Penang Heritage walk, Street art Murals, Penang Malaysia

PENANG

In Malaysia by thedustyroad4 Comments

Pulau Penang, An Old-World Island

Pulau 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.

ACCOMMODATION

We 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.

Dreamcatchers Guest House In Penang

Dreamcatchers Guest House


FOOD

We 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.

Busy bodhi cafe, Penang, boasting a multicoloured roof of umbrellas

Busy bodhi cafe, Penang, boasting a multicoloured roof of unbrellas.

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 & ATTRACTIONS

There 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.

Another Penang mural depicting two young children on a swing.

Another Penang mural depicting two young children on a swing.

More murals have gradually been developed and there is now a constant heard of tourists checking these paintings out.

A mural of chilren reaching longingly for the unknown delicacy on the bike in Penang.

A mural of chilren reaching longingly for the unknown delicacy on the bike.

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.

“Little Children on a Bicycle” Mural in Penang

“Little Children on a Bicycle” Mural

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.

The Clan jetties in Penang

The Clan jetties

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.

PEOPLE & CULTURE

There is a very relaxed atmosphere in the centre of Georgetown. The culture in Penang is pretty cool. So many different people with different beliefs and values co-exist in a confined space. We were walking home from dinner one night and stumbled upon a Hindu parade with people singing and dancing around two bulls towing a massive float. On the corner where we stood there were also Chinese dragons dancing to welcome Chinese people to their church. It was bright, loud and a real overload to the senses!

MISHAPS

The Thai Visa was a massive mishap here. Thailand is tightening up on land crossings and now only issuing 15day visas to some countries (including New Zealand and Australia), which meant we either had to fly into the country (and get a 30day visa) or apply for a tourist visa (which means leaving your passport at the Thai Embassy overnight). We looked at flying into Phuket, but to be issued with the 30day visa you also have to have a flight booked out within the 30day period. The only option for us was to apply for the tourist visa, where you don’t need a planned exit. With this in mind we set out on our scooter to the Thai Embassy. I was navigating (with the map.me app, a pretty good offline map system) and Jimmy was scooting us through the peak hour traffic. A few turns were missed (not pointing any fingers here) and a 5km ride ended up taking 30minutes. All was going well, we had all our ducks in a row and were close to the front of the extremely slow line when we saw the cost had increased from 110RM to 150RM. Scrambling, we counted our money and found we had 296RM, which was less than ideal. Luckily the friendly man behind us (who Jimmy had inadvertently greased up, talking about how good the Wallabies are and how the final would be a walk in the park) overheard our dilemma and lent us the 4RM.

WHAT WE LEARNT

It is important to check online for the most up to date visa information. I had checked this a couple of months before we left; however, it had changed within that short space of time. We will check before we get to Bangkok if there are any requirements for our Laos visa.

BUDGET

We came in under budget for our trip in Malaysia by about $300AUD but stayed in Malaysia a week less than I had budgeted for. Overall, we went ok, made some rookie mistakes but enjoyed our time there. Alcohol is quite expensive in Malaysia (compared with all other things) which made enjoying a beer and watching the rugby an expensive evening.

PLAN

To head to Koh Samui. This is a wee bit of a mission, a 10hour minibus from Penang, across the Thai boarder, to Surat Thani followed by a 6 and a half hour night boat to the island.

Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to some amazing cooking when you come back. Have a safe trip to your it next port of call. I hope it’s not too tedious. Keep safe. xxx

  2. Another great write up of your adventures. Love the pictures. My mouth is watering reading about the food!!
    Travel safe. Can’t wait till the next one xx

  3. Love it. What a great idea. I am going to get Mitch to read your blog tomorrow. Safe travels and enjoy the once in a lifetime journey.
    Fi. xxxxx

    1. Author

      Thanks Fi! Glad you are enjoying the blog. I hope you are all well xx

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