailand where you can find great hostels for a really cheap price, in Malaysia you usually get what you paid for. Rooms are more expensive and flashback hostels are normal. Be aware of the very cheap hotels, check the rooms before you commit and try to see if the clientele is a mix. I found out the hard way that extremely low budget hotels are used as brothels and trust me… you want to avoid those!

Penang didn’t feel save at night during low season when the streets were mostly empty. During the day dress conservatively, you’re in Malaysia and you should respect the culture, but you’ll find the Malay people are extremely friendly and respectful.





photo credits:

My friends stayed at the Reggae Penang, a beautiful budget hostel located at Love Lane. They loved it and stay there every time they do visa runs. This hostel is a beautiful colonial house which is now renovated.

For the best prices book it HERE



After the incident at the other hotel, I packed my bags and moved to the Red In Heritage. This is no doubt the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at. It’s spotless clean, extremely comfy and serves the best breakfast in the world! With both typical Malay dishes and Continental.  The bathrooms have massage showers and there’s a big table to play pool at the entrance.

I would totally recommend this hostel if you’re visiting Penang. For the best prices book it HERE


  1. Good luck! Currently in Penang right now…

    • Penang is an incredible city, I love it! Shame my very first contact with the city was so horrible. I had never experienced anything similar to what happened in that hotel. I hope you enjoy the “pearl of the orient” and stay away from that creepy place! lol

  2. Dayum, even as a guy,hearing your story is scary as hell. Sorry to hear your first experience in this country is a scary one.

    • Hi Riva, yes my first contact with Penang was really negative (the only time I ever had such a horrible situation happening to me), and it was so late at night I was too scared of leaving at 1am, so I had to wait for the morning…. But I fell in love with Penang once I moved and I have to say it was the most beautiful and interesting city I’ve visited during my 3 months in SEA. I had the plan to stay 3 days but ended up staying 11!

      I posted this post at reddit, just to inform other females about this place, but because I got a few messages saying this was all my fault and that I totally deserved this sexual harassment situation, I ended up deleting the posts and I’m considering taking this post down as well.

      Usually people still accuse women from being responsible of rape and sexual harassment because of their clothes or behavior. In my case, I was inside a hotel room, but people still find ways to blame the victim which is very disturbing.

      Still, Penang is beautiful and I totally recommend it! I wish I knew about that place before and my stay would have been 100% positive :)

  3. Sorry to hear that you had a bad experience, I first heard of this on Travbuddy.

    • Thank you for the message, I decided to put the post back up so other people get to know about my experience in this particular hotel and avoid it :) It was really scary to arrive at a strange country and get stuck in this situation.

  4. Sorry to hear about your experience and no woman should feel threatened or intimidated by men. My criticism is why didn’t you just go to a hotel? Why would you go to the Red Light district at night looking for a place to stay and then wonder why the men are making you feel cheap? No matter where you go around the world, Red light districts are not ladies. Surely you take some blame for getting yourself in that situation. Some people just dont get it when it comes to safety.

    • Did I ever say I was staying at the red light district? That was the hostel and hotel area…. I’m not crazy to search for a place to stay at a prostitution area. There was no prostitutes nowhere around the hostel area.

    • Yara, this sounds like the most horrendous experience, thanks for sharing your travel experience, and I’m sorry for lame comments like the one above.

    • Actually, it depends where you live/stay. I’ve lived in The Hague and the red light district was just about the corner. Although I didn’t like the area, it was very, very safe, as police was constantly making rounds.

      • And, to add, what a horror story! I would be scared, too! Another question, why didn’t your Russian friend bring you to her hostel in the first place? Although never mind now, all water under the bridge.

        • Most hostels were fully booked. We were supposed to arrive at 6pm, but ended up arriving around midnight. It was the weekend and filled with people doing visa runs. We never ever thought we would have to go through that experience. It never crossed my mind. This happened during the time rape reports were coming from India everyday, and there we were…. in that situation where we felt so intimidated… Fortunately nothing serious happened.

          • I agree, fortunately.
            The thing is, you never expect anything bad, as you repeat to yourself stuff like I am careful, I do not look for trouble, I keep low profile, do not make any excess. And then trouble finds you.
            I had my share of solo travels, but never anything like this. Or worse, thank God.
            Still feeling the goosebumps.

  5. Actually penang is very safe…u just went in the wrong hotel. Crime rate is low in malaysia. I m from penang. Trust me. Its safe even we r multicultural. Check our daily gun shot or whatsoever like other country.

    • Yes Thomas, you’re totally right. Penang is safe and beautiful, one of the most amazing and magical cities I’ve ever been to. I definitely stayed at the wrong place. I moved out in the early morning and ended up stay in in Penang longer than planed initially.

  6. I frequently visit Penang and I found your blog by googling “harassment women in Penang” because it happens to me in some form or other every single time I go to Penang. While I enjoy most things about Penang, this is a real issue here. I stay in nice hotels, which at least have security although I have been made so uncomfortable by aggressive leering that I avoided going to the pool at times. I have been followed and called after in night markets, bothered while eating at cafes, and I have pretty much stopped going to pubs here altogether. Things that have been said to me have been vulgar, intimidating and insulting and it seems to be accepted here.

    I had a look here: and it seems that there is a crime called “outrage of modesty” which covers many of these things. 2004 was when I first started visiting and in my experience it is getting worse here and the statistics from the WCC also show this.

  7. What was the name of the hostel? You should be warning people so they know which hostel to avoid especially as there are so many on Love Lane

    • Janet, I checked in very late at night and left very early in the morning. The hotel is a run down Chinese Owned hotel on love lane. I don’t know the name as it was written in Chinese characters.

  8. Arrived in Penang today as a female solo traveller. Could be the fact that I read before getting on my flight in Singapore, that there was just a few days ago a body of a female, dismembered, found in a dumpster in the botanical gardens (eep!) but currently I am holed up in my hotel room. In my brief walk around the city this afternoon, I have been stared at, cat called, looked up and down and even had a car with 2 guys pull over on a busy street to ask what I am doing! I think this is Malaysia, as felt the same uneasiness in KL last year even with male friends in my company. I am completely covered up, and not putting myself out there. This is a start of a 2 month solo trip around Asia, and I hope tomorrow brings a better feeling because it’s making me so uneasy about the rest of it. I feel so intimidated, I just want to go home! ( it is a pretty little place though, which sucks as this harassment is ruining it for me)

    • Oh my God, I wash shocked about what you told me…. Are they investigating who murdered that woman?

      I’m so sorry you had to experience the same old problems of being a solo traveler in a place, where women are still considered inferior. I loved Penang, but never felt safe during night time. So I never went out after the sun when down. During the daytime was ok, but I never felt totally safe.

      The sexual harassment was NEVER done by the Malay people, all strange episodes were the responsibility of a migrant worker’s minority in the island. Penang might not be the best place for a solo female traveler.

      Hope the rest of your trip turns into a great adventure, most of the other countries are safe and friendly! Keep me posted! A warm hug from Portugal

    • Straights Quay was free of problems when I visited and it was full of families, so that may be a good spot. You can also ask the hotel to call you a taxi and go to a mall, there are many there. I never encountered harassment indoors there, but sometimes the taxi drivers can be a problem. Chuia Street is a red light district and you might encounter problems walking, but the guy that runs Mickie’s Place cafe on the corner of Love Lane is super nice and will also look out for you. I just found this page yesterday, which is not good news, but news.

      I’m not sure why the attitudes towards women have deteriorated so much there in the last ten years, but they have.

    • Hi Yara! I just saw your reply now, didn’t get a notification earlier. I ended up making some friends at my hotel on the second day, one of whom was a female solo traveller and had the same experiences throughout Western Malaysia. I have to say I went to Langkawi and Borneo (Eastern Malyasia) and experienced no problems! It’s such a shame, I wish we could change the attitude/culture towards Western women in this country. I also travelled to India in December and well things got a whole lot worse, I was grabbed a couple of times in places where no one can touch a woman! We girls should keep on travelling though, and keep our wits about us and stay safe. If Not going out at night is required, it should be done to keep safe. X

  9. HI there..I stumbled across your blog as I have been in penang for a few days with my wife and have been appauled with the scary amount of disgusting looks my wife has been getting from disgusting gangs of sadly always indian guys..we’ve noticed this alot in Malaysia

    I noticed the hotel you stayed at has a shocking 5 star fake review on I took the liberty of adding this blog post to a new review I made of the hotel so other people don’t go there..disgusting

  10. found your blog after i had some troubles today in penang. i went to the kek lok si temple and instead of going the ‘normal’ way up (as i figured out on the way down, doesn’t look like an entrance in my opinion) to the temple i walked over the parking space and the some small street up.. a guy stopped his car in front of me, got out of the car and called someone. since i wasn’t completely sure i was on the right track i thought i could ask him. (it’s my second day in malaysia and yesterday i only approached woman if i had to ask something, thought it would be a safe strategy, but also felt judgmental to just assume guys could be dangerous) and he was the only person around. i walked a little closer (i had to pass him anyway) and just realized his dick was not in his pants.. i was shocked and just kept going. he didn’t follow me or anything.. but what the hell?!
    it was around noon time and i was wearing shorts and a shirt, nothing crazy (also compared to other tourists) and it was at a very touristic area.

    this incident makes me wish to not have gone here :/

    what i’ve seen so far of malaysia (not that much actually) is that the country looks nice, some people were helpful.. but this..? :/

    • There’s something very serious going on in Penang with sexual harassment and I don’t think it’s being dealt properly by the authorities and the tourism boards. I get a lot of emails of girls who were harassed there, NO ONE should be treated this way!

      I don’t know if this is a general problem in Malaysia or just in Penang. It’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful city with great sites to visit. I would advise females to avoid using shorts and tank tops. It’s a Muslim country and with a huge Indian community. Still, nothing excuses what western females are going through in Penang.

      I’m very sorry you also had such a negative experience. :(

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