Georgetown – Penang
Just a short ferry ride from Butterworth takes you to Penang, an island sitting next to the Malaysian mainland. We stayed in Georgetown, a World Heritage site for its culturally mixed past and architecture that conveys this. A great town for art and music. Following a mapped out route around the old town guides you to famous street art by Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian artist who was inspired by this colourful place to produce a range of pieces portraying the people of Penang. The streets of the old town are dotted with art galleries and studios, Studio Howard, on the 3rd floor of an old town house was a favorite of mine. Howard’s photography is bright and bold with images of Penang and Malaysia, colourful doorways and old cars feature a lot and he also has a range of cats from around the town. I loved his style of photography and bought a selection of Penang cats for a good price. China house, situated within 3 old town houses is an art space come cafe come music venue with exhibitions upstairs, delicious cake served downstairs and a bar serving up rather good mojitos through a courtyard at the other end of the building. The weekends host live music, Mix and Match, a 4 piece jazz band with a female lead from Langkawi performed jazz covers of mainly pop songs, a soulful sound with great vocals. The botanic gardens at the edge of town are stunning, dense jungle surrounds perfect green lawns with birds and wildlife sharing the paths with you, just beware, if a monkey is baring his teeth at you, he’s not smiling, he’s preparing to attack. A lesson I learnt whilst leaping back as he launched himself towards me! There is definitely lots of great food in Penang and the Chinatown hawker stalls was a regular stop for dinner, steaming pans serving up traditional Malay dishes, delicious and very cheap. Yam cake, a deep fried pastry filled with yam and other vegetables is a really tasty snack or addition to a meal. Amilie’s, a tiny Italian hidden away in a little building covered by foliage has a selection of home made pasta dishes and salads. The menu is written up on the chalk board each day and the banana and lime lassi come in jam jars.
My last evening in Penang began stumbling across the Christmas Open House, a yearly event put on by churches around the town, immediately welcomed in and handed a plate of food I sat and enjoyed the entertainment put on by the different church groups. That night the dragon and lion carnival was also taking place, floats and marching bands lined the streets, followed by men holding huge wooden sticks and showing off who could carry it with their forehead for the longest. A slightly strange but equally impressive sight to see.
A short stop over in the Cameron highlands and a shock to the system with the drop in temperature. The town looks similar to a ski resort (apart from the lack of snow, it’s not that cold) with mountains rolling around the town and wooden buildings along the main strip. A 4 hour trek through muddy jungle was the main activity whilst staying here which lead us to the Rafflesia, the worlds largest flower, the size of a dinner plate with its silky red petals spreading over the ground, this was small compared to how big they can grow but still impressive for a flower! Only found in Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines and Sumatra I am lucky to have seen one. A tip for the highlands is bring walking boots for trekking, it makes it much more enjoyable and plenty of warm clothes as the nights get very cold, as I found when somebody stole my blanket 😦
Arriving in a city was a refreshing change. We stayed at birds nest guesthouse, a lovely, homely place with a slightly mental cat called Jackie who was relaxed most of the time until without reason have a crying fit and run about the place. I couldn’t help but to have a soft for this little kitty even he did keep me up at night with his whaling and spray over my clothes! Staying in China town I traveled around the city using the sky train, a cheap and quick way to get from a to b. The dozens of shopping malls are huge,one even housing a roller coaster. The Petronas Towers taking centre stage on the city’s skyline are amazing especially at night when they light up the sky. Menara or the KL tower as its known is a great viewing point for them, 276m high the observatory deck shows the city at its best. I would defiantly recommend going up the tower at dusk and watching the night draw in and the city light up. Traveling by train to the final stop on the line will take you just out of the city and to the Batu Caves. Home to the worlds largest statue of a person and beside it the staircase you have to walk up! Monkeys bounce around as you make your way up step by step, one tried to snatch my sun cream from my bag thinking its yellow bottle was something tasty. As you reach the top and walk into these enormous dark caves its easy to see why they are used as religious temples, a real nature masterpiece.
Melaka like Georgetown has UNESCO World Heritage status and played a big part in the countries history. Once a hub for Malaysia’s trade, the British and Dutch made sure to come here and invest (or just take the profits). China town is full of historical buildings to wonder around and has a renowned weekend night market selling gifts, bits and bots and really good ice cream. There are lots of museums in this town, the marine museum probably the most recognised housed within a replica of the Flora de Mar, a Portuguese vessel shipwrecked just off the coast in 1511. The Baba and Nyonya museum is very interesting, set in a family home giving you an insight into the lives of the people who lived there. Baba-Nyonya is a race of people from Chinese and Malay heritage. When the Chinese men came over to Melaka and married the Malay women they created the first generation of Baba-Nyonya. Something hard to miss when walking around at night is the rickshaws that want to take you on tours of the town, dressed up to the max with lights, flowers and other decorations you also have the option of music blasting out from under your seat!