Our next stop on our asian saga is Penang, which is located in the north of Malaysia. Although an island, it is connected to the mainland by two bridges and linked by regular ferries to the mainland transport hub of Butterworth. We easily caught a 4 hour train to Butterworth (that cost RM59 each, or about £10) and then not so easily got to the city of Georgetown on Penang (we missed the last ferry). Penang is the second largest city in Malaysia but is spread out along the coast of the island, the interior of which is fairly mountainous. Consequently, it is much less frenetic than Kuala Lumpur. The old town is where the majority of tourist sites and accommodation are to be found and is easy to walk around, although you’ll find yourself worryingly close to the bustling traffic due to a marked lack of pavements. We ended up staying here for 4 nights, and this is what we got up to.
On the first day we explored the UNESCO World Heritage listed old town. The town is a mishmash of different cultures, architectures, cuisines and religions. It’s history as a trading post between East and West accounts for the colonial and British architecture. Devout worshippers of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism have built elaborate and beautiful places of worship, which are to be found randomly around town wedged between dilapidated and crumbling shopfronts. Rickety houses are even to be found built on stilts over the water, in blatant disregard of any logic or safety concerns. From the pristine city hall to the phenomenal Khoo Kongsi, the town’s buildings are a marvel, making aimless exploration an absolute delight.
With all the same cultures coexisting like in Kuala Lumpur, the variety and quality of food in Penang is simply astounding. Regarded by some as the food capital of south east asia, you can nibble your way around the world within one street or food market. We tried dim sum, Indian curries, Malaysian delicacies (such as char keoy teow and nasi lemak), fried rice, noodles, noodle soups and even decadent cakes and other baked things. Needless to say they were all fairly incredible and such good value! A meal would cost about RM6, so $2 (aussie) or £1. Add a drink for RM2.50 and you’re set.
And as if Penang wasn’t awesome enough, it’s also renowned for its street art. Walking around the old town finding all the great artworks by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic certainly is a lot of fun.
On our second day we caught the bus out to Batu Ferringhi, the beach area. Although not the greatest beach we’ve seen (especially by Jake’s standards) we enjoyed watching the sunset and drinking a beer or two, before exploring the night markets the area’s famous for. We managed to resist buying any tourist tat or trinkets before catching the bus back.
The next day we caught the bus out to Penang Hill. Towards the centre of the island lies the highest point, and you can catch a funicular train up to 800m above sea level for spectacular views of the whole island. The price of the ticket was a little high though and the trip itself wasn’t amazing value. But watching monkeys play as you looked out over a panorama of Georgetown was actually pretty special.
Afterwards we walked to Kek Lok Si, a Buddhist temple complex set high on a hill looking out across Georgetown. Frankly, I think it’s one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in the world. It’s vibrant, colourful and huge; exploring it took us a couple of hours. There is elaborate wood and stone carvings, a 5 storey pagoda, beautiful gardens and awesome views. And the whole thing cost us RM5 each. Absolute bargain. If you go to Penang, don’t miss it.
Unfortunately that was all we had time for in Penang. It turned out to be an awesome location and will probably be one of the highlights of our entire trip. However we didn’t have time to be sad about leaving, because before long we were on the way to our next destination, Singapore.