Tuesday, January 24, 2012


We were so happy to arrive yesterday evening at the Yeng Keng Hotel on Chulia Street in the World Heritage listed zone of George Town, Penang.

We thought that taking the train North from KL Sentral would be a great way to see the countryside. However for over seven and a half hours all we saw was one type of country: very flat with the occasional poor looking tiny village set in cleared land in the jungle. Rob and I were left wondering where Malaysia gets all its wealth from.

To end off the day's journey we were driven the 45 min trip from Butterworth Station over the 13.4klm bridge to Penang Island and to our hotel in a 35 year old Toyota Taxi with no muffler or air conditioning. Our lovely Indian driver gave us a tour commentary the whole way over, most of which we couldn't understand but which required responses from us.

Our hotel seemed just heavenly, on arrival...very quiet, very cool, very friendly and with beautifully decorated rooms in 30s Chinese style (and a swimming pool).

Our room opens to this shaded gallery. There are beautifully styled areas to sit and relax throughout this small boutique hotel (only 20 rooms). It's located in one of the oldest intact 19th century buildings in the heritage area of George Town.

The front of the hotel and attached cafe bar draws in other visitors but hotel guests are free at any time to get unlimited drinks and fresh fruit, and sit and read (all provided), people watch or sip G&Ts or beer (alcohol's not free, but very cheap all the same).

We loved our hotel breakfast this morning. As well as the usual omelettes, fresh fruit and cereals etc they bring in a range of local Nyonya delicacies every morning to tempt us. We'll look forward to breakfasts while we're here!

We spent some hours just wandering the streets around our hotel this morning. The area is predominantly Chinese (who comprise 46% of the population of Penang). It was still very quiet today with most businesses closed. Apparently things don't get back to normal after Chinese New Year until the 25th January. The street arcades are a photographer's dream. As we walked through we could see many families relaxing and eating together. New Year is a time for family reunions and feasting just like our Christmas. Lots of the young men were letting off firecrackers outside the doors (Tom Thumbs and Double Bungers) and little kids were setting off Throw Downs with the help of grown ups.

This area would be more Chinese than it is in China today I'd say!

We came to the Kapitan Keling Mosque, two blocks from our hotel (the call to prayers woke us at 5.00am this morning - but didn't stop us sleeping in then till 8.00am). Its the oldest mosque in George Town, originally built for Muslim Indians working for the East India Company. We were lucky enough to catch this little vignette of a fashionable Muslim Indian (?) couple getting some wedding shots taken in the grounds of the mosque (and here on the road outside).

And a little further on the Yap Kongsi (clan house for the Yap clan) and Temple on Lebuh (street) Armenian. The original Chinese settlers (most started as labourers) were from all over China so these traditional clan houses and family temples are a big part of George Town's cultural and social (and architectural) heritage.

The heritage tours by tri-shaw are for the tourists. There is a combined weight limit of 135kg for passengers. We saw a fair few today who would have extended that limit - not a pretty sight.

Labuh Armenian is a very pretty street with some trendy galleries and shops and cafes being developed now the heritage listing is assured. I liked the look of the Penang Islamic Museum at the end of the street but it was another building that was closed today.

Another area we found today was the Clan Jetty on the NE waterfront of the old Georgetown harbour. They're rows of teak houses built out on the water by the original Chinese workers and fishermen on the waterfront. They started on their boats then moved into these houses as they made more money. There are rows and rows of them. It feels a bit invasive walking up the central plank paths but everyone gave us a friendly greeting.

Most of them are decorated for New Year and lots of families were at home today and in a very relaxed mood.

No railings on the jetty as it extends out to the water - lots of little kids living on these jetties too.

I think these families would enjoy living over the water in their teak houses far more than their counterparts living in those big apartment blocks around the edge of the central heritage area of George Town.

Where have we eaten so far? Last night with all the Chinese restaurants closed we headed to Little India, which was a really rocking place; please add the sound of very loud Bollywood music to this street scape. We ate at Sri Ananda Bagwhan which came highly recommended. The food was fantastic but the whole experience was a bit too hot and noisy and confusing for what I needed last night.

Today for lunch we found this great open air food hall full of Malysian hawker food outlets. it was very cool and breezy and we both were able to try our first Penang Laksa. Which turns out to be very different to our favourite Singapore style laksas at home. Penang Laksa is based on fish broth and strongly flavoured with tamarind (and coriander and chili) It will take a bit of getting used to I think.

I couldn't stop Rob taking this picture of me......just taken my hat and glasses off......so, so sweaty and hot and not had the chance to let that fresh lime juice do its magic yet!

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