Georgetown in Penang was nothing like I expected. Firstly it had high rise buildings and secondly it was nothing like any other UNESCO world heritage site we’ve been too. On first impressions it was built up, noisy, dirty and pretty unspectacular.
After checking into PP Island Hotel we rushed out to get something to eat. As I was walking down the road, I was stopped in my tracks, as a rat rushed passed my feet. Not a great start, I thought.
Walking around looking for something to eat, I soon started to feel the character of the place. From street to street and sometimes shop to shop it felt like I was in India one minute, Hong Kong the next, and a mix of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand the next. It’s a real cosmopolitan place, which you don’t normally see outside capital cites such as London. The only difference here is that the majority of faces are brown with the odd spec of white.
The food reflects the different ethnic groups that exist on the island too. The Brits in the early 20th century brought with them the Chinese and Indians and now you get Chinese dumplings and Indian samosas on each street corner. I have to say I had the best samosas I’ve had since leaving home - that’s with spending a month in India! They were delicious.
For our first evening meal we settled for Indian food and while ordering I was transported back to India. The over enthusiastic waiter would not let us talk and every time we tried to order he’d finish our sentences. We did end up with some good food but not what we ordered. Funny as it took me back to India.
The weather was against us all the time we were in Penang and not since Hong Kong had it been a pain. It pretty much rained the 2 days/3 nights we spent there and subsequently made the place look a little dreary as we walked around seeing the sights. I’m not sure even if the sun was out that Georgetown deserves the world heritage status. There are plenty of historical buildings to see dotted around but modernity has taken over with shopping malls, high rises etc.
We spent the first day wandering the streets looking at all the heritage buildings as well as exploring the shopping malls when it was raining. It looked like we’d just missed a lantern festival as there were lots of them about. In one of the shopping malls there were a few on display to be judged. I’m assuming they’d been made by school children and my favourite was the fish. Jono liked the cow.
We did stumble upon a restored house, I poked my head in to see and before we knew it we’d paid to enter and were on a tour, this time with a very enthusiastic guide. He turned out to be half African and half Chinese, had excellent English and went into minute detail about the house as we toured round. He even went into detail about how the chamber pot was used. We do very few tours as both of us prefer just to amble around at our own pace. Out of the two of us Jono is less inclined to want to take a tour and about 30 mins in I caught Jono’s eye. He looked like he was ready to kill himself which I found really funny. Another 30 minutes later, we said our thank you’s as we headed to where we’d entered, grateful we were done. However, he said there was more and he was very insistent on showing us. On reflection it was a great glimpse into life in Penang in the 19th and early 20th century of a rich family who made their money in tin.
That night we ate at a Chinese restaurant and, yes, I felt we were transported to Hong Kong.
We spent the last day getting to Penang Hill. It’s a collection of hills accessible by funicular. Once you are at the top, about a 30 minute ride, you are rewarded with great views of the island. We were being optimistic as when we go to the top, about 800 m above sea level, all we got was a blanket of cloud and no view. Shame but it still made for an interesting day out.
If Penang is anything to go by, I’m going to like Malaysia as I love the fact all these different cultures live together in what seems like perfect harmony.