After leaving the Cameron Highlands on our 2-week holiday in Malaysia, we took another bus (and another long 4 hour journey) to Georgetown on the island of Penang.
Georgetown is well known for its history and its food. I think I read somewhere that it used to be one of Malaysia’s most prominent ports, but at some point this changed and the commerce moved elsewhere, leaving Georgetown virtually undeveloped. Today, Georgetown has become a large tourist attraction because of the sheer quantity of historic buildings, and I for one was very glad that it had not had the modernisation of so many cities today!
Here are some things to see in Georgetown:
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
This was a real highlight for us. The blue mansion, which was built by a very wealthy Chinese businessman, has been lovingly restored from a fairly ruinous state by a group of locals and today you can have a tour round it led by a lady who is obviously a key member of that group and is very passionate about it! She was great. The house is beautiful, and you can also stay there if you want a bit of luxury during your time in Georgetown. Tom and I were sorely tempted!
Penang Peranakan Museum
This was another old mansion house that has been restored and filled with beautiful artefacts. Unlike the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, this is a private home and its contents have been bought to the owner’s taste rather than to be authentic to what the original house would have looked like. Still, there is a free tour round the museum (we were rather startled to be approached by a tour guide and taken on a tour as soon as we entered, we thought he must be looking for payment but he wasn’t!) which was very informative, and it is a beautiful house.
This is the largest of the clan houses (kongsi) in Georgetown and is very elaborate with several buildings to look at. If I remember correctly, there are several areas in Georgetown where each clan lived in the houses which surrounded their central clan house and this was their little protected community. The clan house itself looks more like a temple, and contains shrines and ancestral tablets. It has been beautifully preserved and I believe it is still active today.
Georgetown has some great street art, which we enjoyed spotting!
Here are some other things that we saw whilst walking around Georgetown. Firstly, St George’s Church:
Cannon on the edge of Fort Cornwallis:
The Eastern & Oriental Hotel (the Georgetown equivalent of the Raffles):
Old Chinese shophouses (which are everywhere):
Chinese style temple:
The Komtar building is the tallest, and possibly, the ugliest building in Georgetown. For a very small fee you can take the lift to the viewing deck at the top of the building. This was one of the worst tourist attractions I have ever been in! It felt like no-one had been up there for about 30 years and the viewing area you were directed to with signs actually faced the wrong (non-historic) side of Georgetown! Needless to say, we were the only ones there, apart from a very bored-looking lady with a jewellery stand. On our way back to the lift we thought we’d try the other side of the (round) building and came across another viewing gallery which was unlocked but looked totally abandoned. This one actually looked out onto the right side of Georgetown so I got a photo or two (although the windows were a bit grubby) but I’m not actually sure if we were supposed to be in there. It was a pretty funny but awful experience!
Georgetown is a magnet for tourists looking for cheap, great food. It has been called the food capital of Malaysia! We certainly ate well and cheaply while we were there. We visited a couple of the hawker centres for lunch and had a Malaysian or Chinese dish each for less than £2 altogther! We also had some great food in Little India, which lies between Lebuh King and Lebuh Queen.
In the evening, food stalls pop up on many of the streets. We didn’t eat at them, but they did look good!
On our last night we splashed out and went to Bali Hai Seafood Restaurant on Persiaran Gurney (Gurney Drive). It was pretty expensive compared to everywhere else we ate in Georgetown, but the seafood was yummy and they had the widest selection of live seafood to choose from that I have ever seen! (this is only a small portion of it)
In the evenings we enjoyed a couple of beers in the bars which open out onto Lebuh Chulia, which was a very relaxing way to end a day!
We really liked Georgetown, although it was pretty hot when we were there (January) so it was hard to walk around as much as we’d have liked! Luckily, the historic centre is pretty small so you don’t have to go too far to see most of what is on offer. We didn’t explore the rest of the island or go to the beach on Penang because our next stop was going to be beach-filled Langkawi! But I hear that a lot of visitors do like the beaches here.
Thanks for reading!