Penang- The Glory of an Old Colony and a Secret Hotspot

November 16, 2017

Penang Island, Penang Hill

Before you start reading- While building this post, I sadly realize we took so few pictures to show you the beauty of Penang. That’s why I packed the article with links you can click on to see what I am talking about!

We arrived on Penang Island after a 10 hours bus ride from Singapore, and checked in our hostel straight away. We stayed at the 80’s Guesthouse in George Town. A vintage hostel in a century old building, full of character and marvelous staff. It is located on Love Lane which is close to many historical landmarks and, if you are a foodie, you will be happy to see all the options in the neighborhood. Plus, there is many cheap scooter rentals on this street, amazing for moving around the island.

Sunny common area at The 80’s Guesthouse and Rambutan fruit on the table.

Love Lane is also the boundary of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. The surrounding streets abound in street art, hawkers of all kinds and heritage monuments such as temples, town halls and mosques. All these attractions are within walking distance of Love Lane, all the best if you decide to make it your base camp !

We started our journey in Penang by hiking Penang Hill. It was a steep walk up-hill on a sealed road… so if you are expecting varied terrain forget about it! The flora is luxurious and abundant all around the road, but the road itself kills a bit of the atmosphere. We saw a few track going in the woods, but we were not informed enough to take these, as they can apparently take several more hours. A few hundred meters before the top, we visited an abandoned house standing tall on the road side. You could still feel the glory of its past, even thought it lacked the former shine. After some search on the Internets, I learned this residence isn’t the only derelict building of the hill. Several others houses -as well as a hotel– still stand. They were all built to escape the city heat during the colonial era.

Proud to finally be on top of Penang Hill!

Overall, it took us a wearying 4 hours to reach the top. The view was totally worth it thought. We relaxed and had a snack at David’s Brown Tea Terrace then ran back down as it was getting dark quickly. We could also have taken the funicular railway which runs from top to bottom and save our breaths, but there’s no rest for the wicked as they say. Plus, it is an enjoyable and reinvigorating walk despite the heat and the steepness. Let’s just say I was thankful for the 4 liters of water and the muesli bars we took with us.

"The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific 
multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible."- UNESCO

Our next visit was the UNESCO Bear Project. Parts of Penang were recognize UNESCO World Heritage in 2008, and in 2016 it had the privilege to showcase the United Buddy Bear which represents “tolerance and living together in peace”. We took great pleasure in examining the 149, 2 meters tall statues. The bears are touring the world since 2002. Everywhere they go, they are always positioned hand-in-hand in a circle. Each represent a different country acknowledged by the United Nations, although we didn’t see the link to our culture in the Canadian bear….

On many days, we toured the Island on our scooters to get a look at every corners of the Island. On the Northwest coast, where the well-known beaches are located,  many traditional villages line the shore with seafood shack and children playing in the sand. Right in the middle of that wonderful vista, stands a huge deserted 5-star hotel built in the late 80’s. The Mutiara Beach Resort was closed for renovations in 2006, to never open again… odd, but picking my curiosity, to the point where I almost trespass the “DO NOT ENTER” signs. Wyliam -my voice of reason- said it wouldn’t be worth a sleepover in a jail cell. Still thinking I should have disagreed, and climb the harsh looking gate… Have a look at the video, and tell me you don’t feel like exploring the halls!

Past this hotel we saw many other abandoned building but none as HUGE (and interesting) as the first one. One might think, all these relics are probably due to the awfully polluted beach it stands on. Really, we had a close look at the beach, the shore is line with rubbish, the water is of an unappealing troubled color and FULL of jelly fish. BEWWW!

Anyways, we left the lovely beach behind, to explore the windy road leading to the scenic countryside of the Southwest. Many magnificent views later, we ate the most exquisite chicken satay and discovered the curious Rambutan fruit.

Talking about food…

Going to Penang is not a choice for a foodie, it’s an obligation. Like Robyn from The Flashpacker  says, Penang is “Malaysia’s culinary capital; the spiritual heartland of a nation for whom eating is not only a national pass-time, but also a sport, and an art-form“. So well said isn’t? And, oh so accurate! You find a multitude of hawkers hanging on every street, many different markets, and so much more.

Living on the Love Lane, means we experienced the many glam tourist restaurants/bars on the same street. It also means proximity to many other not so mainstream options. Past the lane is many food hawkers offering a range of meals from a variety of culture. No need to say, we went for Indian first, as we REALLY love it. We also tried many hawkers offering Popiah, noodles dishes, dumplings and the not so appealing sticks hawkers which present you with skewers holding odd looking items. None of which we could call by name, so we went for many different choices, and had no idea what we where eating! It turned out being mostly good, and we had an amazing time watching each others face while trying the sticks.

Another notable place, would be the Red Garden Food Paradise & Night Market. This place is a large regrouping of 40 hawkers with a stage for Chinese music performance in the middle. The street food hawkers range from Asian to Western passing by Middle eastern. The meals are really good and cheap, but can’t say the same for the beer price. There was also a lot of locals eating there. So, we took it as a sign that it was a decent place to be and came back on 2 other occasions.

On to he hidden gem…

Whilst the Love Line has a really interesting but CROWDED night life, we enjoyed a good shisha and a few drink on the Lantern Festival night. On other evenings, we decided to go for a local drinkery, founded by pure luck, where the price are the lowest. That place is maintained by a local (who must be paying someone to have a terrace directly on the street), who offers cold drink (ciders, craft beer, pre-mix, spirits name it) for the cheapest price we saw on the island, and possibly the whole country. It’s suppose to be a liquor store, so you can either take it to go, or share a table with a local, expat or tourist and drink in front of the heritage store.

How cool, right? Everyone out there is happy to tell their story and hear yours. Plus, you are seated amongst beautiful well preserved colonial houses. It was literally the best place to hang out, and meet down to earth people. It’s not a party spot, rather a chill spot to drink good cheap booze and enjoy a great conversation.

Time to go!

At the end of the day, we really appreciate Penang for all the diversity of attractions there is. Hiking the hills was rewarding and a good preparation for all the delicacies we had the pleasure to eat afterwards. We enjoyed touring around the whole island on our scooter. The rides gave us the opportunity to discover an array of sides from the tourist scene to the countryside farming. When we go back there, we will surely stop by the secret liquor store, it is a real hot spot and definitely on our top 3 locations in Malaysia. And of course, we will go back to our host, The 80’s Guesthouse because it was simply a perfect place.

A few pounds heavier (thanks to all the good food and drinks), we took a bus towards Kuala Lumpur. See you there!

Our trip to Penang was AWESOME, but we would like to hear what you have to say about it: Did we miss any must do? Would you like to go? Every thoughts is worth sharing!

À plus, 

ZCM

Don’t forget to Pin me before you go!

By Lea Tess

Right after graduating from a Arts & Science Bachelor in 2015, I took the first plane to China with my partner. Since then, we have visited many countries, lived in Australia and, currently, in New Zealand. I am passionate about food and making memories!

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