When I was planning this Malaysia trip, the only thing that I was sure of was that I wanted to set foot on George Town, Penang. But as I read more about other places in West Malaysia, particularly Cameron Highlands and Langkawi, the shorter my Penang time got. At the start of the trip, Penang was reduced to a “connecting stop” and my stay was narrowed down to half a day. I would still spend a night in George Town but I would have to leave the next day for another destination. It was a mistake. As soon as we stepped on its soil, it dawned on us that 12 hours won’t be enough to truly experience the city.
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
About George Town
George Town is the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang.What makes it so special? A long history tops its list of assets. The oldest city in Malaysia, it was founded in 1786, earlier than the capital Kuala Lumpur. Together with Malacca, another historic city, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Exploring the city is like a trip back in time as many of the buildings and other structures are remarkably and excellently preserved. Yet, George Town has been embracing development fast, too. The convergence of its rich heritage and modernization have produced magnificent architecture, a booming nightlife, and an irresistible cuisine that is widely regarded as the best in this part of Asia.
My 12 Hours in Penang
Everything was going against me when I was in George Town. It was raining the entire time, making it more difficult for me to make the most of my time there. We arrived at George Town Jetty at around 5:30pm. While in a cab on the way to our hostel, we could not help but me mesmerized by the buildings that are lining up along the street. I was about to take photos but then I realized I would be coming back in an hour after checking in so I quit it. When I arrived at the hotel, the rain poured like there was no tomorrow. It was just one in the series of unfortunate events that happened to me in Penang.
- The heavy rain. I could not get out of the hostel because of the rain.
- Work, work, work. When I connected to their wi-fi, I received tons of emails about an urgent project that needed to be launched that night. (I work as a consultant so I can be mobile while working. The downside is that sometimes my schedule gets derailed unexpectedly.) I ended up spending hours inside the hotel room, working online. It was past 9pm when I finished everything. It was still drizzling but I just sucked it up and went on walking around the city
- Booking Adjustments. The first thing I did after getting out of my room was to book a 2pm shuttle ride to Cameron Highlands for the following day. Unfortunately, the 2pm trip was already fully booked. I was planning on doing a city tour of George Town in the morning but I also had to give it up because the only trip with vacant slots was scheduled to leave at 6am.
Succkksss! That left me with just that one night (only a few hours) to see George Town and I had better start immediately. Here are the places I was able to visit.
Kapitan Keling Mosque
The Kapitan Keling Mosque is the largest mosque in the city. This cream-colored mosque features Mughal-style domes, a madrasah, and a minaret, which was the most commanding part of the site. Built in the 19th century, the site started out as a simple one-storey building but later developed into what it is now with the addition of more rooms and embellishments over the centuries. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go inside because it was only open to visitors until 5pm but I got a chance to talk to some of the locals who worship here and they encouraged us to return the next morning, which I failed to do.
I wonder how the interior looks. According to the official tourism site of Penang:
A magnificent chandelier drips from the highest ceiling, which rises to the largest onion-shaped dome, encircled by calligraphy panels and stained glass windows featuring the Star of David. Arabesques of geometric designs and floral motifs are found throughout the mosque, whose marble floors are lined with long rows of prayer rugs. From dawn to dusk you can see the faithful prostrating themselves after cleansing at the ablution pool or enjoying quiet thoughts within the serene complex. More here.
I will certainly come back to this place the next time I’m in Penang.
Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple
The Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple, or simply Sri Mahamariamman Temple, is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. Early Tamil Indians who arrived in the island to trade settled in George Town and built a place for them to practice their religion. Like the Kapitan Keling Mosque, it was originally a very simple structure, which was later enlarged. The land where the shrine stood was granted in 1801 by the British to a certain Betty Lingam Chetty, most probably the village’s kapitan or community leader. The shrine was expanded into a temple in 1833, which is now officially considered the year it was founded. Guests are welcome to enter the temple from 6:30 am to 12 noon, and from 4:30 pm to 9:00 pm.
Gurney Drive Hawker Center
Gurney Drive is known for its promenade and is often dubbed the “New Esplanade” of the city. Yes it offers a good place to relax with a great view of the sea and the George Town skyline, but what most tourists visit this for is the food! The Gurney Drive Hawker Center serves a rich smorgasbord of Southeast Asian street foods among others. Thank heavens the place was still open even late at night.
Penang laksa is probably the most popular dish here but since I was not in the mood for soup at the time (and I’m not really a laksa or curry fan), I had a fantastic task of digging in to some other local favorites.
The next morning, I took advantage of the little time I have to walk around the block where our hostel, the Old Penang Guesthouse, is located. While I had always known that the name of our street was called Love Lane, it was only then that I found out why.
That was a really interesting bit of information. Regardless of its past, Love Lane today hosts several guesthouses that backpackers looooove. And why not? The location is excellent. The service is commendable. And it is actually a very picturesque corner of Georgetown. Much love in this street!
At around 6am, our shuttle service arrived, putting an unfortunate close to my very short stay in Penang. If only I had planned this trip a little bit better and worked a little faster. But you know what they say, no need to cry over spilt milk. All I had to do was move on. And I did. To Cameron Highlands.