So…we have spent the last 5 days in Georgetown, on the island of Penang, in the country of Malaysia.
We got here on a bus. As our regular readers know, we have had some “interesting” experiences with the buses in Asia. Everything we read about the Malaysian buses was “take a VIP bus — they are far more comfortable.” Did we take the VIP bus? Of course not! It was three times the price of a local bus and as best we could tell the only differences were wider seats and wi-fi.
Thankfully, whoever it was that was insistent that the VIP buses were the only way to go had apparently never ridden the local buses in Cambodia and Vietnam. Because the local bus to Penang was a thing of beauty compared to those buses. A safe driver on a modern highway, a comfortable seat, and air conditioning that worked (in fact, that worked too well). And only a single bathroom break and it wasn’t less than an hour into the trip! So, for anyone heading to Malaysia, we can say there is no need for the VIP bus — save some ringgits for the amazing food in Georgetown.
Georgetown has been hot. Very, very, hot. So hot we were dripping with sweat most of the time we were here. So hot our camera lenses fogged up if we tried to take a photo immediately after leaving the hotel. So hot we spent most of the middle part of each day safely ensconced in the air condition comfort of our hotel (and regretting it every time we were out in the middle of the day). But the clouds…the clouds were beautiful and nearly made up for the heat.
Georgetown is an old trading city, and part of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site. The architecture is amazing, with a mix of colonial era buildings, small shop houses, and covered walkways. We spent most of our time just walking around looking at the architecture.
We also walked around to view the various artworks that are scattered throughout the town. There are numerous pieces of wrought iron art work but those were commissioned by the government and, at least to me, aren’t all that interesting. They are caricatures designed to educate people about the history of the city.
I did, however, fall in love with all the random paintings in various nooks and crannies — I was constantly looking up the sides of buildings and into alleys trying to spot another piece of art. Many — but by no means all — of the paintings in Georgetown were made by Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian artist who moved to Malaysia. We posted a gallery of art a couple of days ago, but here are a few more of our favorites. Sadly, the weather here means these paintings will not last forever. Indeed, I read about some that seem to have already disappeared and saw some that are rapidly fading away.
The other interesting thing from our walks is our tentative conclusion — at least from the perspective of an outsider — that the different ethnic groups and religions all seem to get along at least reasonably well. (Not sure if that is accurate, but it sure seemed that way to us). Georgetown has three primary ethnic groups: Malay, Indian and Chinese. And, in about three blocks we saw a church, a mosque, a Chinese clan house and a Hindu temple.
And, the old Protestant cemetery (which contains the grave of Francis Light — the British “founder” of Penang) and the Catholic cemetery are right next to each other (although one of them did build a stone wall at one point to keep their graves separated…).
We also managed a walk around the waterfront to see the clan jetties. Sadly, this area has become tourism at its worst. One tourist-trap outlet after another. But, the fishing boats were cool.
And we randomly happened upon a Chinese parade of some sort. No clue what occasion was being celebrated. I even got to participate, however briefly, in the parade. I was standing on the side of the road when an elderly woman came up and pulled me to the middle of the road and told me to get down on my knees in a line of other people — then some sort of alter-like thing passed over me. So…I’m really hoping the parade wasn’t a fertility parade!
But the absolute highlight of Georgetown has been the food. It is so good that Robert and I have resorted to taking turns picking where to eat each night so there are no arguments. Robert tends to like the hawker stalls — you sit down at a table, order a drink from the drink seller, and then visit various hawker stalls to put together a meal. Interestingly, we read that the drink vendor typically owns/leases the land and then all the food vendors (who cook out of carts) lease from the drink vendor. Last night, after reviewing the offerings from the 30 or so hawkers, we wound up with pork noodle soup, fried chicken and pork satay. Yum. I tend to like the Indian restaurants. The Indian food here is out of this world — better than any I have ever had in Chicago or London (or anywhere else for that matter). It doesn’t get much better than chicken tikka, garlic naan and biryani. Well, the coconut tart made in small batches by a guy tucked into an apartment complex might have been better than the Indian food…
Now, we are off to the island of Langkawi via ferry. Fingers crossed that the food there is equally as good!