Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Malaysia: My Penang top 10

It's Ivan Man Dy's turn to revisit Penang, Malaysia. Here's what he has to say about the UNESCO World Heritage Site:

During my first visit in 1999, Penang Island in Malaysia was love at first sight. Fast forward to 2012, we're even more in love the second time around! In particular, we're pertaining to the island's historic capital Georgetown. Established in 1786 as a trading port, over the next 200 years, this city attracted various nationalities that included, among others, various Chinese and Indian language groups, British colonials and even Armenian immigrants.

Today, the city is heir to this amazing cultural legacy and it really does justice to Malaysia's tourism slogan Truly Asia. Get yourself a map (there's lot's of them and mostly free) and explore the old quarters on foot. Here are our top 10 favorites:

1. Shop house architecture
And lots of it! Georgetown has the biggest collection of these unique dwellings, some of them more beautiful and ornate than the other. Our hotel was located in one and the experience was a throwback.

2. Chinese clan temples
Home to a huge ethnic Chinese community, Georgetown has a wide collection of family clan temples (built to help early immigrants settle in) the grandest of which is Khoo Kong Si on Canon Square. The craftmanship, carvings and detail will make you knees shake with their beauty. Don't miss the other ones like the clan houses of Cheah, Yap and Lim. Most are a stone throw away from each other.

3. Penang State Musuem
You have to visit this first to understand the city. Cheap too at RM1!

4. Historic mansions
If you have 2 days like we did, spread it out to the two best ones: the blue Cheong Fatt Tze on Leith Street and the green Pinang Peranakan Mansion on Church Street. Both have fabulous rooms, furniture and a fascinating glimpse of 19th century Chinese immigrant rags-to-riches stories. Look for the Filipino guide in the latter to regale you with insider stories!

5. Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera)
At 833 meters above sea level, it's cool, breezy and has a great view of of the city. Take the 45 minute bus at Komtar (transport hub) then up by a funicular (RM30). We also had the best Nasi Goreng in recent memory at the Owl Museum food court!

6. Mesjid Kapitan Keling
Penang's oldest mosque (1801). Charming Anglo-Mughal architecture and a better undestanding of the Islamic faith.

7. Clan jetties
These are seaside ethnic Chinese communities (similar to Badjaos). A living heritage of Penang that gives you an insight of a modern life in a traditional albeit unorthodox setting. It's perfect too to catch the afternoon breeze.

8. Little India
Colorful, atmospheric and loud with Bollywood music. For some peace and quiet, head off to the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple on Queen street. Lots of eateries in the area serving traditional specialties like Roti Canai, Naan or Nasi Kandar.

9. Street hawker fare
They're quick, tasty and yummy. Eat with locals at night along the corner of Love Lane and Chulia Street. Try Lok Lok the Penang version of tusok-tusok food that comes with choices of squidballs, fishballs, fried wantons, sweet corn, sausages, etc. Choose between the sweet or spicy sauces. Another favorite: Yong Tau Foo, that's tofu with crabsticks and balls (fish, squid, etc.) in a clear soup. Set up begins at 6:30 p.m. so grab a seat!

10. More street hawker fare along Gurney Drive
We had local insider info that is even better place but had no time to check it out due to distance. Well, that's another reason go back Georgetown!

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