Penang - the pearl of the orient

CURRENT LOCATION: Tanah Rata, Malaysia

Sam:

Oh Georgetown, you beautiful little city! After an exciting flight on a plane with propellers, and finally arriving at an airport that knows how to do taxis right (you tell the lady at the kiosk where you're going, pay her, and she gives you a voucher to give to the driver - no rips offs here!) we got dropped off a few blocks from our hotel, right in the heart of Georgetown. Since our last post, where we somewhat imprecisely recorded our location as Penang, we have discovered that Penang is the state, Penang Island is the island (obviously), and Georgetown is the city. So as far as we can tell, there is no Penang city per se. Our humblest apologies.

 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown is the capital of Penang state, and in 2008 the inner city was named (together with Malacca, further south) a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique architectural and cultural heritage. Georgetown was a major trading centre in the late 18th - 19th century, and it played a major part in the spice trade. As a result of its world heritage status, the city centre is filled with amazing old buildings and hidden alleyways. We have decided it's our new favourite place.

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

So our time in Georgetown began with a wander through the beautiful streets in search of the Decoupage Cafe and Guesthouse. We found it pretty easily, and what a sight. The downstairs cafe is filled with cherubs, and overstuffed armchairs with floral patterns.... I'm really struggling to describe this place! The walls were indeed decoupaged, and a faux Tiffany parrot lamp was hanging from the ceiling. We were shown up the narrow, surely non-code-compliant staircase, and into our room. Our room was basically a bed, a wardrobe and a table, with about 30cm of space around the bed. Luckily the cherubs had made it into our room too. At least it had air conditioning. And a mouse, we later found out. He didn't cause us any trouble though, so we left him to his own devices. They also had two turtles in a filthy, stinky tank in the hallway. They did clean the water the following day, but it was filthy again by the next night, so that was nice. I've never seen two turtles trying so hard to escape. 

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

We ventured out for dinner, and on the advice from our host, we headed to Lorong Chulia in search of street food. What a great tip! For less than $7, we feasted on laksa and mi goreng until we were stuffed. During our walk home, we stopped to watch an incredible lightning storm in the clouds overhead, the likes of which we just don't get to see in New Zealand. The whole sky was lighting up, and you could see the lightning forks in the clouds - it was breathtaking. We made it home just in time for the rain to start, so hunkered down and hit the hay.

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

After breakfast, we ventured out into the streets. Our first stop was the information centre to pick up some maps and get some recommendations. The helpful lady gave us a map and highlighted various parts for us. We stopped for some milkshakes to refuel, then went off in search of our first museum, Pinang Peranakan. This historical house was owned by a Chinese-Malaysian man, with ties to the 'mafia'. It showcases Peranakan clothing and culture in a villa beautifully restored by his great-great-grandson, following the Second World War. 

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

From there, we kept our trusty map at the ready, and hit the street art trail. As part of the Georgetown Festival, the city commissioned a Lithuanian street artist living in Penang named Ernest Zacharevic to paint massive murals across the city. As time has passed, others have added their own art all around the place, and he too has added more each year. We had an awesome afternoon playing street art bingo, as well as having a blast stumbling upon pieces that aren't on the map. I can't describe how great Georgetown is - it's totally walkable, there are these amazing historic signs made of iron shaped into cartoons, there are super cool cafes, and there is art EVERYWHERE. If you ever have a chance to go there, GO!

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

We had a break for lunch, hunted out some more street art, and headed to The Camera Museum. It was completely filled with every camera type imaginable, which used to be the museum owner's private collection. Some highlights: the 3D stereographs, the room sized pinhole camera, the machine gun camera (a machine gun converted to a camera that shoots 20 frames per second, and is believed to be the only one in the world), a camera used to film a Charlie Chaplin film, and the fact that the museum was playing the greatest hits of Modern Talking (the band we were introduced to on our bus ride from Dalat to Nha Trang, Vietnam).

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

From there, we headed next door, to the Purrfect Cat Cafe. Yes, you read that correctly. We each ordered a slice of cake and a coke float, and headed up to eat. The cake and coke floats were delicious, but were merely a formality to get into the kitty room. We ate quickly, and were briefed on the rules - no picking the cats up, no rough patting, and not patting them if they're asleep. Finally, they let us in with the 4 cats. Who were all asleep. Screw the rules, we patted them anyway, but none of them even opened their eyes, let alone made any attempt to interact with us. We made the most of our kitty cuddle time though, and gave all four of them plenty of pats, before admitting defeat. We headed home via another few bits of street art, and sat out a massive rainstorm that came through.

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

That night, we decided to treat ourselves to a little slice of home. We went to the mall, and went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron in the Beanie Cinema. Rather than seats, you get a 'pod', with two huge bean pillows in it. You make yourself comfy, and enjoy the show! It was great fun, and the movie wasn't too bad either, so that's a bonus!

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

We borrowed bikes from our accommodation on day 2, and cycled to the old European cemetery. This atmospheric and moody graveyard was split into Protestant and Catholic sections, and had crumbling gravestones of European settlers from the 1700s and 1800s.

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Next up, the Penang Time Tunnel. This wonderful bit of cheese was everything we hoped it would be. The downstairs is a museum of the history of Penang, and you are given a quiz to fill in - wooooooo!!! Upstairs is a 3D art exhibition, where you pose with various murals and take photos. Lots of fun, and a nice break from serious history! Oh, and we got all the quiz questions right, and our prize was a puzzle :D

 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
 Having a blast in the Penang Time Tunnel

Having a blast in the Penang Time Tunnel

We cycled along the waterfront back to our guest house, the headed out for lunch on foot to a local 'foodcourt', and had delicious shaved ices for dessert. We got a few errands done in the afternoon, including booking our minivan tickets to Tanah Rata, and checking out some more street art. Oh, and eating some Baskin Robbins.... We returned to our street food haven for dinner. NOM.

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

After hitting the post shop first thing in the morning, we went in search of a local bus nearby, only to discover that the bus seemed to leave from the other side of town. We wandered towards the other bus station, and stopped for bagels for brunch. Luckily, the cafe staff told us that the bus left from directly across the road. We hopped on, and sure enough, it headed straight to the bus station we were at in the first place. Grrrrr. Ah well, we carried on for about 45 minutes, and arrived at our destination for the day: the Penang Spice Garden. A tropical garden filled with plants from the rainforest, lily ponds, spice terraces, swings and bamboo gardens, we spent the next few hours wandering while listening to an extremely informative audio guide which told us all about the plants. On our way out, we even spotted the resident monkeys - no sightings of the resident pair of giant black squirrels sadly.

 Spice Gardens, Penang
 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

A quick taxi ride had us back at the nearest town, where we went in search of Flee60, and escape the room attraction. For those of you that aren't familiar with them, escape the room games are usually apps or computer games where you are locked in a virtual room, and have to figure out how to get out. This particular company had created real life escape the room games. After a quick bite to eat, we were blind folded and led into the 'Prison Break' room. While blind folded, we were handcuffed by one hand to a hanging board in adjacent locked cells, unable to see each other. We were given brief instructions (60 minute time limit, push the buzzer if you need any help), and left to our own devices in the darkened room with a torch each. By solving a variety of clues and puzzles hidden around the room, we were nearly free within 15 minutes, but we were stuck on the last code, which opened the door to finish the game. After another frustrating 20 minutes, we finally found the code hidden behind the blinds and set ourselves free!!Not a bad way to spend some time!

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

After getting back to Georgetown and having a quick Skype with the Fishman whanau, we headed out to enjoy our final night. After a delicious curry dinner in Little India, we enjoyed dessert at Wheeler's Cafe. Zev enjoyed a Nutella hot chocolate, and I had creme brûlée and a vanilla affogato. What a great way to end our time in Georgetown!

 Street Art, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

This morning, we sadly waved goodbye to Gerogetown and jumped in a minivan to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. Up in the mountains, the temperature is delightful, and it's pouring with rain!!

That's all for now!

Lots of love,
S & Z
xxx

(Original post date: 26th April 2015)