Food, Art & Why You Need to Visit: Penang, Malaysia
To be completely honest, I had no idea what to expect when we arrived in Malaysia. I had presumed it’d be a watered-down version of ultra-exotic Thailand. How ignorant.
The island of Penang, just off the coast of mainland Malaysia is home to the capital city of George Town. As the name might imply, George Town is chock full of colonial history and was recently inscribed as a UNESCO for it’s impressive multi-cultural heritage. The streets are home to some of the best food hawkers in Asia while the architecture emits a notable Commonwealth influence. The juxtaposition creates a beautiful balance of the West and East, literally offering travelers the opportunity to experience the best of both worlds. Dan and I couldn’t have been more delighted with our stay in the city and opted to extend our stay not once but twice because we loved it so much.
For five days we roamed the streets in search of the city’s famous street art, toured nearby Penang Hill, shopped its boutiques, visited the Camera Museum (one of the most interactive and engaging museums I’ve ever visited) and the Pinang Pernakan Museum, and, of course, feasted.
The street food scene is the city is bar none the best I’ve EVER had. With the exchange rate in favor of American and European travelers, sampling (ahem…gorging) food from the vendors scattered nightly throughout the city isn’t just about a meal but an experience. Each night we’d grab a table and a few wobbly plastic chairs in the alley not far from our hotel and order $1 bowls of mee goreng and $0.30 cans of Tiger. Sweating partially because of the humidity but mainly from the fresh chilis that have been diced into our serving, it was palpable bliss. Afterwards we found it imperative to continue our street food crawl with servings of steamy prawn curry or wanton mee. The fusion of flavors and spices being served up in Penang may be due to it’s port and trading history, though I’m going to instead credit the hawkers themselves for being pure magicians behind their rolling stands.
In the mornings we’d sleep in late, biding our time relaxing instead of touring in the midday heat. George Town is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts with the rapid growth of local street art so this made for a fun afternoon treasure hunt. I know what you’re thinking, “street art, huh?” but hold that thought for a second. What you won’t find is distasteful (maybe obnoxious) spray paint on the beautiful facades of the old Colonial-era buildings. Instead, picture Norman Rockwell illustrations, life-sized and absolutely endearing. Contrived by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, the street art was only commissioned in 2012 but is now a main tourist draw. By the end, the delight of stumbling upon a giant snickering cat or Jackie Chan in flight was just as memorable as the street food couldn’t stop drooling over.
On this blog I try not to be pushy. I admit though, certain destinations, like Positano, I can be. So I’ll just say it once: Penang is amazing and you NEED to visit! 😀
A few quick tips: Uber just started in Penang and we found it to be an incredibly efficient way to get around town. We also loved our hotel with free nightly happy hour on their rooftop deck and gourmet buffet breakfast!
When’s the last time you went somewhere and was totally surprised by how different it was than what you had anticipated?