From Cameron Highlands, we took a minibus to Penang Island. Penang is a state in northern Malaysia, and also the name of an island with a rich history. It is also known as a foodie town, so you know we’ll like it!
In the late 1700’s the British East India company essentially took control of Penang Island. It quickly became a base of trade and was made one of the “Presidencies” like Bombay and Madras. Under British colonial rule the Chinese presence in Penang grew. During WWII, Penang was heavily bombed and occupied by Japanese forces. After the war, there were movements for Penang Independence, and to join Penang with Singapore, but in the end it became part of Malaysia.
One the eastern side of the island is Georgetown, a colonial gem and UNESCO World Heritage City. It is full of great architecture and great food. We spent our first few nights in an old shophouse converted into an apartment.
The outside of our pad in Georgetown
Some great art deco era shops
Cute streets and cafes
Old-ish and new
We spent spent about 4 days in Georgetown just exploring all its nooks and crannies and of course, its food. There were some fantastic restaurants, and the street food is great too. Here’s an example of a little alley that by day is full of hardware shops. By night the gates go down on the shops and the street food vendors set up.
Alleyway food stalls. In the morning this will all be gone and the hardware shops will open again.
Delicious little treats
There’s a hardware shop behind that old green gate.
Our little animal lover found a “cat cafe” so one afternoon we checked it out. Jette had fun playing with the cats, and we met some nice people (Hi Molly!).
Grumpy? Not me.
Hello up there
Leaving a note on the wall. I wanted to write one that said, “Yum! Cats taste good!” but I restrained myself.
One of the popular street food dishes is a fried noodle dish called Char Kway Teow. We ate our fair share of that all over town.
Having some Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow
We also found a yummy local Dim Sum joint
Leong Kee Dim Sum
sum a dim Dim Sum
We did do much and saw so much, it’s hard to summarize.
Here are some random photos of Georgetown:
Another bicycle rickshaw
Yep, 7-Eleven is in Georgetown too
Tourists on bikes
Funbrellas on the street
Incense drying in the sun
Minions on the loose!!!!
More street art
More street art
More street art
More street art
Old Chinese buildings at dusk
Most of the local shops and shophouses have tiled sidewalks, and typically each one is different…
Food vendors hit the streets at night
I wonder what she’s thinking? Not sure what was going on here.
Cows getting decorated for Hindu festival
OK, who the heck spray painted my hooves?!
Watch your head on these sidewalks
In colonial times, Penang was part of the “Straits Settlements” of Singapore, Malacca, and Penang. In these settlements there were a large number of ethnic Chinese who developed their own culture. They are known as Peranakan or “Straits Chinese.” In Georgetown, there is a large mansion – The Blue Mansion – built at the end of the 19th century by a wealthy Peranakan named Cheong Fatt Tze. Cheong Fatt Tze was a wealthy and powerful merchant, and under British rule was the de facto “mayor” of the local Chinese population. The house was built with the help of a feng shui master, and is built in the Chinese “courtyard mansion” style. It is one of the largest mansions of this type outside of China. Some of the scenes in the movie “Indochine” were filmed here. Anyway, it was really interesting to see, and woman giving the tour around the interior was very knowledgable and gave us some great insights into the history of the building, the feng shui principles that dictated the design, and the history of Cheong Fatt Tze, who was quite an interesting character.
The entry of the Blue Mansion
Looking down into the main courtyard. The courtyard is designed on feung shui principles to gather and control the flow of rainwater and wealth!
Exterior view of the Blue Mansion
Waiting patiently in the waiting area. The floors are Italian marble.
Our tour guide spinning yarns
After our days in Georgetown, we moved just bit up and around the NE part of the island to Tanjung Tokong, an upscale neighborhood with lots of high-rise condos and shopping. It’s a popular neighborhood with expats and local alike.
We found a great apartment in one of the high-rises through airbnb, and settled in. There was a great supermarket in the building, so Jette was able to do some cooking and satisfy her cravings for Tex-Mex! Many bean burritos were made and consumed.
View from our apartment
We made a trip up to Batu Ferrenghi, a popular beach town on the North side of the island. It is also a popular expat and tourist area, but we found it to be a bit grungy. We spent an afternoon at a Starbucks on the beach doing some work, and took a stroll down the beach.
Beach at Batu Ferringhi
Some of the local beachwear
We went back into Georgetown to explore some fun shops, cafes, and restaurants. We also went to the Sunday street fair where Jette rented a hoverboard and Segway-type thing.
Sunday street fair
Getting her caricature made
Does it look like Jette?
We had lots of fun in Penang. It’s an interesting place with a great mix of cultures.
At a local cafe
As in so much of Asia and the rest of the world, malls are a big draw. There are two big malls in Tanjung Tokong. Plaza Gourney has lots of restaurants, a big supermarket, movie theaters, and of course tons of shops. It is a popular place for locals to hang out.
Mall decorations for Chinese New Year
One of the big malls in Tanjung Tokong
Going to the movies
Honey cream. Yum. Soft serve ice cream drizzled with fresh honey.
We also visited a local botanical garden – The Tropical Spice Garden.
Waterfall in the Tropical Spice Garden
Listening to the audio tour.
Crossing the stream
Don’t touch me!
Lots of information about the local flora
Taking a swing break
Walking on the acupressure path
Cacao – chocolate, baby!
We didn’t swim, but while we were waiting for the bus, we checked out the beach across the street from the garden.
Handstand on the beach across from Tropical Spice Garden
Penang is a melting pot of cultures, and a very cosmopolitan place. We enjoyed our time here, and can see why it draws so many visitors and expats. I could go on, but we are way behind on blog posts, so I will cut it short (this is short?!) and simply leave you with a few more photos.
Gurney night food market
Curry mee (curry noodles)
Our bowl of curry mee
Yes, please curry me! Noodles down the hatch
Jette attacks her fish and chips at Muntri Mews
My yummy curry at Muntri Mews
The dessert spread at China House
The circular doorway to the lounge and live music area at China House
Oh, I have to mention Roti Cani – crispy, chewy flat bread served with curry. One of my favorite dishes and one of the things that I remember most from my previous visit to Penang decades ago. There aren’t nearly as many roti shops/stands as I remember, but we found a couple decent ones. Yum!
Famous roti cani stand
Roti on the grill
Roti and milk tea
A mapped summary of our most recent travels since the beginning of 2016.
We’re nearly six weeks behind real time posts, and delays in our posts will likely continue. We simply haven’t been able to upload photos and videos in Malaysia and Indonesia. Internet connections are usually very slow and sometimes, just barely functional. We haven’t found anywhere (for weeks!) where we have enough upload speed for our growing collection of photos and videos. We experienced slow connections in Thailand, too, but managed to find one or two dependable locations with enough bandwidth (in hindsight, what a luxury!).
Here are a few maps that show our recent travel. We left Bangkok at the start of the New Year, January 2016. We flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then, we took a minivan with a few other passengers to the Jetty in Kuala Tembeling where we boarded a small wood longboat-style river boat to Taman Negara, a 130 million year old rainforest and national park about 240km northeast of Kuala Lumpur. From there, we drove about 250km west, to Cameron Highlands, one of Malaysia’s most extensive hill stations, with blissfully cool temperatures and altitudes that ranged from 3,600ft to 5,200ft above sea level.
After Cameron Highlands, we had a minivan to ourselves for the entire 260km drive to Pulau Pinang, an island that sits on the west coast of Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca within the Malaysian state of Penang. We spent most of our time in Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the most commercially and economically developed cities in Malaysia, and a charming historic city all rolled into one.
From Penang, we flew to Medan, Indonesia, the third largest city in the country.
From Medan, we had a private car drive us the short 70km to Bukit Lawang, a small village adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park. The park is part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. We are writing from Bukit Lawang now, and have departure plans tomorrow morning for Berastagi, known for cooler temperatures (yay!), a couple of volcanoes and some hot springs.
For scale, consider that “little” volcanic island (Samosir) you see sitting southeast of Bukit Lawang in the middle of a natural lake (Danau Toba/Lake Toba). Samosir island is the size of Singapore.
We’ve been in Penang for about a week. First, we stayed at a cute little place in an old shophouse that had been converted to a hotel. It was right in the middle of the old colonial historic district in Georgetown. It was a perfect location for exploring that area. Then we moved to a serviced apartment in an upscale, “suburban” neighborhood called Tanjung Tokong.
The first apartment was not so great, so we found another one on Airbnb and checked in yesterday. It is great. This neighborhood is between Georgetown and the popular beach enclave of Batu Feringghi. It’s a good base for exploring the island and offers many conveniences in terms of food, shopping, and entertainment. It is also much less touristy than historic Geogetown.
Anyway here’s a video we shot yesterday showing the apartment and our lunch. Enoy!
More catch-up posts coming soon, but right now we are headed to the Spice Gardens…