Penang is a state in Malaysia located on the Northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The name “Penang” comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means “island of the areca nut palm”. We stayed in Georgetown. Georgetown is a Unesco World Heritage site. Most of the buildings are very old. Some of them are desolate and some are filled with businesses. We got around using Über and the Hop on Hop Off bus.
There are many shops in Penang ranging from clothing, colorful Chinese decorations and antiques. There is also creative artwork outside of shops.
Penang is filled with artwork. “Street art” is a series of paintings throughout the city. Ernest Zacharevic is an artist from Lithuania who painted children on various buildings all across Georgetown that are known as “Street Art”. Street Art is a walking tour that leads to each of his paintings. Other known and unknown artist have used buildings and the streets to paint artwork as well.
The Chinese Clan Jetties marks another Unesco Heritage site off my bucket list. Each jetty is named after a Chinese clan. These are inhabited and created originally by Chinese immigrants. The Chinese have surnames to denote their origins. These villages are over a century old. There used to be seven jetties until one was demolished by fire and now only six remain. The jetties are houses built on sticks in the water. We visited the Chew (family surname) clan jetties.
Once upon a time not long ago this was a dangerous area for outsiders to visit. Some people ended up dead venturing in these “neighborhoods” built on the water. The Chinese immigrants living there were looked at as “squatters” in a ghetto. They didn’t have water or electricity until 1957. Due to constant rivalry between the clans, fighting and disputes happened.
In the last few years Unesco has recognized their area as a historical heritage site. Since then the people living there had a change of heart to visitors and each other. Tourist are allowed to walk around the piers during certain hours to see the houses and the way of life there. Most of the people living in the jetties have set up shops and sell souvenirs and other items outside of their doors. It was strange walking along the planks and seeing people in their homes watching tv totally ignoring the many tourist walking around taking pictures.
Yap Kongsi Temple – Is named after the Yap clan that lived in Penang since the early 1900s. The temple is located in one of many UNESCO’s World Heritage sites in Penang.
The Kek Lok Si Temple (“Temple of Supreme Bliss”) is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. It sits high on a hill and it’s sprawling. There are 10,000 statues of Buddha in the temple. There are also many other shrine chambers with Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, guardian spirits, and Heavenly Kings of Buddhism. It was beautiful to visit.
We donated $4.00 and received two ribbons in the temple to write the names of all our close family members on them. We said a prayer and hung the ribbons on a sacred tree full of prayer ribbons in the temple. I try to say a prayer at every temple I visit.
Downstairs from the temple is Liberation Pond. The pond is filled with turtles of all sizes. This pond is considered a sacred turtle pond. The Chinese tradition believes that a turtle is a symbol of longevity, strength and endurance. It is an act of spiritual liberation when a turtle is captured and set free in this pond. There were over 100 turtles swimming in murky water. There was a bridge over the pond into a gift shop where I purchased some greens to feed them. After spending about 15 minutes feeding them, we were ready to leave the temple for the day.
Monkey Beach was the carrot to the end of a long hike through Penang National Park. It’s called Monkey beach because of the Crab-eating Macaque monkeys that live around there. After many warnings not to feed or approach the monkeys I couldn’t wait to see them. It’s also known as one of the nicest beaches in Penang Island. Instead this ended up being the most bizarre beach seen on my travels.
Monkey beach is an hour and a half hike to get there. Boats are available to take you back to the main entrance for $10.00 (USD). When we finally arrived at the beach there wasn’t a monkey in sight. Instead we were greeted by a sweaty horse passing by with an inexperienced rider on its back.
Many of the local women on the beach were covered from head to toe and some in burqas. This was odd to see since we were sweating to death while some of the women were covered with only their eyes showing. The strange thing is all of the men were in shorts and some were even shirtless enjoying the sun and sand.
The sea water was murky but warm. After getting wet we realized we better get out of the water in case its the pollution that’s making it so murky. Trash was along the upper shoreline, especially plastic bottles. There wasn’t anything really appealing about this beach. I was pissed there weren’t any monkeys, but I understand why they wouldn’t want to be there either. One guy had a monkey with a leash around his waist. The monkey’s name was Kieko. I got to play with him for about 2 minutes before he realized I had a hold of his leash and lashed out at me. I left him alone after that encounter. The whole experience on the beach was bizarre.
When we were on the boat leaving the beach I felt like I was escaping from skull island. It was a liberating feeling to leave.
Little India was colorful. The smells of incense spilled out into the streets and markets sold beautiful dresses and jewelry. There were a few video stores that sold anything you could think of from Bollywood. We ate at Karaikudi Restaurant and tried many dishes I never saw on the menus of Indian restaurants in the US. One of those dishes was Indian bread. It came out in a thin large cone shape and tasted like potato chips.
The food in Penang was amazing. Penang is known as the food capital of Malaysia. There are several choices of Indian food in Penang which makes it stand out more in the way of variety of flavors. This is the place I tried things I normally wouldn’t eat. The vendors and restaurants were all clean and inviting.
Safe Room is a restaurant that specializes in nitrogen desserts. We tried the homemade nitrogen ice cream. They had many flavors and all of them were made with liquid nitrogen. It was fun watching the process but in the end, our desserts were only smoking for seconds before they turned into regular sundaes. It was fun to watch though.
I’ve been going to different hair salons in Malaysia and getting my hair washed and blow dried. Since this can be very expensive in the United States, its a real treat to have it done here for less than $10.00 (USD). It’s very pampering and relaxing too. Here in Penang I struck out 3 times at Sunny Phoon’s Salon. Even though the blinds were always closed during opening hours, it sounded like a really cool place to get my hair done. I just loved the name. Unfortunately every time I walked in the salon I was told to come back in 3 hours. Even though they had zero customers in the chairs and three hairstylist sitting around in the chairs talking to each other. All three were over the age of 65 and only one spoke enough English telling me to leave and come back. Needless to say I never had the pleasure of meeting Sunny or having my hair washed there.
Instead I went two doors down to a salon listed as a “waving parlor” and had my hair washed there. The salon had been there over 100 years and passed on from 3 generations. The stylist was Chinese and he was trained in the UK in 1980. He said my hair was so dry he didn’t want to use a blow dryer on it. Instead he used a wet/dry flat iron and pieced it off section by small section. This took over an hour and a half. It wasn’t the best job I’ve had but at $8.00 (USD) it was worth the pampering. Win some and lose some.
I’m glad I had the chance to visit Penang. Its even more appealing now that Unesco has put their stamp on it. It was the place where I ventured out and tried foods I probably never would have tried before. I can understand why it’s called the food capital of Malaysia. I had good times and got to share them with my love and a good friend. The camaraderie made this visit even more fun.