Pulau Pinang, more widely known simply as Penang, is a popular tourist destination for both local and foreign visitors. What with its well-known beaches, numerous delicious and cheap street food options and the UNESCO World Heritage acknowledged capital of Georgetown, it’s no wonder that Penang is one of the most visited states in Malaysia.
Saying that, the last time I was in Penang was way too long ago for me to even remember what year it was. It was therefore high time for me to pay the island a visit, so I jumped at the opportunity to visit an old school friend who had recently moved there for work. With just 48 hours in Penang during one of the busiest times on the island, Thaipusam weekend, there was a lot to cram in, both in terms of cultural sights and food.
Here are the highlights of my 48 hours in Penang.
As I had mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to have my visit fall on Thaipusam weekend. I spent about 3 hours walking along the procession route amidst all of the colourful mayhem. It was an amazing experience for the eyes!
Georgetown street art
Before coming here, I had no idea that the streets around Georgetown contained so much street art! I subsequently found out that a lot of the art seen mostly derives from two sources: (1) the state-ordered welded iron wall caricatures (depicting humorous and historical facts about some of the more famous streets in this UNESCO world cultural heritage city) and (2) Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian-born artist who has adorned many walls around town with his beautiful murals.
Though I am Malaysian, I still find it interesting to see how the traditional locals live and go about their everyday lives. Coming from and having grown up in the big city of Kuala Lumpur where a large proportion of the population work in city jobs and offices, it is cool to experience a little of what life was like in a previous time.
Georgetown was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2007. Jointly listed with Malacca, both cities were cited as having “outstanding universal values”, acknowledging them as being exceptional surviving examples of historic multi-cultural trading towns, formed from the exchanges of Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures, as well as being under the rule of three successive European colonies. The mixture of the various cultures and influences is evident in both Georgetown and Malacca, from the unique architecture to the remnants of historic forts, European churches and the like, right down to the various street names.
With the Chinese making up the majority of the state’s population (the only state where this is the case in the whole of Malaysia where there tends to be a Malay majority), the Penang of today has been heavily influenced by Chinese culture, evident in the many many Buddhist temples and statues I passed by in Georgetown.
This Buddhist temple houses the 33 metre long reclining Buddha, draped in a gold-leaved saffron robe.
Kek Lok Si temple
The Kek Lok Si temple is the largest Buddhist temple complex in South East Asia. There is also a huge statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy nearby, accessible by a lift.
Kapitan Keling mosque
Founded by an Indian-Muslim merchant in 1801, the Kapitan Keling mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Penang.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Built in the 1880’s by Cheong Fatt Tze, a Chinese immigrant who achieved great fame and fortune in South East Asia after arriving in Java penniless, this is a mansion tour not to be missed. It has in the past been awarded for its excellent architectural and cultural preservation and was voted one of the 10 greatest mansions in the world by Lonely Planet.
I love my cheap, local hawker food and had a whale of a time going around town sampling the best of what Penang had to offer based on some recommendations from friends and family.
Penang char koay teow and asam laksa is a Penang specialty and a must try, to be washed down after by a bowl of sweet cendol by the roadside (scroll to the bottom of this post to see just how quickly they make the cendol to keep up with the long line of customers queuing for a bowl of this famous dessert in Penang Road).
Georgetown also has a great selection of Indian food to try in Little India if that’s more your thing.
Before you leave, be sure to head past the Chowrasta Market to pick up another Penang specialty – tambun biscuits.
Have you been to Penang? What did you like / dislike?