After arriving in the early hours in Penang, we were unsure what the “Pearl of the Orient” held for us. Following a bonus breakfast at the Reunion Hertigate Hotel that we didn’t know we had booked, we ventured into the heat of the streets to explore. There are no consistent paths, everyone mostly walks on the road between the crawling traffic and whizzing bikes, but everyone is considerate and we felt completely safe. Straight away we stumbled on the start of the street art – a huge feature in Georgetown which definitely got the Banksy seal of approval! From the metal work to signify the streets, the huge paintings on the walls and the bikes/basketball rings coming out of the walls it leaves a vibrant atmosphere wherever you walk.
The free city circular bus is popular, but we managed to find a stop and hop on to have a little tour around and to get our bearings in air conditioning. The buildings in the World Heritage site of Georgetown show the combination of Chinese and colonial design, with temples and mosques, dotted throughout. Everywhere was clean and friendly, having a relaxed feel and with no-one trying to convince you to buy their wares. After stocking up on essentials our thoughts turned to food…
Sumptuous street food
Feeling culturally sated we had been smelling the range of spices, incense, sauces and curries all morning. We have luckily avoided upset stomachs so far and were feeling braver to try to range of street food that we had noticed – looking cleaner and safer than those in Thailand. Starting with a few spring rolls, radish cake and tofu dumplings, this gave us the confidence to go bigger!
Just around the corner on Victoria Street where we were staying was a busy food court. Thoroughly spoilt by choice of the weird and wonderful, and impressed that most of the meals were around £1, we went initially for the claypot chicken and fried rice for the little bees to try. All freshly produced, brought to your table, (they managed to spot us as we were the only western people in there!) and beautiful to eat – we knew we would be back here. Maybe not for the curry fish head, but definitely for the poh piah, sizzling pork, dumplings and the chicken fried rice that the girls kept on ordering for themselves as they loved it.
Streets of fire
Wandering back towards the hotel there was a small pile of paper being burnt in the street, with an offering of food alongside it. A nice little gesture we thought… until on the next street there was a bigger fire and offering, then another and another! In the fading light, it looked impressive, and we wanted to find out why the streets of Georgetown was on fire! It turned out that they were celebrating their ‘Day of the Dead’, giving offerings to keep the spirits from their door. A spectacular end to a fabulous 1st day in our new favourite town.
The very helpful tourist information lady had told us that the streets around them would be closed on Sunday for a festival, so the travelling bees strolled up there, again in the heat, the next day. The atmosphere, the dancing, the smells, the knife massage!!
The lady bees all splashed out £1 to have an intricate henna tattoo for their hands, while I got some more fresh dumplings. Keeping the ‘snake man’ happy, we danced in the streets, then heading into Little India to explore there next. Finishing up at The Wheat Connection for a well-earned cake for walking we again felt very welcome in Penang.
We had two further days in Penang and we will share more about those in our next blog!