I am so glad we did!
As soon as we checked into our Heritage Homestay, we were given a Heritage Trail map of the City and it crossed our minds that Penang could be a cool place to hang out.
We weren’t wrong.
Penang quickly became a place we fell in love with which is unusual, as we don’t really like Cities. So what was it about Penang that made it so different?
To explain how multi-cultural George Town is, we visited a Buddhist Temple, Hindu Temple and mosque all within a five minute walk from each another. There are many temples to see around George Town, from Hindu Temples to Chinese Temples.
Goddess of Mercy Buddhist Temple - The oldest and most legendary temple in Penang is still an active Buddhist Temple and each year, believers of the Taoism and Confucianism teachings will swarm the temple on the eve of Chinese New Year. They will pray to the Goddess Kuan Yin that their health and good luck can be maintained throughout the year. There are a few stands outside selling joss sticks and we found a quaint courtyard out the back where we sat in the shade for five minutes for some respite from the heat of the day (and for some peace and quiet).
Built in 1833, Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu Temple in Penang dedicated to the Hindu God Lord Subramaniam and is a kaleidoscope of bright, beautiful colours.
With an eclectic mix of cultures, you will find culinary delights to suit most palettes. Street food is very popular in Penang and there are stalls and communal areas in the various districts of George Town. During our Street Art trail, we stumbled across Lebuh Kimberley in Chinatown which had a local Chinese food court serving cheap and delicious food, we ate here twice and ordered Char Koay Teow on both occasions!
Anyone who has heard of Penang will know about its infamous murals, in fact some people visit George Town for this reason only. George Town is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, however it isn’t because of the street art, but the wrought-iron structures dotted around key historic parts of the town. In 2009, the Penang State Government had a brilliant initiative of opening up a competition to achieve its UNESCO status and the winning idea resulted in the creation of 51 steel-rod caricatures retelling the history of George Town. I have to admit, it’s inspirational and if a City has a story to tell, this is fantastic and quirky well of giving tourists a history lesson. I would recommend it to everyone as it’s a fun and unique way of navigating around the back streets and discovering the main areas without really trying. It’s easy to spot some of the more famous pieces – you will see queues of people lining up to take photographs.
We stayed in a traditional Chinese clan house called Muntri House, a Heritage Homestay on Muntri Street which (in my opinion) is a really cool part of George Town and is central to the popular tourist streets of Love Lane and Chulia Street. This area has some of the most photographed pieces of steel-rod caricature sculptures and murals, for instance at the top of the road is Jimmy Choo and at the bottom, the Kung-Fu Girl Street Art. Quirky café’s line Muntri Street, for instance we sipped a mango lassi on a converted antique sewing machine!
Puurfect Cat Café
When we used to have our cat Ella, these are the playful antics she used to do so to have a few cats running around doing the same was delightful.
When the cat treats came out, well that was it, all cats were your friend … until someone else chinked a cat bowl with their treats, then they were gone. There was Orange the ginger Persian, Bear the smokey grey Scottish Fold and the stocky white Scottish Fold named Teddy. Molly was the mother of the three tabbies who continuously played with anything and everything they could find.
We queued for around 20 minutes to catch the rather steep 785 metre funicular to the top, the journey took around 10 minutes but we were unable to appreciate any views as we were jammed in like sardines. Beware; during high season, you could be queuing for a lot longer.
As I mentioned, it was raining when we arrived so we thought we would visit the small Hindu Temple at the top to shelter for a while, which was a welcoming place to be for some respite from the rain.
By now it was lunchtime and, as it was still raining, we popped to the on-site food court and ate a cheap Char Koay Teow for RM7. This food court is full of cheap-eat stalls to choose from and, again, was a good enough place to shelter from the rain.
Then finally, the rain stopped!
I was later advised to visit around 5pm so you can walk around and be there for sunset and I have to admit, the photos I have seen online do look amazing so if you want to go to Penang Hill, maybe you will remember this.
Travel Tip: Catch the Rapid Transit 204 bus from George Town to the end of the line (it will take around 30-45 minutes depending on time of day/traffic), click here for bus information, cost will be RM2 per person each way.
Kek Lok Si Temple
If you like Buddhist Temples, then do check out Kek Lok Si Temple, Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple and an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippines. It is spectacular and well worth a few hours exploring, for a full day out, you can combine this Temple with a trip to Penang Hill (maybe for sunset!). (Buses 201,203, 204 & 502 from George Town to Air Itam)
Kek Lok Si is like a Russian doll with many different layers and, just when you think you have finished with one room, another will follow displaying more amazing statues, carvings and gold – there are a lot of gold Buddhas! If, like us, you wanted to buy a wishing ribbon to hang on the wishing tree, there are plenty of places to choose from. Wishes range from good health to successful career and we purchased one each (but I’m not confessing what we wished for otherwise it may not come true!).
If there is a beach to be found, I will seek it out and Penang is no different! Around 17km away from George Town in the north of the island is Batu Ferringhi. There are plenty of water activities to be enjoyed such as Paragliding, jet skiing or banana boat rides, alternatively you can lay on the soft sand and simply relax.
Travel Tip: Catch the 101 bus from Chulia Street (opposite the 7/11) for RM2.70 each way, the journey will take between 20-45 minutes depending on traffic.
It’s no secret that we love a bit of reggae, so when we stumbled across a street bar called The Reggae Club on Chulia Street about 5 minutes from our homestay, we knew this was the place for us. It just so happens that ladies can drink “house drinks” for free between 6-9pm so I sipped a few free vodka and sprites whilst eating a delicious Jamaican lamb curry,(cost was RM22). There was a magnetic chess board on our table so we thought “why not”, it didn’t matter that we had never played one another in all the years we had been together, tonight was the night we were going to test our memory. We haven’t played it since.
We really enjoyed our time in Penang and in particular, the Heritage Trail as it was just so different to anywhere we have visited. It gave us a wonderful perspective on the City and we explored places in a way we wouldn’t usually consider, but more than that, it was fun. The melting pot of people in Penang is unique and the quirkiness of some of the areas meant we fell in love with this City. If you are thinking of going to Malaysia, I think you should add Penang to your list, we are certainly glad we did!
Have you visited Penang? What did you enjoy? Maybe you are thinking of going … will you definitely visit now? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
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- The official currency is Malaysian Ringgit, £1 = RM5.54
- Malay is the official language but English is widely spoken
- A 90 day Visa is given upon arrival to most Countries but check with your Government website before departure
Getting to Penang Island:
Penang is actually made up of mainland Penang and Penang Island, George Town where we visited is Penang Island.
By air: You can fly directly to Penang mainland either with Malaysian Airlines, Air Asia or Firefly
By train: KTMP is the national train company with daily routes from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth on the mainland
By boat: From Langkawi you can get a boat which takes about 2.5 hours
You can also reach Penang by car and by bus, for more in-depth travel information, look at www.wonderfulmalaysia.com.
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