Georgetown – Penang, Malaysia

For the second week of our two week break we decided to get another stamp in our passport by heading to Penang, Malaysia.  We flew out of Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok and were there fairly quick, with the total flight time only about 1hr45m.  We arrived at about 6:30pm Malaysian time and caught a taxi to our hotel.  On the ride there I was first struck at how well our driver’s english was.  He sounded almost American.  We have gotten used to the english language being rarely spoken in most areas of Thailand we’ve visited.  This is a very tourist populated area of Malaysia.  My first impression of the city was how extremely clean it was!  Georgetown was colonized by the British, so you find lots of colonial architecture everywhere.  Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage site so much of the original buildings are well preserved.  I was very impressed at the beauty of city and found that parts reminded me of places I’d been before, like Miami, FL and parts of the South East United States.

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After a 40 minute drive from the airport we were in the middle of historic Georgetown and at our hotel, the Apollo Inn.

After checking in we asked for food recommendations and the front desk clerk told us to walk outside, go to the right, and we would be amongst the Kimberly Street hawker stalls.  We took her advice and had our first food experience in Malaysia.  Hawker stalls are basically street food vendors who you order from and then you go sit down in a seating area near/behind them.  If you want drinks/beer, etc. you order that separately from a different vendor.  We found a spot and I ordered one of the most popular dishes in Malaysia, char kway meow.  This dish is stir-fried rice noodles with soy, chili, blood cockles, prawns, bean sprouts, fried egg, and chives served on a banana leaf.  I would compare it to pad thai.  This dish was only 4 ringgit ($1) and I paired it with a cheap lager beer, “Skol”.  My wife had the same dish only without any shellfish. It was decent and much appreciated after the journey there.

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We went next door afterwards to try some desserts.  The below is Bee Koh Moy (warm black sticky rice pudding with salted coconut milk) and our kids had an ice bowl dessert with cherry and longan fruit called See Guo Tng.

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After all this we went back to the hotel to rest up for the next day.

The next morning we had breakfast and were greeted by a tour guide in the lobby of our hotel.  He took us on a 3-hour tour of sites in Georgetown.  He drove us first to Wat Chayamangkalaram which is a Thai Buddhist Temple that houses Penang’s version of The Reclining Buddha.

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This building was amazing!  It housed the cremated remains of both Christian and Buddhist people, stored in shelving behind the buddha.  It was surrounded with different chinese/buddhist statues marking each year in the Chinese calendar (Year of the Dog, Year of the Dragon, etc).

After this we went across the street to see the Burmese Buddhist Temple which was also very striking and impressive.  There was a series of Buddha sculptures from many different Asian countries.  It was interesting to see the different looks of The Buddha as depicted by each country.  The detail in each figure was astonishing.

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From there he took us to the Penang Botanical Garden.  This was a sprawling open space filled with exotic plants and trees, birds, monkeys, dogs, joggers, and people doing Thai Chi.  There are many varieties of palm trees in the gardens.  The areca is Malaysia’s most popular and it produces the betelnut, which when chewed is a fairly strong stimulant and will turn your mouth and teeth red.

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Next stop was a row of Malaysian artisan shops selling a variety of teas, chocolates, coffees, and textiles.  We sampled about 20 varieties of coffees and teas.  We watched the handmade textile printing.  After seeing all of this we hopped back into the car to head back to central historic Georgetown.  We visited Armenian Street which is well known for the street art placed whimsically around the main road and side alleys.  At times it was difficult to snap photos due to the queues’ forming at each spot from other who were looking to take a shot.

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At the recommendation of our tour guide we saw the Chew Clan Jetty area which is a collection of rustic wooden homes built by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.  They are built on wooden posts and sit over top of the seafront.

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Our final stop was the grandest one, the Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse.  This is an elaborately detailed, chinese-built structure which is one of Penang’s most popular attractions.  It was built by the Khoo family and was completed in 1906. It was AMAZING.

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After the tour we decided to explore the streets of Georgetown on our own.  We passed though these immaculate streets we awe-inspired by the sights that surrounded us.  Georgetown appeared to be such a mash-up of chinese, malay, and indian peoples.  You could see the influence everywhere from the food, art, and language.  We occasionally heard what sounded like prayers blasted from a loudspeaker throughout the city.  We asked someone and were told it was hindu music of some sort.  Buddhist, hindu, muslim, and christian religions are all practiced here.

The next day we decided to do more kid-friendly activities so we headed towards the beach area, Batu Ferringhi, to visit “Entopia”.  This place was perfect for the kids because it is an education center which houses a variety of spiders, scorpions, snakes, frogs, lizards, toads, worms, roaches, beetles, fireflies, and most of all a large indoor butterfly atrium.  Kids loved it and had fun running around playing with and looking at all the stimuli.

The final day before leaving Georgetown we decided to see the last big attraction, Penang Hill.  We traveled to the foot of this hill and took a funicular train up to the top.  The entire trip took about 10 minutes to reach the summit.

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From the top there are striking views of Penang and a variety of tourist-focused activities.

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We spent about an hour or so and then returned down the hill to catch a taxi back to the airport to fly back to Bangkok.  Overall we had a fantastic time in Penang and would recommend it to anyone considering it.  It was a pleasant experience!

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