Currency: Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
10 MYR = £1.79 £1 = 5.58 MYR
Time Zone: GMT +8
28th Nov – 2nd Dec
Our stay in Georgetown, on the island of Penang, started with a nap. A really big one. We had gotten an early train to get a jumpstart on the day but only got going in the evening. I don’t know if you have gotten the idea yet but travelling can be pretty tiring!
We wondered around Little India before finding a nice Indian Restaurant (oddly enough) and because we missed lunch we had a feast.
Our hostel was sat a hundred metres or so from the famous Love Lane so we wondered in that direction for a drink. We found a sister bar of the Taps bar from KL and popped in for one nice drink.
Our second day started reasonably early. We once more had free toast breakfast, this time with traditional kaya spread and some good coffee, which was unusual for a hostel. Penang was pretty big on its coffee though, which I found out later.
We set off to the Heritage Centre where we picked up a map to find all the famous street art spots. In 2012 a Lithuanian chap called Ernest Zacharevic was invited to Penang to paint some walls for the annual Georgetown Festival. He did a rather good job and so they decided to keep them and bolster them with more over the years. His painting of the children on the bike (coupled with half a real bike) has become one of the most iconic images of Penang.
We wondered the streets for a couple of hours, trying to find all the artworks hidden down alleyways. Our art tour took us once more to Love Lane where we had some lunch in a place called Selfie Coffee. Turns out you can get your face on a coffee.
After lunch we walked down to the waterfront where you can walk along a collection of jetties with stalls and shops selling their wares.
One such business was a group of three Indian ladies drawing henna. After the nose piercing it seemed her rebellious streak was to continue.
After all the varying levels of art we had found/drunk/watched, we had built up quite a thirst. We found a stall across the road from the jetties selling large smoothies for just over £1. When we got it we realised large was an understatement
We still had some day left but the weather was about to turn. We saw online that there was an interactive museum a small way up the road. We found it, wandered in and paid our admission.
From the description it sounded like a good selection of different things, one of those being more trick-art, which we had seen plenty of in Busan and Sinapore. However we figured the rest of the stuff would make it worthwhile. Unfortunately it was at least 80% trick-eye. Having paid to go in we tried to make the most of it.
There was also a cardboard village, a rather dated virtual reality film of a rollercoaster and a camera that did little more than add some Snapchat-esque filters. It also turned out we had gone to the wrong one! We had gone to Penang Amazing World but had intended to go nextdoor to Made In Penang Interactive Museum, which appears to be pretty much the same thing. Why Penang needs two trick-eye museums next-door to each other is beyond me. There is a third elsewhere in Georgetown and an “Upside down house” too!
Once the daytime hours had come to an end we headed out to Red Garden, a night market hawker centre selling an international selection of food. I got myself char kway teow, a traditional noodle dish with prawn and sausage. Kate was sold some spring rolls, calamari and deep fried prawns from an absolute nutter who named his food stall after his favourite president.
Whilst there I had another Malaysian staple, asam laksa, a fragrant fish soup that I wasn’t very keen on. Kate had herself a big mound of egg fried rice.
The Red Garden was packed and I can see why. There was live music, a huge selection of great food and a guy that comes round to top your beer up every minute or two. It was also very easy to navigate all the menus with everything in English and plenty of Kate friendly options.
Afterwards we went back to Love Lane for a not-so-quiet drink before heading to bed.
Day three started once more with kaya toast and coffee/tea. We would be getting the boat to our next stop and so walked to and up the coast to the ticket office. We then walked back down the coast back to the bus station to get to Penang Hill.
Penang Hill is a 833m hill 6km west of Georgetown with a big furnicular railway that has been sliding its way up and down the hillside for almost a hundred years.
There was a hefty queue as only one train can go up and one can go down at a time. There is a rather scary passing loop around halfway up where the two trains pass, both at full speed.
At the top there is a food court where we had some lunch. To keep up with all the Penang must-eats I got us a traditional dessert called Cendol: a bowl of coconut milk with rice flour jelly coloured with pandan leaves, palm sugar, shaved ice and kidney beans. It was interesting, especially the beans.
The hill was used as a retreat by the Brits in colonial times to escape the heat and malaria in the towns. Now you can find a large selection of odd tacky touristic exhibitions like a love tunnel and an earthquake experience.
There are some small hikes you can do once at the top, including back down the hill, but we settled for walking around the top. We found a spot to admire the view over Georgetown and stopped there for a bit.
We zoomed back down the furnicular and waited for our bus back to Georgetown. Once back we got some food from a Japanese restaurant and headed in the direction of Love Lane once more. We tried a couple of bars before finding a cool artsy tourist shop where we got chatting to the owner. We chatted a lot about Tapirs as he had constructed hundreds over the course of three months for an exhibition.
Day four was a day of big houses, the first being this lovely green house.
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion was built by and lived in by a Chinese family on the 19th century. It has been lovingly restored after falling into disrepair. It now acts as a museum to the lives, culture and design of the Peranakan people.
After big house number one we went to a vegetarian restaurant recommended by the tapir loving chap from the previous day before heading to get some coffee. Of all the hundreds of coffee shops in Penang there was one I wanted to try something a bit different.
Kopi Luwak is known as the world’s most expensive coffee and supposedly the nicest too. In Kopi Loewak they served this luxury brew in a number of ways. The reason for its pricetag is the method of its coming to be. Civets (weasel like critters) find the best coffee beans and eat them. The farmers then collect these partly digested beans and give them a bit of a rinse. The idea is that the combination of the civets picking the best beans and the enzymes partly breaking down the proteins in the beans make it a super smooth coffee.
They drip brewed it and served it black with no milk. It was very smooth and quite possibly the best black coffee I’ve ever had, but that could be partly down to the fact I never have black coffee. And at about £6.50 I’ll stick to my flat whites.
Another digestion based adventure was another traditional desert: Ais Kacang.
It’s another odd mix of ingredients in a bowl with ice. Amongst others it contains peanuts, red beans, jelly, rose syrup and sweetcorn. Not my favourite pudding, not even close.
We went back to more solid sights and walked across Georgetown to our second big house: the blue house.
This mansion belonged to a well known Chinese businessman called Cheong Fatt Tze who is perhaps best known for having had eight wives. He built this blue house with three beautiful courtyards with the intention of it being his family home for many generations. It only lasted two before his last son died and it was sold on to a buyer who restored it back to its former glory.
That evening we went to get a curry from a street stall the tapir guy had recommemded but it was shut. We walked back to the hostel but Kate started to feel unwell so we went back to the room. I went out later to an Indian restaurant down the street and had a quick dinner.
Kate waa feeling much better for our final morning in Georgetown started like the rest but then we went to get our last of the Penang must eats. We found a street stall in Little India that did roti and teh tarik. Roti is thin tissue like bread served with a curry sauce for the grand total of 20p. Teh tarik however was the main attraction. It’s name translates as pulled tea and the sweet condensed milk tea is poured from a height with great skill and accuracy.
It tasted ok, a bit sweet perhaps, but fantastic to watch it be made. After the show we headed to the bank before finding a cafe for lunch. We had about half an hour so we sat down and ordered. It was only after 20 minutes I was informed they did not have what I had ordered and Kate’s cheese omelette hadn’t turned up either. We went up to cancel it but it came out of the kitchen so we took it to go.
We made it back to the hostel with just enough time to get our taxi to take us to the ferry terminal
The Frame Guesthouse was a cool rustic hipster hostel with lovely staff and a brilliant breakfast. Our double room was nice, quiet and cool and we were right in the heart of historic Georgetown. We had a little shower by our room that no-one else seemed to use, possibly because it was cold and door jammed shut so you had to use a lot of force to get out again… But it was ours!