Trip Report By LASSI - August/September 2004
Once again, my perspective of Penang is from Georgetown rather than the beach areas. (Living as we do at one of Australia’s best beach areas, we seek other delights when in Penang)! As a middle-aged couple we also like a degree of comfort in our accommodations, within a fairly strict budget. Our hotel of choice once again was the Continental Hotel on Penang Road, with very acceptable standards including king-size bed, refrigerator, full bathroom, buffet breakfast & morning newspaper in a superior room for RM98. (This price has remained unchanged for 3 years).
For the essentials such as drinks, ice etc., there are both a 7/11 and Happy Mart just up the street, and although it looks a long way, KOMTAR is only a 10-15 minute walk away. What more could you ask?
Taxis from the airport were actually cheaper than last year, RM 28 to Penang Road in Georgetown, and RM25 going back. We are not very traditional tourists, as most of our days are spent just wandering the different areas of the city – Little India, downtown, clan jetties, out along Burma & Macalister Roads, the morning market at Jalan Kuala Kangsar (off Campbell Street), the wet markets, Pulau Tikus - it is all just fascinating to us: the sights, smells, the food and the people who live in this wonderful town.
We did have a delightful morning visit to the Penang Peranakan Mansion (Nonya Baba Museum). We had a bit of a problem finding it, as we were looking for Beach Street (actually Lebuh Pantai) and Church Street (actually Lebuh Gereja). I’m sure the locals know these streets by their old names, but we poor tourists can get totally lost! There was also no sign on the building. Anyhow, here we arrived at the door, asked were they open, (as we could see cleaners mopping the floors) and we were ushered in by a very charming young man. (Sorry, didn’t get his name). He then proceeded to give us a 1 1⁄2 hour tour, including the Temple being refurbished next door. About half-way through the tour, he told us that they were not really open to the public yet! Oh boy, how embarrassing! (We had read on Penang Talk that they were).
Never mind, we were so glad we had the opportunity to see this glorious building, full of wonderful antiques. What a collection the owner must have. We would recommend this museum to everyone (once they are really open of course)! It is RM10 admission, very reasonable in my opinion.
Other excursions included the lovely Thai and Burmese Temples at Lorong Burma, and the bustling Saturday morning markets at Air Itam (Bus number 130 or 21 from KOMTAR, 80 sen or RM1), at the foot of the beautiful Kek Lok Si temple. By the way, the stall holders on the steps up to the temple might be a little pushy, but just try to remember – these people are just trying to make an honest living. A smile and a polite “No thank you” will suffice.
We also literally stumbled across the old Protestant cemetery on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah (start at the Shell petrol station opposite the Continental Hotel and just keep walking on the left-hand side of the road). We saw Francis Light’s tomb, along with many other notables from colonial times. It was surprising how young those people were when they died – mostly in their 40’s and 50’s, and many young children. Tough times back then I guess.
We were also lucky to be in Georgetown at the time of the Hungry Ghosts, and saw many big tents full of offerings, and various entertainment. There was Chinese opera, some tiny traditional puppets, “drive-in” kung fu movies (shown on sheets hung across the laneways, attended by many motor cyclists and trishaw drivers), and several pop shows (extremely loud)! We were pleased to see the offerings being given away to the poor –bags of rice and other staples.
And so to food…………….Yes, that is what Penang is all about: Food!
We are not seafood eaters, but there are so many other choices here that there is never an easy decision about what to have for the next meal. I read in the New Straits Times that you can spot a Malaysian easily: he will be eating lunch and already debating what will be for dinner! Some of our favourites are: Nasi Kandar at Kayu, Craven Café, and Jaya (all on Penang Road). Tandoori chicken at Craven Café, Kapitan’s (Chulia Street bottom end past Masjid Kapitan Keling), and the surprising winner this year, the best Tandoori, at Yasmeen, near corner of Chulia Street and Penang Road. This very old café is one of nostalgic favourites. The winner overall this year is Jaya, a brand new modern restaurant almost opposite the Cititel Hotel, which has the distinction of serving Tandoori, roti, dosai etc. all day long, not just early or late. Kapitan’s also deserves a mention for its interesting lunch specials, including a divine Murmalai (chicken) kebab with special Rumali naan. If like us you enjoy Dim Sum for dinner, it must be taken at Tai Tong (Lebuh Cintra, off Campbell Street). Roti pisang and roti tissu (helikopter) scored a dead-heat between Jaya, Sup Hameed (street stall opposite Continental Hotel), and Ayub (formerly Ali’s, open-air place across from Yasmeen on Penang Road). And last but not least, a visit to Penang would not be complete without a chendol at Penang Famous Chendol, (Lebuh Kong Kwee off Penang Road). Oh dear, I’m getting hungry again!
Penang to us will always be the people: “Hello” from shy young children, greetings from Malay and Indian locals as we wandered by their homes, smiles from young parents when we admired their beautiful babies and toddlers, always someone offering to help if we looked a bit lost. It is indeed a special place.
Well, sorry I’ve rambled on so much, but I do hope other visitors to Penang will find some of our experiences helpful, and trust that we will be visiting again next year. Best wishes to Kayes and all the Penang Talk regulars.