Saturday, 13 April 2013

Penang is different.... and a great place for a holiday.

Penang people like to think of themselves as different. They live on an island and are happy with the separation from mainland Malaysia. They have an opposition state government and like it that way - "more open and less corruption".




They will resist all attempts to make Penang into the city life of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. They are extremely multi cultural and everyone lives harmoniously..."We are ok with eachother, in Penang everyone lives altogether, side by side." This diversity and rich cultural heritage, gives the visitor much to see, experience and enjoy...



City buildings in downtown Georgetown
So we are excited to go and explore Georgetown, Penang - the Pearl of the Orient with Michael from Ocean Jupiter tours. There can be no better combination than a foodie, ex-monk, turned DJ to show us around Penang...He had the kids attention when he talked about his dream to attend the Tomorrowland pop concert in Belgium, and when he promised to show us where Jimmy Choo started out. Vowing to get us eating street food, we knew it would be no ordinary tour...



Typical street food we ate at the famous Penang Road Teochew Chendul, a bargain at less than RM 3 per bowl
The history of Penang is dark... 1941 Fall of Penang to the Japanese...The Brits leaving Penang without notice... It's useful having dual nationality at this stage "err umm - Yes we're Aussie's"... There is a story of the cycle rickshaw drivers (called a trishaw in Penang) heading for the hills, leaving their trishaw handles pointing skyward... The Japanese bombing lasted 8 days, pounding Penang and mistaking the upright rickshaw handles as artillery... the Japanese invasion and 'chop & kick' brutality towards the Chinese... chop (off their heads) and kick 'em into a hole... I won't go on, as the past is brutal...




Penang was honored as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2008. This has led to renewed interest in the old colonial heritage buildings which are gradually being renovated to their former glories...too gradually some say looking at some of the sad, dilapidated old buildings. We start at the beautifully restored Pinang Peranakan Mansion. This former home of Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, showcases over 1,000 antiques and collectibles.



Pinang Peranakan Mansion 29 Church Street, Admission RM 20.00 including the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum, The Chung Keng Kwee Ancestral Temple and the Nyonya Kitchen

This would normally be a big yawn to some in our family, but with Michael bringing the house and it's people to life, we wander around fascinated by the lives of the Peranakan Straits Chinese...Like their multiple wedding ceremonies to various wives lasting 30 days...
We can understand how the Penang born Jimmy Choo started out when we see the cases of elaborately hand embroidered shoes...



...and are blown away by their jewellery. The jewel collection reflects the family's wealth and status and is designed to give as much pleasure to the owner as serving to delight the audience...



After our tour which includes a cup of famous Kopi Luwak coffee we have a brief but delicious stop at The Chocolate Boutique Mansion ( 22, Leith Street, Georgetown). They were very generous with their samples from more than 60 different chocolates on offer. There are various chocolate themed rooms, and boy did we enjoy this...!!




In Cannon Square one of the oldest parts of Georgetown, we find the courtyard of Leong San Tong Kongsi. One of the largest Chinese clanhouses found in Penang. It was built in 1851 as a gathering point for the Khoo clan members migrated from China. There are more than 60 terrace houses and shop buildings, a temple and opera stage, beautiful architecture, well worth a visit.




Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, Penang
It's all go, as we whizz off to the Dhammikaram Burmese Buddhist Temple and across the road to the Thai Buddhist temple Wat Chayamangkalaram with the world's third largest reclining Buddha. This is where Michael's previous life as a Buddhist monk, not only brought great honour to his family, but gives us great insight into the religion we know very little about.
We bought a pink lotus flower candle and said our prayers, were blessed by the Buddhists monks and sprinkled with holy waters and all given orange hand-made friendship bracelets...We bought an extra pink candle to take home for extra good measure...




With the clock ticking we have put pressure on Michael to complete our Penang tour in four hours as Uni work, school holiday homework and company e-mails are pressing. Normally this would be an all day tour and include the Penang Butterfly Farm and either the Tropical Spice Garden, or the Tropical Fruit Farm and Penang Hill.




On a previously OJ tour we had enjoyed the steep ride to the top of Penang Hill and would have benefited from going up there with Michael, as we wandered around and admired the view, but without being really sure what else to see and do....




On the same tour we had also visited the Tropical Fruit Farm which we found ok, but it was low season and not much to see (click here for Trip Adviser review). The farm is a nice drive up in the hills of Teluk, 800 ft above sea level. We had a tour of the fruit farm and then enjoyed an all-you-can-eat fruit buffet and freshly squeezed fruit juice.




In the short time that Michael has left he takes us to the Batik factory, where we see the process of Batik and have the opportunity to buy some pretty sarongs and gifts.








Finally we end up at we go to Teluk Bahang fishing village, at the northern tip of Penang Island to see where the local fish we have enjoyed comes from. Almost every family in this humble village makes a living from fishing the water around Penang...







Penang is a relatively small island with lots to see and do, we loved our day exploring and know we have only just scratched the surface, there is still lots more to see and do...
Little Wandering Wren

Location:Penang, Malaysia

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