Penang Trip, July 2019

A report about a 3D2N trip to Penang with my friends Paul and Fahmi. Our target was to enjoy food and culture. I have already written separate posts about Penang Mural Art, Penang Colonial Architecture and Penang Museums. In this post I will write about our trip and about food.

We traveled by ETS train from KL Sentral to Butterworth, a very comfortable journey. From Butterworth we took the ferry to George Town. This way of reaching the island is more romantic, compared to the usual way (by car and bridge).

Our hotel was on walking distance from the jetty, but we were hungry and needed lunch first . We found a busy food court, where I had Penang Assam Laksa. The Armenian Street Heritage Hotel is very well located in the heart of the historical town.

After some rest we went out to explore the town. We started with the Khoo Kongsi. More photos .

And of course we saw a lot of mural art. More photos .

The weather was nice. We walked past many houses of worship, in the Guan Yin Temple a celebration was going on with a performance of Chinese opera.

George Town is a haven for foodies, in 2014 I wrote a blog about it, Penang Food. This time we were looking for halal food. We first walked to the Esplanade. because we remembered that there was a Malay food court there, but it was closed already. Beautiful views of the floodlit colonial buildings!

Walking back we ended up at the popular Kapitan restaurant, where we had an acceptable Tandoori Chicken.

The next morning we were in the mood for a dim sum breakfast, but of course most dim sum places are not halal. We were lucky to find a gem: Dim Sum Valet . Delicious dim sum, a very friendly Malay couple, they started the shop beginning of this year. Worth visiting!

We still had some space left for a dessert. Our friends Pat and Roger had visited George Town recently and were very enthusiastic about the durian ice cream of Kek Seng. They were right, it was delicious.

Our first target for the day was the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. A wonderful museum, surprising that I had never heard about it earlier! More photos .

We spent considerable time in the museum, there was a lot to see. For lunch we went back to the food court at the Esplanade that was closed yesterday evening. Now it was open, we had the famous Mee Sotong of Hameed Pata . A long queue, but worth waiting for it

In the afternoon we explored the colonial architecture of Beach Street. One bank building after another prove that in those colonial times George Town was the financial center of Malaya. But not only banks, also emporiums, shops, opulent residences. More photos .

We visited a few more mural artworks, and we were not the only ones. Actually I am not happy about the mushrooming of mural art in Penang (and in the whole of Malaysia!). Not always is it high quality and the economical Law of Diminishing Returns is valid also here. More photos .

After a short rest in our hotel we went out for dinner to the New Lane Hawker Center. I had good memories about this place from earlier visits, but this time I was rather disappointed. Too many tourists, too expensive. We had popiah, oyster omelet , kerang and stingray.

Our last day in George Town already. We had breakfast with Roti Goyang at the Roti Bakar in Hutton Lane. The soft-boiled eggs were really shaking (goyang) surrounded by the pieces of toast. Very nice.

The Sun Yat Sen Penang Basee was the last museum on our list. Sun Yat Sen had his office here in 1912 when he was looking for support for the Chinese revolution. More photos .

A last round of more mural art. Some of them quite nice, in the humoristic Zacharevic style. More photos .

Before taking the ferry back to Butterworth, we had lunch near our hotel, in restaurant Jawi . Peranakan food, friendly service.

After lunch we took the ferry back to Butterworth. Paul and Fahmi went back to KL, I stayed in Taiping for couple of days more, see my report Taiping, July 2019 .

It was nice to visit George Town. But as a result of being a Unesco Heritage Site, it has become very touristic. Fancy museums, I may be old-fashioned, but for me it doesn’t add value.

Penang Museums

During my recent trip to Penang, I visited three museums.

The first one was the Khoo Kongsi, a large Chinese clan house in George Town. I had visited this kongsi already several times during earlier visits, so only a few pictures here. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions of George Town.

The present complex was rebuilt in 1906, after an earlier version was destroyed by lightning. Could it be that the gods were angry because it was too grand, resembling an imperial palace? So the present kongsi is more modest, although you would not say so, when you visit it ūüôā .

The walls of the temple are decorated with beautiful stone reliefs and carvings.

The temple contains de ancestral tablets. There is also a gallery with portraits of the Khoo family.

The second museum we visited was the Pinang Peranakan Mansion . Last year I had visited the Peranakan Museum in Singapore, click here for a report. But to be honest, I was not aware that there existed a Peranakan Museum in Penang! And the museum opened its doors already in 2004!

Now that I have visited it, I agree that it is one of the top attractions of George Town, not to be missed by any visitor!

The building is old, it was built in the 1890s as residence of Chung Keng Quee, the leader of the Hai San secret society . Irony of fate: the site was formerly used by its rival Ghee Hin secret society. That alone made my visit worthwhile already, because as a virtual “Taiping Boy”, I have read a lot about the fighting between the Hai San and the Ghee Hin during the Larut Wars !

Entrance fee is RM 20, not cheap, but worth the money. You can visit the mansion on your own, there is a lot to see. Or you can join a free guided tour.

For those not familiar with Malaysian history, the Peranakan , also known as Baba-Nyonya or Straits Chinese, are descendants of Chinese settlers who arrived from Southern China in the 15th-17th century. Their rich culture contains Chinese, Malay and European elements.

Here is a collection of photos I took during my visit.

Chung Keng Quee even built his own private temple next to his mansion.

The last museum I visited was the Sun Yat-sen museum. Sun Yat-sen was the
leader of China’s republican revolution, overthrowing the Qing dynasty and the first president of the Republic of China. To get support from the overseas Chinese, he moved with his family to Penang in 1910 and organised his activities from this house.

The house was constructed circa 1880 and is a beautiful example of a Peranakan merchant home.

I had only limited time to visit the museum, will spend more time there during my next visit, because Mr Alvin, who takes care of the museum, is a gifted storyteller.

Actually Sun Yat-sen has also a link with Taiping! He had a house there in what is now the Antong Coffee Mill. His concubine lived there for many years and he visited it occasionally. See my report (scroll down).

Penang Colonial Architecture

During my recent visit to Georgetown, I took some pictures of colonial architecture. There is a lot to see!

On our first evening we walked to the Esplanade. On our way we passed St George’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church in South East Asia, built in 1818.

The Esplanade is dominated by two magnificent buildings, the Town Hall and the City Hall. The City Hall, completed in 1880, is the oldest municipal building of George Town. It housed the Municipal Commission until 1903 when the Commission moved to a larger building next to it, the Municipal Offices. The Town Hall kept its function as meeting place for the European Elite. Nowadays it is used for public events, art exhibitions etc.

The Municipal Offices were one of the first buildings fitted with electrical lights! After Georgetown got city rights in 1957, the Municipal Offices were renamed to City Hall

The next day we explored Beach Street, where a concentration of impressive colonial architecture can be found. We started with the Jubilee Clock Tower, built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee.

The next building, now housing the Penang Islamic Council, is all that remains of the Straits Settlement Government Buildings, destroyed by allied bombing in 1945 during the Japanese occupation.

Notice the eyesore next to the building. It is the Penang Malay Chamber of Commerce, I wonder who gave permission to build it.

The next building, now housing the Bank of China, is of special interest for a Dutchman, because it was built by the Nederlandse Handel-Maatchappij in 1905.

Next to it the Penang office of Tourism Malaysia. I was wondering if this was a colonial building or a modern one. Could not find much information until I stumbled on a blog George Town’s heritage bank buildings . Originally it was a Mercantile bank, later taken over by HSBC. Recently renovated. So it is an old building in a modern outfit.

The Saw Seng Kew building was originally known as the British India House. Built in the 1920, it has been used by many different companies. In 1965 Rubber Tycoon Saw Seng Kew started the Southern Banking Ltd in this building that now has been renamed after him.

At the right side of the above photo you can just see the corner of the India House. It was built in Art-Deco style, completed in 1941 and forms an striking contrast with the surrounding “older” architecture.

Next to the India House, this Philip Capital Building again dates back to the 1920s. I was wondering at first where the entrance of the parking was, until I noticed that the P is actually the logo of the company ūüôā .

The 1886 building is the oldest commercial building along Beach Street that has kept its original form. In the past it housed the Goon Yen emporium, nowadays it is part of the OCBC. A very attractive building.

Another gem, the Thio Thiaw Siat building. Named after a Chinese tycoon, who is better known under his Cantonese name Cheong Fatt Tze (who lived in the famous “Blue Mansion”). This building was built by his estate after he passed away in 1916.

The GeorgeTown Dispensary nextdoor, the main pharmacy of Penang in those days, wa originally located where now the TTS building is.

The Central Fire Station was built in 1908. Notice the mix of architectural styles, with a Classical facade and a Moghul-style tower ūüôā

This building is not on Beach Street, but on Bishop Street. I could not find more information about this Cornfield building.

Finally a photo of the Penang Adventist Hospital (1924), nowadays a hotel, located on Muntri Street.

The website of Timothy Tye, Penang Travel Tips, has lots of information about heritage buildings of Penang. And George Town World Heritage Incorporated has published a guide book George Town’sHistoric Commercial & Civic Precincts, that can be downloaded from the Internet as a pdf file.

I am planning to visit Penang again soon and with the help of this guide book, explore many more architectural gems of George Town.

Penang Mural Art

Five years ago, I visited Penang to have a look at the Mural Art, created by the Lithuanian artist Zacharevic in 2012. Here is my report: Penang Street Art. I like Zacharevic, his sense of humour, the way he is using existing objects for his creations. Even then there were already more artists active, some copying his style, sometimes good, more often mediocre.

I went back to Penang with my friends Paul and Fahmi, and to be honest, I was shocked by the proliferation that has taken place in these five years. There is hardly an empty wall anymore, mural art in almost every street. Really too much, IMHO. But I may be an exception in not appreciating this epidemic ūüôā . Here is a quote from Tripadvisor :

The highlight of Penang is literally the street arts. They are everywhere, every street, every corner. I have tons of photos of them. You don’t need a map but just don’t miss any street there. ūüôā .

And there has even been published a coffee-table book already: Street Art Penang Style .

Here are a few of Zacharevic’s creations. When you compare the pictures with those in my report, you will see that several of them have faded. Some even have been destroyed. Zacharevic has no problem with this, he is not making art for eternity. I like his attitude.

A few pictures of Mural Art in Zacharevic style, where you can interact with the artwork

Using existing elements.

Many more. Actually not bad, just that there are too many of them

Two artworks on the Chew Jetty. An original Zacharevic on this jetty has been destroyed.

There are many, many more, which often did not really appeal to me.

Trip up North

Last week ¬†we¬†decided to make a trip up North, to celebrate Aric’s birthday. A 4D3N trip, staying overnight in Kuala Sepetang, Gunung Jerai and Georgetown.

Kuala Sepetang, or Port Weld as it was originally called, has recently become a popular tourist destination. We arrived at lunchtime on a Saturday and were amazed by the large number of tourist buses. There are now two “boutique” hotels and we had booked a room in the Happy 8 Retreat¬†, located above a fish processing factory and a seafood restaurant.

Port Weld

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The reviews for this hotel are rather mixed, the decoration of the rooms and the use of recycled materials is appreciated, but the walls between the rooms are paper thin and there are some complaints about the service. We were lucky, not many other guests, so we could sleep well. We had a room with a view of the river, you can spend hours there, watching the busy traffic.

Here is a video, taken from our balcony

We were just in time for the famous curry mee of Kuala Sepetang. After our siesta we walked in the village. The new bridge makes the other side easily accessible, fortunately not yet very developed.

For our dinner we went to the Tepi Sungai restaurant, also located above a fish processing factory. We had mantis prawns, lala shells, spikey snails, vegetable and tea for RM 61

The sunset view was priceless and free of charge…:-)

One reason to visit Kuala Sepetang was that I would like to have a look at Kuala Sangga, a small fishing village at the mouth of the Sepetang river. We saw  many tourist boats coming in and out and expected that at least a few of them would go to this village. Mistake. Most tourists come for the fireflies and the eagle feeding, not many are interested in the (tiny) village.

After an interesting “fusion” breakfast we continued our trip to Gunung Jerai. As an alternative for Kuala Sangga, we decided to visit the Hindu temple complex of Bukit Batu Pahat, on the slopes of the mountain. But first of course lunch…:-)

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I had read about these temples, but never visited them. The Bujang Valley where these temples are located is considered the richest archaeological area in Malaysia! But many Malaysians have never heard about it. Why? Could they be neglected because this part of Malaysian history predates Islam and the Malacca Sultanate?

Expecting the complex to be a bit rundown, I was pleasantly surprised to find it in mint condition. The museum with information about the excavations and some artefacts is interesting. The Bukit Batu Pahat temple is in situ, the others have been relocated. And there is even a small waterfall, more a cascade.

Only a few visitors, not surprising as the site is badly signposted. Merbok is the nearest larger village. The complex is really worth a visit. And free of charge!

We had booked accommodation in the Regency Jerai Hill Resort, near the top of the mountain. A winding road leads you to the resort at an altitude of almost 1000 m above sea level. From the resort and from our balcony we had a fascinating view of the rice fields and the coastline of Kedah.

Here is a video, taken at the resort. We are just below the clouds

We had booked a puasa promotion, RM 230 for the room including 2x dinner and breakfast. During puasa¬†(Ramadan)¬†Muslims will eat only after sunset, and we thought it would be polite to follow that rule. Muslims will also not eat after sunrise, but for our breakfast we did not follow the rule…:-) ¬†English breakfast!

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Also here we had something on our program. There¬†are quite a few waterfalls on the slopes of Gunung Jerai and one of them is located not far below the resort. Just before entering the resort, you will see a path with cemented steps going down. In about half an hour you reach the Alur Naga fall.¬†A vertical fall in a romantic surrounding. On the way back I noticed a swarm of bees/wasps, my enemies. I managed to pass ¬†without disturbing them. There were also¬†leeches, I don’t mind to give them a free lunch..:-)

Here is a video of the fall

Our last destination was Georgetown. My friend Joe Yap¬†had suggested a heritage hotel in Armenian street,¬†Straights Heritage. They have only two “suites” and we had booked the Phoenix suite, on the second floor. It was like a dream, the most beautiful place where I have ever stayed.

It would have been nice to stay in our “mansion” the rest of the day and relax, but we also wanted to taste Penang durians! We met one of Aric’s friends and went to a stall in Bayan Lepas, where we tasted a Red Prawn durian. Yummy. After dinner in the New Lane hawker center, we went back to our suite and enjoyed the luxury.

Our program for the last day consisted of two parts. Joe had told us about a Christian cemetery where one of the graves had a sculpture of a dog, resting on the tombstone.The Western Road Cemetery was easy to find, but it was much bigger than I expected. Fortunately the caretaker could point out the grave to us. Legend has it that the dog visited the grave of is master after the latter had passed on, and continued to stay at the grave.

Nearby the cemetery is one of our favourite Laksa restaurants, the Taman Emas Coffee shop, where we had an early lunch. Last stop was at the Penang War museum, another suggestion of Joe. It is located at Bukit Batu Maung, where in the 1930’s the British built a fortress to protect the island against the Japanese army. It was a¬†huge complex with cannon firing bays, barracks, tunnels etc. Manned by British, Malay and Sikh soldiers, each group in their own barrack, with their own cook etc, of course…:-) The fortress fell because the Japanese attacked from the land side and not from the seaside…. Like not much later Singapore.

After the Japanese had taken over, it became their army base. And after years of neglect it is now a museum. Steep entrance fee, RM 20 for locals, RM 35 for foreigners. Overpriced. You can also play war games (paintball) or follow ghost tours…:-(. Nevertheless still interesting, you can crawl through tunnels, climb escape ladders etc.

Not far from Batu Maung you can enter the second Penang bridge back to the mainland. The bridge is 24 km long with many curves. Interesting

Second bridge

It was a very satisfying trip, full of variety

Penang Food

When you are not interested in food, you can skip this post..:-)

Penang is a paradise for foodies. Do a Google search for “Penang food paradise” and you will get many pages with hits. Our last trip to Penang had the Murals as destination and the Thaipusam festival, but of course also FOOD! Here is part of what we had during our stay. Makan Non Stop..:-) For my non-Malaysian followers: Makan = Eating in Bahasa. The traditional welcome greeting ¬†when you arrive at a friend’s or family house is: Sudah makan? Have you eaten already?

Penang Food

On our way to Penang, we had dinner in Nibong Tebal at the Law Chang Kee restaurant. Famous for its Crab Porridge and its Boiled Baby Octopus. Don’t say aargh, the octopus was delicious. We paid RM 38 for our meal for two..:-) ¬†That is about 8-9 Euro.

We arrived in our hotel quite late, but after a shower we decided to have an evening walk. Visiting some of the murals, and ending at the China House, really a surprise for me. Beautifully renovated old houses with a marvelous selection of coffee and cakes! Really worth a visit…:-)

The next morning we had breakfast in a mamak stall near to our hotel. A friend of us, living in Penang, had suggested it to us as possibly the best Roti Chanai in town at Transfer Road. It was crowded and basic but very VOF (Value for Money)

For our lunch we had planned to go to Balik Pulau for the Assam Laksa, But it was not our lucky day, the Chuan Hong stall, Aric’s favourite, was closed. So instead we had to go for Mee Rebus, in a nearby stall, also not bad.

Assam Laksa closed

Mee Rebus

I will not mention all the other places we visited during our trip, only the last one. It is the HUG restaurant in Jalan Hutton, also quite near to our hotel Mingood. Basically I am a hawker food lover, no fancy restaurants. So when a friend suggested the House of Udang Galah , my first impression was: too posh for me. But looking at the menu,  the reasonable prices and the positive review of my friend, we decided to give it a try.

What an enjoyable evening we had! Excellent service, and good food. Only problem was that we ordered to0 many dishes, you should go there with a bigger group!

Dinner at HUG

Here a few more pictures. We had Scallops as a starter, Seafood soup, then Peking Duck (first the skin, then the meat), the Udang Galah, and a combination of four vegetables. Finally we could not resist the temptation of the Baked Red Wine Syrup Apple as a dessert.

After this delicious (but also expensive!) dinner, we decided to skip the next day’s lunch at Pulau Aman. We will keep that for a next visit. First have to loose some calories…:-)

Penang Street Art

Since 2012 there is one more reason to visit Penang, besides the food and the cultural heritage. During the Georgetown Festival 2012, the young Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic has painted a number of murals, which have become one of the major tourist attractions. Here are two very popular ones, a combination of a painting and an existing object. These two are floodlit during the night, which adds to the atmosphere.

Boy on a Bike

Children on a bicycle

The next morning we visited the rest. This one is called Wushu Girl and can be found at Muntri Street. Tourist arrive with taxis or on rental bikes to take pictures.

Wushu Girl

Tourist attraction

And this is The Awaiting Trishaw Paddler (Penang Street)

Trishaw Paddler

Trishaw Paddler

Here are two more. But only the left one, called Reaching Up is by Zacharevic! In quite a few places you will find now similar murals by others, a clear proof how successful the concept has been.

Reaching Up Unknown artist

The artist is becoming popular all over the world. In Malaysia he also created works in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. And of course the (in)famous one in Johor Baru, depicting a lady and a robber, both in Lego style. JB has Legoland and reputedly a high crime rate.

Johor Baru

The JB town council was not amused and had it removed within a few days. Ridiculed of course by many, amongst them the Penang council. Art should be respected and free! But when Zacharevic decorated a pothole (which had been there for many years), framing it as a painting, the council acted quickly, and filled the pothole…:-)

The pothole as painting

No more there

During our visit of Penang an exhibition was opened of (new) works by Zacharevic. We were eager to visit this exhibition but found the door closed..:-(  We could only peek through the fence. The exhibition opens from noon to 8pm daily until Feb 14. Free access. Maybe we should go back to Penang soon.

The exhibition building

A peek inside The exhibition theme

To find the locations of the Zacharevic murals, you can now install an App on your smartphone! For the other murals you must just walk around Georgetown which is a pleasure in itself. Here is a collection of pictures. The town council has placed a large number of decorative metal wire signboards in the historical center. And a bit outside the center you can find the famous UBAH bird. UBAH means change in Malay, Penang is governed by the opposition, so this bird is both art and a political statement.

Two more reports will follow, one about Penang and its food, the other one about Thaipusam,

Anniversaries

On April 14 it was fifteen years ago that Aric and I met for the first time. And on April 17 it was my 69th birthday. As  Aric would be diving in Sabah on that date, we decided to celebrate both anniversaries a week earlier, in the Eastern & Oriental hotel in Georgetown. The E&O is one of the grand hotels of South East Asia, established in 1885, a few years earlier than the equally famous Raffles hotel in Singapore.

E&O hotelE&O suite

We had booked a suite, of course not cheap, but we enjoyed the luxury…:-). We spent most of the time in our suite, went only out for food. Aric had an app on his iPhone that made it possible to take several pictures and then combine them into one. Here is the interesting result

Two times us

A detailed report with many more pictures can be found here: Fifteen Years. Back home, on the eve of my birthday and before Aric left for Sabah, we had the traditional birthday cake.

Birthday cake