True to the spirit of studying abroad, me and my friends planned a very spontaneous 3 day trip to Penang, Malaysia during our first weekend in Singapore. From urban street art, to hiking and beaches, Penang definitely offered us a wide range of experiences.
We had a very early morning flight that brought us to Penang by 10am. After some struggles getting the local currency at the airport, we headed off to our first destination: the Chew Jetty. This is a dock over the waterfront lined with shops and residential houses.
It originally served as a waterfront settlement for fisherman, specifically for a clan with the surname ‘Chew’, which is where it got its name. What drew us here, apart from the heritage, was a restaurant famous for serving big bowls of ramen (Clearly, we were very hungry).
After the fulfilling meal, we checked into our hostel: The Container Hotel. This is a really cool concept of hostels where a room is divided into little capsules containing a bed and a pull out table. It is very space efficient while maintaining privacy and cleanliness.
To have a little bit of fun, we went to an interactive museum nearby our hostel. The museum had a 25RM admission fee (equivalent to $5cad), and was filled with interactive murals to take funny pictures with. It’s easier explained with pictures than words, so…
We were in Georgetown area of Penang which is a World Heritage Site, it is also known for the amazing murals that are scattered throughout the streets. With a map of all the spots marked, we set out on our own walking tour of Georgetown to see all the art. These art works come from various artists who’ve left their mark on the city.
Some of the most famous are by a Lithuanian artist named Ernest Zacharevic, whose work brought me such childhood nostalgia. He perfectly captured the carefree happiness in our youth. The bike mural reminded me of when I first learned how to bike using my grandpa’s bike down the narrow alleyway of his apartment in Shenyang. The mural with the swing reminded me of my absolute love for the swing as a kid. These are all memories that everyone can relate to, but is so often forgotten as we grow up.
Another series of murals were all cat-themed, and were created by Thai artist
Natthapon Muangkliang and Malaysian artists Louise Low and Tang Yeok Khang. These were create to bring awareness for stray animals in Malaysia. Though I am more of a dog person than a cat person, I could not resist the cuteness.
Our last stop in Georgetown was a place called China House (The name does not represent the place well). It is multi-purpose space with a cool art gallery displaying local works, a sit-down restaurant with an inventive menu, and a backyard which is a fusion of Chinese and current pop culture. The trees have red ribbons tied on many branches and the walls have Chinese murals (both that would be found in a traditional Chinese garden), but the little pond is filled with blow-up floaties.
Our first day didn’t stop there. We squeezed in a last stop to a Hawker Centre, which is an outdoor food court filled with local food stalls. On our way there, I read up on some local foods that we must try so the night became a little game where we had to scavenger hunt for some specific local dishes.
Some foods that we tried that night were:
- Satay meat skewers (beef and mutton) covered with a peanut sauce
- Char Koay Teow 炒粿條, a seafood noodle stir fry (my favourite)
- Assam Laksa, glass noodles that had a mixture of sweet, spicy and sour flavors
- Lor Bak, various deep fried things such as meat balls, fish balls, and potato covered in a sweet red sauce (every table we saw had a plate of this, but it wasn’t really to our taste)
- Lok Lok, skewers of things like scallop, imitation crab, sausage, veggies, etc. that is dipped into a boiling soup to cook then eat
- The most delicious fresh dragonfruit juice
You think we’d stop there, but nope. After eating at this Hawker Centre, we went to a oceanside bar called Beach Blanket Babylon for some drinks by the ocean. They made amazing cocktails for a reasonable price, given they are at a prime location. I highly recommend it! (We even went back to it the next day during day time)
Started the day early again by visiting a heritage museum. It was converted from a Chinese businessman’s mansion that became abandoned during WWII. We got a brief history lesson and had a tour guide who had pretty good comedic delivery.
Without losing a beat, we headed to the Kek Lok Si Temple. The temple is beautiful, grand and well-maintained; it is known as the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. This was definitely the highlight of the day for me. We did a brief hike to get to the base of the temple, explored the various parts, and took a cable car to the big buddha at the top.
The surrounding area at the bottom of the temple was filled with restaurants and local foods. But we had a specific food stall in mind: Sister’s Curry Mee. This little food stall was hidden away from the main roads and it is ran by two grandmas who are sisters. The curry mee is a thin vermicelli noodle in a spicy and tangy soup base filled with tofu puffs, pork blood, etc. We were the only people there and found out later that they were actually already closed for lunch, but they were nice enough to serve us still. I definitely enjoyed the experience of eating here; you are guaranteed to have the local taste and feel as if you were part of the family.
The rest of the day was pretty chill as we went back to Beach Blanket Babylon for drinks and a day time view of the ocean.
For dinner, off to another Hawker Centre for more local eats. This time, we had:
- Oyster omelete (the oysters were so fresh and tender)
- Grilled squid
- More Char Koay Teow and skewers
- A local dessert called Rojak, which is various fruits covered with a black sauce and peanuts (to be honest, we did not really enjoy this dish and we still do not know what the black sauce is…)
For our last full day in Penang, we had to hit up the Penang National Park. We hiked for 1.5 hours from the entrance of the park to Turtle beach. The hike was fun and consisted of mostly forested areas with a bit of incline and decline. But the humidity and high temperatures meant that we were drowning in our own sweat about 15 min into it. So you can imagine how refreshing it was to finally jump into the ocean once we got there. We pretty much had the entire beach to ourselves.
We had arranged for a boat to pick us up from Turtle beach and bring us to Monkey beach (as there is no good way to hike there). The 20 min boat ride only costed us 10RM each.
Monkey beach was much more crowded and had much more fine sand compared to Turtle beach. We spent a lot of time here just chilling and drinking coconuts and taking tons of pictures with the various swings along the beach.
Me and a friend also bargained our way into getting 20min on the jetski for 35RM each (much cheaper than prices in the US). The ride was so exhilarating, especially when my friend did a sharp turn and threw me off of the jetski. When it was my turn to drive, I was a bit reckless and thew both me and my friend off. Luckily the safety bracelet stopped the jetski from driving off as both of us fell into the ocean, but unluckily, my friend lost his glasses in the ocean 😦 .Overall it was a great experience and I am so glad we tried it.
We were all pretty tired so we did not hike back from Monkey beach as we originally intended, instead we just took another boat back to the main entrance.
Got to the airport in the morning, flew back to Singapore a couple shades darker and a little bit wiser 🙂 .
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