Penang is Malaysia’s second largest island and it’s quite unique. Many even claim that Penang is the ‘Pearl of Malaysia’. It is so unique that the peeps from UNESCO declared its historical centre, Georgetown as a World Heritage site in 2008.
Penang is a vast melting pot of cultures, and is probably best known for its mouthwatering street food. It is regarded as the food paradise of Malaysia, and I can say Penang delivered. The cuisine is a blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian specialties which are served up at the ubiquitous local hawker centers and street foodstalls. These foodstall centers can be found on just about every street and it is quite apparent the locals simply love to chow down, at all times of the day in these outdoor eating areas. I did find it sort of bizarre seeing many locals eating various bowls of soup throughout the day. I am a big soup guy but I just could not bring myself to down a bowl of hot soup, midday in these scorching temperatures. Those who love to try new food but are on a budget, Georgetown, Malaysia is definitely the place to go.
When not eating, you can spend hours walking around the city, visiting temples and taking in the cool colonial architecture and colorful street art. We elected to stay in the inner city of Georgetown, Penang’s capital. The best way to explore this culturally rich area is on foot and that is precisely what E. Stein, Barbie and I did. It’s seaside location and walkable streets and alleys make for a great break from the hustle and bustle of the larger and more chaotic, Kuala Lumpur. Its a great city to walk around and just get lost in. Simply pick any street in Georgetown within the core and it will be full of architectural surprises and colorful alleyways. The only letdown in Georgetown was not one single spotting of John Thompson or Patrick Ewing.
We did venture outside of the Georgetown area and visited the Kek Lok Si Temple. This mammoth temple is reputed to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. We walked around, Barbie spearheaded a prayer and we sweated our butts off due to the extreme temperatures. While Georgetown holds many attractions for the traveler, eventually the equatorial heat will begin to break your ass down. I have been on many walks along the strip when I lived in 110 degree heat in Las Vegas but this heat in Penang took ‘Holy Shit Hot’ to another level.
Eric, Barbie and I also hit up the Penang National Park for a 1.5 hr., super sweaty hike thru the rainforest. Penang National Park is Malaysia’s smallest national park by size. The park is a popular destination for anyone who enjoys a little bit of hiking, wildlife and experiencing the natural rainforests of Asia. The carrot at the end of the hike was supposed to be Monkey beach for a refreshing post hike swim in the ocean. Upon arrival at the ocean, there were no monkeys and despite a real pretty ocean setting, we unfortunately discovered the ocean to be polluted. I knew going into Penang that it is not the kind of island you would visit for its beaches. However, it still irritates the heck out of me to see the growing number of beaches in SE Asia that are spoiled. I would attribute this to a combination of absurd overdevelopment and locals not giving a second thought about throwing garbage and assorted crap into the sea. A real shame. I left completely unimpressed with Penang’s most popular beach spots, but the island’s real attraction lies in its culture, history and most importantly, the cuisine.
Barbie and I enjoyed having some extra company in Penang and spending time with my old 1996 RTW travel buddy, E. Stein. With the departure of E. Stein today, we are back on our own and will continue on the path of our SE Asian journey. Next stop is the island of Langkawi.
Hameediyah Restaurant, Teksen, Karaikudi Restaurant, Monaliza’s, Red Garden Hawker, Tai Tong, New World Park Hawker, Safe House.
LOOSE STOOLS INDEX – 9 Ate like a king and shit like a king.