Exploring Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Whilst returning to Singapore for a holiday was lovely we decided we couldn't travel all that way without going somewhere else too, preferably somewhere we never got to whilst we were living there. As I've mentioned previously we can be a bit last minute when making plans, so much so that we didn't actually book our trip away until we were in Singapore! Therefore we needed to choose somewhere where we didn't need to worry about visas and, yes I know most can be sorted online in a few days, but playing it safe as we weren't at home we figured we wouldn't chance it. Luckily that didn't mean our options were that limited.

My travels to Malaysia were actually pretty limited, perhaps somewhat surprising given that Singapore is literally next door! During the time I lived there the only part I went to was Kuching and then only for a blink and you'll miss it visit. Yes that's right I never got to Kuala Lumpur, any of the many beautiful islands (I've lusted after friend's photos on Facebook) or even Johor Bahru (JB to those in the know), which whilst I don't think I've missed much there it's pretty much a right of passage for anyone living in Singapore. Anyway I've still never been to either of those places but I can now tick Georgetown, Penang off the list of places I want to get to.

Shophouse in Georgetown

Georgetown is the capital city of the state of Penang, it is one of the oldest cities in Malaysia and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. The city, named after King George III, was established by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786 and was one of the first British settlements in South East Asia. Like Singapore and Malacca it was governed under the Straits Settlements, becoming a British Crown colony in 1867. Before we travelled here many people I spoke to told me that it was how they imagined Singapore to have been thirty or forty years ago. I can certainly see the comparison, it is very familiar with its mix of Colonial and Asian architectural styles and its Peranakan heritage too. But it's less manicured and a little rougher around the edges, footpaths disappear as you walk along the roads, the stunning villas (of which there seem to be many) have their expansive grounds still and there's an air of little change to the place. Maybe this is because it is a World Heritage site but whatever the reasons I couldn't help but wonder how it did compare to an older Singapore.

Before we left for our visit a friend pointed me in the direction of her blog posts about her visit to Penang which were super helpful and you may find them so too if you're travelling there (check out the link). They certainly got me very excited about our visit and what we would do whilst we were there. On our first full day (after arriving the evening before) though we decided to do something we often do when new to a place, go for a wander around. Our guidebook actually had a self guided walk around the main sights and we decided this would be a good way to get our bearings.

After leaving our wonderful guesthouse in a stunning Edwardian bungalow we made our way to the suggested starting point, by the Penang museum on Lebuh Farquhar. From here the walk took us towards the Supreme Court and around to the waterfront. Where we got to enjoy a pleasant breeze on a very hot day. We always chose the hot days for our walks in Singapore it seemed so it was only right it should be another very warm one. Singapore was actually pretty kind to us on our return visit with cooler temperatures and some rain but Penang certainly turned up the heat!

Where does the sky end and the sea begin?

From here we walked on past the beautifully designed city hall and town hall. Of course there were the familiar shophouses everywhere but equally many of these grand old buildings and villas, some in need of some TLC admittedly but nonetheless still beautiful. As I said it was striking (in comparison with Singapore) how much land surrounded many of these buildings. I was inevitably reminded of the many old photos of Singapore I'd seen with now long demolished villas in beautifully manicured gardens. The Edwardian style city hall, built in 1903, was one of the first buildings in Penang to be completely fitted with fans and electric lights. The town hall right next door is a little older, completed in 1883.

Our walk then took us past the Pinang Peranakan mansion and whilst we decided not to visit it was packed full of visitors. The museum is in a beautifully restored mint green coloured building which originally belonged to the 19th century merchant, Chung Keng Quee who was a secret society leader and community pillar as well as an incredibly wealthy Peranakan.

Entrance to the Pinang Peranakan mansion

It was here that we entered into and saw the real charm of Georgetown as we strolled past old shophouses and narrow streets filled with activity. As we also travelled during the Chinese New Year period there were decorations everywhere for this important celebration. Further on we saw the Cheah Kongsi, home to the oldest Straits Chinese clan association in Penang, established in 1873.

After a much needed refreshment break on Lebuh Armenian we began to start seeing just a little of the street art that Penang is also famous for. Over the couple of days we were there I ended up seeing (and loving) so much of it that I've decided to do a separate post purely on the art. Watch this space! Having read a little about it though before I visited this was something I was looking forward to seeing and it didn't disappoint.

It was a great first morning in Penang and just wandering around was a good way to familiarise ourselves with the city a little more. My appetite was well and truly whetted for more of the place.


Popular Posts