George Town is the colorful, multicultural capital of the Malaysian island of Penang. Situated on the northeastern part of the island, George Town is the capital city of the state of Penang. In 2008 it was recognized as a Heritage Site by UNESCO and has since flourished into a buzzing center of commerce and creativity.
We stayed in the Gurney Hotel on Gurney Drive with a beach front view. Idyllic one would think, except that the beach is under construction to create parkland. Bulldozers, lorries and diggers we’re moving sand from dawn to dusk.
The hotel itself was under renovation, which obviously wasn’t mentioned when we booked. It needed renovating too – the rooms were tired and the decor old. We moved rooms to a slightly better than the original one offered – but it wasn’t great. The staff were friendly and helpful. I think it will be a nice hotel once renovated but right now I wouldn’t recommend it.
Georgetown was once an important Straits of Malacca trading hub, the city is known for its British colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses and mosques. Beyond the old town, George Town is a modern city with skyscrapers and shopping malls. It is also famous for its street art, which is good, varied and plentiful.
What is there to do?
Plenty! We strolled around Georgetown looking at the historic architecture, street art and the UNESCO Heritage site of Chew Jetty. There are many restaurants and street food available. We toured the island and saw the Botanic Gardens, Penang Hill and some Temples as well as the floating mosque.
Strolling through Georgetown’s streets is just a little bit more exciting when you discover the various street art. In 2012 Penang’s municipal council hired London-trained Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, to breathe new life into some of the atmospheric Chinese shop-houses around the inner city. Certain areas have been turned into thriving tourist destinations and also became much-talked about among locals.
His artwork is spread out across Penang’s city centre, along roads like Muntri Street, Weld Quay, Lebuh Leith, Armenian Street, Ah Quee Street and more.
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi , or Khoo Kongsi for short, is one of the most distinctive Chinese clan association in Malaysia. It is well known worldwide for its extensive lineage that can be traced back 650 years ago, as well as its closely-knit and defensive congregation of buildings and a magnificent clanhouse.
It is stunning. The detail in the architecture and the vibrant colours make it a ‘must see’. (It’s open everyday from 9am to 5pm). To make it to Leong San Tong, which is perhaps the most majestic clanhouse in South East Asia, you will need to tread through an alley between two rows of 19th century terrace houses and bypass the opera stage, before you see it stand majestically on the granite square.
Chew Jetty – A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The clan jetties are six water villages housing seven old Chinese clans, namely the Lim, Chew, Tan, Yeoh, Lee, Koay, and unnamed (mixed surnames) families. The ‘floating’ houses are made of wood and aluminum, and sit on stilts above the sea. The most tourist-friendly of these villages is the Chew Jetty, featuring a long walkway, souvenir shops and a small temple. It is still a residential area too so sensitivity is required when taking photos. It is open from 9am to 9pm.
Day Tour Of Penang Island
Verdant Penang Hill, with hiking and a funicular railway, overlooks some great views over Penang from 2750ft above ground level. The 2007 metre-long railway was built in 1901 but went through a revamp in 2010 to turn it into an electric system. The colonial hill station’s temperature rarely rises above 21◦C so it offers a brief break from the island’s warm weather. Located in Air Itam, Penang Hill used to be called Flagstaff Hill when the British occupied the island.
It’s open from 6.30am to 10pm and is accessible by jeep or the funicular railway. (It takes several hours to walk up and is not advisable in the heat.) At the top there are tours of the top available which take between 20-30 mins for a small fee. It’s a quick and easy way of seeing the colonial houses and some great viewing spots.
Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple
If you move away from the coastline towards inner Penang island, you’ll find this majestic castle-like temple featuring a 99-feet-tall (30.2 meter) statue of the Goddess of Mercy. With several different temple halls and walkways to link them together, the hodgepodge architecture (incorporating the best of Chinese, Thai and Burmese designs) reflects the amalgamation of different Buddhist sects, including Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism.
I highly recommend a visit to Penang. There is plenty to do and plenty we didn’t have time to do. It would be great for a weekend away and also for a week to explore further.
Go and enjoy for yourself.