After our house sit in Kuala Lumpur, we headed off to the island of Penang for a long-weekend getaway. Penang is a popular tourist stop, located off the Northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. Getting there from KL is pretty easy; you can either take the train, which will take three-ish hours, or a five-hour coach bus. Both of these options drop you off in the coastal city of Butterworth. From there, it’s a quick ferry ride across the strait to Georgetown, which is where we stayed. Georgetown is an old English colony, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. There is so much to see and do on the island that we had no problem finding adventures in Penang.
Island of Penang
Even though Georgetown is on the ocean, we never really made it to the beach. The city itself is a port, located on the side of the island facing Malaysia, so it is understandably a little more industrial. There were a ton of boats and freighters cruising by, and of course plenty of litter. The water and the scenery were pretty, but I would not suggest swimming anywhere near it.
My favorite island adventure was visiting the Clan Jetties of Penang. It is a traditional village on stilts built out over the water. Although it did look people were living there, it was a bit touristy as well, and less “traditional” than we were meant to assume. Either way, it was still a great adventure. I was particularly drawn to the views of the richer tourist area just blocks away. To see such overt poverty within view of a five-star hotel really made me consider the lives of the people around me.
Upon arriving in Penang, we were immediately stuck by the variety of buildings. There were old buildings and new buildings, eastern and western, tall and short, beautiful and ugly. Nothing looked like it quite belonged, yet everything seemed oddly familiar.
We came to Penang specifically in search of its pre-war history. Along with exploring the Eastern & Oriental Hotel and Mansion Street, we made a quick stop at the Western Cemetery. It wasn’t the sort of stop I would rave about on TripAdvisor, but one I quite enjoyed. Everything was old, from the trees to the inscriptions on the headstones. It was a great way to help us set the scene for our WWII history adventure.
Food of Penang
Just like the architecture, there was an endless variety of food. There were high-end restaurants catering to the Western tastes of the tourists, along with open air food carts that came out when the sun went down. One of these carts served up great big bowls of porky, noodle-y goodness for less than a buck; it ended up being our favorite. This, despite the fact that the chefs were barefoot and used water from an open-top barrel that I may or may not have watched a pigeon bathe in.
Still, it was hard to resist the call of the familiar flavors of home. We tried a delightful Mexican restaurant with nearly perfect nachos and a pastry shop that served ice cream inside of a cinnamon roll cone.
A Feeling of “Huh”
Overall, I came away from Penang with a feeling of “Huh”. With the juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor, and Eastern and Western, everything just felt… off. It was interesting to see, and I’m glad we went, but it wasn’t really worth raving about the way we had heard before arriving. Hopefully we can come back one day to see the other treasures the island holds, but for now it’s time to move on to the next big adventure: Thailand.
Like it? Share it!