With a four day stop over in Malaysia, I decided I had enough time to squeeze in a couple of days on Penang Island. It turned out to be a verrrry tight squeeze, I’ll explain later! I got a coach from TBS station in Kuala Lumpur to Penang for 34 ringet but there’s also a train for about double that. The journey is meant to take 4-5 hours but it took 6 due to traffic.
Georgetown is the capital city of Penang Island and it bursts with culture. It was colonised by the British and because of the breadth of architecture, has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a colourful Little India, oriental influences, temples, mosques and churches. It really hones the cultural diversity of Malaysia.It wasn’t long until I got talking to people at the hostel including Lee (the most hilarious Korean person I think I’ll ever meet) who mentioned China House, an old Chinese building that was converted into a cake cafe. It’s not just a cafe but also a restaurant, art gallery and mini library. It’s a cool place to wander and look at all the little oddities dotted around. Back to the cake, China House is famous for its cake and rightly so! There’s a huge wooden table covered with thirty very inviting varieties of cake and it was extremely hard to retain control and not be a complete pig. On the tables were sheets of paper and crayon pots so we sat there drawing stupid pictures eating cake for dinner like big kids at a tea party! We split four cakes between five of us and walked out feeling a bit sick. Self-inflicted.Georgetown is one of those cities where time disappears while you dawdle and get lost in the myriad of little streets that lead you to quaint tea houses, food stalls, antique shops and art galleries.
The most unique thing about Georgetown is the street art which sprawls across the corners of the city. Some is obvious, some you have to find on hidden streets and some unexpectedly pops out at you while you’re walking. Artist Ernest Zacharevic is the man behind Penang’s lively street art scene and has now taken permanent residence to continue his work. The murals depict Penang’s history, its stories and its people to capture the city’s energy and paint a bigger picture of its identity. Well known art spots are Lenin Chulia, Beach Street, Lebuh Canon, Lebuh Armenian and Chew Jetty.The street names are influenced by old trades, people and events to reflect their unique heritage. This theme of storytelling continues with the fifty two wrought-iron caricature structures that are found on most streets in central Georgetown. The caricatures draw influence from individual people and events – the life and soul which make every street unique.I liked sitting down with a drink and watching the locals pass by. One of my favourite things were the colourful umbrella pedalos which are decorated with flags and fresh flowers.It would be very easy to eat your way around Penang. The food is just so good! Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Western, its all there. At night it’s even better with busy street food courts. On St Patrick’s night we ended up eating in a big food court which just so happened to be hosting a singing contest. Let me just say that the mics were very loud.
My last evening in Penang was spent going up to Penang Hill to watch the sunset with my hostel friends. Watching sunset was a fail as it set the other side of the hill and it was blocked by loads of trees. The panoramic views of the island made it worth it though, and taking the train up was an experience in itself! It’s really steep and for someone scared of heights makes for a cheap thrill. There’s a bar at the top of the hill but you need to take out a mortgage if you want a drink.So back to why it turned out to be a verrry tight squeeze. I had to be in Kuala Lumpur to get my flight to Bali at 5.30pm on the 18th. Bearing in mind the bus takes longer than it should, I booked my bus for 8.30am that morning. Plenty of time! It was St. Patrick’s Day that evening and I drank more alcohol than I should’ve. I set my alarm for 7.30am, I swear I set my alarm! It didn’t go off. I woke up and looked at my alarm half asleep, and then did a double take as reality struck. It was 8.50!!! I shoved everything into my bag and ran to reception… “Have I missed it?!” They said I still had a bit of time to get to the main bus station where it was waiting but the taxi driver took me to the wrong place. I had to get another bus but it took 7.5 hours and I very nearly missed the last train that would get me to the airport on time. It was all fine in the end and I made my flight with enough time to get some dinner, panic over!
I loved Penang and just wish I had more time there. Oh, and I’ll definitely be getting the train next time!