Sunday, 23 November 2014

George Town in Penang, Malaysia

After visits to Kuala Lumpur and the Cameron Highlands [read here], our third Malaysian destination was Penang; a huge island on the west coast. Penang is like no Asian island we have visited before: there are dozens of high-rise buildings and it is a very busy place, connected to the mainland by  large bridges. We headed to bustling George Town, to a road called Love Lane, which our guide book suggests is the go-to place for backpackers. We stumbled upon a brand new guest house called Xaviers Lodge, which had opened just three-days before and was still in the process of being finished. It was really reasonably priced, was a great place to stay on a nice quiet road and the manager Singh couldn't have done more to help us out - he was awesome! 

George Town itself is pretty interesting, with lots of heritage and sights such as the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Monument displaying evidence of the past colonisation of Malaysia by Britain. George Town hosts a street art festival each year, with both painted and tangible pieces of art displayed all over the town. The town has really capitalised on having this awesome display of art, with free maps guiding you round some of the bigger pieces and lots of local shops selling souvenirs, including t-shirts printed with street art images. I've posted a few of my favourite pieces of street art in the last few images on this blog post.

We enjoyed wandering around the town, where there are plenty of interesting shops to look in and an abundance of quirky coffee shops. The historic Chew Jetty was a small, but lovely place to explore and there was a quiet area at the end to view the busy port, which connects the island to the town of Butterworth across the water. As we'd already discovered when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is very multi-cultural and this is particularly evident in George Town. In any one road you may find an ornate Chinese Temple, a Mosque and a Church. There is also an area called Little India in George Town, which really is like stepping into another country, with vibrant colours, delicious smells, lots of fantastic Indian restaurants and shops selling interesting Indian wares. The variety of sights, smells and sounds in George Town and in Malaysia in general is fantastic.

Chew Jetty

We took a local bus to Batu Ferringhi Beach on our second day in Penang, which was surprisingly easy compared to our expectations of getting very lost! The beach was fairly mediocre, but a nice place to spend the day relaxing by the sea. If you are looking for spectacular beaches and snorkelling opportunities in Malaysia, we've been told that the Perhentian Islands are the best place to go, although the resorts there are mostly [or perhaps entirely] closed at this time of year due to bad weather.

I'd been watching people Parasailing all day and had been considering giving it a go myself. I went Paragliding in Switzerland [which you can read about here] earlier in the year, but that was tandem with a guy who did all the technical stuff. I was a bit apprehensive about landing the parachute myself, but the guy kept lowering the price until it was so incredibly cheap that I couldn't refuse! It was loads of fun and the view was awesome. I loved that I got a Captain America parachute and I did feel a bit like a superhero when I was flying around up there on my own!

We decided at fairly late notice that we wanted to visit Singapore, as we were so [relatively close]. We booked a night bus from Penang to Singapore, which took around 12-hours. On our last day we had a long time to kill between checking out of our guest house and being picked up for our bus journey at 9pm. We'd hoped to see lots of tourists sights, but it was raining pretty heavily all afternoon so we spent a lot of the day in an internet cafe. We did manage to visit Fort Cornwallis before the heavens opened, which is a historic fort and a nice place to chill out for a while. 

Penang was a lovely place to visit, although we felt like we were in a dangerous area for the first time in Asian, when walking just a short distance from our guest house at night. There was lots of strange people around and a large number of prostitute lining the streets. We quickly walked on, but felt amazed at how close this was to the busy tourist area. 

There is a National Park on the island and many other areas to visit, which may be worth checking out if you have a bit more time than us. We enjoyed Penang and would recommend you visit if you're travelling around that part of the world.

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