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.
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.
Fondest memory: I have a strange fascination with Japanese tourists. I love the way they arrive en masse in a tour bus, giggling and chatting, take their photos and then zoom off to the next place on their itinerary. Over the years their antics have given me a great deal of pleasure. I would dearly love to spend some time in Japan. Thank you people of Japan.
I was in Georgetown just before the Chinese New Year and preparations for the festival were already under way. I wanted to see some traditional lion dancing and was fortunate enough to find it happening at one of the Chinese temples.
What I didn't realise was how important the ceremony before the actual dance is. The chap in the photo worked himself into a trance-like state as he blessed the danced and annointed them with some kind of paint.
I enjoyed walking around Georgetown and looking at the old buildings and signs. The street signs and advertising boards are from an era long ago. In most places all this stuff would have disappeared and made way for new buildings. However, this is not so in Georgetown, probably due to lack of money.
My father did his national service in Malaya in the 50's and used to go to Penang for R&R. I got the impression that some of the buildings and sights I saw had changed very little since he was here. In a world that changes far too quickly this was quite refreshing!
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fondest memory: Second visit to Georgetown and it's Deepavali. The King is here, along with a million others. I have a bad habit of turning up at places when something big is going on. It can be a good thing but more often that not it means everywhere is crowded and accommodation is scarce and overpriced.
The Hindus and other locals didn't look like a particularly troublesome lot. I was therefore surprised to see so many police in full riot gear brandishing baseball bat style batons.
It is probably standard security when the King and high ranking politicians are around.
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 ...