Pulau Penang, An Old-World IslandPulau Penang is an island on the northwest coast of Malaysia, three hours south of the Thai boarder. We had initially planned on staying here two nights prior to travelling into Thailand; however, once we did a bit more in-depth research we discovered the Thai visa conditions have recently changed. This meant staying in Penang for five nights to organise a tourist visa. Initially this was extremely frustrating, Penang had an air quality index of 270 when we arrived and it was starting to take its toll. However, daily rain settled the haze and we were able to relax for a few days and explore the island.
Georgetown is the main centre of the islands hustle and bustle. Narrow roads weave between ancient architectural wonders. There is a distinct lack of footpaths and road rules are adhered to as though they are merely kind suggestions, which makes navigating the town risky business. This being said, take the risks and you will be rewarded. Penang won us over with the relaxed, boarder-line hipster atmosphere and ever-helpful locals.
ACCOMMODATIONWe stayed in Dreamcatcher Travellers Refuge, a guesthouse in the heart of George Town. It sits just behind Love Lane, a road full of guesthouses and hostels. The location was great; close enough to the action to get amongst it all, but far enough away to have a quiet retreat. While the room was small and basic, the bathrooms were clean, the common area relaxing and the priceless advice from the owner made the overall experience excellent. I would most definitely recommend this as a place to stay.
FOODWe have continued our assault on the hawker stalls and they continue to leave us full and content. Of note was the Laksa Asam at the Persiaran Gurney open-air food court. This food court is essentially a bunch of hawker stalls on a spare patch of grass on the corner of a major intersection. Laksa Asam is a Penang speciality, with fish, fat rice noodles and a special flower, bunga kantan, which sets the whole dish off. Even thinking about this dish now my mouth starts watering. We also had claypot chicken rice. The name does a fair job in describing the meal, but an egg is included in the claypot that comes out almost poached.
Outside of here, we ate at the Red Garden, another sort-of food court. While the food was incredible, I found it to be a lot more touristy and consequently much more expensive. What was most memorable was the Karaoke, which started after 9pm. This was a wee bit more of a show than I would usually expect, complete with costume changes and back-up dancers. Just a bit of entertainment to top off our dining experience.
We also ate at a few different noodle shops. The best part is you can order the same dish at each place and it comes out different. Char Kuey Teow is “Penang fried flat noodles” and each variation we had was awesome.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONSThere is a lot to see and do in Penang. One of the most enjoyable was a walking tour of Georgetown. In 2012 an artist, Ernest Zacharevic, was commissioned to complete murals throughout the town.
More murals have gradually been developed and there is now a constant heard of tourists checking these paintings out.
There are specific walking tour maps to show you where all the murals are. We had a great time checking out all the paintings but also walking through Georgetown streets we otherwise wouldn’t have explored.
The Clan Jetties are UNESCO listed heritage sites and are another famous attraction of Georgetown. There are six Clan Jetties remaining after one was destroyed by fire. Chew Jetty is the most tourist-friendly and another aspect of the heritage walk. After centuries, the jetties are still home to the Chinese Clans who initially developed the area. Funnily enough, the Clans still don’t pay taxes as they don’t live on land. Along the jetty are many houses on stilts, all of which have running water and electricity, which is an incredible feat in itself.
We hired a scooter and took off for a day exploring the island. We had a great time and went along a windy bush road that took us through the centre of the island and along the west coast to Taman Negara Pulau Pinang (The Penang National Park). Unfortunately, our timing was a bit off, reaching the national park in the heat of the day. We were reluctant to be too ambitious walking in the heat, so did a quick walk through the park. We drove through Batu Ferringhi, the beachy resort area of the island, before returning to Georgetown.