The melting pot that is Penang. We travelled first class sleeper from KL on yet another overnight train.....oh how we love those trains?!! then a short hop on the early morning ferry to Georgetown. Arriving at 6.30 in the morning we thought, no problem everything will be stirring and we can knock on a few doors and find a room. but oh no.
We explored Georgetown mostly on foot for several days. The streets are narrow and lined with the most beautiful houses/shops/restaurants filling colonial style buildings with shuttered windows and mouldy, flaking paintwork. Everywhere looks like something out of a movie set but these streets are how they really live. The government here have actively
encouraged street art and there are some fabulous sculptures and artwork that combine the architecture or a bike lent against a crumbling wall into the art. quite cool. there is of course a Chinatown and a Little India and the shopping district and in amongst all this there are scattered Mosques, Hindu temples and Chinese clan temples. all of which can be found in the same street next to each other. Almost every other place is a restaurant or a street hawker selling any type of food you can think of. Indian, Chinese, Malay, Korean, Japanese, Arabian and good old western fayre.
We visited Pinang Peranakan Mansion, which is a restored mansion that belonged to a Baba-Nonya merchant. (I know, I had to look it up too) they are of Chinese descent and would have been wealthy traders in something! is that enough info? anyway, this place was done out in the most amazing elaborate Chinese furniture with mother of pearl inlay and delicately carved doors and screens, windows filled with images of coloured glass and fancy chandeliers lighting each room. The central atrium was two storeys high and was open at the top to the weather but carefully designed so that water would only flow down and through the slats in the floor. it was pretty impressive.
Something else that was impressive was Penang Hill. 800 metres above sea level and no hard slog up the hill for us. We rather lazily sat in a funicular train and let it take us up to see some spectacular scenery. We could see across to the main land and both of the Penang bridges. The second is 24km and is due to be opened at the end of this month. We walked from the train to Tiger Hill, a couple of kilometres further, which is like walking through an English country village. the weather is just perfect and on the green slopes are dotted huge Tudor style cottages with massive gardens and great long drives. Apparently the wealthy merchants from Georgetown used to have homes here to escape the heat of the city and this is now becoming popular again. You would need to be seriously wealthy though as these places are proper millionaire row.
Another interesting area of Georgetown is the Clan Jetties. These are whole communities that live in stilted houses over the water. Each Jetty would have been for a separate Chinese Clan though not sure if that's still the case. you walk along the boardwalk and past the front doors and can peek in to the living areas. There is minimal furniture but almost always a tv on.
Just one final thought. We are a long, long way from home.. Next stop Langkawi.