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Discovering Foodie Heaven in Penang
#Penang is known for its amazing #foodanddrink, but we didn't expect this little island in #Malaysia to be such a cultural treasure as well. We booked a central hotel so that we could easily tour the historic city, on a #cycling tour, and tried as much food as possible along the way!
Deciding that our senses needed a holiday just as much as our minds and bodies, my mum and I headed to Penang. What senses did we have in mind? Taste and smell, of course. Food is what the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ is famous for, but I really hadn’t expected the lovely Malaysian island state to be as visually interesting too.
We were stopping off for a few days on the way to Kuala Lumpur from Langkawi. I didn’t have high expectations of Penang because a friend from back home had family from there and always downplayed its appeal. But she did say the food was great, so the plan was to stuff my face with all that gorgeous food - and the fact that the place turned out to be a cultural treasure was a huge bonus.
Food is what the Pearl of the Orient is famous for
We had booked the Cititel Hotel in Georgetown as our base because it was located a few minutes away from the UNESCO World Heritage historic centre. We loved Georgetown with its crumbling, old colonial buildings and trishaw-wide lanes.
Hotel Cititel Penang
Penang Butterfly Farm Tour
Harley Davidson Bike Rental
The hotel was a good fit for our needs, being a comfortable place to crash out at the end of a busy day’s sightseeing. Its big shiny-floored lobby made it seem grander than it was, when in actual fact, the rooms were cosy with nice sea views. We also appreciated the small indoor pool, as a relaxing way to soothe our aching joints after non-stop walking and cycling around town. It didn’t hurt that it was also over the road from a big hawker food court.
We loved Georgetown with its crumbling, old colonial buildings and trishaw-wide lanes.
The first morning was spent on a 3.5 hour bicycle tour that we had booked with Metro Bike Easy Green Travel. It was a fantastic introduction to the city from ground level, and our guide gave us lots of information, which helped us decide what places we wanted to go back and see in more depth later.
The all important food stops meant we had an authentic breakfast and lunch from the local hawker stalls. Our guide, Ken, was extremely safety conscious, I was amazed at how courteous drivers were towards us, having experienced some of the most chaotic traffic ever in other parts of Southeast Asia!
Metro Bike Rental in Penang
Penang Butterfly Farm Tour
Harley Davidson Bike Rental
My favourite parts of the bike tour were related to street art, as Georgetown has some truly interactive art. Here real items merge seamlessly with the images, for example, a basketball hoop is surrounded by a mural of kids shooting a ball into it. Other installations included intricately carved cast iron caricatures, with accompanying text relating to the street. It functioned as a kind of three-dimensional guide to the area.
My favourite parts of the bike tour were related to street art, as Georgetown has some truly interactive art
That afternoon and the next day were spent wandering around the town, taking in the ancient Chinese shopfronts, temples and more street art. We stumbled upon an interesting camera museum that guided us on a nostalgic journey back through history, from the time Kodak was king, through to wartime spy cameras and finally the Victorian invention. However, my favourite museum was the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, which offered a fascinating insight into the Baba Nonyas, a group of wealthy Chinese settlers who incorporated elements of Malay and British colonial culture into their unique way of life. The mansion itself was stunning and the number and quality of objects in the collection is almost overwhelming... see what I mean about Penang being a visual treat?
We stumbled upon an interesting camera museum that guided us on a nostalgic journey
I’m not ashamed to admit that we mostly just ate our way through those few days. I was becoming obsessed with dim sum; in every Chinese restaurant the staff would wheel over a covered tray, and once opened, fragrant steam would envelop you as you chose what you wanted to eat. I couldn’t get enough of the steamed seafood dumplings. We also took an evening food tour with Junie at Food Tour Penang on our last evening. It was a good call because we tried things we would have never known about on our own. We sampled a great variety of food from street vendors, markets and hawker centres, including Chinese, Malay, Indian and Nonya, and also tried fruit juices and teas that I never knew existed. My favourites were the prawn fritters and char koay teow (fried noodles), my mum loved the Indian roti. This tour is the best insight you can get into the local cuisine and you’ll never be able to go back to instant noodles.
This tour is the best insight you can get into the local cuisine and you’ll never be able to go back to instant noodles
All in all, Penang was a revelation. It’s all about the food there, and yet you’ll be surprised at how much non-food related stuff is available to do as well. After coming from Langkawi island, which was very pleasant, but - dare I say - a little dull, Georgetown felt like a cultural paradise. I don’t know about being the the Pearl of the Orient, but it definitely is a gem of a place.