Visa requirements for visits longer than 30 days in Thailand, with their associated costs and time investment for meeting the requirements led us to a getaway from our getaway. For about the same expenditure as the extended stay visa, we escaped Chiang Mai and our home away from home for a few days of sun by the sea in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.
Last year’s escape for this same purpose took us to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which we found to be an impressive young city. We know we love to be by the water and Chiang Mai was not going to satisfy that, so we chose Penang to break up the length of in country time this trip. An island just off the eastern coastline of the main body of Malaysia, Penang, the Pearl of the Orient, is made up of several areas that run together in the beauty of this 113 square mile island. Georgetown, the capital of the state and a world heritage city, sits on the Straits of Malacca/Penang and our suite compliments of Chase rewards points at Northam Hotel gave us a beautiful view of the water. 9th floor pool and terrace offered the view as well as the ocean breezes and warmth of the sunshine mixed with the sounds of the city. Another awesome find procured by my personal travel agent! (a.k.a. the hubster 😉)
Landing late afternoon, we put in an Uber request and made our way to the hotel, checked in and after taking in our views, ventured out to the sidewalk that ran opposite us and close to the shoreline to get our bearings before darkness set in. Buildings dating back to the British settlement in the late 1700’s are interspersed with high rises, monasteries, chapels, nunneries, abandoned schools, temples, wats, mosques and cranes producing yet more buildings on the skyline. In a four mile stretch, the diversity of influence and mixed cultures was heavily represented. The skyline and the neighborhoods were enthralling.
made our way towards Little India after realizing we had headed out with no real destination in mind. We prefer this method of immersing ourselves in new surroundings! We were definitely feeling the need for some fuel to continue our walking. We stopped at a money exchange near a Buddhist ritual. This may have been tied to the 15 day celebration of Chinese New Year or be a regular routine I could not confirm that, interesting none the less. I watched a bearded, barefoot man bathe the wooden image of Buddha with three separate urns of liquid, bow to the image and light the large sets of incense.
Electrical access was different than in Thailand, so as we wandered we stopped at a small shop with a friendly young owner who guided us to what we needed. It was under $2 American. Kapitan Restoran on Chulia Street caught our eye and as we made our way to a seat a waiter chided us with “Come on sit down it is very good”, as he rubbed his belly. Service was friendly and efficient but there was no rush in the air. We cruised through making selections via pictures on the wall and a decent level of communication with the waiter. My honey drank star fruit juice and I had a sour lassi. Tasty and different! We also drank two 2 liter bottles of water between us in an attempt to rehydrate. Our dinner consisted of chicken tika; clay pot Briyani chicken sets with flavorful saffron rice, garlic and onion naan and mushroom masala. Accompaniments of lentil soup style dip; spicy mint dip and a brown sauce was also included. Both of us enjoyed it but could not clarify the explanation we were given about it or it’s name. We were stuffed and for this multi course meal we spent the equivalent of $16 American with a 40% gratuity…my hubby could not help but wow this staff who insured we had our needs covered. This, by far is the most incredible dining out bargain we have ever had. Wandering the streets of Georgetown, taking in some of it’s famed art we were serenaded by the singing of the call to prayer that came over the loudspeaker from a beautiful mosque. Many times throughout our stay we heard this singing and commented on its calming effect. We took in some street art and found what is the most unique “home of the Colonel” we have ever seen!
Northam Suites provided a comfortable nights rest and quite a good start to the day with an extensive buffet breakfast we took advantage two of our three days stay, enjoying fruits, yogurt, eggs, porridge and croissants with fresh jams, juices and coffee. There were many items we did not recognize and that we as westerners would view more as dinner than breakfast items that we skipped over. The staff was cordial and attentive from front desk, to buffet and pool attendants to doormen and concierge.
Batu Ferringhi Beach called to us for up close views of the Indian Ocean so this is the direction we headed on our walking this first day. Part way of the 5 Mile trek from Georgetown we hailed a taxi and enjoyed the air conditioning and chatter of the driver. He dropped us at the Hard Rock and we wandered it a bit then headed to the public beach area. We were quite shocked to see this area fairly deserted along the whole stretch. We decided to enjoy the quiet at a little spot for late lunch where we snacked on fresh tempura chicken with sweet chili dipping sauce and Shrimp Noodle “ukara” which was in a mild red sauce. As is the case many times in these Asean countries, the shrimp was in shell with heads intact. We do not consume these, so I shared them with a sweet tabby kitty who perched quietly nearby. There were a few cats wandering the beach and they all had their tails clipped! The couple who ran the spot were friendly and accommodating. I wandered the beach a bit and found some small shells for my souvenir.
We ordered an Uber via our phone app and headed to check out the Botanical Gardens. The Uber app was extremely efficient and the rides ridiculously inexpensive here (we use it in Thailand as well). One ride we took at the end of this day cost us a whopping seventy eight cents American and the most expensive one just over $2 for some decent distances in heavy traffic.
Monkeys greeted us throughout our short walk of the Gardens which were immaculate and beautifully laid out. The monkeys were much like people, some were playful and friendly, others grumpy and mean. We didn’t end up taking the 2.5 mile path through the jungle we had chatted about with our driver to end up at Penang Hill as our walking already done this day had my honey’s knees acting up. If we were to do this day over, we would have headed straight here or moved this adventure to another day so we could have trekked the jungle path. Part of this mistake had come with not having a clear enough understanding of what I had read and what our driver had been rattling off to us as we drove here. We opted to hail another Uber and get ourselves to the lower Funicular tram station to take us to the top for nightfall. We kind of think we blew this too as there was a Jeep excursion option we could have taken from the gardens then taken the tram down and our outlay would have been in the same ballpark. Ah well, as I have said and I am sure I will mention again, hind sight is 20/20 😉 The train ride was outstanding. Almost a rollercoaster ride. The views of the night lit city did not disappoint! Again, as getting clearer information goes, there are many trails for hiking which, if we would have gone up a bit earlier (and before other miles of walking), we could have partaken of more nature and then watched the darkness ignite the lights of the city. Based on your entertainment preferences, do some good research and make both of these Island attractions part of what you do when you make it to Penang. 😉
Uber was our $2 mode of transportation back to our area of Georgetown with a stop at Gurney Drive for some late night street hawker fare. I chose rojak (cold plate of sea apples, cucumbers, pear, something like jicama and squid and the sauce for which I was given a choice of sweet or spicy was thick and dark in color dotted with sesame seeds) which I enjoyed but the spicy sauce was not appreciated but my partner. We got a mixed basket of skewers including breaded shrimp, banana leaf wrapped chicken and vegetable spring rolls served with chili paste for dipping. My honey also got two bowls of noodles which I tasted; Hokkien Prawn Mee (heavy flavor from the fish ball in it) and Curry Shrimp Mee. Both nothing to write home about. We splurged with dessert of Chocolate and Banana Snowflake. Tasty and very light (think flavored shaved ice) and garnished with lychee nut and “jelly”. We were actually disappointed by the hawker food we encountered which was part of what we had read about that made us choose this location for our pop out of Thailand. Maybe it’s our taste/smell/need for comfort/traditional dislike of “fair style food”. Still an experience!
Overheating and over walking led us to poolside lounging interspersed with dips in the cool water of the infinity pool while gazing out onto the activity of the strait on our final full day on the Island.
late afternoon sun began to fade we showered and headed out via Uber once again deciding on the sights and sounds as well as the food in Little India. As much as we tossed around other hawker fare or seafood restaurants we couldn’t pass up the chance for the tasty offerings of this community. Restoran Veloo Villas with its pink and green staff shirts declaring “since 1959” drew us in as did the smell of the “pancakes” being cooked on the outdoor flat grill. We were pointed to a table and greeted by a family seated next to us who inquired “From where you come, Australia?” “No, we replied, “USA”, and as we have become accustomed to realize is more easily recognized here, added “America!” “Oh, America is very good. We Love America”, the family joined in the replies. We felt the friendship and the warmth as we did all through these travels. Friends back home have inquired about our feeling safe, I heard my daughter ask her dad how this Muslim influenced culture reacted to me. Every bit of our travels we have felt welcomed, safe and comfortable. We thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience here. There was no menu so our waiter walked my husband around the restaurant, back of house and front, pointing out dishes and my husband selected spicy vegetarian noodles, chicken (dusted heavily with a dry red spice and barbecued well done and crispy with the skin removed but on the bone) and I asked about the item on the outside grill, the waiter said “okay! You want pancake, you like Masala, very good.” And off he went. Oh my yes, it was very good. We enjoyed lime tea and my honey had great camaraderie with the waiter even with their mutual challenges with the language!
17.2 miles of walking in this few days was rounded out with a walk over to Fort Cornwallis, Queen Victoria’s Clock Tower (depicting this island’s origins dating back to 1786), past more street art and home along the water. Notably interesting is the lack of crime and general “cleanliness” of this densely populated island. The sign we saw (shown below) announcing the $1250-$2500 (American) fine or two years in prison for those who cannot pay is s sample of the punishment for something most of us Americans would not even consider anything but a freedom. Cameras seen throughout the city to detect other crime probably are good cause for the proprieties found in this beautiful country. Thank you Penang for having us as your guests!