Monday, October 03, 2011

Penang, Malaysia: First Time to Pearl of the Orient

Each time someone asks me where I would like to go in Malaysia, I would always say, 'Penang!'

For a really long time, I've always wanted to go there, however, I'd always end up going to Melaka instead. So, finally, my long-awaited wish is fulfiled. I think Penang is fabulous... the people are all decently dressed and jolly (Every Uncle is smiling to himself), they are all good looking, the local Chinese are rather fair and tall and not a fat one in sight... I really wonder why they are so fair, is it the mountain air or the water?

I'm so glad that Penang has not lost its charm and not too glitzy or gaudy or overcrowded, the way some parts of Melaka is becoming and the way Singapore has become. Penang reminds me of the Melaka 5 years ago where the locals used to give me rides when I looked lost or protected me from strange bad people, and the foreigners are all cool people who bicycled their way here or were backpacking throughout SEAsia. Well, I like Penang a lot and I'm grateful for cheap flights compared to a few years ago where we couldn't even fly to KL to transit. So... hope to visit again soon!

Departing Flight: AirAsia, SG to KL (ak 720), KL to PEN.

Chose to go to KL as the flights KL- PEN is almost every hour and about 5 times a day.

Compared to SG - PEN direct, it's only twice a day very early in the morning or else 11pm! at night, not worth it. As I took SG- KL - MEL before, I was quite sure that SG leg would takeoff on time and even reach KL earlier, 10 minutes earlier so booked for the immediately one-hour later flight to Penang. Had to run a bit, in fact was sprinting through the LCC confusing design...but better than waiting at the airport for one hour!

Came back via PEN- JB. Both sides delayed a bit, ended up walking out of Senai 20 minutes later. Senai's retrofitted now and looks like SG airport.

The weighing scale at Penang airport... lagi best! Sure accurate.

Booked hotel and transfer via airasiago. Was quite ...apprehensive as there wasn't any email confirmation, however, the transfer did arrive early and everything was quite smooth. Ain't recommending the hotel as I found my stuff misplaced - ie, contact lens case was emptied (one side!) and a magazine I had bought (Malaysian Women's Weekly) disappeared. Quite scary considering it is one of the pricier and better hotels along the stretch!
Room toilet...nice lighting makes me look like a million bucks after the flights...
Mushroom had a bed to himself and a lovely tan as well.


I only had a Lonely Planet to guide me and was told every foodstall was quite decent. So whenever I saw a crowd/queue I just went to taste the food. Of course, I had to try Assam Laksa, Cendul, CharKoayteow. I think the Cendul is nicer than Melaka's one. Sorry to all my Melakan friends....But. the nutty flavor from the generous heap of beans, and very fresh coconut taste wins it hands down for me...
Saw Singaporean looking people standing outside and slurping bowls of joined them.

Cendul is RM2.30
Laksa RM3... I love it. Dad ate the assam laksa for 3 days in a row...
Full house wor!
CharKoayTeow RM5...about 3 or 4 juicy huge prawns inside!
Very nostalgic! This is how Chomp chomp used to look like 15-20 years ago! With the kind of signboards and all...of course Gurney Drive is 10 or 20 times bigger.
I like lok-lok... everything just tastes fresh and delicious and the rojak... I could eat it everyday!!!
There are several types of rojak there, the one we are used to with youtiao, turnip, pineapple, a cuttlefish and kangkong one, and a fruit one with water apples and mostly fruits. All are yummy!

Rest of the food ranges from RM3 - 6 except for the cuttlefish rojak RM10 - 15 depending on the amount. Also for Pasembur if you choose crabs I think the price shoots up to RM 30+. Most foods are decently priced but also in small-er portions than what we are used to back home. Nasi Kandar.
There were huge seafood (really huge!) just at the corner of the hotel, many locals and tourists eating, also small and crowded foodcourt-like places on the long walk to Gurney Drive.
Prawn pincer thingy is larger than my index finger....
Geoducks all the way from Canada.
The kopi shop cup is exquisite! It makes sipping tea a different experience, I'm admiring the cup the whole time... love the culture of beauty over utility... where can I buy such a cup?


The weather was really nice, quite cooling and less humid than Singapore although it was blazingly hot on some days. I did get a little tanned from walking outside. At night it's really quite cold walking by Gurney Drive and I noticed I'm the only one wearing shorts... brrr.
Went to Spice Garden (which was much nicer than it sounds), Toy Museum (not worth going but okay if you want to relive those childhood memories), Batu Ferringhi night market (every night, cheap dresses, beachwear and unoriginal branded bags/watches), E&O and all the Unesco heritage walk buildings, Chowrasta Market, The Little Nonya's Peranakan house.

'Pinang Peranakan Museum' is a recently restored Peranakan mansion, sold to an antique collector. The offspring of this house are 4 families, 2 in Singapore, 1 England and one still in Penang. I found this trip really interesting as it's also part of the Singaporean culture, remember seeing many Peranakan women in my estate wearing their prim and beautiful kebaya... even today there are still a few.
Mushroom is in awe. He wants to act as Little Nonya's pet if there is a sequel.
Flooring is really lovely, from England. about 70% of 'The Little Nonya' was filmed here and the rest filmed in Melaka.

I like this sort of chair... it does look very comfortable...
Infinity mirror... I want to buy!
Nonya porcelain ware... The guide told us that the China blue, favorite of angmohs, were only used at funerals by the Peranakans!
They also had a vast collection of kasut manek...
Look at how tiny the beads are! Was supposed to be really pricey glass beads from England! They are exquisite and I would buy and wear them if I could afford them!
Can someone translate the one in the middle, I know it is something to do with 'Hainanese'...

Old mode of transport...rickshaw. It's heavy!


Went to Gurney Plaza, walking distance from hotel, and Queensbay (recommended by locals), Prangin Mall (also recommended by locals).
Go holiday must go massage... our home brand spa!

Gurney Plaza feels homely with many Singaporeans and the things we are used to, Guardian, Cold Storage, Esprit, Kenko... well, it's built with us in mind I guess. It's nice to go in to use the toilets and a respite from the heat outside. But then again I did not come to Penang to shop in Singapore! The g hotel next to it has a lovely lobby with designer chairs and art.

Queensbay is a huge, similar to Mid-Valley type of mall. More fashion labels - Forever 21, Mango, etc. It's just so huge that it's impossible to walk into every shop. There is an OldTown there which is the best draw I feel. And a very crowded KimGary.

Did a pedi at Prangin...adore those bunnies between my toes!

Prangin has about 3 levels of those cheap stuff, I feel for shopping experience (in Malaysian malls) it's probably the best to go to buy socks, small trinkets, cheap clothes (I don't see anyone on the streets wearing SUCH clothes, I wonder who buys them)...There's a decent Secret Recipe and Starbucks on the ground floor and food stalls in the corners of different floors. I heard the food's decent and also saw many people eating the Laksa/Chicken rice.

Chowrasta market where people buy those preserved fruits and lots of bottles of nutmeg oil. Everything is overpriced and have to bargain.

OLD BUILDINGS (and some new ones)
E&O is another must visit...palatial... longest sea view... and lots of famous people, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Rita Hayworth stayed here before...
Camwhore at E&O's lovely wreath...
Magnificent Christmas tree!
Cannons facing the open sea at the hotel.

This building belongs to a movie setting...'Harry Potter and the Gurney Drive goblins'
Yes I was standing in the middle of the road to take this picture.

Cheong Fatt Tze mansion. Did not visit... not interested in cheena artifacts...
"The Keymaster"
Mushroom likes clock towers and lighthouses.

I love dilapidated old buildings. Was very excited to walk through all of them. In a way, Penang feels much like Singapore. Lots of local Chinese who don't look all too different - dress in the same manner and very nice, polite, friendly people, we have lost a bit of that due to overcrowding. I was mistaken for a Penangnite, and also a Japanese by the locals, well, I feel complimented! Hee... Anyway I've been told that I look like a Penangnite before (in KL, Melaka) so I was very curious to see how they look like.
A well-read man is hard to find in this day and age.

Dreaming of a well-read future...
Tall Komtar in the background acts as a compass of sorts, won't really get lost...
Lots of interesting photography opportunities like these around the Love Lane walkways
Yes I also stood in the middle of the road to take this photo.
If you're in Gurney Plaza do take a walk in the g-hotel! Nice designer chairs and interesting art.
For instance this 'grinder', the space is used to put the grinded products, ie chilli seeds... lol.
g-hotel's mirror in toilet also good to take outfit photo...

The road to Batu Ferringhi looks like Great Ocean Road drive at certain areas.

Batu Ferringhi night market is open nightly. Not really worth going, full of knockoff designer bags and cheap clothes.

Well I found a handmade-by-silversmith silver ring at one curio shop and batted my eyelashes at Uncle Shopkeeper until he lowered the price to less than S$10! Considering silver's really expensive here, plus it's handcrafted, one of the best souvenirs I've bought!

There are about 1000+ taxis on Penang island serving 1 million people and at some sightseeing places there's not a taxi in sight! So it's best to keep a driver's number and arrange for pick-up. Penang taxis are really expensive as they don't go by meter and there's a standard charge to places. For instance from Gurney Drive to Queensbay shopping mall it's RM35, expensive! And most short trips are RM12 to 15. It's not a ripoff but standardized pricing. Was told they used petrol and they lamented about the cost. Still, they make about RM180 per day... not bad. What we did was to book a taxi for a whole day, minimum of 4 hours and the charge is 25/hour which is good if you want to explore Batu Ferringhi and go to spa and be driven back, etc. Most places in Georgetown are walkable - I actually walked from the E&O to Komtar/Prangin Mall, in between there were quaint shophouses and the touristy places.

Visit the Peranakan restored house, as seen in 'The Little Nonya'. Go with the guided tour. Very meaningful and interesting and really lots to see there!

I shall hereby proclaim my love for Penang!

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