Penang pt 1 — City Guide

Penang — City Guide — pt 1.

After starting my Malaysian Road trip at Ipoh, we headed next to Penang — the mecca of street art, local street food, diverse cultures and beaches. The main city is situated on a small island and George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Penang became a British colony in 1867 which was only briefly interrupted by the Japanese during the second world war. You will definitely see the different cultural and diverse influences that these colonizations have influenced throughout the city. Penang is one of the most laid back and relaxed places I have visited. This is part one of two posts, showcasing some of Penang’s best beaches, history and culture. Part two will be more about the highly anticipated street art and of course the local cuisine!

Start at the Beach

After a long-ish drive up from Ipoh, we decided to spend Christmas day relaxing by the beach, at the north of the island at Batu Ferringhi. This is an area full of holiday resorts and hotels with easy access to large stretches of the beautiful sandy beaches and the waters of the Strait of Malacca.

For those who are looking for a bit of food in the area, there are lots of little restaurants dotted around the main road. We decided to go local and headed to Ajid Cafe, a mini hawker house for deep fried food and noodles!

Back at the resort, we found it really well equip and comes with nice areas to sunbathe and a nice swimming pool. This was perfect after a long drive and it was a really nice way to just relax.

Head into Town

After a night of good food with the Christmas dinner and another quick swim, we took a Grab and headed into George Town. I had not used Grab since Hanoi and it was just so convenient and a real bargain in terms of price. It got us to our next hotel in no time and we dropped our bags and headed to explore the area. What we noticed first were the similar styled shop houses that we saw in Ipoh, but at a much larger scale. They were everywhere and it was a bit like a photographer’s dream, stopping here and there to take as many photos as possible!

There is just something about these low buildings and their intricate Chinese styles. It really makes you imagine what living here back in the days was really like. It also adds to this relaxed and chilled nature that this city seem to bring.

Clan Jetties of Penang

This part of town displays some really interesting history and heritage. Chinese settlements on the island dating back over a century can be seen in these water villages. There were originally 7 but one was burnt down in a fire and now 6 remain. Each of the remaining settlements sits on the waterfront on stilts and is named after a specific Chinese clan. They are pretty much like little houses sitting on extended wooden pathways where people live. What was interesting is how people still live here and have their own little communities, even with all the tourists walk around and exploring.

Walking around the water village can really give you a feel of how it used to be. There are literally bare necessities in these houses and I keep imagining how it would be like growing up and in living in the area. Imagine all the rivalries between each of the clans!

Centre of Colonization

A little walk towards town while sticking close to the waters, and you will reach many of the buildings built during the colonization of Penang. They are really obvious and grand westernized buildings. Check out the Jubilee Clock Tower, built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee.

Next, head to the cross roads at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, first established in 1903. Penang has a governor who is appointed by the King of Malaysia and acts as a figurehead who primarily attends to ceremonial events. Penang has its own state government and has its own executive council and the legislature. Their powers include legislating but they do not have as much power as the Malaysian federal government. The Penang Executive Council is led by the Chief Minister and the Legislature is a 40 seat Assembly. I was surprised that in such a large Malay country, the current Chief Minister is ethnically Chinese! But to be fair, 53% of people on Penang Island are ethnically Chinese.

The rest of this area is full of grand buildings such as the town hall and high court.

Another great stop is at Fort Cornwallis, built in the 18th century by the British East India Company and named after the then Governor-General of Bengal. The views from the fort’s walls are gorgeous and you can walk around the old bunker and the lighthouse.

A short walk into town and you will reach the big St. George’s Anglican Church. This 19th century Church is the oldest Anglican Church in Southeast Asia. It has some very church like architecture and great interiors.

After the church, you will likely find yourself on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. This street for me had some significance as it houses a Church, a Hindu temple, a Mosque and a great Chinese temple. It really amazes me how people of different religions can get along so easily and get on with their lives and religions, within such close proximity of each other. This was definitely also the case at Jerusalem, Sarejevo and Sofia! Just peaceful living.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

This mansion is dedicated as a museum to Penang’s Peranakan Heritage. The building was the old house of a Chinese tychoon (Chung Keng Quee) and contains lots of Peranakan artifacts, antiques and collectibles. The interiors are grand and really showcases a completely different heritage and style.

Peranakan Chinese or Straits-born Chinese are descendants who came from the Malay archipelago. This included the now Malaysia/Singapore (Baba-Nyonya) and Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia and known as Kiau-Seng). This was all between the 15th and 17th century. The mansion really shows some of the Perenakan customs, culture, history and ways of life. It was something I didn’t really know much about and was quite surprised by the history and culture. It really was a completely different way of life!

All In All

This post gives a flavorful of the incredibly diverse culture and history of Penang. It might be a nice and laid back city with a lots of old school shop houses, but some of the history at the Jetties and the colonization plus the culture of the Peranakans really makes Penang a great place to visit. Stay tuned for post 2 on Penang’s food and street art!


Originally published at Out Of Office London.