Eighty Hours in Penang (Day One)Saturday, December 21, 2013
After waiting for like years, my dream of traveling to Penang Island, Malaysia became reality. Thanks to my colleague for initiating this trip and becoming such a great travel mate.
Spending nearly four days in the island, wandering in the narrow streets of its old Georgetown, I couldn’t help but feeling like going back in time, when the British established the settlement, and the Chinese, Malay, Indian, Arab, and other ethnic groups flooded the island and created a huge melting pot.
Today, the old town is listed as one world’s cultural heritage by UNESCO. Thank you for coming.
The airport taxi, which is not the same with regular city cabs, is not metered. But don’t worry, no haggling is allowed. So, to get the taxi, we have to go first to the taxi boot located outside the arrival terminal, and buy a ticket. The price depends on the distance.
The nearly forty five minute drives brought us to the Red Inn Heritage Hotel at 15 Love Lane. Soon after checking in, we walked to Lebuh Chulia, just few meters south from the hotel, where there were many street hawkers selling local dishes.
Airport Taxi (airport – Georgetown): RM 44,70
Lok Lok: RM 15,10
Mineral water 1 liter: RM 4,00
Hotel (4 days, 3 nights): RM 464 + RM 50 deposit
It turned out that the office was closed on Saturday. So we had to do plan B, which was letting ourselves lost in Georgetown. So we walked to any directions we wanted without any help of a map.
As a person who came to Malaysia for the very first time, Georgetown in that morning didn’t really give me the impression that I was in a Malay dominated country since most people I found on the street spoke in Hokkien Chinese dialect.
We stopped at Khoo Kongsi on Lebuh Cannon. Kongsi is some sort of clan hall, or association of overseas Chinese people who share the same family name or clan. Khoo is one of five major Chinese clans in Penang. The other four are Cheah, Yeoh, Lim, and Tan.
Temple is the main building of every kongsi. Commonly it is surrounded by the clan dwellings. As for Khoo Kongsi, the temple is hidden and cannot be seen from the main road. We had to walk along a narrow alley between two rows of old terrace houses, dating back to the 19th century.
After paying the admission fee, each of us was given a sticker, stuck on our shirt. As long as we had the sticker, we could enter this kongsi anytime during the day.
The temple was magnificent. It was like the biggest Chinese clan temple I had ever seen. Right across the temple, there was a smaller building which if I wasn’t mistaken, was an opera house. Standing on the plaza, between those two buildings, I imagined that in the past, life must have been very good in this place.
10:40 a.m. Lebuh Armenian
Georgetown at this hour was like a hot steamy sauna. We walked to wherever we saw tourists as we had no clue where to go that morning. On a narrow street of Lebuh Armenian, we stopped by at a souvenir store and met Soon Choon Hor, a furniture maker playing a unique instrument with strings and keys. He let people take his picture.
11:00 a.m. Jalan Kapitan Keling
Since we had slept late on the night before, we woke up late in the morning and didn’t get the chance to have the breakfast in the hotel. I was starving and suggested my friend that we find a food stall.
The first stall we found was the one located right next to Masjid Kapitan Keling, an old mosque built in the 19th century by Indian Muslim traders. We had Nasi Kandar for brunch. It was basically plain white rice with curries. It looked like Indonesian Nasi Padang, but it was spicier. The taste was simply irresistible.
Strolling along Jalan Kapitan Keling, we witnessed the diversity of ethnic and faith in Georgetown. Right across the mosque, we found some jewelry stores belonged to Indian Muslim and Arabic.
Heading to the north east, we found some Chinese shop houses and a Chinese temple of Goddess of Mercy, and right across the Chinese temple, we saw an Indian Hindu temple of Sri Maha Mariamman, located not far from Little India.
12:00 p.m. Lebuh Farquhar
As if to emphasize the diversity of faith in Penang, an Anglican church stood in the corner between Jalan Kapitan Keling and Lebuh Farquhar and named after St George. Too bad, we were not allowed to take pictures from the yard as it was not open for tourists. However, we were advised by the old security guard to return on the following morning as there was going to be a Sunday service at the church, and by that time, we would be allowed to take pictures from the yard.
The mansion, also known as Blue Mansion, is only open for tourists at certain hours; 11.00AM, 01.30PM, and 03.00PM.
We came too early to the Blue Mansion. It was still 12:45PM, and it was not open until the next forty five minutes. So we ended up sitting at the entrance gate, together with the guard who was old and was very strict as not to let anyone go through the entrance gate before 01.15 PM. That was so much different with the common situation in Indonesia where people from any social class could easily break the rule.
Fifteen minutes before the tour inside the mansion began, the gate was opened. We bought the tickets and got inside the mansion. We had learnt from the internet that visitors were not allowed to take pictures inside the mansion during the tour. It was a relief to know that the rule was no longer applied. We could take pictures as much as we liked as long as we stuck around with the entourage.
The one hour tour began right at 01.30PM, guided by Joahn Khaw, a UNESCO cultural heritage specialist guide. With so many tourists around her, it was not easy for me to focus on her explanation. All I wanted to do was to capture the grandeur of the mansion.
I am not going to write here in this blog, the history of the mansion and all the stories behind it as I’m avoiding making mistakes in writing those matters. In case you are interested to know more about the Blue Mansion, I suggest that you go to its official website or buy the book sold in the gift shop at the mansion.
To know further about Cheong Fatt Tze, the main figure who owned this mansion, please go to this site.
Our next destination was Fort Cornwallis on Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah. To reach the place, we walked, again, through Jalan Kapitan Keling, where we stopped by an old Chinese temple of Goddess of Mercy. It was a typical old temple, just like the ones I had seen in some Chinatowns in Indonesia.
We walked again and then turn right to Lebuh Light, and crossed the street to Padang Esplanade right in front of the town hall.
5:00 p.m. The Esplanade
5:15 p.m. The Old Fort
We reached the hotel before dark. Since we were exhausted from walking around the town – no riding bus at all – we kind of demanded a good and proper meal. We had heard about the famous fried Kwey Tiauw of Penang, and looked forward to having it for dinner.
Finding a halal food near our hotel was not as easy as we had expected. We were fortunate to find a Malay woman – assuming that she was a Muslim – selling fried Kwey Tiauw on the street. Confirming that there was no pork in it, we ordered two plates of it and two cups of Tea Tarik (tea with condensed milk).
Apparently, a plate of kwey tiauw was not enough to refill the calories we had lost on that day. We went for another Lok-Lok and ended up buying Kue Apom.
That night, we slept earlier than the previous night, hoping to get up earlier to catch the morning light. At our minds, there were several places to go. Hope we wouldn’t have to get lost again.
Khoo Kongsi Admission Fee: RM 10/personNasi Kandar (two persons): RM 18,80Blue Mansion Admission Fee: RM 12/personBlue Mansion Book: RM 69 Fort Cornwallis Admission Fee: RM 2/personDrinks & Ice creams: RM 30Fried Kwey Tiauw: RM 4/plateTea Tarik: RM 1,3/glassLok Lok: RM 96 Kue Apom: RM 3
Even though Georgetown is not as friendly as Singapore to pedestrians, I think the best way to enjoy the old town and sense its past glory is by walking.