Smash! The wrecking ball swung down, splintering the antique structure. In recent times Bangkok has lost the wonderful Hemingway’s teakwood mansion to development by the voracious business sector–it was a popular meeting and drinking place for locals and
Which is brilliant, because walking around Georgetown and taking in all it has to offer is an absolute pleasure. Around every corner is a new surprise. When you look more closely at Malaysia, you realise Penang is unique because of all the cultures that can be seen within such a small island. The buildings you see have four distinct flavours and styles – British colonial, indigenous Malay, Chinese (Teochew), and Indian (Tamil), and all of these combine together in harmony to make Penang one of the most interesting and eclectic places to visit in SE Asia.
Walking around the streets of Georgetown is easy for English speaking visitors, as most of the streets are known and signposted by their English names, such as Pitt Street or Green Lane, although they have also been renamed in Malay. This respects the feelings of Penangites, who see Penang’s colonial history as part of their identity, and something which they are proud to retain. English is still widely understood and spoken, tourism and the service industry account for 53% of the island’s economy, and you will find that in Penang you are always made to feel welcome by the friendly locals.
I stayed at the Chulia Heritage Hotel on Chulia Street – which is itself formed from old colonial style buildings. Chulia Street is central to
I will take you with me on a narrative and pictorial journey. I decided to walk, although tri-shaws are everywhere, and many like to do
Leaving my hotel I made a left and started walking down Chulia Street, I was already familiar with this part of Georgetown, but this time I wanted to take a leisurely stroll, and take in the whole ambience. If you walk fast you miss things. The first thing I noticed was that the old shophouses and arcades over the 10 years since I had last visited seemed to have changed their line of business – the last time there were loads of secondhand bookshops, budget guest houses, money changers, little stalls selling cheap Malay and Chinese-style clothing, and ‘I love Penang’ T-shirts… it was very geared towards the backpacker traveller.
This time around the buildings housed coffee shops, ice-cream parlours and large bars featuring live music and fast food. The focus seems to have shifted towards the slightly more upmarket traveller. However, it cannot be denied that the unique charm of Georgetown is still there. As I continued upon my stroll I saw a colourful street stall piled high with pineapples, mangoes, lychees, watermelons, and bananas, et al. The fruits were bought fresh from the market at 5 am every day the owner of the stall told me. You choose which fruit you want, and he will deftly cut it open with his razor-sharp fruit knife, put the flesh into a blender, and pour it into an ice-filled glass for you (or a plastic bag with a straw if you want a takeaway)…refreshing and delicious in the tropical heat.
It turns out I was lucky to have delayed my walk at this little stall, as the Chinese family that run it also own the Betel Nut Bar directly behind it. The Betel Nut Bar is probably the cheapest place to get a cold beer or cider in all of
Nicely refreshed at the Betel Nut Bar after a pineapple juice followed by an ice-cold locally brewed Somersby cider (about 2 dollars) I continued on down the road and was soon in Little India. In this quarter you can see beautifully decorated temples in Tamil style, housing niches featuring gilded sculptures of religious deities, and dozens of Indian restaurants…born in Birmingham,
Further on, I headed towards the seafront and jetty area, where I discovered the Queen Victoria 60th Jubilee Memorial Clock (60ft tall, 10ft for each decade of her reign) and the buildings in the old administrative and business district; the impressive looking and well preserved reminders of British colonial times that dominate the neighbourhood. I noticed two young teenagers sitting on the sea wall, with a fishing rod, idly chatting away, and looking out over the harbour. I was intrigued
They competed with each other to see how many they could catch in a given time, but they would let anything they caught free into the sea again. Today the older of the two (holding the rod) was four fish up on his friend. As I left they gave me a cheery ‘Have a nice day’! I spent quite some time in this part of Georgetown soaking up the atmosphere, and wondering about the history and grandeur of the place, as you can see from the accompanying photos. After my history
There were about 50 tall bundles of incense burning at the roadside frontage, sending thick clouds of smoke into the temple courtyard, and into the road, too, which the cars and rickshaws had to slow down to get through. As I was heading back to my room, I realised that walking through Georgetown is very much like having been taken back somewhere in a time machine. The place absorbs you. I made it back to the hotel, where a much-needed cool shower was
Not a lot, as it turned out! At the top end of Chulia Street, where it meets Penang Road, right on the corner, down a little passage, is a Muslim restaurant selling street food that seems firmly stuck in the past. It had not changed an inch since I was last there. The same delicious aromas, and the trays of food lying there, floating in their deep red sauces, just waiting to be snapped up by hungry Penangers. Although it is a Muslim restaurant, it still attracts a few customers from the Indian or Chinese population, too. And myself. As was the same last time I was there I was the only foreign tourist. Let me tell you that the hot and spicy mutton curry is to die for, find this place and check it out. But if you want to cool down your taste buds after your spicy meal with a cold one, head back down Chulia Street, no beer in this restaurant! So, on down Penang Road, perhaps the main street in Georgetown.
As the night winds on, Chulia Street really livens up, and people are busily making their way from one place to another. Checking out the scene, and the great street food carts that appeared as the sun went down. About
I joined them one night and had a great time. I was surprised how many of them knew and liked the same rock bands I did when I was the same age as they were. A word of warning, all along the sides of the roads in Georgetown are two foot deep open drains… so if you guess you might have had a few too many be careful of falling into one. Not a good end to your day!