As you could probably tell from my Foodie Guide to Penang– there is a unique culture in Penang that you really must experience for yourself. We stayed in George Town, which is where the Penang’s UNESCO World Heritage Site is. The beautiful architecture and distinct culture are what landed George Town with this coveted title and it is easy to see why.
Where to Stay
We started off our long weekend by dropping off our things at our hotel– the elegant Eastern & Oriental Hotel (also known as the E&O) and were immediately greeted by hotel staff and transported in to another era in Penang’s history. The historic hotel captures the British Colonial history here in Penang and when you see the gorgeous view from the pool yourself, it’ll be easy to understand why Penang was once known as The Pearl of the Orient.
Eastern & Oriental Hotel
10, Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 Georgetown
How to Get Around
After a quick refresh at the E&O it was time to explore Penang. There are a few ways to get around the city. You can easily walk, hop in the front of a trishaw, rent a bicycle or rent a motorbike. We did all 4 and I would recommend trying each mode of transportation. By walking you can stop and see all the beautiful street art that Penang is famous for and really explore the little stalls and streets in the city.
The trishaw is an absolute must. These are flamboyantly decorated 3 wheeled vehicles (one wheel in the back, 2 in the front) where you are peddled casually around town. The trishaw drivers are absolute characters and most of them know Penang inside and out, speak multiple languages, and can give you a tour around the city or take you to your next location. Just negotiate a price before hopping in for a ride.
On our first day in Penang we also rented a tandem bicycle. We saw a few people on bicycles, but the second we saw the tandem (2 person) bicycle, we knew we had to have one. Peter took the trusty spot in the front to steer us and we both peddled along the roads. It was so much fun and a cheap way to get around quickly.
We also spent a day on a motorbike. There are many shops you can rent these from. Nearly every shop will require you to have your passport on hand, but the rental is cheap and easy.
What to See
In between our many meals we did manage to do a lot of sight seeing and exploring. Penang is a really relaxed town and surprisingly there were never any large mobs of tourists. It was great to just stroll the streets and explore.
Some of the main areas I’d recommend are Little India, Armenian Street, and the Clan Jetties.
The Clan Jetties are old Chinese settlements built on stilts over the water. Each jetty is dominated by a certain family clan that continues to live in these simple village homes.
I found one jetty a bit too commercial with shops set up (no surprise considering the amount of tourists who are interested in these fascinating homes), but most of them were very residential. I loved the idea of an entire clan living together in the same area.At one particular jetty there was a main building where men gathered around to all watch an evening television program while the children played together happily just next to them. Cousins growing up with each other and families gathering as often as they’d like to eat, chat, or just watch tv.
Peter and I also laughed and wondered how bizarre it actually was that we were walking through the intimate jetty villages and looking at people’s homes. Their actual homes. Not just tourist hot spots. People live here. Imagine if someone came by your neighborhood and was casually creeping by every house, photographing your home, and pointing out how amazing everything was. My first reaction would be– Someone call the POLICE!
But the kind residents of the clan jetties are used to visitors and extremely welcoming so don’t be afraid to say hello while you are touring. Do be respectful though and only visit during the “opening hours” of the village. No one wants strangers creeping around their home at night.
We also visited Khoo Kongsi which is a grand Chinese clanhouse and temple. The building was ornate and beautifully maintained and much to my surprise very quiet and serene.
It is hidden behind a main street in Penang (so you won’t see it without purchasing a cheap 10 rinngit ticket) but for most of our visit, Peter and I were the only people in the building. It was a lovely experience and offered great information on Chinese history in Penang.
18 Lebuhraya Cannon, George Town
Another main attraction in Penang is Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion commonly known as The Blue Mansion. The mansion is only open at specific times for guided tours, but the tour was amazing. Our group’s tour guide spoke excellent English, had a great sense of humor and had a lot of knowledge on the home, it’s history and Chinese history in Penang.
I learned a lot from the tour and really gained a new appreciation for Chinese culture and history. The building itself is beautiful and has received numerous awards for the conservation efforts put forth to restore the mansion.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
14, Lebuh Leith, 10200 Georgetown
tours at 11 AM, 1:30 PM, 3PM
Outside of the activities we did and the food we ate in Penang there is tons more to see in the city and on other parts of the island outside George Town. I’d love to go back again for another trip (if at the very least, just to eat!) so if any of you would like to visit, feel free to pack me in your suitcase too!
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