Penang - The Not-So-Food Capital of Malaysia


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Asia » Malaysia » Penang » George Town
January 9th 2014
Published: February 11th 2014
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Tropical Spice FarmTropical Spice FarmTropical Spice Farm

Adored walking through the gardens and discovering about Penang's Spice Trade
The heavens had decided to REALLY open somewhere over the ocean between Langkawi and Penang. Luckily it's a mere 35 minute flight so the turbulence didn't last too long. At first glance the island of Penang already appeared much more built up than Langkawi. The schmick white taxis (called 'limos' on Penang) were also a clear sign that this island is a lot more commercial (or as the signs would say "a world city"). For 45RM / $15.60AUD we made our way to the Sunway Hotel in Georgetown by limo.



The Sunway Hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Georgetown. It was a welcome sight to arrive at such a modern and stylish hotel after our dated accommodation back in Langkawi. The Executive Level Lounge on level 14 provided a great outlook over the city and Penang Bridge as we sipped our Tigers. It was great having a room on the top floor which also gave us a great view out over Georgetown.



After a quick freshen up it was out to explore the area! We had read there was a small hawker centre on
Tree Monkey RestaurantTree Monkey RestaurantTree Monkey Restaurant

Stunning food, albeit Thai!
our street which we arrived at after a couple of minutes. Satay was on the menu for dinner and at just 3RM for my meal I was impressed! The Malay really know how to do Satay 😊 Matt opted for a light mango lasi (smoothie) for 5RM... too many Executive lounge hors dovers I think!



Day 2 in Penang was humid and sticky after late showers the night before. I had read great reviews of the Tropical Spice Farm, not to mention am completely into making my own sauces and experimenting with spices so this was a must-see in Penang. Taking the bus from Komtar for 6RM / $2AUD saved us on taxi fares for the day and for the majority of our time in Penang actually. We thought the 30RM / $10.50AUD entrance fee for two was reasonable and with Matt's knowledge of plants we decided to opt for the non-guided ticket. The grounds were so green and full of life. I liked the different tracks for different species and the little waterfalls and ponds made it feel like a 'secret' garden. Just when we felt like having a sit down a little hut appeared up
Dusky MonkeysDusky MonkeysDusky Monkeys

Didn't know what they were at the time but looked them up on the net later. Just when you thought they couldn't get any cuter their babies are born bright yellow!
the hill where there was fresh Spring water and hot tea of the day (help yourself at no charge). We loved the Chrysanthemum Tea so much that we bought a few bags at the gift shop... along with 200RM / $80AUD of other yummy things! One of the other highlights of the TSG was stopping in at Monkey Tree Restaurant for lunch. Quite literally perched amongst the trees where a local Dusky monkey colony lives, the view out over the water isn't too shabby either. We had 16 Thai tapas and drinks for 75RM / $26AUD. Everything was fantastic but special mentions go to the Pandan Chicken and Golden Parcels Cups.



We jumped back on the bus and headed to the Penang Butterfly Farm, some 5 minutes down the road. Unfortunately the bus driver misheard us and dropped us off at the National Park (Teman Negara) entrance. We walked back easily enough but for those expecting to be dropped off at the front door be warned, the buses only go as far as the brightly coloured 'Adventure Park' (from here it is about 200m straight up the road). I definitely felt the entrance fee of 54RM /
Penang Butterfly FarmPenang Butterfly FarmPenang Butterfly Farm

A bit pricey to get in - would definitely be worth it with kids in toe!
$19AUD was a bit steep considering the amount of time most people would spend at the Butterfly Farm. Especially those people scared of creepy crawlies which make up the second section of the farm. However it was pretty cool sitting on a park bench and having butterflies sit all over you - especially with how colourful they are! You can also buy single mounted butterflies from as low as 40RM / $14AUD here. The shop assistant assured me the letter they supply would satisfy Australian Customs would suffice but we just didn't want to risk it.



We would have stayed in the north coast region and waited for the Night Markets to begin but we were fairly pooped from all the walking and thought it best to head back to Georgetown for a refresher / refreshing beer 😊 You can take the bus to Batu Ferringhi from Komtar for the same price as to Tropical Spice Garden. As we have both been to Thailand and other markets around the world we had high expectations of the BF Night Markets. A lot of people had mentioned to us that the prices and quality were amazing considering Penang's status
View from Sunway HotelView from Sunway HotelView from Sunway Hotel

Loved our hotel in Georgetown - was super central!
as a major hub. We arrived at BF around 8pm and first impressions were that the stalls were quite repetitive (watches, sunglasses, clothing, hats, DVDs and phone accessories) and the quality was hit and miss. In the end I managed picking up a lovely oil artwork and a pair of flats while Matt bought a couple of watches and some caps. Expect prices at BF to be around 3-4RM / $1-$1.50AUD for DVDs, hats for 15RM / $5.20AUD, flats for 20RM / $7AUD and hand-painted artworks for 100-150RM / $35-$52AUD. Can't comment much on the rest of BF other than the fact we saw plenty of Aussies and did not make it to the beach. The best way to get around Penang is definitely by bus - the traffic is quite heavy so you would be stuck in a taxi just the same. All day travel on Rapid Penang buses cost us 24RM / $8.50AUD for 2 people.



Day 3 and there was trestles and cans of paint everywhere when we arrived at Kek Si Lok Temple just outside of Georgetown. The workers were busily preparing for Chinese New Year on January 31, where they will bathe
Biryani in Little IndiaBiryani in Little IndiaBiryani in Little India

Delicious Indian...but wasn't much else in Georgetown that took our fancy
the sprawling temple in light of over 100,000 bulbs. This will continue for 15 days hence and hands down be their busiest time of year. My hat goes off to those workers! The painting is intricate and the bulbs are placed perfectly with copper wire to outline every feature. To anyone planning a visit to Penang, Chinese New Year would most definitely be the best time to do it. The cost is just 2RM / 70cents AU each way by bus from Komtar in Georgetown. Entry to the main section of the temple is free however the Cable Car up to Bronze Statue will set you back 5RM / $1.80AUD return per person and entry to the tall Pagoda is 2RM / 70cents AU per person. Many stalls line the walk up from Air Itam selling cheap t-shirts, Buddha paraphernalia and general Penang souvenirs. I loved buying the prayer ribbons inside the main temple inside KSL for just 1RM / 35cents AU each - we made prayers for Being Together Forever, Constant Happiness, Living Together Harmoniously, Family To Be Safe and Good Health.



Our last night in Penang was a quiet one - a few drinks in
Kek Si Lok TempleKek Si Lok TempleKek Si Lok Temple

Sprawling temple with nice views out over Georgetown
the Executive Lounge followed by a walk out around Georgetown Heritage site (didn't see anything noteworthy sorry!) and dinner in the. Little India precinct. This was pretty cool! They served our Biryiani and sides on dishes but came over after a few minutes and stopped us eating and poured it all out on to the banana leaf they had given us (which we assumed was a placemat of sorts). Most regular customers were eating with their hands but we opted for Western cutlery.



Unfortunately most of the stores were closed when we finished dinner but we did manage to grab a few garlands for our Buddhas and a couple of Indian savories to take home (declared of course). Despite the darkness we still got the general impression of the Georgetown UNESCO Site and overall, was not impressed. The town seemed a bit too dilapidated and derelict to cause such a tourism 'fuss'. In retrospect we should have checked out of Langkawi and checked in on Koh Lipe island... at one of those gorgeous bungalows right on the beach 😊 It may also have been a better idea to stay in Georgetown for one night and then check
Prayer Ribbons at Kek Si LokPrayer Ribbons at Kek Si LokPrayer Ribbons at Kek Si Lok

Enjoyed this little ritual
into a hotel in Batu Ferringhi and lazed by the (substandard) beach and dabbled in market banter - one night would have been plenty at BF also.



On the whole I wouldn't recommend Penang to fellow travellers unless of course it was Chinese New Year and there were hundreds of thousands of lights covering the many temples across the city. I just found it a bit too 'blah'. Nevertheless, it's hard to ignore all those people telling you the food is amazing and the market buys are a steal. We personally had better street food on Langkawi and ate at better restaurants in Kuching. Chinatown markets in KL offered better bargains, probably because of the sheer volume of shoppers they are not in 'dire need' of an over-priced sale.



One thing I will remember about Penang is their effortless sense of quirky humour - the Korean BBQ restaurant called 'Gangnam Style' or the tiny little coffee shop on the beach just outside of BF called 'Tsunami Village'. I will remember the commercial areas clashed against the touristy 'hideaways' and the smells and sights of Little India and the Tropical Spice Farm. Penang is still
Kek Si Lok LanternsKek Si Lok LanternsKek Si Lok Lanterns

Thousands were being hung in preparation for Chinese New Year
worthy of a one or two night visit if you're in the area. It’s off to KL for the final leg of our journey – talk then, much love xxo AG


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Sabah IncidentSabah Incident
Sabah Incident

Was glad we chose Sarawak (Kuching) over Sabah (Kota Kinabalu) to see the Orang-Utans... this was on the cover of the Penang paper during our stay.


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