The Art of a Colonial Curry...


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Asia » Malaysia » Penang » George Town
May 3rd 2013
Published: May 18th 2013
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Our final destination for Malaysia was another on the British colonial trail with Penang being the one more favoured by the Brits because of its strategic Northerly position. It’s an island but is firmly connected to the mainland by one of the longest bridges in the world with another under construction which will stretch to the South of the island and will be even longer still!

KL to Penang is a 6 hour bus ride and as usual the bus fares are very reasonable at just 35RM (£7.64) each. Our ticket was due to drop us at the Sungai Nibong bus terminal, the main one for the island but the passenger behind us told us that he and a few others had paid extra to get dropped off right in the centre of Georgetown at the Kompleks Komtar local bus terminal. Apparently the bus driver tries to make everyone get off at the Sungai Nibong terminal regardless of it they have paid more, it’s clear why as the traffic to get into the city is very congested and adds another 40 minutes or so to his shift. Although we hadn’t paid the extra we stayed on the bus anyway which meant we wouldn’t have to pay to get a local bus from the terminal to the city centre.. bonus! The helpful passenger behind was a bit miffed that we had done this and stormed off as we tried to thank him for his useful tip!

Georgetown in the main destination for most travellers on the island and we’d decided to try and stay in the Chinatown area of the city as we did with Melaka. This is right in the heart of the colonial area and once again, as we walked through the area we were treated with lots of beautiful old buildings lining each side of the narrow streets. There aren’t many pavements in this area so walking down the roads can be tricky at times especially as it’s not always clear which way traffic is flowing and, as with most of Asia, bikes often come from the other direction regardless so you have to be careful. We later learnt that the walkways in front of each building, so called ‘5ft walkways’ were originally designed to be the pavements and provide shelter from the fierce sun and rain however many of these are now extensions to shops &
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Street Art
restaurants so can’t always be used.

We found a lovely guesthouse towards the top of the popular backpacker area Love Lane (so called as the Chinese used to house their mistresses there) called the Red Inn Heritage. This was a huge beautiful building which now housed an immaculate guesthouse with 30 rooms and all the home comforts any traveller could need. Double rooms were a reasonable 55RM including breakfast, wifi and air con and we snagged the last once soon after Sophie was shown the huge walk in showers with rain heads and horizontal jets! Honestly this place is great value with the only downside being the noise from the floor if you had an upstairs room. Although people were told to walk softly on the bouncy wooden floors you would think that some people had feet like elephants as they stomped up and down the corridor late into the night and all this was without shoes on! The next day we changed to a downstairs room tucked out the back by the garden and were much happier.

We had a few things that we wanted to leave Penang having done; first and foremost was getting our 60 day Thai visa with Penang being one of the most convenient places to do this. The Thai consulate is a little way out of the centre so we elected for an agency to assist us. It was an additional 30RM on top of the 110RM fee but made it much easier as we were personally driven to the embassy twice to drop off then collect our visas. All very easy and we’d recommend Tan the owner of the Love Lane Inn to anyone needing this service and going in this direction. He’s a super helpful and interesting guy with a very varied and fascinating background and we enjoyed hearing his stories as we drove along, as a former government agent type person we were most interested to hear that we were probably on a list of ‘possible suspect’ people due to our travelling history!

During our time in Georgetown we spent a lot of time wandering around looking at all the buildings and tried to imagine how it had changed, not a lot it seemed as far as we could see. Keen to learn a bit about the history we visited the Penang Museum which was just around the
Local typewriterLocal typewriterLocal typewriter

You often see these guys typing up letters outside government buildings.
corner from our guesthouse, this was a fascinating place with lots of information on the city through the years. We found the information on the different people who had made Penang their home very interesting; as well as the British a whole host of people had made this place what it is today including Chinese, Indian, Burmese, Malay, Armenian and Japanese among others. We also took in the maps showing Penang’s layout from 1748 though to the current day and were amazed to find that the original plans for the colonial city layout were drawn almost exactly to scale even though they had no digital or electronic equipment.

It’s very easy to create your own little walking tour of the area by picking up one of the information leaflets and following the roads round ticking off each interesting building, monument or sight as you go. From the town hall to the old cricket pitch and the Clock Tower built for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (although she died before it was finished) to the old fort it’s all very accessible and within easy walking distance.. although it can be very exhausting in the heat! We also took in the grand Eastern Oriental Hotel which is a sister hotel to the famous Raffles in Singapore and equally as wonderful to look at. There is a small museum here which gives the background to the hotel from erection through to the present day. We were educated on the architects of both hotels who were in fact Armenian brothers. On learning this information Sophie immediately thought of the Kardashians (the only other Armenians she knows) and wondered if they were related! She was doubly pleased when she heard another guest in the museum make the same comment as it showed that she wasn’t the only person in the world with a brain the size of a pea to make this connection!

During our visit there it was May 1st which is most of Asia’s Labour Day, a national holiday. This meant that most of the tourist museums and attractions were closed and we opted to avoid Penang Hill thinking that it would be overrun with locals all wanting to escape from the heat of the city. Sophie thought up another activity for us though, one which involved walking the streets again but this time we would be trying to spot al the local street art that can be found. We’d picked up a leaflet giving locations for many of the welded iron caricatures and the painted wall art so took off armed with the map and a camera.

The Iron caricatures are a great idea as they are interesting to see and also give facts about the road or area you are stood in. The one Sophie found most interesting depicted the building where Jimmy Choo first started his apprenticeship but there were others showing the old forms of transport, what trades were found in the street in which you stood and which street fish were hung out to dry. We found as many as we could and more that weren’t in our leaflet too, it did say that there will be 52 sculptures in total, 24 were detailed in the leaflet we had with more being erected all the time as they are finished. The other street art is by an artist called Ernest Zacharevic from Lithuanian, there aren’t as many of his murals as there are the ironworks but we enjoyed seeking these out too. They seemed to be much more popular and we nearly always found a tour bus of people waiting to have their photo taken with each one when we arrived. As you can see from the photos they are really original and we even saw a couple who’d just got married having various photos taken with the bicycle which we thought was a great idea.

We cannot do a blog on Penang without mentioning the food here. It’s been reported on many times before and when we arrived we thought ‘can it really be that good’ but we’d like to take this opportunity to say that yes it really can! Without a doubt the most favoured food here among the travellers are the Indian set meals, at just RM5 (£1.20) you get a complete meal with a few sauces, poppodoms, meat and some veggies and this is enough to keep even the largest appetite going. You’ll find great food in all the Indian restaurants you visit, we tried quite a few in our days here and didn’t have a bad meal once but our favourite was Sri Ananda Bahwan and we visited there on 3 out of our 4 evenings. Of course we stuck to roti & teh tarik for breakfast each morning, easily found at most stands or restaurants in Little India but for lunch & dinner we went though quite a few different options eventually coming back to the North Indian Thali set. One evening we did try out the Red Café which is a food court hemmed in by a range of mostly Chinese stands with entertainment in the centre, the food here was also great but it really had a lot to live up to when the Indian was just around the corner!

Little India was probably our most favourite place to wander around. Not having been to India yet (it’s on our list) we really like the atmosphere here and the people are always so friendly & welcoming. The Little India in KL is much the same but here the streets are narrower and the atmosphere seems that bit denser with bangra music blaring from massive speakers on one side of the street while a shop sells beautiful fabrics and saris on the others. The colours, smells and sounds in this area make for a really pleasant but hectic walk and we were glad that we had to do it every day. If you stop for food the people in the restaurants are so nice and always happy to help you out with your food choice if you aren’t entirely sure what to order. We read a review on Tripadvisor from someone that really didn’t like this area because it’s smelly & dirty and they didn’t want to eat here, we suspect it was someone more used to 5* luxury so weren’t surprised but they missed out as it would be hard to beat.

After all the time wandering the streets we wanted to visit Penang Hill for our final day so we could get an overview of the city and also escape the unrelenting heat. It’s easy to get to Penang Hill from the centre, catch the 204 bus from either the jetty or the Komplex Komtar and for RM2 it’ll drop you at the start of the funicular railway. Well, it will if you get off the right stop which isn’t what we did! We made the stupid mistake of following the other Westerners who got off the bus, not sure if this was our stop we assumed they knew where they were going so blindly followed them up the road with only a huge hillside temple in view. The start of the train must be on the other side we thought so kept going, though a row of market stalls and past a pond filled with hundreds of turtles. Eventually we decided to snap out of our lemming nature and open our mouths to ask someone and of course this wasn’t Penang Hill, that was the next stop, we were at Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple. We’d never heard of this temple let alone wanting to walk around it but we were here now so we took a short walk to a viewpoint then made our way back to the bus stop to wait for the next bus that would take us to Penang Hill.

At 30RM it’s not a cheap activity to go up on the Funicular Railway, more annoying is that locals only have to pay 8RM. We know that in some (poorer) countries there is always a levy attached to being a tourist and in some cases we don’t mind this but for a wealthy country like Malaysia to be charging over 3.5 times the amount it doesn’t sit so well with us. With all that said we didn’t fancy a
Jimmy Choo street artJimmy Choo street artJimmy Choo street art

Building where he started his apprentiship
2 – 3 hour hike up the hill in the heat and really wanted to get to the top so paid it, and it was worth it! We got prime seats for both the ride up and the ride back down again being at the front for both journeys which made it that bit more fun. The hill and the ascent is much steeper than we had imagined and it’s almost like a roller coaster at times so we were again glad we’d opted for the easy way out.

Penang Hill is one of the oldest colonial hill stations established by the British in their time in Malaysia. We’d learnt in the Penang Museum that the rich people used to get carried up the hill in Sedan chairs while those less wealthy went up on horses which must have been very strenuous for both man & beast . The funicular railway was first constructed in 1901, rendered useless in 1905 with a second railway started in 1914 before finally opening in 1924. The railway has since been upgraded in 1977 and again in 2010 which is the railway we enjoyed for our ride. There are many historical buildings at
Enjoying the street party Enjoying the street party Enjoying the street party

Courtesy of a Government party!
the top and around the sides of the hill with the oldest building dating back to 1803. Strangely we found a new owl museum at the top, not a museum filled with live owls but a museum dedicated to owls, we didn’t go inside but just wondered what the relevance was?! We enjoyed the views from the top and managed to escape the rain which had been visiting us daily since our arrival instead watching it fall on the city below us while enjoying the sunshine on the top.

We took a short walk along the Summit road which passes a few private houses and an old red British Postbox marked with VR, a memento left over from the British rule. There is a hotel at the top too, the Bellevue Hotel and we took at look at their beautiful views from the restaurant and garden, whilst the hotel itself isn’t that much to look at we thought it would be a nice place to stay just one night to enjoy the night time views of the city. We were glad we’d made it here and the visit was well worth it, the railway is open until 10pm so if we come again we’ll probably try a sunset visit to enjoy the views in both day and night.

We’d hit Malaysia during their National elections and wow they take this very seriously. Initially we’d wondered what all the flags were when we’d visited Tioman, they were lining each and every road we’d gone along and we thought it might have been some kind of local rally. After asking around and seeing flags of various different parties we established that they were party promotions for the elections. Soon we noticed not only flags but banners, bunting, hoardings and various other types of promotional paraphernalia and there sure is a lot of it! Quite honestly we felt that it was a little overkill, one flag wasn’t enough they had to have whole streets lined with them just centimetres apart to create a whole wall of flags or attached to every signpost, bridge or even entire blocks of flats. Flag and banner makers must be able to retire after election time and we think that third world debt would probably be solved if they money was put this way. What do they do with them afterwards? Throw them away we assume but what a waste it really was incredible.

As well as the flags they also did other kinds of promotion and we liked this side of things… free food & beer, now that is a way to secure a vote! Here in Georgetown one party held a 5 night street event with free unlimited beer, food & entertainment and best of all it was for everyone, even tourists. After being advised of the night by a few locals we turned up on our final evening to see what it was all about and were immediately handed a pint of Carlsberg (from the bottle… no watered down draught and there were a choice of beers) while being jumped on by a group of very drunk locals. It was only about 7pm and everyone there was completely sloshed, it was very funny to start with but got a bit tedious after a while as more and more people came over trying to make conversation. Not that we mind talking to locals but when there’s loud music, they are drunk and you struggle to understand the accent at the best of times it can be very hard work so sadly we had to make our excuses and left the party. Not often we turn down free beer and food and we were disappointed we hadn’t visited on the days we didn’t to be up early so we could really enjoy ourselves. We tried to imagine what it would be like if free beer was handed out in the UK by way of obtaining votes…. Not even worth thinking about!

Before we left Malaysia we had to thank it for a special present to Dale! While we were here he has picked up a disease that wouldn't be for the squemish. Initially he thought the bumps on his foot was athletes foot and even a visit to a pharmacist confirmed this but when it went on for a few more days and seemed to be travelling around his feet we did our own research and he seems to have picked up a little friend called Cutaneous larva migrans, a baby hookworm which migrates around your feet. Every day we have now developed worm watch and are always interested to see where they have travelled during the night... makes for an intersting morning! They die naturally after a few weeks and are certainly
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Tok Tok Mee - so called hawker because they would strike a 'tok tok' sound to signal their presence
a lot less itcy than they were initially so we think they are on their way out but let this be a lesson to all those who wander for miles barefoot on a beach as this is where they are picked up after being deposited by cats & dogs who mistake the sand for a toilet.. yuck!

After a wonderful few days in Georgetown we booked our minibus ticket which would take us up to Hat Yai in Thailand (35RM). We had really enjoyed our British colonial history tour of both Melaka and Georgetown, a lot more than we had expected to if we are honest. Out of the two cities we have to say that Georgetown really hit the spot for us, it incorporates both the colonial history whilst adding modern elements like the street art which gives the whole experience a more rounded feel and we would definitely like to be able to visit this city again if the future allows, maybe to take in a bit more of the island next time too.


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The hand pulled rickshaw was the most popular form of transport in Penang


18th May 2013
Sophie in our room

Candy Crush? ;)
Brought back some nice memories, we love Penang! When we go back we will take a look at the street art, from your photos it looks great - a really different kind of 'graffiti'. We really wanted to go up Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si temple, but the funicular was closed and like you, we definitely weren't going to walk up in that heat!
19th May 2013
Sophie in our room

Busted!
I'd love to be able to say no but chances are it was! :D
19th May 2013
Dale and a colonial relic!

:)
We have photos from all over the place with us standing next to classicMini's as we have them at home. So happy to see they're still much loved. Reading about your travels is starting to give us the 'itch' again... Must resist the urge, must resist the urge... :) Talking of 'itches', I got those blasted hookworms off a beach in Thailand, but on my stomach, not sure what was worse, parasites partying inside me or the fact I must've rolled around in god knows what to catch them... The irritation does disappear quite quick but the redness persisted for ages, from memory a few months... Enjoy! :)
19th May 2013

Free Beer a Must in Penang
I'm glad I found your blog and finally got to see Penang Hill - after walking there from Kek Lok Si we were so annoyed by the price that we just turned around and walked back to the bus stop near the temple. It sounds like you were there the same time as us (election season) so I really wish we had found one of those parties as we didn't drink a single beer in Penang due to the price. I have to agree wholeheartedly with you about the Indian food, we ate North Indian Tali and South Indian banana leaf at least once per day. Great job with the blog!
19th May 2013
Wedding couple posing for photos

Great capture
Love the impatient bride!
20th May 2013

street art
LOVELY STREET ART. Great imagination.

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