21.11.2013 - 26.11.2013
When I say number 1, I suppose I'm talking about towns/cities. It's really difficult to have favourites overall as nothing compares to the majesty of Angkor Wat or the natural beauty of Halong Bay's formations. But when it comes to towns, George Town has definitely gone straight in as our favourite so far.
Where to start!
Ok, in a nutshell... the buildings are stunning, the food is incredible, there's tonnes of street art, interesting heritage places to visit and the people are genuinely helpful and friendly.
We didn't know anything about George Town other than it achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2008, so we didn't know what to expect. It's really exciting when a place you know little about blows you away and you love it from the off. We ended up staying for 5 nights as there was plenty to do...
Our first day was spent looking for street art. There are two types of art around George Town... wrought iron comic style works set away from the walls, providing information about the area or street it is placed and wall paintings which sometimes have 3D objects incorporated. The latter have only been in the town since last year.
It was good fun hunting them down using a city map which marks out their locations. Here's a selection...
Places of interest
There's a lot to tick off, including churches, mosques, temples, shophouses, historic mansions, art galleries and colonial buildings.
Highlights were the Khoo Kongsi chinese temple which was so ornate and painstakingly detailed within, the Penang Peranakan Mansion and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion - the latter being listed 2 years ago by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 mansion houses in the world to see.
It was built in the 1880s for Cheong Fatt Tze, a local merchant trader who left China as a penniless teenager and ended up as 'the Rockefeller of the East'. The house sits on the 'dragon's throne', meaning that there is a mountain (Penang Hill) behind and water (the channel) in front – the site was chosen for its excellent feng shui. It's only since 1990 that it's been restored to its former glory.
I'll let the pictures do the talking (there's a lot of them...).
Khoo Kongsi Temple
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (aka La Maison Bleu)
Old meets new
Best of the rest... shophouses...
Mosque and churches...
Penang is rightfully known as the food capital of Malaysia. Not much more I can say other than it was generally superb (and so cheap!). I had the best Indian food I've ever had at a fab food night market hall... and on our best day spends wise, breakfast, lunch and dinner for both of us came to a whopping £6.80!!
Bustling food court complete with Phoenix Nights singer
Outside of George Town
Penang is a reasonably large island joined to the mainland by two very long bridges (it took us around 3 hours by ferry from Langkawi to get here). As we had a few days, we were able to explore beyond George Town. Unlike Langkawi, the public transport is excellent with a one hour bus journey costing all of 80p.
We headed out to the Tropical Spice Garden which offered three different trails through indigenous tropical plants, flowers and spices. We saw several skinks and a beautiful bright green lizard which hot-footed it over some ferns and up a tree quicker than we could even take the lens cap off the camera...
Another day, another bus ride took us to Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si temple - the largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia. An impressively long funicular train takes you to the top of the former, where you're afforded far stretching views of George Town, other parts of Penang and the mainland beyond. It was a pity though that (other than the views on offer) the top was spoilt by naff tourist 'attractions', but good for kids I suppose. However, the ride up was fast and fun.
Kek Lok Si temple was closed by the time we got there but as we weren't appropriately dressed anyway (knees and shoulders need to be covered) it was more to look at it from the outside. It's pretty large but rather higgledy-piggledy and close up wasn't that attractive - the best views are further away when you can appreciate the grandeur of all of it. The scale was impressive though, particularly of the Buddha statue at the top, something which our photos don't convey.
Can thoroughly recommend putting George Town on any SE Asia itinerary. It's a real gem.