It was an easy bus ride from KL to the island of Penang, a former colonial trade port controlled by the British from 1786 until World War 2. Georgetown, the old quarter of the city, was made a UNESCO World Heritage site a few years ago and we planned to stay there at the Old Penang Guesthouse on Love Lane. Love Lane is a small side street, dotted with lots of guesthouses and small shops in the old colonial buildings. The street got its name “Love Lane” because of the brothels that used to reside there. If there are any Love houses still there, they are VERY incognito.
One of my favorite aspects of Georgetown was the incredible street art. On many streets you’d find explanations on how the streets got their names on a wall, with funny corresponding cartoon-like images made from bent metal rods. On other streets you’d see beautiful paintings or graffiti, some which incorporated props like a bike or a sculpture into the piece. It is such a great walking city, easy enough to navigate with a map and brimming with “hidden” boutiques, restaurants and cafes.
Throughout the city are influences from the many different cultures which came to reside in Penang; Mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu Temples and Catholic churches, Little India, Chinese shops, Malay and Thai food stalls in the street. Once the central trading post in SE Asia it is a beautiful melting pot of many countries and cultures. During the Chinese trade boom, many Chinese married Malay and customs from each culture blended to create new traditions found only in Penang.
One of the coolest aspects of the multiculturalism was eating dinner at the outdoor food courts ('hawker food') . Anywhere from 25-50 different food stands line the parameter, with rows of tables in the center. You walk around studying the pictures on each food stall, looking for signs that one is better than other and the dishes you order are brought to your table. There are separate servers who take your drink order table side. We’d order Japanese bbq skewers, Thai fried rice, a Malay specialty and maybe a Mediterranean salad. Needless to say this leads to a lot of over ordering and if the server is very friendly (and quick to replace empties) over drinking.
There are activities for sightseeing, the Penang Botanical Gardens (more of a nice park than garden but nice to see the small falls), Temples (of COURSE) - my favorite was Kek Lok Si, Temple of Supreme Bliss, built high on a hill overlooking the city and the State Museum (under construction but still open and very interesting) but for me the main charm of Penang is wandering the old quarter by foot or bike and enjoying big dinners. I did love visiting the Pinang Peranakan Museum, formerly the home of a wealthy Chinese Trader’s family. The home is fully restored to its original glory, with beautiful antique furniture in each room. I especially liked the more unusual items like the opium pipes, women’s shoes for BOUND feet, shockingly tiny dresses. A visit there is like stepping into another world (well certainly a romanticized version of it).
For such a small place there is actually a lot to do and when you need to get away from the "city life", head to Teluk Deyung aka Monkey Beach. This city couple never made it there - too much good food to leave!!