Some of the most interesting places in the world are crucibles of culture and tradition achieved through exploration, invasion and trade. George Town, the old centre of Penang Island, provides tourists with a fascinating cultural cocktail. Let us show you a little from our recent two day stopover – a few sights and some of the food of Penang, Malaysia.
Penang’s street food scene is one of the most vibrant in Asia. There are six famous food halls in Georgetown as well as many street vendors – way too many for us to try in a couple of days!
Want to explore Penang? Choose your mode of transport: bicycle, ride your own quadbicycle, car with driver or even trishaw (pictured). Mostly you can walk, but it’s hot and humid and sometimes a ride for a few dollars is worth it!
Architecture is one of the standout attractions in the UNESCO World heritage suburb of Georgetown. These Peranakan shop houses show the influence of seven cultures. They’re quite run down, though. Several museums and houses open to tourists (such as the Blue Mansion and Peranakan Mansion) have been immaculately restored, but unfortunately that’s not the norm.
Our hotel, a heritage Chinese mansion in Chulia Street was just around the corner from Love Lane, where rich Chinese housed their mistresses. Today it’s a backpacker area, the only reminder being this street art and a few ‘lady boys’ who’d taken up a possie outside one of the bars.
‘Children on a bicycle’ – One of our biggest surprises was the street art project. Well documented on tourist maps, you can walk around the streets of Georgetown, photographing as you go.
The art sits on unexpected corners, beside doorways and inside shops. There’s a clue to its discovery – look for the group of tourists outside.
Thirsty work, all this art hunting! We stop at a coconut ice cream stall close to Armenian Street. A fresh young coconut is scraped into shavings, topped with scoops of coconut ice cream, red beans, corn and fresh pineapple. Fresh coconut water accompanies it. Electrolytes renewed, we continue our adventure.
Look who we found just around the corner! ‘Reaching up’ in Cannon Street. The chair is real, the boy reaching up to the window, a painting. Although many different artists have contributed to Georgetown’s street art, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s paintings, commissioned in 2012, are some of the most famous. They show everyday scenes of Malaysian life, using local people as the models.
‘Between a hard day (sic) work and rest time, many love to bring a stool and listen to a storyteller down at the street.’ Cool!
Tracking around Penang’s labyrinth of streets, photographing artwork and sights, watching people in their daily work, was a great way to explore the old city.
This chestnut roaster marks the beginning of our visit to the Penang Street food area which includes fish markets, market stalls and vendors.
Need some dried fish to deepen your curry’s flavour?
Making fresh rice paper. This was amazing to watch. With the dough consistency correct, a hand is all that’s needed! He pulls his hand away and a thin layer of dough remains on the plate. She flips it with a spatula and the rice paper is cooked.
Ice confections are really popular in Malaysia. This one, from a Penang Road stall, is really colourful.
Founded in 1936, Penang Road’s famous TeoChew Chendel serves a ‘must eat’ dish. There can be a long line up at this Penang Road stall. All the ingredients in plastic tubs are spooned into the melamine dish. Eat it standing up – no chairs here!