Category Archives: Malay Peninsula West Coast

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Georgetown Penang

Georgetown Penang – A Cultural Smorgasbord

Following our island hops through Phuket and Langkawi, we planned to spend 7 days on the southernmost island in our itinerary – based in Georgetown Penang.

Although it is an island, Penang is connected to the Malaysian mainland via a very long and narrow 13.5-kilometer bridge. We would travel across this bridge a week later on our way to Melaka. For the time being, we were arriving by boat from Langkawi and were curious to discover what Penang had to offer.

Georgetown Penang

Getting around on foot?

We were staying in the capital – Georgetown – at the the Neo+ Hotel, but our first challenge was to get there.

Penang is pedestrian-unfriendly. Georgetown in particular is a nightmare to wander around on foot. If the lethal car drivers and bikers don’t run you down, you’ll be tripping over broken pavements or into open septic ditches.

If you value your health you’ll spend much of your time in Penang waiting for the green light at pedestrian crossings (and you’ll wait a LONG time).

Don’t expect drivers to give way to pedestrians. That isn’t the mindset in Penang.

Getting around using buses and ‘Grab’

A safer option is to take a bus or hail a ‘Grab’. You’ll still spend a lot of time sitting in the heavy traffic, but at least you won’t be risking your life. You’ll probably want to head around the north coast where the sandy beaches are, as well as the expensive condominiums and startlingly high tower blocks.

It’s Chinese New Year!

Although a multi-cultural city, Penang’s ethnic mix is massively dominated by the Chinese. This is hardly surprising considering the amount of construction visible everywhere – with inflated apartment prices that can only be aimed at foreigners.

Chinese New Year is therefore the biggest event in the calendar year. In fact, Penang prides itself on having the largest Chinese New Year celebration in Southeast Asia. This is a fortnight-long cycle of celebrations – a bit like Christmas Chinese-style – with canned musak gaily playing away in every retail establishment.

… but it’ll take longer than 2 weeks to get those squeaky little tunes out of your head 🙁

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Georgetown Penang – Malaysia’s Cultural Smorgasbord

Georgetown Malls & Supermarkets – Deal-maker or breaker?

Due to the large percentage of foreigners living in Penang, there are a good number of shops and supermarkets that cater to foreign tastes. There’s even a Tesco’s … but don’t get too excited just yet.

This is like no Tesco’s we’ve visited in Europe. Many of the brands were unrecognizable to us. Other than a few very basic international Tesco offerings there was little of interest, and we left with an empty shopping cart.

We found it best to stick with the local food, of which there is a huge diversity ranging from Malay to Indian, Thai, Japanese and Chinese.

The centrally-located Prangin Mall quickly became one of our favourite shopping venues. The supermarket also has a good-sized non-Halal section. It’s just a pity this isn’t all duty-free – like Langkawi.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

The Prangin Mall – in central Georgetown

Eating Out in Georgetown Penang

Everyone raves about the food in Penang, but here we encountered some of our most dubious eating experiences in Malaysia.

Not that it was bad, just that it was highly forgettable (or memorable for the wrong reasons). The local soups were OK, but nowhere near as good as equivalent soups in Hong Kong.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Streetfood in Georgetown – This is where it’s happening

Many foods are artificially sweetened to please local palettes – a case in point being the ubiquitous laksa. The street food is predominantly deep fried (and sweetened). All of the attractive and multi-colored ice-drinks are sickly sweet – we found it was better to stick to water.

You really must try the Chendul!

Chendul? … anyone?

We were strongly recommended to try one of Penang’s absolutely favourite treats – Chendul (or ‘Cendol’) – from a specific stall in the center of Georgetown.

This is an iced sweet dessert made from a mixture of coconut milk and palm sugar syrup, with red beans and droplets of green rice flour jelly. There were also some other unidentifiable elements floating around in the mix.

For a foreigner, this is a dish which really messes with your expectations, and absolutely requires a sweet tooth.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Tasting Chendul in Georgetown … let’s just say it’s an acquired taste

What the Duck?

The What the Duck? restaurant  – 40, Nagore Road – comes highly recommended (if not cheap) and provides a welcome change from a local diet that’s high on fried chicken. When we visited (during a torrential downpour) we had the place almost to ourselves.

The place itself is a little clinical, and not too cozy.

We tried their Cured Salmon Crispy Duck Salad, Balinese Crispy Duck, Duck Magret with Mashed Potato and Red Wine Sauce, some sparkling water and a bottle of house red.

We were a little underwhelmed with the duck, which was over-cooked and a bit dry.

The bill came to RM 140 (€31), more than half of which was the cost of the wine (Penang isn’t duty-free).

The staff were very considerate when we left, giving us umbrella-coverage as we raced through the rain to the taxi (it was still pouring down).

The Mugshot

If you’re more into snack bars than restaurants, then Mugshot on Chulia Street is the place to go. Catering more to the Western taste, they make great pastries, sandwiches and coffees and provide a chilled-out break from the sweltering streets. They also do great juices for around RM 13.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
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Georgetown ‘Heritage City’? …we just don’t get it

Although Georgetown boasts itself to be a Heritage city, many of the areas we visited on foot more closely resembled inner city Mumbai or Manila, albeit on a much smaller scale.

You can find old and dilapidated colonial buildings in these cities too, surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of a chaotic and noisome street life.

Street art (up-market graffiti) is one of the vaunted attractions of the town. Much of this is quite good, and adds some color to an otherwise bland backdrop. You can also find this on a smaller scale in Kuah, Langkawi.

The locals – Some really nice people

We really liked the people we met in Penang. Very friendly, helpful and welcoming. The ethnic mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western really makes for a cosmopolitan all-encompassing lifestyle, with a much faster pace than it’s sister island Langkawi.

Penang Jewelers – Buying Gold in Little India

We couldn’t leave Georgetown without purchasing some precious souvenirs, and Little India seemed to be the right place to do it. Here we found whole streets just dedicated to the sale (and purchase) of gold and precious stones.

We opted for two custom-made 22-carat gold rings. These were made from the bright yellow gold that is so popular with the Indians.

On the day of our purchase, gold was priced at Rm 163 per gram (€32.6). We chose very simple 4-gram and 6-gram gold rings. After selecting the ring types and having our fingers measured, we paid a deposit and were told our rings would be ready in 2 hours time.

We were pleased with the results. In total, our customized rings cost us Rm 1,800 (€360).

Georgetown Penang – Schoolgirls enjoying afternoon PT

Moving on south down the Malay Peninsula

After just 7 nights in Penang, we were again on our way to the next destination.

We planned to take a bus across the Penang bridge and then south down the coast to Melaka (Malacca). We already had a hotel booked for 3 nights, after which we would head back up the coast to Port Dixon.


If you enjoyed Georgetown Penang, check out Malay Peninsula West Coast. You may also like:

 

Georgetown, Penang - Malaysia's Cultural Smorgasbord

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Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Penang Malaysia – Welcome to China

On a first visit to Penang, you could be forgiven for thinking yourself in mainland China. As with the unbalanced demographics of Tenerife North in the Spanish Canaries, which is permanently occupied by a majority of aging Germans, Penang Malaysia seems to be home to a disproportionate percentage of Chinese.

Maybe such shifts in demographics are becoming a trend with the more easily-accessible travel destinations. Just 10 days earlier we were in Phuket, Thailand, where we couldn’t move for Russians.

We were arriving by boat from Penang’s more laid-back neighboring island – Langkawi. From what we had so far heard about Penang, we could expect a more vibrant and up-tempo lifestyle.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Penang Malaysia – Rocky beach north of Georgetown

Getting from Langkawi to Penang by Boat

If you’re travelling by boat from Langkawi to Penang, you first need to get to Jetty Point in Kuah. From there you can purchase a ferry ticket from the Langkawi Ferry Services company.

Ferries to Penang usually run twice a day at 10:30 am and 3:00 pm.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Boarding the ferry from Langkawi to Penang

The price of a one-way adult economy ticket is Rm 60 (€12)  – Children travel for around half this price. You should count on around 3 hours for the journey. The ferries are small but comfortable enough. Our journey was smooth, and they showed a movie to pass the time.

If you step outside the cabin around 15 minutes before arrival you’ll get some nice views of the north coastline.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Penang Malaysia – Arrival by Ferry Boat

Fresh off the boat – Initial impressions of Georgetown

Our first impressions of Penang were gleaned from the long walk we took through Georgetown. Starting from the ferry landing, we wound our way through the maze of streets bordering Little India to our hotel in the south-west area of the city.

It was neither an easy nor a pleasant walk. The narrow streets were congested with cars and motorcycles coming from all directions. We picked our way over broken pavements and roads, with people and hawkers randomly milling around. Noise, sewage smells and seeming chaos everywhere.

To avoid constant collisions you need eyes in the back of your head.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Penang Malaysia – Welcome to China

We were relieved to finally reach our hotel, and happily surprised at the very modern and quirky style of the decor – which extended even to the ‘uniforms’ of the hotel staff.

Neo+ Hotel Penang – A cool oasis amidst steamy chaos

At just an 8-minute walk from the Komtar Tower, the Neo+ Hotel Penang has an ideal central location. Supermarkets and restaurants are within easy reach.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Neo+ Hotel Penang, Malaysia – Wigs or hats compulsory

Our hotel room was compact, but spotlessly clean, including a small fridge, kettle and really comfortable bed. The breakfast buffet was excellent, catering well for all ethnicities.

Perhaps the Neo+’s biggest plus for us was the large and spotless swimming pool on the roof. This was an absolute blessing after a day spent wandering around in the heat of the city.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China
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We paid Rm 170 (€35) per night (excluding breakfast) for our room at the Neo+. Their buffet breakfast was an inexpensive and worthwhile addition. Although the supermarkets are not far away, the hotel has a little shop which stocks some basic items at reasonable prices.

All in all, the Neo+ Penang provided us with a cool and relaxing oasis from the hot and traffic-choked streets of Georgetown.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Welcome to the Neo+ Hotel Penang (I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore)

Penang Beaches – How do they measure up?

Before arriving in Penang, we’d heard that the sea around the island wasn’t very clear. Considering the amount of seafront construction going on, this isn’t too surprising. However, we understood there were some good beaches on the up-market north coast of the island. These are located along the coastline between Georgetown and the Penang National Park.

We took a bus from the Komtar bus terminal in Georgetown to go and find out for ourselves.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Penang Malaysia – The beaches around Batu Ferringhi

Depending on the traffic, it’s a good 30-minute drive from the center of Georgetown to Batu Ferringhi where the popular beaches can be found. The beaches here are pleasant and sandy, and the sea is calm enough for swimming.

However, the water is murky. If you use a mask to check the view under the surface you’ll find visibility is around zero. Standing waist-deep in the sea, the sand feels muddy and sticky – in fact your feet will sink in an inch or two: Not the most pleasant sensation.

Apparently, the locals consider the water not clean enough for taking a dip.

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Penang Malaysia – Moonlight Bay beach

Further east along the coast, between Miami Beach and Batu Ferringhi, you can find Moonlight Bay.

The beach here is wide and sandy – a nice place for a picnic. However as with much of Batu Ferringhi the water is murky, and the area has been spoiled by aggressive property development.

We planned to spend 7 nights in Penang, with quite a lot on our agenda. We were keen to experience the multi-cultural food, markets and ambiance of Georgetown. We also wanted to take a look at the booming property market to assess costs, and discover how the standards and quality of life compare to Europe.

Finally, we were hoping to purchase some jewelry, and where better to negotiate a bargain for gold than in the backstreets of Little India?


If you enjoyed Penang Malaysia – Welcome to China, check out our Malaysia Island Hopping trip. You may also like:

Penang Malaysia - Welcome to China

Penang Malaysia – Welcome to China

Penang Malaysia


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