I’ve just got back from four days in Penang, a state in northwest Malaysia . It was my first time to this region of Malaysia, which comprises mainland Seberang Perai and Penang Island.
I stayed at the Sunway Hotel in George Town, a popular tourist area of Penang Island. It’s old streets are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hotel was great and really close to Prangin Mall for a spot of shopping and only a short walk away from the busier tourist sites. My room was plush and had all the mod-cons, (no bath!) and there was a cool rooftop pool, Jacuzzi and gym. I enjoyed exploring this city much more than the capital, Kuala Lumpur as it is an exciting cocktail of eastern cultures that is the link between Asia’s impressive kingdoms.
As the hub of the city, the diverse and cosmopolitan George Town is the urban centre that provides a glimpse into old-world Asia. Here you will find and abundance of trishaws pedalling past and many Chinese outlets, along with Indian restaurants in droves.
You cannot visit this part of Penang and miss the at scene. Attractive graffiti adorn the streets of George Town and on every corner you can witness a piece of colourful creativity from Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic. Mainly depicting children, the wall paintings are meant to be funny and interpreted however you want.
Here is a small selection of street art which I captured on my trip.
I was recommended by many friends that have visited the city, that I must try some of the Indian food. As host to some of the best Indian dishes outside of India, I was eager to try some.
Penang is home to an Indian quarter, Little India, an enclave within George Town. The streets are lined with shops managed by the Indian Community and is the best place to enjoy a multitude of sounds and colours and sounds, as well as the smell of Indian spices around every corner. All washed down with a good dose of loud Indian music blaring from speakers.
The Little India area is bordered by Beach Street, China Street, Pitt Street and Chulia Street. I paid Kapitan a visit at the bottom of the busy Chulia street, which was hard to miss due to its huge red signage. Despite its bold exterior, it’s the food that really makes this restaurant. I ordered a chicken tikka masala, pilau rice and a garlic naan set which included dhal and a mint sauce. The whole meal only came to under 20 Ringgit which is about £3.50!
Down most streets there is a wealth of street food vendors who serve the traditional Malaysian fare, as well as Indian roti or a chapatis. I tried one of these for the first time with cheese and was pleasantly surprised at how well the flatbread and simple helping of cheese went together. You’ll never go hungry in Penang as there is always something cooking on one of the bustling streets for less than 50p. Food is so cheap here but it’s alcohol that will set you back.
As I met up with a younger friend (10 years my junior!) I was obliged to partake in some bar hopping. And I’m so glad I did! I mean the cocktails are pretty toxic but the beer is cold and there are some fantastic venues with live music. Chulia Street is again the place to be and at the heart of Penang’s nightlife.
The bar we kept returning to was Junk Cafe, on Chulia Street. As its name suggests, there’s a whole load of junk nailed to the walls in a very arty fashion, from Hindu gods to animals and engine parts, it’s decor is mesmerising.
With its open air windows, Rockafellas was hard not to miss, nor hear with jazz floating out and a bustle of people dancing. This kitchen and bar is a classy haunt, so we didn’t see any fellow travellers or back-packers. But we were greeted with a warm welcome and encouraged to join in and dance. The saxophonist particularly caught my eye.
A hive of back packers and a much younger crowd, Coffee, Tea or Me is a tiny bar-cum-club blasting out hip hop and serving a range of strong cocktails. There were surprisingly a lot of local men dancing and a funky arrangement of mirrors hanging on the walls.
As I was only in town for four days, I didn’t manage to leave the city and see some of the other memorable sights of Penang. Many of my friends suggested I go to Kek Lok Si, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia in Air Itam, near Penang Hill, The hilltop also plays host to a large statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, as well as more gardens and temples.
Also on the hill is Curtis Crest @ The Habitat Penang Hill, a walkway high above Penang Hill, with spectacular views of the forest. There’s a chance to see wildlife in their natural habitat, take the nature trail and do the canopy walk.
For a bit of history, the colonial Fort Cornwallis is a star fort in George Town and the largest standing fort in Malaysia. It was first built by Captain Francis Light in timber then later built by the British East India Company in the late 18th Century.
Harking back to the 19th Century is the Kapitan Keling Mosque, located on situated on the corner of Buckingham Street and Pitt Street in George Town. As the Islamic historic centre, it is part of the city’s Tamil Muslim neighbourhood, the chulias.
All in all, Penang has a rich historical and social scene which I will definitely be visiting again.