It was our first trip outside Thailand and perhaps the most fascinating one. Funky street art, homemade Indian food and astonishing Chinese temples – a beautiful blend of different cultures to experience in one place.
My significant other and I stayed at one of the guesthouses ran by Chinese family in George Town, the heart of the island. The town was founded by the British in 1786 and is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our guesthouse was situated just a corner away from Little India so we were frequent visitors there. I enjoy Indian cuisine just as much as my partner does. We were at the right place to immerse ourselves in a myriad of tastes. The food quality in the local Indian restaurants was fantastic despite the messiness. The variety of choices was overwhelming: mutton brain curry, biryani, samosa, mint naan. We quickly learnt all favourite dish names as it became our food source for the entire stay.
If you ever visit Penang, don’t forget to try out hot or with ice Teh Susu. It’s a delicious tea beverage with sweetened creamer, similar to Hong Kong tea.
Street art vibes
One of the most popular activities in Penang is to explore the playful wall murals. Every tourist map has illustrated locations of famous murals to see. While deepening in to the street art history, I’ve found out that the reason why street art became such a big deal in Penang is because of a Lithuanian born artist and his contribution. It was a lovely surprise myself being of the same origin.
We scrolled from street to street, taking funny photos and “hunting” for more wall paintings. It was a good workout. Every corner of George Town had something worth seeing. I couldn’t miss visiting few eye catchy vintage souvenir shops and cafes. Have you ever eaten icy Dragon Ball? They have it in Penang! There is a tiny café nearby Khoo Kongsi clan house temple selling it.
Mixture of ethnicities
The population in Penang is highly diverse in ethnicity. Beside native Malays, around 42% of the residents are Chinese descendants and around 10% Indian. Surprisingly, each community has not only culturally integrated very well into the Malay society but has also maintained their own traditions. Many of them still speak their native languages and celebrate unique festivals.
To me, Penang looked like a massive Chinatown. Almost every commercial and household building had its name written in Chinese. The area was filled with red lanterns and other colourful oriental decorations.
Little India occupies only a small part of George Town, however it brought us right in to the middle of the action. Corner stores, filled with jewellery, household and religious products. Loud music playing outside the Bollywood movies shop. It was all so chaotic and interesting to encounter at the same time.
On the way to Kek Lok Si
The second attraction on our ‘visit in Penang’ list was astonishing Kek Lok Si temple complex. Kek Lok Si is said to be the largest Chinese temple in Malaysia, built on the hill with an impressive view of faraway George Town and the green hills.
The morning we set out to visit it, it was raining. Never ending rain made us stay at the local street restaurant for a few hours. Nevertheless, nothing could destroy our happy moods. Whilst waiting, we decided to explore the nearby food stalls and that’s where I discovered Laksa – spicy noodle soup.
No matter how disturbing the presentation of my ordered fish Laksa looked, the taste was simply delicious. The soup wasn’t spicy at all, especially if you’ve already got used to eating spicy Thai food. And of course, we couldn’t stay away from enjoying a cup of sweet Teh Susu during our enforced delay.
It was worth the long wait to visit the temple. Right after the rain, the hills became misty and the air was refreshed. The complex was almost crowd free and we had a peaceful afternoon walking around. We spent a few hours exploring the pagoda, prayer halls, feeding pond turtles and learning about Buddhism. Kek Lok Si temple provides free distribution of Buddhism teaching materials such as books and CDs in Chinese and English languages. It was a perfect opportunity to get to know Buddhism better and find new ways how to improve myself.
The fifth day was our last day in Penang and time to fly back to Bangkok. It was hard to leave, harder than ever before. We were filled with joy and new experiences that we didn’t want to end. This trip reminded me how amazing is to travel and discover every corner of the world.
I’m glad we discovered Penang.