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Published: April 11th 2015
Georgetown is one of those places that oozes charm and character. We are not sure what it was for us; whether it was the laid back sleepy atmosphere, the quainter streets with beautifully intact buildings or more the more rustic, crumbling colonial shop houses; the fact that it had more food cuisines than you can shake a chopstick at (all of which had our taste buds working overtime), jaw dropping street art buried deep within its alleys or its beautiful mix of cultures and faiths all sitting beside each other in harmony. We just loved this town, it had us intrigued and we explored this place with such ease.
George-town named after the British King Goerge III is situated on the island Penang and is well known for its UNESCO world heritage label due to its preserved history and its peaceful mixture of temples, mosques and churches. As soon as we arrived it was not hard to see the contrasting Asian and European influences that make up this town. One European influence that immediately caught our attention is the brightly coloured colonial style shop houses that sit beside each other in long rows and all connected by an arched walkway
from one end to the other. Noting the distinguishing features; the tiled floors, the wooden shutters for windows, the folding doors on the lower levels and the tiled roofs; it was hard to believe you were in Asia, likening such builds to a sleepy town in Spain or France.
After catching the ferry across from Langkawi, we arrived at Malabar guesthouse after a not so short walk from the pier due to refusing to be robbed by the excessively priced taxi's. Upon arrival the friendly manager of the place greeted us and after settling down he kindly provided information on things to see and do in the surrounding area along with a map illustrating the key points of interest. This was a nice touch that many guest-houses and hotels alike could provide but don't usually until you really press them for such information.
One lure to Penang for us apart from its history was the street art; some of which we had seen pictures of beforehand. Thanks to Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic's contribution back in Penang's 2012 Georgetown festival, the town is full of amazing street art commissioned by the council. Armed with a map we spent
the morning of our first day here looking for the various murals dotted around the town. Some are huge detailed murals painted on the sides of buildings taking up the whole wall whereas others are smaller in size and hidden down side streets. We were in awe at how life like some of these pieces were and felt drawn to the emotion and story they all told. We stared at many in awe; our favourites being the captivating portrait of the little boy and the mural of the two children on the swings which brought back fun childhood memories of the playing at the park. We of course took some obligatory pictures having fun incorporating ourselves into the art. Unfortunately a few of these murals have disappeared due to decaying brick work leaving only a small reminder of what was.
Intrigued by its colonial history we went to visit one of the cultural heritage centres. The centre held small displays depicting the evolution of the colonial builds from the end of the 1800s until the mid 1900s pointing out the varying styles adopted. Next we decided to explore the Chinese Clan Jetty’s that can be found near Penang ferry
terminal. These are floating settlements consisting of wooden platforms and huts that are built on stilts and were constructed in the late 1800s with different jetties associated with different Chinese clans and families.
Our hostel owner informed us that as the Chinese settlers could not afford land, they built their settlements overwater and interestingly to this day they do not pay any tax as they claim not to live on land. Only a couple are tourist friendly and so we wandered down one of these jettys while noting signs saying do not take any pictures of this building. Our walk throughout the jetty was pleasant, although the jetty had become more of a tourism trap for people selling souvenirs and we were slightly disappointed to find that one of the murals created on the side of a jetty by the famous Ernest Zacharevic had been painted over. Someone here was obviously not a big fan.
After hours spent exploring the street, hunting out murals and exploring the history we really had to nap; something we came to do on most days here. The town was just a melting pot and appeared to have no real shade from the
relentless sun. It did have the arched walkways from the colonial buildings (which we loved and took numerous pictures of) but I don't think the locals quite saw them as a walkways. Sometimes these free walkways were interrupted by parked motorcycles, shops extending to the outside with racks of clothes, restaurants making use of these areas with chairs and tables and sometimes these walkways were used as a fully equipped kitchen!! Therefore instead of walking the shaded walkway uninterrupted we annoyingly weaved in and out of traffic and the walkways as we explored the town.
On most occasions when we entered or left our hostel we were greeted by a young male staff member who worked there, appearing to go out of his way to help, despite not having the best English. Never got his name, but we certainly will remember him, his infectious personality and his obsession with water. Whenever we passed through reception he always insisted and made us sit down to drink a cold glass (or 2) of water regardless of whether we already had a bottle in our hands or insisted that we had already had some water.
We both loved this one
This was tucked around some corner
always argue that we needed more water and the water they provided was colder than the ones we had in our hands. For some reason we felt that we could not say no to this young man. Every time we entered or left the building, knowing we could get caught in his trap, we tried to sneak past without him seeing us and always failed to avoid what felt like being force fed water. He was only making sure we stayed extra hydrated I guess but at one point there was a group of us all sat there being made to drink water. We all laughed about it together and Chris made the comment that it felt like we were in a group of h20 anonymous.
When people we have met talk about Penang, one of the first things that is mentioned about this place is the food. The food here is particularly well known for its great quality Malay, Indian and Chinese food which for us was a real highlight. As soon as we sampled our first meal we agreed that it would be in our best interest to sample as much food as possible over the following
3 days. The first meal that had us hooked was the amazing tandoori Chicken and naan bread set that can be found in the restaurants namely in little India. The grilled flavoursome chicken, naan (with crushed garlic embedded) and sauces (sweet, garlic and curry like sauces) were like nothing we have never tasted before. In the same restaurants we also tried the chicken and vegetable curries here that came with roti. P loves a good curry and definitely rated the soft but oily roti. Plus it offered an escape from the rice or noodles that is more or less served with each meal on this side of the world. One rice dish we loved however was the biryani rice that is a mixture of cooked rice, spices and small diced up vegetables. Delicious. This could be a meal in its own right but was often served up with some sort of meat curry.
After falling in love with the Indian food we sampled the famous street food, opting for the Chinese food stands which proved to be popular with many locals. Not quite knowing what was what; we ordered the Wan Ton Mee which turned out to
Busy street stall
These guys we're working flat out and it was so hot too
be a tasty dish consisting of noodles, pork pieces, Wan Ton and chillies. Ordering a large portion each due to the ridiculously low cost meant we were given two enormous portions which sadly we could not finish even though Chris certainly gave it a good try. Another favourite eatery were those small eateries at the food courts. This is where you can sample almost any SE Asian cuisine cooked street food style. We ate at one station thinking it was traditional Malay food, turned out it was Thai! Oh well, we do love a good Thai dish. One thing we noticed about the food courts we visited, was the tv's there always had some form of National Geographic wildlife programme on repeat. Strange. Oh and one thing all the above food eateries had in common was that the food here was really cheap, like 5 Ringgit (£1) each for a filling meal. Many not having many western tourists as they were not always easily found, with the more costly local but touristy eateries taking the main spots.
For one of our evenings in Penang, we opted to visit Penang hill for some stunning views across the city.
Delicious tandoori set
You eat with you hand here
To get to the hill we had to catch a local bus which took about an hour. We knew that we would have to catch the 5 minute funicular ride to the top when we got to our stop (instead of climbing the 3 and a half hour trail) but were taken back by the tourist prices they were charging at 40ringgit (£8) each. Oh well we had made it this far and so went ahead with the plan anyway. We were not disappointed. In fact we were rather impressed with ourselves for choosing to visit just before sun down as we were treated to stunning views over city in both day light and night, the latter of which we preferred due to the glowing city lights.
The following day we took another public bus to the national park in search of Monkey Beach. After a 1.5 bus ride we had to register ourselves at the office of this protected area (at no cost) and then began our 1.5 hour trek to Monkey Beach. After reading reviews into this trail we were not disillusioned into thinking this trail would be nice and easy with concrete paving (which it started
out to be). Instead we quickly took to the jungle-like trail with a well-trodden path made up of huge rocks and tree roots that had to be used to navigate the short trek. It was not very strenuous but being enclosed in the jungle-like area really made us sweat. What was worse, was that the trail ran alongside the sea and because we were all hot and sweaty the sound of the ocean was torture as we just wanted to jump straight in.
During the trek there was one moment that P jumped back as a twig fell from the jungle canopy. Panicked by the thought it was a snake we were quiet delighted when we looked up to see a family of monkeys right above us. Perfect opportunity for some close up monkey shots but disappointingly we had left our bridge camera behind.
Once we arrived at the beach, we instantly loved the feel of it, white sand, turquoise sea and a laid back atmosphere with a few locals and a few tourists. One basic hut structure but no real developments. The sea here was warm & calm and so we hopped in to cool off and
relaxed on the beach for a few hours taking in the beautiful backdrop of the green mountains.
That evening we met up with a couple of hitchhiking French girls who we instantly got talking to the previous night at a reggae bar. We chatted about the usual backpacker things sharing stories and advice getting lost in conversation until it was around 2am. We had a bus to catch at 8am so called it a night but said we'd arrange to meet up with the girls again as our itineraries crossed at some point. What a nice way to end our time in the beautiful Georgetown, Penang.
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