Malaysia: 48 hours in Penang

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Planning to head to the Pearl of the Orient? Time Out Penang’s Su Aziz and Cheng Sim as they point out highlights along the lebuhs (streets) of George Town, Penang’s colonial isle

Day 1

9am Rise early with a visit to the famous Chowrasta Bazaar (1-8 Jln Penang). It’s a one-stop shop for fresh produce, also a place to buy local delicacies such as pickled nutmeg and prawn paste (an essential ingredient for rojak), biscuits, kitschy souvenirs, inexpensive clothing and, of course, a plethora of food to choose from
for breakfast. Go up the stairs to
the second floor and spot a bookstore with secondhand books piled up to the ceiling, with costs starting from MYR2 ($5) for everything from paperback novels to old Archie comics.

10.30am Just a mere walking distance from Chowrasta Bazaar is the Masjid Kapitan Keling (Jln Kapitan Keling). George Town’s largest historic mosque is a sight to behold on a sunny day. Visitors are welcome to linger at its courtyard but advised to be in decent attire while on its premises.

11.30am Don’t rush when you’re passing through Armenian Street, which is around the corner from Masjid Kapitan Keling – there’s plenty to discover within the five-street radius. And don’t be too shy to poke your head into a secondhand or antique store – chances are that an engaging conversation with the proprietor will enlighten you to the history of the building, if not the area itself. There are also a number of boutique hotels here, plus some fun street art on the walls along some of the old houses.

1.30pm As a respite from the afternoon heat, step into the beef noodle stall in a Chinese coffee shop at the corner of Lebuh Pantai and Lebuh Chulia, right where the little cross-junction and traffic lights are. The rosy-cheeked owner serves up a delicious bowl of steaming hot broth covering flat rice noodles and a variety of beef cuts for MYR7 ($17). The stall closes at 4pm, but at around 6pm the place transforms into a simple Chinese restaurant. 

 2.30pm It’s hard to miss Khoo Kongsi (18 Cannon Sq, khookongsi.com.my), the imperious temple and magnificent clan house. It’s full of Southern Fujian architectural splendour, with Western influences evident in its louvered windows and wrought-iron fencing; its interior is peppered with authentic Chinese ornaments and antique furniture. The place closes at 5pm. 

3.30pm Continue on to Little India, where there are plenty of shops selling interesting prayer or temple paraphernalia and grocery stores that have sandalwood soaps ranging from MYR2-MYR5 ($5-$12) each – great for lightweight souvenirs.

5pm While you’re in the area, have a taste of the myriad of Indian fare on offer. You’ll be spoilt for choice, since there’s an eatery tempting you with appetising scents every few steps. Order a cooling lassi or a lovely cup of milk tea to go along with a typical Indian sweet such as jalebi, burfi, laddu or the more savoury vadai.

7pm In true Penang style, we recommend that you just keep eating. Jalan Nagore, with its variety of Malay, Indian and Chinese food, is also known as Medan Little Shanghai. This is the street mostly frequented by foodies and also regulars of the famed Golden BBQ Steamboat (38-40-42 Jln Nagore, goldenbbq.e2pages. com). Alternatively, you can dine al fresco with a view of the heritage houses illuminated by streetlights.

9pm To groove the night away, there are quite a few live music spots on weekends. The Macalister Mansion (228 Jln Macalister, macalistermansion.com) gives you an excuse to dress up to suit its glitzy ambience, while the Canteen at ChinaHouse (153 Lebuh Pantai, chinahouse.com.my) has live bands on weekends with jazz on Friday nights. Or try Beach Blanket Babylon (32 Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah), which is skirted by the sand and sea, for a quiet, relaxing drink.

Day 2

9am Start the day with a relaxing stroll along Lebuh Pantai and head towards Sri Weld foodcourt, where you can choose to  have nasi lemak wrapped in banana leaf, wanton mee or curry mee
for breakfast. 

10.30am Just a stone’s throw from the food court is Esplanade and Fort Cornwallis on Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah. Every first Saturday of the month, enjoy cultural performances at the ‘Esplanade in Action’ series. Or if you’re an ardent fan of war history, Fort Cornwallis is a hop across the Esplanade field and is the largest standing fort in the country. The star-shaped fort was built by Captain Francis Light in 1786.

12pm A short walk from the fort on Lebuh Light is the historic Penang City Hall (Jln Padang Kota Lama), one of the island’s popular landmarks. Located in the UNESCO Heritage site, the national monument currently houses Penang Island Municipal Council.

1.30pm Turn right onto Lebuh King and you’ll find a restaurant and museum called The Sire (4 Lebuh King, facebook.com/thesirerestaurant), which used to be the home of prominent businessman Yeap Chor Ee in the early 1900s. The upstairs has now been turned into a museum that illustrates his life, while the Western restaurant downstairs serves decent lunch fare.

3.30pm The Pinang Peranakan Mansion (29 Lebuh Gereja, pinangperanakanmansion.com.my), with its eclectic architecture of Chinese carved-wood panels, English floor tiles and Scottish ironworks, also offers a glimpse of the Peranakan customs and traditions. 

4.30pm Penang’s art scene is beginning to wake and there’s a vibrancy about it that can only stem from enthusiasm. Galleries such as Alyssa Galeri (346 Jln Penang, alyssagaleri.com) and Alpha Utara Gallery (83 Lebuh China) open daily and exhibit contemporary paintings, photographs and installations.

6.30pm As the island cools down, amble along the jetty areas by Pengkalan Weld, pass through Church Street Pier and watch houses on stilts back-dropped by the late evening sun at Chew Jetty.

7.30pm At the Tan Jetty, walk right in and when you’ve almost reached the end, look out for a house with three to four tables surrounded by plastic chairs on the right-hand side. There you can enjoy an authentic Thai dinner at Lang Sae Lee Thai Food Restaurant (97A Tan Jetty) as the sun sets over the horizon, casting a fuchsia-gold light over Butterworth in the distance.

 9pm After your meal, step back onto Pengkalan Weld to Tanjong City Marina, head into the waterfront QEII bar (8A Pengkalan Weld) for a drink, and watch as the ferries ply the waters from the island to Butterworth.

Getting there
Cathay Pacific flies direct from Hong Kong to Penang twice daily from $2,490 return excluding taxes and surcharges. 

Where to stay
There’s no better place to absorb Penang’s colonial charm than the historic Eastern & Oriental Hotel (pictured below). Situated right on the Straits of Malacca on the northern banks of George Town and built in 1885, the E&O embodies the history of Penang. If you’re looking for the authentic experience, stay in one of the 100 suites of the Heritage Wing, the original building of the hotel, featuring spectacular Moorish architecture; if you’re after something more modern, check out the recently opened Victory Annexe, featuring a sleek and contemporary design. Eastern & Oriental Hotel, 10 Lebuh Farquhar, 10200, Penang, +604 222 2000; eohotels.com. Rates from $1,875 per night exc taxes.

Getting around
George Town’s heritage area is easy to navigate on foot or bicycle. There are free George Town maps in most cafés or the tourist counter on Lebuh Pantai on the ground floor of the Whiteaway building. For a more touristy experience, the trishaws are a terrific way of seeing the historic areas without breaking a sweat. Otherwise, the Rapid buses that zoom through the precariously small streets of this area are fully air-conditioned and have a well-organised route (rapidpg.com.my).

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