May 26-29, 2016
Chris and I hopped on a quick flight from Singapore to an island off the west coast of Malaysia– Penang. We fell in love with it– the people, the food, the sandy beaches, the art– I think you will really love it too!
I have to start with the food. Friends and co-workers tried to explain how good it is. There just aren’t words! It’s inexpensive and delicious. It’s puzzling how they make dishes with such simple ingredients into meals with intricate and complex flavors. Everything we tried was perfection!
The signature must try dish is Assam Laksa. Specifically, you must order it from the simple stall at the base of Kek Lok Si Temple, Air Itam. It’s a sour and spicy fish noodle soup brimming with opposing taste ingredients. It was so good, Chris and I ate here twice on the same day.
We also sampled our way around Penang– from the markets to the beaches– we never went hungry. We spent a late afternoon evening having some noodles and beers at Batu Ferrringhi beach. One of the dishes I became obsessed with in Singapore, Mee Goreng, they have perfected in Penang. It’s a fried noodle dish that can’t be beat. They have a lovely night market at Batu Ferringhi. We picked up some new art and funky new string lights for the apartment. I can’t walk by a pancake street vendor hawking banana, Nutella and peanut butter delights without stopping for the sweet, gooey delicious snack.
You don’t have to stray too far from popular Armenian Street to see the eclectic mix of street art in Georgetown. Murals, sculptures, and interesting commentary line the streets. It’s a lot of walking, but you can stop in anywhere for a cool drink and a little rest. You could also rent a bicycle and cruise around as many people do. I was too nervous to ride a bike in the unfamiliar (and sometimes chaotic) streets. I can’t operate Google maps and a bicycle at the same time.
We strolled around, winding our way towards the Clan Jetties, the unique settlements of Chinese immigrants. There are several jetties where you can find small villages and family homes over the water. It’s a really unique place to see how others live. The Chew Jetty is probably the most traveler-friendly, as the whole pier is occupied by the same clan. They will happily serve you cold beers and drinks at the end of the jetty! 🙂
KEK LOK SI TEMPLE
You cannot miss this incredible temple! Chris and I spent hours one morning hiking up and around this impressive Buddhist temple. We fueled up on the famous Assam Laksa as mentioned earlier, before making the journey onward and upward. There are so many levels! Said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, where followers from all parts of Southeast Asia come to worship, the views from the top are remarkably majestic.
As a native from Orlando, anyone can tell you that it’s imperative to walk through a gift shop after any ride at Disney. What marketing genius! This simple idea is deployed at Kek Lok Si on the way up AND down. You will walk through the market and see all types of tourist knick-knacks for sale. You’ve been warned, and it’s still well worth the hike.
PENANG HILL AND THE RAILWAY
We made our way down from the temple, ate another bowl of laksa, and went in search of some beers. Ice cold beers. We found them and it was just the rejuvenating break we needed. Chris and I made our way to the Penang Hill Train. This is no ordinary train! Opened in 1923, the train travels steeply, slowly uphill at nearly a 53% grade. We needed a few more beers and cocktails after the crowded train trip to the top, and the easy-going bar located up there offered the perfect spot. Have a drink and admire the views of the water and the sprawling island. There are also multiple restaurants options catering to all types of food desires. It’s a beautiful area and the food was good, but not as great as the local food down below. I would say it’s worth grabbing a small bite if you’re hungry, but you can find much better and less expensive food in Georgetown.
WHERE TO STAY
I can’t say enough pleasant things about Penang. If you have the chance to go, you must! We stayed at Hotel Neo+ which was a fantastic spot close to the highlights but without lots of heavy traffic. It’s a modern hotel with a stellar rooftop pool. The menu here makes Hotel Neo+ shine. The chef and kitchen staff here are top notch.
There’s also Hotel Jen— which I may be partial to just because of the name. We didn’t stay here due to the renovations at the time, but it was right around the corner in a great location nearby restaurants, shopping, and not far from the heart of Georgetown. Despite my subjectivity, it has terrific reviews.
Happy travels– Cheers!