Connect with us

Thai Life

Plunge into Penang

Legacy Phuket Gazette

Published

 on 

PHUKET: First of all, no, panang curry is not from Penang. And yes, of course, it is debated. It’s ok though, because the northern Malaysian island is overflowing with taste-bud dazzling dishes. When or if you find yourself in this hotpot of ethnic diversity and boundless character, you will find a wondrous assortment of flavors far beyond the food.

Although it is an island, Penang is accessible by two bridges and has its own international airport. Having the closest Thai embassy to Phuket that issues one-year visas, those bridges see a steady flow of visa run vans in and out of Penang. However, sketchy van rides (story here), stricter enforcement of immigration laws (story here) and affordable direct flights on Firefly airlines (schedule here) may change the visa run scene.

image

For travellers who find themselves in Southeast Asia, Penang should definitely be on their radar. With its narrow winding streets, worn but clean and unique colonial edifices, and spectrum of activities to satisfy most tastes, it’s a haven for those seeking a smaller Asian city that exudes an air of exotic mystery.

As an island along the strategic maritime trading route of the Straight of Malacca, Penang has been a trading hub for centuries. The majority of the inhabitants are a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indians. The 16th and 17th centuries saw waves of Portuguese and Dutch reign and in the late 1700s, the British set up shop in Penang making it the first British settlement in Southeast Asia.

The British influence is glaringly obvious in the colonial style architecture and street names like Lebuh (avenue) Kimberly and Lebuh Buckingham, not to mention the cultural center, George Town. But behind the thin Western facade lies quaint boutique shophouses and guesthouses with charming courtyards surrounded by intricate Chinese carvings and murals of brightly colored, fearsome characters.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Penang is certainly well-steeped in its own inherent charm, but the city has also capitalized on the creativity of the Penangites. Placed all around the city are wrought iron caricatures sporting short, wry narratives about the street they are located. Like the outline of a fat man tip-toeing across a ledge which says, “The local Chinese say the rich men who lived on Muntri Street kept their mistresses here, hence the name Ai Cheng Hang or Love Lane.”

A popular activity is to find one of the maps which show the location and description of all 50-some of the sculptures and rent a bike to roll around and see them all. Along the ride, it is hard to miss all of the funky street art adorning walls and buildings. It all stemmed from a small street art project in 2012 which has snowballed and now the quirky paintings, many featuring cats, are everywhere.

image

The best way to glimpse back to the lifestyle of the early Chinese immigrants is a visit to the fascinating Peranakan Mansion. Peranakan is the name taken by the “Straights Chinese” who settled in Singapore, Malacca and Penang, and are also found in other surrounding regions like Phuket. Over time, their Chinese traditions fused with those of the neighboring Thai, Malay and Burmese to forge their own set of unique cuisines, fashions and beliefs.

The museum is housed in a cavernous old mansion which was in a steady state of decay until it was recently revived to its current glory. The house itself is unique in that it sports English tiles, Scottish
ironworks and Chinese features of excruciating detail as well as its own temple with bas relief carvings depicting heaven and hell. The enigmatic museum director Lillian Tong explained that treasures of huge cultural significance were unearthed throughout the vacated mansion after they acquired it.

On display throughout the mansion are over 1,000 artifacts depicting the rich history of the culture. Items such as painstakingly crafted beaded slippers for the women to flaunt, finely woven textiles to wear and opulent mother-of-pearl inlaid day beds for the men to laze the day away on smoking opium. It’s easy to get lost for hours gazing in disbelief at the exorbitant collection.

As a traveller or photographer, it is immediately apparent just how photogenic Penang is. Be sure to have ample memory cards, batteries and personal stamina. When you’re ready for a break, the Penang Camera Museum beckons.

The two-storey, 325-square-meter ode to photography contains over 250 cameras dating back more than a century from all over the world. If available, get a tour, as the guide is very knowledgeable and entertaining as he quizzes groups on photographic history and camera technology. Don’t forget to get a selfie with the picture they have of the first selfie being taken.

What many may consider the main attraction of Penang is the variety of incredible eats. There is just so much good food everywhere that it’s a wonder everyone isn’t overweight. Some of the local, must-try dishes are the char kuey teow wok fried noodles, the spectrum of curries in nasi kandar and the sweet coconut and pandan rice of nasi lemak served surrounded by little piles of everything from fried chicken to spicy anchovies. The Penang-style roast pork is incomprehensibly amazing and one would be doing themselves a great disservice by not indulging.

image

Naturally, since they comprise one of the three main ethnic groups in Penang, the Indian influence permeates throughout the city. An aimless wander around Little India is compulsory and heading there with an empty stomach even more so. In fact, hitch a ride on one of the iconic trishaws which perpetually crawl through the streets blasting tinny music and decked out in flowers.

Bollywood posters plaster the front of CD and DVD shops which also blare the soundtracks through loudspeakers. The area is rife with tailors and vendors hawking Indian spices, trinkets and delicious snacks like samosas and pakora.

Perhaps the best note to leave off on before leaving Penang is a jaunt to the top of Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) on the snazzy new cable car. Go early to avoid the hordes and revel in the cool temps and grand views. There is a colorful little Hindu temple, restaurants and a botanical garden to explore atop the 833-meter-tall hill.

The thing about Penang is there is always something around the corner to tickle the senses. From the rich culture and smiling faces to the heavenly cuisine and eccentric street art, Penang merits a spot on any traveller’s agenda.

If considering a trip to Penang, keep in mind that the George Town Street Fest will be held for the entire month of August. Festival Director Joe Sidek sums it up best, “We aim to make this an enriching experience for everyone with our offering of a diverse palette of world-class events that immediately transforms George Town into a borderless stage celebrating art, culture and heritag

— Jeremie Schatz

 

Get more from The Thaiger

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS
👋 Have your say on our Thailand forums
🔔 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
📺 Subscribe / Join YouTube for daily shows
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🐦 FOLLOW us on Twitter
📷 FOLLOW us on Instagram

image

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Coronavirus (Covid-19)2 hours ago

Phetchabun sugar factory closes with Covid-19 cluster

Coronavirus (Covid-19)4 hours ago

Police investigate hackers selling stolen vaccine appointments

Chon Buri6 hours ago

Driver blames GPS for durian truck wedged under overpass

Welcome back to Thailand!

Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in Thailand - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages!

Coronavirus (Covid-19)8 hours ago

Despite low riders, Covid-19 train to continue

Pattaya9 hours ago

Planning for “Pattaya Move On” reopening scheme continues

Best of10 hours ago

Top 5 cookie shops in Bangkok

image
Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Drugs11 hours ago

Marine police seize 30 kilograms of methamphetmine from squid fishing boat

Thailand11 hours ago

Thailand News Today | Bars defy bans, Sandbox ‘still on’, vaccine rush | July 28

Thailand13 hours ago

Thailand to apply for Guinness World Record for longest petrified log

Coronavirus (Covid-19)13 hours ago

Koh Samui bar and club finds 16 Covid-19 infections

Best of14 hours ago

Kanchanaburi’s 5 coolest hotels

Thailand14 hours ago

Thousands of inmates granted royal pardon on HM the King’s birthday

Coronavirus (Covid-19)15 hours ago

Wednesday Covid Update: 16,533 new cases; provincial totals

Best of15 hours ago

5 of the most amazing hotels in Koh Chang

Best of15 hours ago

The best steakhouses in Pattaya serving juicy steak

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism5 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand6 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand6 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand6 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand6 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Southern floods, Face mask fines, Thai Air Asia woes | January 8

Trending