So, while I’m still catching up on my ridiculously delayed 2016 travel recaps, I just can’t wait to start sharing my big trip (thus far) of 2017. So I’ll be jumping back and forth a bit again. Apologies for any confusion, my friends!
Our time in Penang was flying by. Granted, we’d lost a day and a half to post-festival snoozing and visa procuring, and we had just two nights and one day left to explore. We’d planned to rent a motorbike and head out to Penang National Park and the beaches of Batu Ferringhi along the way, but yet we felt we’d barely begun to experience Georgetown — and so we decided to spend another day there instead.
Our first stop? The Clan Jetties. On the east side of Georgetown sit several long, dilapidated boardwalks with small stilted houses, temples, and community centers lining the sides. This once-thriving port once provided work for a steady stream of immigrants, mostly Chinese, who settled permanently around the quay — today, the area has morphed into a popular tourist attraction.
Though it’s a low-income area, which might make visiting via tour bus feel a bit like dreaded poverty tourism, it’s still pretty low-key if you get off the main jetty and explore independently on foot.
Visually, the jetties are fascinating. I tried to be respectful and so didn’t point my lens around as much as I’d like — but just know you have a treat in store should you decide to visit someday.
From the jetties, we wandered back into the heart of Georgetown.
Along with the diversity of its food, one of the things Georgetown is most famous for among travelers is its imaginative street art and mural scene. The internet is full of blog posts with maps to various walls, however with pieces constantly changing and directions often unclear, we found it most rewarding to just wander, with a little help from Google Maps to look for some of the more famous works (we’d literally type “street art” into the map app and many would pop up!)
Penang’s very distinctive street art style includes found objects incorporated into the various work — from wooden stools to bicycles to an actual motorbike!
While the most popular pieces would have a crowd lined up waiting to take photos, some of our favorites were small ones we stumbled upon all on our own en route to something else.
I said it before but I’ll say it again — Penang is a photographer’s dream. I was so inspired to snap street scenes and cityscapes in a way that I haven’t been in a while!
At that point we’d worked up quite an appetite, and we were pumped for our next stop — Junk Cafe. A reggae respite on Georgetown’s main drag of Lebua Chulia, Junk is famous for having the best burgers in town — and dang, did they deliver! Had we not come here on our last day, I might have made it more than once.
With a few more hours to kill in town until we picked up Ian’s visa, we wandered north to check out a few more major pieces of street art — and walk off our late lunch.
We eventually made our way to The Camera Museum, a tiny attraction I just couldn’t resist. Penang is full of quirky and in some cases, downright bizarre museums — The Owl Museum or Upside Down Museum, anyone? — but this one seemed pretty legit.
And it was. Though very small, the museum had some fascinating exhibits, artifacts, and photos — including a shot of someone taking a selfie in 1920 with a camera the size of a shoebox, the world’s first mobile phone with picture taking capabilities from 2000, and a 1.3 megapixel Nikon released in 1995 that stored 70 photos for a cool $31,000 — pretty relieved that dSLR prices have dropped in the interim!
After, we treated ourselves to a slice of cake and a green tea served in a lens-like mug from the onsite Double Exposure cafe. How cute!
That night, exhausted after a long day of exploring, we treated ourselves to massages at a cheap spa followed by a celebratory dinner back at ChinaHouse again. It was the perfect last night in Penang, especially as we were about to part ways to a few weeks.
The next morning, we checked out of our Airbnb and Ubered over to Macallum Connoisseurs Coffee Company for one final meal. Coffee lovers coming to Penang, out this one on your itinerary! The modern warehouse-style interior reminded me of Brooklyn, and the bagels and pancakes on the menu were almost as good as home.
Throughout our time in Penang we had really marveled over how widespread English was spoken in comparison to in Thailand, and how it had allowed us to have some really great conversations and connections with local people we had met. That was really driven home when, as we waited for our seperate Ubers outside the cafe (me to the airport, Ian to the train station), a man I recognized from the gym at our Airbnb building pulled up and asked us if we needed a ride back to our condo! What a sweet note to end our time in Malaysia on.
I really enjoyed our time in Penang. I wasn’t necessarily expecting much — it’s such a routine stop for so many of my friends doing visa runs — and I really left impressed with how much there was to see and do and photograph and marvel over.
I’m excited to have added another amazing city to my list of Southeast Asian favorites.
Have you been to Penang? What’s your favorite Asian city?