Penang Perfection: 36 Hours in George Town, Malaysia

My grand love affair with Malaysia continues…

For being teeny-tiny, Penang Island packs a punch. I could only stay for the weekend so I didn’t stray from the island’s hub of George Town, though next time I’ll be sure to mosey my way to the national park and Penang Hill. Even so, my 36 hours were near absolute perfection, in fact, I really can’t think of what could have made it better. Everything from the people I met to to the food I ate, and from my hostel and their staff to the city’s art scene were all pretty darn great. Even the rain cooperated and only happened once (conveniently only down pouring as I was getting ready for bed). Guys, I’m never this lucky.

Okay, so not everything was perfect; My flight there was 4 hours delayed and the gate changed twice in that time so I got a nice little tour of Kuala Lumpur International Airport as I ran around. There was also one cafe in George Town that I didn’t particularly like, but that was because it was too big and clean so I don’t have much in the way of an argument there. What I’m getting at is that, heat aside (why is Malasysia so hot!?), my weekend was phenomenal. Here is a little bit about what I did while there.

STREET ART

This was the sole reason I found my way to Penang in the first place and hunting for street art is an excellent (and free!) way to explore the city in more depth. Mind you, I have a lot of pictures, so as to not completely overwhelm you, I have another post entirely dedicated to it that you can see here: ooh, ahh, pretty pictures

I love that most of the artwork blends seamlessly into the environment by creatively using props, like a real bicycle, swing set and motorbike, that allow you to interact with the paintings. Some pieces support charity causes, others exude sheer artistic talent on a massive scale, while others are just small little pieces tucked away. 

George Town is a city that begs you not to be on your phone while walking because there are gems to be found if look above you, down the small alley, or in unlikely nooks and crannies. Plus, it’s fun to see everyone fiddling over paper maps and pointing in opposite directions. It brings me back to an era I was never actually apart of, yet am somehow nostalgic about nonetheless.

CHEW JETTY

As far as this one goes, I could take it or leave it, but since it’s a UNESCO site I meandered my way there anyways. Due to their sheer numbers, I mainly saw Chinese tourists wielding selfie sticks like swords and paying no mind to their aimless swinging around. I’ve never actually been on a battlefield but I can say that I’ve been surrounded by 100 tourists on selfie missions and that’s basically the same thing. 

As for the jetty, it’s a little village that oozes the smell of fish and has houses that are separated from the water by questionable stacks of 5-gallon paint buckets. I wandered down a side area (sidewalk? road? boardwalk thing?) and it immediately became silent and without a tourist in sight. I saw old men on bicycles and locals going about their day (all presumably hiding from the hoards of tourists only 100 meters away), but I felt like I was intruding on their daily lives so I didn’t stay too long. I am always amazed what a tiny detour off the main road will show you in regards to authentic local life.

MUGSHOT CAFE

#1 cafe on TripAdvisor and I 10/10 recommend. For starters, they have delicious coffee and legendary bagels toasted in a brick oven that is essentially a piece of artwork in itself. If that’s not enough, then the massive pterodactyl hanging from the ceiling is sure to sell you. Or maybe the bagel guy that sneakily poses for pictures with his fancy little oven. It’s just a gem all around.

UNIQUE PENANG

I never thought I’d have a unique postcard experience, but what do you know, now I can say I have. We stumbled on this little place while en route to some live music, which we got too distracted to ever even get to. It all started with an innocent sign that read “local artist postcard, send to future.” Well, I had wanted a postcard and this “future” business certainly piqued my insatiable curiosity, so in we went! Little did I know that this “quick stop” would suck me into the wonderful wormhole that is Unique Penang for an hour or so.

When you walk into the shop you are surrounded by postcards, and Clovis, the owner, will start playing whatever instrument strikes his fancy. When we walked in he immediately took to playing the piano; I felt like I was shopping at Nordstroms, only in the middle of Malaysia and making $1 purchases instead of selling my soul for a piece of cloth. We learned that Clovis is in the business of the future and helping children, a winning combo in my humble opinion. He teaches art and music to local children, mostly from rural villages, and all the postcards are designed by his young students.

Here’s how it works: You buy a postcard, write to whoever, then choose a date you want him to send it- up to five years down the road. Along the wall there are 365 boxes, one for each day of the year, and each morning he checks if a postcard needs to be mailed that day. Each box has around 10 postcards ranging in delivery dates in 2016 to 2056 (the latter is questionable seeing as their was a 5 year cap…) Let’s just say that Clovis has become somewhat of a regular at George Town’s post office.

I sent two postcards, including one to my future self. I’m excited for Autumn-2019-Me to get a little love from March-2017-Me. I also hope that my Mom doesn’t move houses because that’s where it’s being sent… Sorry Mom, but you have to stay put for at least three years, my future self demands it.

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THE ALLEY CAFE

One word: Churros. One more: Nutella. This tiny, tucked away cafe makes wonderfully delicious churros that come with a dipping side, and I naturally opted for Nutella because it would be a downright sin to choose anything else. Churros make for a solid midday snack when you need a street art break and this plate of deliciousness is only 7 MYR ($1.50).

LITTLE INDIA

Many cities have a friendly Little India area and it’s always a delightful (and admitedly overstimulating) place. As for Indian food, which I have a slight weakness for, Thali Indian Restaraunt was a happy find for my very desperate taste buds that eagerly needed something not rice-based. 

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Hindu temple

THE SAFE ROOM

Holy dessert. It’s really impossible to go wrong when picking out a sweet little something here. They specialize in liquid nitrogen ice cream, which if you are like me and have absolutely no idea what that entails, well, I can’t really help you because I still don’t understand. I gathered that the basic gist involves some fancy scientific joojoo stuff that makes super creamy, and somehow steamy, ice cream. I don’t really know, I was personally there more for the edible goodies than the science lesson. There are also waffles and who doesn’t love waffles? (Don’t trust anyone that says they don’t like waffles, they’re either lying or inhuman. Either way, they are not to be trusted.) We ended up getting ourselves an Oreo ice cream and a plate of waffles with vanilla ice cream topped with popcorn, an oddly delectable combo of food to occupy a single plate.

MOSEYING

Ah yes, the good ol’ classic mosey. There’s really nothing quite like it and I love having nowhere to be in particular and finding myself in random little places. I enjoyed walking amongst the colonial-esque buildings with their charmingly decrepit feel and stumbling on a little cafe or piece of street art hidden away off the main street. My moseying took me to a Hindu temple with many depictions of animals, a Chinese temple with a real-life animal on it’s roof (a cat, of course) and to small shops that worship cats (they really like cats). I also enjoyed the small street markets that pop-up at night and all the other little things that give George Town its bundle of character.

PIN FOR LATER:

Penang

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Sloth enthusiast, Nutella extremist, and all around sassy human with a deep love for hoppy beer and discovering the world's many gems. Currently gallivanting the globe while drinking more coffee than necessary.

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