Thanks to friends we have made on Ngapali Beach, Georgetown has come to our attention as an artistic place with many Chinese shophouses and a place not to miss. We have taken the words of Debra and Lou and decided for Penang to be our first stop in Malaysia. First impressions of the country are to do with religion, culture and weather. Religions seem to mix smoothly. Street art is abundant and weather is great, if not too hot and unbearably humid at times.
Along with a bunch of other tourist we were dropped off by Love Lane, which sort of came through to me as a compact 'Khaosan Road wanna be', with a number of hip bars, coffee houses and funky hostels. Locals, large percentage of which are Muslims, are very tolerant and friendly, restoring my faith in humanity and ever present phobia towards this religion. Our guesthouse was located right in the hearth of the UNESCO heritage old town with narrow streets lined by the Chinese shophouses. These have been beautifully preserved and by some magic all development spared this historic quarter. You can literally spend days exploring the streets and keeping an eye out for the murals which are so famous. The boom in street art perhaps started by the city commissioning the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. Many followed and it is now one big open air gallery. Some pieces are sculptures some clever juxtaposed paintings many sort of interactive with the viewer.
Particularly nice is a visit to one (or both) of the Camera Museums Penang has to offer. Specially as the heat of the day rises it gives you a nice cool hiding place. One afternoon me and my better part have decided to scale Penang Hill. It was easy! Pay a fee and the funicular railway climbs the 735 metres for you while you cool of the 40C heat in the air conditioned carriage. Once up top a spectacular view of Georgetown and mainland Malaysia rewards you. There is a mosque and a Hindi temple that you can visit, but the highlight of the show is definitely the views! There is a beach to the north of the island, snake temple to the south, national park to the west and Chew Jetty to the east. The latter we have visited on our last day and the jetty is a living compound and the first inhabited area on the island. The story goes that when Captain Francis Light arrived here, the island was an impenetrable jungle. As a motivation to first Chinese settlers he blasted silver dollars into the forests, which the immigrants could keep as long they clear the land, which they did but most stayed on to live on these jetties and lived there for generations. Today the busiest of them is a mixture of small souvenir shops, wooden dwellings and temples. As for food, since Penang meant to be the culinary capital of Malaysia, we have visited 'Little India', few Hawker Food Markets, still the best food we came across was a tiny vegetarian restaurant, 'The Leaf'. Maybe driven by a hype or we just didn't have the luck, but I think this reputation has something to live up to. So does Fort Cornwallis, which with Majka we agreed is wildly overpriced for what it is. Definitely not a good deal in SE Asia for a walk within some old bricks that you have better view to from outside the wall and for free. I had to get that out, even if I may sound harsh, if you want to spend that money, just donate it to the box on Chew Jetty.
Penang is a truly beautiful and charming place, is not just without reason that it mad it to UNESCO heritage. As per the tip from our friends, the Chinese old town and jetty were the most interesting for us. Also the mixture of cultures and observing the respectful and peaceful sharing of common space turned out to be eye opening. The world has things to learn from Georgetown...