Saturday, June 7, 2014

Penang, Malaysia 23-25 May 2014

Penang is an island of 293 km², located at the north of Straits of Malacca. One of the International acclaimed Best Street Food in Asia and in 2014 voted as top food destination in Lonely Planet. Due to the highly diverse ethnicity, Penang's cuisine reflects the Chinese, Nyonya, Malay and Indian ethnic mix of Malaysia and Thai influence as well. Just to name a few famous dish like Penang Laksa, Penang Prawn Mee, Penang Char Kway Teow, Penang Rojak and Penang Popiah. Apart from indulging into the local food, experience the unique charms of Georgetown, see the unique architectural and cultural townscape.

The last time I was in Penang was over 20 years ago. I weakly recall taking the ferry across from Butterworth, seeing the tallest building around the island - The Komtar, visiting the Snake Temple, Kek Lok Si Temple, The Penang Hill, Batu Ferringhi Beach, Butterfly Farm and eating at the Gurney Drive. I didn't remember anything attractive about Georgetown at all. 20 year later, this place has became a UNESCO World Heritage site representing the British era from the end of the 18th century.

The narrowest walkway
This trip was triggered from seeing a friend's photos online, all the street arts and old architecture excite me! :-) I don't know why, I don't appreciate such things 20 years ago, I think age must have changed our perspective in life. Without hesitation I booked my flight in no time. I also got Min on board since she was also thinking of going Penang to visit her friends.

It was just a short weekend trip but we made the most out of it. Tiger Airway has the best time to fly and max out the weekend. We left on Fri with the 7:50pm flight and return on Sunday 7pm.

On arrival to Penang International Airport, we easily caught a bus just outside the airport to town (The Komtar), from there we walked to our friend's hostel located at Sri Bahari Road about 15 minutes away. Dickie's new hostel is still under renovation, but the rooms upstairs were ready. There are 4 rooms upstairs with aircon and share toilets. There will one dormitory room downstairs and one room with attached toilet. The location is in the heart of Georgetown, with a bicycle we can easily cover all the sites in a day. Food is at all corners. )

We rented a bicycle on Saturday, brand new from a shop at Campbell street. RM10 per day. The map that we got from the airport is very informative, it list down all the sites with the Street Arts and Marking of George Town. We plan to go on a thresher hunt tour to look for all the Street Arts. Cycling in Geroge Town is not completely safe, even though they have a so call bicycle lane with the bicycle printed on the road, it doesn't mean the bicycle has their own lane. Basically the road is so narrow that the bicycle will have to share it with the car but luckily the car goes slow in George Town area. Many roads are one way street and being cyclist, we will short cut and cycle/push against the traffic. There are just too many tourist roaming on the street for cars to go fast :-) The challenge comes when you exit the George Town area, for example crossing to the Clan Jetty, the main road has lots of traffic. Pedestrian crossing doesn't really work in Malaysia. Thief does happen in George Town, one bicycle from the shop was stolen on the same day, be careful to lock the bicycle to a stationary structure or lock a few bicycle together or keep an eye on the bicycle where you can see it.

We were able to cover most of the Street Arts by noon, we especially like the little kids on the swing and I love the big ginger cat. Some of the art are hidden inside small alley but if you don't know where just ask, the locals are very friendly. The boat art that is at the clan jetty is gone after wear and tear from the heat and rain. Most of them are degrading or falling apart so if you want to see them better make it fast. The Street Arts project, known as Mirrors George Town, is part of George Town Festival 2012. A young Lithuania-born artist named Ernest Zacharevic has made a fame. Check out his website for his art work all over the world.



Apart from the arts, there are old shop houses and religious building built way back in 18th century. Still well preserved and restored. The weather was extremely hot and humid. One thing bad about cycling is you are constantly on the road under the hot sun even thought it bring you to places fast. We could no longer bare the heat after lunch. The only place to go is shopping mall or back to the hostel.

Chai Diam Ma Cafe
There are lots of chic cafe booming in George Town. We tried a few of them, some are authentic, some are modern but expensive. We went to one which was open by Min's friend. It is located at 15 Lebuh Queen. The cafe is cozy and old school. They promote local art and from time to time holding exhibition upstairs. Great place to hang out.

Overall George Town has a special charm, I see it as a nice place to live. Good food, nice people and not too hectic. The center of Penang is the Penang Hill at the highest point at 833m. There are many trails around the hill which can be an easy outdoor exploration over the weekend. ( At 
Batu Ferringhi, there are beautiful beaches and resort to chill and suntan. It is a nice mix of everything.

28 Jalan Sri Bahari Hostel

Tigerair return SG to Penang - S$169.70
Public bus from airport to Komtar - RM2.70

Bicycle Rental - RM10 per day