Penang - Georgetown's Stifling Heat & Famous Street Art


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April 3rd 2015
Published: April 7th 2015
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Kids On Bicycle Street ArtKids On Bicycle Street ArtKids On Bicycle Street Art

One of the more famous examples.
After chilling out in Vientiane for a week longer than I really needed to be there, it's time to move on. It's been a very laid back week, I've read three books, caught up on some naps and hibernated in my air conditioned room as the temperature outside rose to 40 degrees some days. I ventured out for breakfast, and again late afternoon, to mooch around the markets, walk along the riverfront and enjoy dinner and drinks in a different restaurant each night. I didn't feel the need to fill every day with activity, travel can be hard work! So, now I'm looking forward to flying to Georgetown in Malaysia and getting the most out of what's left of my time away.

My Air Asia flight left Vientiane on time at 9.45am, and landed in Kuala Lumpur three hours later. I had a couple of hours to fill before my one hour flight to Georgetown at 5.00pm, which passed quickly. As the currency exchange booth at the airport remained shut, I couldn't change the last of my Lao kip (about $30) into Malaysian ringgit. The kip is a closed currency meaning it can't be used or exchanged outside Laos. So, I am now the proud owner of many packets of M&M's bought at hugely inflated airport prices. They must make a killing from tourists using up the last of their currency like that. A regular sized Toblerone was almost $10...

Once in Georgetown I purchased a taxi voucher from the booth outside the airport to get to my accommodation. I told them the address, they told me the price. This keeps the cab drivers honest, they redeem the voucher later to receive their fare.

I choose my accomodation from Trip Advisor, as I always do. 24 Merican Road only had one review, but it was glowing, and the price was right at $35 per night, so I went ahead and booked. It was an excellent choice, a B&B homestay, situated in a quiet residential street a 10 minute bus ride from the Old Town. My hosts Peter and Mei, a young Malay couple, welcomed me into their home with big smiles. After settling in I headed out on foot, with directions to some roadside stands where I could buy dinner. I enjoyed sweet and sour pork with rice, washed down with a Coke for 6 ringget ($2.15). A good start for my few days here...

Georgetown, which is named after Britain's King George lll, is the capital city of Penang, an island state in northern Malaysia, connected to the mainland by two of the world's longest bridges, Penang Bridge (13.5klm) and Penang Second Bridge (23.5klm). It's a bustling, colourful and largely Chinese city, full of tumbledown shophouses, impressive colonial architecture and is a maze of broad streets and narrow lanes. Ancient trades such as rattan weaving, joss-stick making and woodcarving still go on, in scenes which probably haven’t changed in a century, while the soaring skyscrapers of modern Georgetown remind us that life here hasn't stood still at all.

Georgetown was also listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2008, and has become a vibrant showcase for street art. There are 52 wrought iron sculptures, or caricatures, placed again walls around the old town area, collectively called 'Marking Georgetown'. Each of these tells a little about the building or area it is placed in.

But what I'm really interested in is the street art, so, armed with a map showing the position of the 18 most popular ones, I hit the streets with my camera. I managed
More Street ArtMore Street ArtMore Street Art

This one is un-named and doesn't even appear on the list of 'must see' street art.
to find, and photograph, 12 of them that day. Not a bad feat considering the heat and my lousy sense of direction. There are several others I'd like to see and will track them down another day.

I also took the guided tour of Blue Mansion ($6) which is the only way you can glimpse inside this beautifully restored building, as it is now used as a very upmarket 18 room hotel and themed events venue. Described by Lonely Planet as one of the 10 greatest mansions in the world, its creator has an interesting 'rags to riches' history.

Arriving penniless from China at the age of 16, Cheong Fatt Tze created a vast empire, took 8 wives and grew to become one of the most colourful personalities of his era. After his death in 1916, the building fell into disrepair and became a home for 32 squatting families. The dilapidated mansion was acquired in 1990 with the intention of restoring it to original condition, and the end result has received international acclaim.

Traditional methods and materials have been utilised throughout and the finish is eclectic - Gothic louvered windows, Chinese cut and paste porcelain work, Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles from England, Scottish cash iron work and Art Nouveau stained glass windows. An aura of peace and tranquility pervades the rooms, possibly due to the fact that 'feng shui' was used in the design and placement of the building. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, our lovely Malay guide was very enthusiastic about the building, it's history and the lives of the people who lived there in it's heyday.

After leaving there I headed to The Purrfect Cat Cafe for a green apple smoothie. This is definately the cafe of choice for cat lovers because upstairs there is an airconditioned cat room, home to 8 felines, where you can enjoy your drink (no food allowed) and talk to the animals. These would have to be the most chilled out cats I have ever seen. Downstairs is a small gift shop selling, you guessed it, cat themed items.

It is incredibly hot here in Georgetown and I am feeling it. I spent half hour in the air conditioned comfort of The Street Art Cafe for a toasted sandwich and another fruit smoothie before admitting defeat. I headed back to Merican Road and my air conditioned room.

In
Ouside a Georgetown Souvenior ShopOuside a Georgetown Souvenior ShopOuside a Georgetown Souvenior Shop

The photo canvas makes the picture.
November last year a new service was introduced for tourists in Georgetown, a hop on hop off (HOHO) bus with two different circuits and about 50 stops. I knew there was a stop at Komtar, the bus hub and tallest building in Georgetown, so I walked there on Saturday morning to 'hop on' one of the buses.

I've used these HOHO buses in different cities I've visited, and they have their pros and cons. The first problem was locating the bus stop. Eventually I found it after being pointed in the right direction at the information booth at the bus station under Komtar. I waited almost an hour before the first double decker HOHO bus pulled in, very different from the 20-30 minutes advertised. Traffic was blamed when I mentioned it to the driver. This was the 'city' run, there were two interchange stops where the 'beach' bus could be caught. This wasn't a free service, I paid $15 for my ticket which was valid for 24 hours.

I hoped off several times, one stop being at Penang Hill. It takes just five minutes to reach the summit, 830 metres above sea level. Passengers were squashed into a funicular train,
Street ArtStreet ArtStreet Art

Must be a newer one as it's not on my map
similar to a mono rail, with standing room only. The views were great. You can see over Georgetown and across the sea to Butterworth on the mainland. At the top there is a restaurant, souvenir and refreshment stands and a small Owl Museum. There was also a long fence covered with 'love locks' and pink plastic hearts. Apparently you write your name and the name of the one you love on the pink heart and lock it to the fence. Happy ever after is then guaranteed.

It was after six when I hopped off the bus at Clan Jetties. It was the closest stop to Chew Jetty, another place I wanted to visit. If I was quick I could also track down two more examples of street art which were out of the Old Town Area and not too far from the waterfront.

The Clan jetties consist of eight jetties, named after the surnames of the original residents. I visited Chew Jetty, now very commercialised, followed by Tan and Lee Jetties. Each jetty comprised of two rows of tiny houses on stilts joined by wooden walkways over the water. So, visitors are walking past the resident's front doors, many of whom have set up shop selling food, drinks and souvenirs. Unfortunately the tide was out when I was there. It would be much more picturesque with the water lapping the jetties. I took photos anyway, knowing I probably wouldn't get back.

I also found the two examples of street art I was looking for. They are all in such random places. I have learnt to look up and behind me as I walk so I don't miss any. When I returned to the Old Town just as it was getting dark, I was surprised to find it very quiet, a lot of businesses already closed for the night. Being Saturday I expected open shops, people, music, lights, food and drinks.... I ended up eating a salad at Pizza Hut at Komtar then catching a taxi back to Merican Road. Not the Saturday night I was hoping for.

On Sunday Peter and Mei, my hosts, said they would run me into town to a market that was on. It wasn't a big market but it was interesting, lots of music, street performers, more red canopies and lots of energetic people lined up doing an exercise class to very
Blue MansionBlue MansionBlue Mansion

The spot between the plants is considered the most auspicious spot in the entire house.
loud music.
As my HOHO bus ticket was still valid I decided to use it, so I caught a bus on the 'beach' run which follows the coastline around as far as the National Park. I didn't get off at any of the stops, not wanting to spend time on the beach. There was nothing else to see on this run, but you could walk at the Botanical Gardens and the National Park, assuming the heat didn't kill you first.

Sundays are quiet in Georgetown too, by the looks of it. Nothing was open, people were listless in the heat. I had lunch at a small sidewalk cafe, fried oysters with chilli dipping sauce, washed down with a Coke. That was a decision I lived to regret, I still shake my head thinking about it. That night the cramps and vomiting started and I came down with a good dose of food poisoning. I spent a miserable night, hoping I'd be okay to catch my bus to Kuala Lumpur in the morning.


Additional photos below
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Rickshaws for hireRickshaws for hire
Rickshaws for hire

These are the slowest way ever, to get anywhere. Love the umbrellas, much needed in this heat.
Caricature Wrought Iron WorkCaricature Wrought Iron Work
Caricature Wrought Iron Work

This one is titled 'Budget Hotels'
Penang HillPenang Hill
Penang Hill

The fence of love.
Lanterns at Chew JettyLanterns at Chew Jetty
Lanterns at Chew Jetty

Rows of paper lanterns hung outside a shrine near Chew Jetty
Tan JettyTan Jetty
Tan Jetty

Rather narrow and unsafe when passing someone.
The Botanic GardensThe Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens

Huge plant leaves floating on the surface of the water.


20th April 2015

Malaysia
We really enjoy reading along on your adventure. Sounds like you found a great place to stay. Keep the blogs coming.

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