In a recent email to my father, I described Penang as “Southeast Asia done well.” After three days exploring this Malaysian island, I still feel that this is a valid description.
Penang is very comfortable for Westerners, with its high level of English, well-stocked grocery stores, and air-conditioned Chili’s (I was so excited!). At the same time, though, it has clung to its southeast Asian charm – the tropical weather, hospitality, and friendliness that characterize this part of the world are still well and alive.
I absolutely loved my time in this paradise that acted as a fusion of my two homes. Here are a few of the things I especially enjoyed.
First and foremost on my list of favorites was, by far, the diversity. One of the things I really missed after moving away from New York was the beautiful mix of language, cuisine, and culture that one comes in contact with on a daily basis. Penang is a vibrant mix of cultures. We would walk from Malaysian-tyle surroundings to Western; meander through Little India and into China town; walk across the street from the Burmese temple to the Thai temple.
In relation to the diversity mentioned above, there was an unbelievable number of temples spotting the streets, hiding in alleys, and nestled in the mountains. We saw mosques, churches, and Buddhist and Hindu temples.
Most were beautifully decorated in bright colors and accented with gold, especially with Hindu holiday underway and Chinese New Year approaching quickly!
On the afternoon of day 2, Lauren and I hired a boat to take us to the less inhabited Monkey Beach. Although the monkeys were a bit sparse (and mean. and not as cute as Perry.), the beach was pretty and it was a fun adventure and a peacefully get away Georgetown. And they had jagung bakar* FTW.
Motorbikes were shockingly cheap and easy to rent all around the island. We went on an absolutely gorgeous motorbike ride around the island. The loop, about an hour and a hlaf drive, took us along the beach, into the forest, and along winding through the mountains. At times it felt a bit like a motorcycle arcade game, with all the leaning back and forth. Or a difficult level on Mario Kart where it’s easy to fall off of the track.
Side note: there are stop lights here. And when they’re red, people stop. Isn’t that strange? It’s almost like they add efficiency and safety to driving. Thought I have no idea why you would actually stop if there wasn’t an officer there to make you?
The [Budget] Hotel
I loved the owner of our hotel/hostel, Guest Inn Muntri. He was extremely hospitable and did all he could to help out. Penang-born, he sits down with every guest and gifts them with a map, helping them decide where they want to go.
The Grocery Shopping
Groceries in Malaysia > Groceries in Indonesia.
I was so excited to find Honey Bunches of Oats, granola bars, chick peas, and marshmallows for U.S. prices!
It was so fun to visit the international school at which my Aunt Julie taught in the 90’s. The precious security guard, Gerard, gave us a tour, and I fell in love with it (and the fact that it’s beach side :))!
That it’s there. That’s all.
The Crazy Becaks
Becaks – carts powered by [little, old, wonderful] men on bicycles – are a popular form of transportation in this part of the world. Due to an unspoken competition to have the most
obnoxious decorated ride on the island, drivers here tend to go all out to let you ride in style. Our becak played music that made me feel as thought I was making my grand entrance to a boxing tournament!
The Blue Mansion
Rated #2 on Lonely Planets list of old mansions to see (we question this placement), this indigo colored mansion belongs to a Chinese man that made his fortune in Indonesia (imagine that). The home, which housed his favorite of his eight wives, testifies again to the multi-cultural feel of the city with its materials from Scotland, Britain, India, and China.
The Super Cool Street Art
I found Georgetown endearing. It was clean, pedestrian-friendly, and eclectic. There were some really interesting street art initiatives that added to the quaint ambiance.
Hinting at its time as a British colony, Penang is spotted with run-down, colonial-style houses, many of them victims of fire or homes to trees and ivy. I realize that this is a strange choice for this list, but I thought they were enchanting!
Because it’s awesome.
*Jagung Bakar = grilled corn. A.K.A. my very-difficult-to-find-in-Lippo favorite Indonesian food.