George Town was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on 7th July, 2008. The "reason" for this was explained: the built and living environment of this historic city reflect the unique mosaic of multi-cultural elements from the Malay Archipelago, India, China and Europe to create an architectural and cultural townscape unparalleled in the world today.
One unique characteristic of Penang is the Baba-Nyonya culture. The origin of Baba and Nyonya can be traced back to the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Through inter-marriages between Chinese immigrants and the local Malays, a unique culture, called "peranakan" is produced. In this culture the men are called baba and the women nyonya. The culture is reflected in the cuisine, costumes and shoes, and the special embridery.
Favorite thing: I have put links to Google Map in my tips to make it easier to find the objects mentioned, when possible to get the right position. The links are marked in italics. Unfortunately Google Map isn't very precise and too often points to other buildings than the wanted one.
Favorite thing: George Town is located off the Malaysian penisular on the island of Penang to the west. It's connected to the mainland by bridge and there is also a ferry service connecting it to Butterworth. The island itself is easy to get around and worth exploring.
Penang is a foodlovers paradise.
I am normally not really a food traveller, but in Penang i just love the food scene.
Because of the ethnic variety on the island with many malay, indian and chinese, plus other minorities, you have really good choices of different kitchens and the prices are incredibly low when you consider how good the quality is.
You can stuff yourself with amazing food for less than 5 dollars and a light luch should only cost you a couple of dollars and we are not talking crappy deep fried fastfood drom burger chains here, but really tasty and healthy food cooked right in front of you.
George town has a very decent little tourist information down by the harbour next to the old clock tower.
When i was there i was mostly there to pick up one of the free maps of town, but i noticed that they had brochures for tourists with special interests like food, art, etc and these brochures were of a pretty nice quality, so i suggest that you make your way past there if you have any of these interests.
They also gave me a calender of cultural events happening in Penang during my stay and the girl at the counter was very helpful in general.
Before the introduction of 24 hour convenience stores like Seven Eleven and their equivalents all over George Town and still going strong are these "Traditional One Stop Convenient Outlets" at strategic locations that sells almost everything from newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, panadol (aspirin), mosquito coils, book wrapping paper, sweets, bread, drinks, etc.
All of them are run by ethnic Indians and apparently they have their own distributors and just in time suppliers to keep cost down.
Very often, you will motorists and cars who are regular customers stopping on the road especially in the late evenings to do their "quick shopping".
At all major shopping complexes in George Town, you will find licensed money changers. You can ask for a receipt which is usually not given.
Most money changers can speak in simple English. Most if not all of money changers that I have seen here are Indian Muslims. Many are also related and often called each other to help source for foreign currencies.
Great thing is that you can a better rate than bank and you can exchange whether to buy or sell in any amount. There is no commission charged.
At Lebuh Masjid Kapitan Keling as well at Komtar, there are many money changers and so you can get better competitive rates. You can request for better rates if you have large US dollar bills or you are changing in large amounts.
For security reason, request to go to an inside room if you are changing large quantity for easy and safe counting.
The ringgit is not easily changed outside Malaysia except for countries like Singapore and Thailand. And so you might want to change your ringgit back before you leave Malaysia.
Penang Island has many fire stations all over, another British legacy.
Before the Rental Control Act was revoked, many of the prewar houses were prone to fire due to overcrowding, poor maintenance or even arson. Hence the fire engines could be hear almost every week or so.
One of my favorite fire station is at Beach Street. Used to have a classmate whose father was a fireman and I would visit this unique building which houses the fire engines as well as have flats for the firemen and their families.
If you enter any Chinese temples, shrines or clan houses, you will see a pair of giant painted deitified generals painted at the doors.
This Chinese tradition started in the Tang Dynasty 6th century AD.
The two deities are General Qin Qiong who is pale face who bears swords and General Yuchi Jingde who is dark faced bearing batons.
Their presence will ward off evil spirits from entering when the doors are closed at night.
Fondest memory: This morning I woke up with a raging sore throat, my throat was on fire and I felt awful. Ah, I know where to go - the Chinese Medicine Hall I had seen the day before. I make my way to the end of Lebuh Chulia and enter the mysterious premises. Chinese staff behind the counter are selecting weird and wonderful herbs and ingredients from wooden drawers and grinding them up with mortar and pestle. Barely able to speak, I use a mixture of words and pointing at my throat to describe my ailment. My assumption is that a strange potion, that has been curing Chinese sore throats for three-thousand years, will be prescribed and mixed up before my eyes. Instead, the nice man gives me a packet of Strepsils. Another illusion shattered ...
Fondest memory: Away from the big cities it is noticeable how much friendlier people are. Wandering around, I noticed a young chap with 5 girls, who he was photographing. I stopped to chat and discovered he was an amateur photographer with some friends acting as models for the day. They were a pleasant bunch. I took some photos using his camera and gave him a few tips. His having five girls and me having none didn't seem entirely fair so I tried to convince him that I should have two and he could keep three (I'd already picked out which two). My cunning plan didn't work though and eventually I walked away empty-handed. As usual ....
Favorite thing: Feeling a bit guilty about your recent lack out of exercise and fancy a workout? If you go to one of the many health centres around Georgetown it is unlikely that you will find weights or exercise machines. It's possible to get a bit of a workout but it will be in a horizontal position. The health centres are brothels. Prices vary, as do the STDs. Protective equipment is provided but it is advisable to take your own.
Almost everywhere I've been to in SE Asia there are Chinese and Indian communities in addition to the indigenous population. Penang is no exception.
This is the Indian section of Georgetown and, on my second visit, was nicely decorated for Deepavali.
... they can be a devil running around hotel corridors screaming late at night when you are trying to sleep but at other times they have an innocence that most of us lost years ago.
At the Penang Deepavali festival free food was given out and these two are enjoying their free lunch. Who said there is no such thing?
Deepavali is a big thing here. This year it was Penang's turn to host Malaysia's special Deepavali gig. A huge show was put on which was shown live on TV.
I watched for a while. First off we had an Indian guy with an outrageous Afro-perm straight from the 1970's. It was pure Channel 9 from The Fast Show (UK reference). Then we had a display of Malaysian Nationalism - songs and dance and all good stuff about what a wonderful country it is and how the different cultures all live in perfect harmony. Then some local diva banging out Gloria Gaynor numbers. I didn't stay around very long ...