While growing up, going to Penang was synonymous to going to a rich country. As a 10- year-old, relatives who wore lovely perfumes and nylon clothes and brought me Quality Street chocolates (pre-Ferrero Rocher days) came from Penang.
Visiting Penang gave me goosebumps as it felt like life had come a full circle. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Penang has an International Airport took an hour. Much before KL became the hub of Malaysia, Penang was one of the most urbanised, during the times of British Colonialism. George Town the capital was a free port, and centre of spice production and trade.
George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with historical buildings and the old street markets spruced up with contemporary art and cafes. The place reminded me of Fort Cochin, closer to my home town.
The colonial architecture, touch of Dutch and Anglican mansions, with Chinese ornamental accessories tell a story of a multicultural heritage.
While George Town is certainly walkable, however, if you factor in the heat and humidity and also the sheer number of heritage sites, it can be exhausting.
Every Street plays as a beautiful backdrop with murals and street art for that perfect Instapic. My friend kept telling me, ” Don’t be shy, let’s show off your #OMG Moments! The sun was quite kind to us and so we managed to click some pics before the sunscreen started melting. Thanks to the overload of shopping in KL, one can ever run out of stylish shades.
We met a few artists who were in their creative pursuit to add more to the collection of street art. Felt like the art scene here is still evolving. Adding a touch of imagination to the ageing historic buildings. This place is like an open-air museum.
As you capture those and walk through the streets, there are quite a few museums and temples to check out. To do justice to it, might as well take 1-2 days at a leisurely pace. There are food and heritage tours that you could take to give you a great overview of Penang’s rich culture and history. But nothing like a self-guided one. For us it was like a treasure hunt, chasing all of those art pieces that we had seen on Instagram and trying different poses.
Follow along in pictures as George Town’s many faces change. There are around 40-50 of them and even if you want to tick em all, its gonna take some time.
And on every other street, you bump into another heritage gem that keeps you on your toes. This is a place you can only understand through its streets. They tell a story like no other and so very well preserved that it makes a city where Asian and European elements come together to create unique townscape.
In case you get tired, get on to the Penang Hop On Hop Off Bus which passes through most of the important landmarks.
The next best thing to do is to explore the coffee shops in George Town. They not only make excellent coffee, but they also serve it in appealing quirky spaces. The artsy vibe from the streets spills inside and the aroma filled with roasted coffee merging with art is mesmerising.
Try one of the cafes on Armenian Street. The vintage and casual atmosphere add to the ambience. Most of the cafes used to be a heritage houses before it was transformed into coffee shops and you’ll be amazed at its rustic charm and for sure.
Don’t forget to visit a traditional Kedai Kopi shop serving the famous Ipoh White Coffee that we became so addicted to. In Malaysia, the original white coffee started in the Old Town of Ipoh and was a drink made from beans roasted in margarine, ground, brewed, and served with sweetened condensed milk. This style of coffee continues to be popular throughout the country. However, “White Coffee” in Malaysia often simply refers to how the drink is prepared and presented – with added milk or creamer. We got some instant coffee powder mix with non-dairy creamer or whitener and sugar, 3-in-1 mixture in Tiramisu and Caramel flavour.
Taste some street food at Lebuh Keng Kwee and then walk towards Chulia Street or walk down Pitt Street to marvel more of the harmonious coexistence of cultures.
Since wearing it’s UNESCO crown, government-commissioned exhibition back in 2008 called“Sculpture at Work”. These some 50 odd ironwork showpieces can be seen all over old town and tell the story of George Town’s history and people.
More and more artists have been invited to create pieces upon the crumbling walls of heritage buildings.
A lot of tourists, make it their mission to see every piece of street art using available street maps. But we were determined to make it into an Instagram Day !
Seriously! Another Selfie ? Oh wait, this time you look different than the 27 other posted already ..hehe
As the day comes to an end, head off to the beach and watch the sky transform to streaks of orange and red while enjoying a cool breeze coming in from the sea right. It is definitely a sight that cannot be described with words and is also one of the most serene places to watch a sunset.
Trust me, it’s like an eternity staring at it, making you and nature one, until you wake up and come back to the reality again.
If you still want more, head to Penang’s northwestern side for the best beaches and nature trails. If you’re up for a challenge, hike the Penang National Park’s jungle trails. If you want something more relaxing, head to the Tropical Spice Garden instead. End the day watching the blazing sunset at Batu Ferringhi. Alternatively, Start from the clan jetties, then make your way to Air Itam to visit the magnificent Kek Lok Si. End the day on top of Penang Hill for night views of the city.
Either way, grab a drink and watch the sunset without fail !!
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