Penang, The Island Paradise
The Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang
Penang, the Pearl of the Orient
The island of Penang; the island where I was born and bred. What a more appropriate place for me to write about than Penang, lovingly revered as "the Pearl Of the Orient". If you are a seasoned traveler, Penang needs no introduction. For others they may heard of Bali and Phuket. But Penang Island? In fact the island of Penang is more interesting than the two islands mentioned. Penang has a very rich heritage in its history, its peoples and their cross-cultures, and its fascinating architectural and engineering marvels. Befitting its unique stature, UNESCO on July 7, 2008 declared George Town as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. George Town is the town center of the island of Penang.
I am proud to regard myself as an authentic and vintage veteran to write about Penang, "the Pearl of the Orient". I was born on the island and have been living here all my life for more than 60 years! Who else is more qualified than me to write about this island paradise under the sun? It will be quite a long educational tour with a number of youtube videos and my personal collection of past photos. So sit back and enjoy your interesting tour of Penang with me.
UNESCO describes George Town as “… A unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.”
Each year on July 7, Penang celebrates its George Town World Heritage Day with many cultural and traditional events.
George Town had been a very important and developed trading port that way back on 1 January, 1957, Queen Elizabeth II accorded it a “city” status.
George Town started as a trading port in the 15th century serving traders from east and west, stretching from China, India, the Middle East and to Europe. From this commercial development, George Town became a melting pot for the diverse cultures and beliefs of the world’s major populations. Even the two main local dialects spoken, Malay and Hokkien have their unique accents and terminologies not found anywhere in the world. From this melting pot, there arose two “hybrid” communities who called themselves Eurasians and Nyonya (or Peranakan). Eurasians as the term indicates was the result of the fusions between intermarriages of Asians and Europeans. Nyonya is a very unique blend of a special group of Chinese community who were very much influenced by the local Malay culture and language. Even their dresses and ornaments were unique and different from the others. For a certain period, their only known dialect was their unique blend of the Malay language (a sort of creole dialect).
I should not digress too far from this topic, the island of Penang. Perhaps in another future article I shall write more on the subject of the Nyonyas (or Peranakans) and the Eurasians. For now it is about the beauty of the island of Penang.
A few photos in this article belong to the indefatigable brilliant web-master of penang-traveltips.com of which kind permission has been granted by him to be shown here. Thank you, my friend, Tim.
Maps of Penang Island
Where is Penang
Penang is a state of Malaysia. Actually the state of Penang consists of the island of Penang and a strip of rectangular land, called Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley) on mainland Malaysia. For this article, we shall concentrate on the beautiful island of Penang. The island is shaped like a tortoise. Surprisingly it was never called Tortoise or Turtle Island, but instead Pulau Pinang, which is the official name of Penang. Pulau means island, and pinang is the tropical betel nut palm or more correctly the areca nut palm. It was given the colonial name Prince of Wales Island in 1786 after the heir to the British throne, George IV. Official historical records stated that in 1786, the island of Penang was ceded by the local sultan (ruler) to Captain Francis Light, an English trader of the British East India Company. From then on Penang has evolved to what it is today, a shiny pearl in the Straits of Malacca, very fondly nicknamed “The Pearl of the Orient”. That is the Island of Penang, with a total land area of only 293 km2 (113.1 sq mi), with highest point at 735 m (2,411 ft) in Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera)
In Penang, wherever you go you will see people of various races, mainly the three ethnic groups, Chinese, Indians and Malays. Don’t worry about communication. The people there can speak English; well most of them. See, I can speak and write English!! And pretty good at it too!! LOL!! The three main languages spoken are the local Hokkien by the Chinese community including me, Tamil by the Indian community, and Malay by the Malay community and all the locals. I too can speak Malay, apart from the unique Penang Hokkien dialect that you can’t find even in China. However, nowadays, if you ever meet with “blank faces”, then these people must be the foreign workers from neighboring countries. I know we all look the same to you! LOL!!
Another uniqueness on this island are the street names. Apart from the officially displayed street name signs, the local Chinese have their own names for the various streets, in Hokkien. As the Chinese were the pioneers in the town center, they gave names to the streets in their Hokkien dialect, while the British colonial rulers gave them their official street names.. I don't think you can find this unique feature anywhere in the world. To add to variety, after the Colonial masters left the country in 1957, many official street names had been changed. On the subject of street names, for your information, The terms "lebuh", "jalan" and "lorong" respectively mean "street", "road" and "lane".
Penang (Pulau Pinang), Malaysia
Streets of George Town, Penang
George Town, Penang, In The Evening
Fort Cornwallis & Esplanade
Penang Museum (The upstairs in front was my classroom in 1960)
St George’s Church
Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Teng)
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Kapitan Keling Mosque
The Chew Clan Jetty (houses on stilts)
The Heritage Walk
Walk around the heritage George Town, enjoy the smells of local exotic aroma, the sight of old Colonial architectural charm, and meet the friendly local people. Explore the narrow lanes and hidden corners, the old quaint residential houses of all shapes and sizes, and be lost in the countless old clan houses, traders' associations, old mosques, ancient temples, and Gothic churches. If you are too tired to walk, then take the local tourist trishaws (pedicab tricycles), where you just sit, relax and enjoy, the leisurely ride around George Town. These trishaws were once “kings of the road” as they were the main mode of transport around town. But today, they are merely tourist trishaws. Even the type of the Penang trishaw can be found only on the island itself. Nowhere else in the world. Such is the uniqueness of the island of Penang.
Let’s start with the spot where Captain Francis Light landed on the island. A fort was built to protect possible attacks from, believe it not, the French. This fort is called Fort Cornwallis, after the then Governor General of British India. When visiting the fort, don’t forget to take a picture with the famous canon, nicknamed Seri Rambai. In front of the fort is the Espanade with the Penang City Hall building facing an open field and a War Memorial and Cenotaph.
After Fort Cornwallis and the Esplanade, walk over to the Penang Museum at Farquhar Street. Nothing to shout about considering the contents inside, but the building itself is of historical interesting. This building was built in 1821, was originally the Penang Free School, the oldest premium English medium school in Southeast Asia having established itself in 1816, of which I am proud to be one of its former students. Later it was home to Hutchings School. The first floor (upstairs) in front, used to be my classroom when I was a small boy in my fourth year in the school, way back in 1960! How time flies. You will note that this building and the City Hall building are quite similar in design, in that they were based on the then popular Victorian-style public building architecture.
The St George’s Church is next to the museum on the left. Built in 1818, the St. George's Church is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. The most striking feature of the church is its architecture. Designed by a British engineer artist, the building is described as a hybrid “Georgian Palladium” style. “Georgian” being the architectural style characteristic during that period (1714-1830); and “Paladium” named after the Grecian-style architectural works of the Roman named Palladius.
You will notice two outstanding structures of the Church. The first are the huge white Grecian columns in front of the Church. The other striking feature is a stand-alone pavilion located a few meters in front of the Church. It was built later in 1886 to commemorate Captain Francis Light, the man who convinced the local sultan (ruler) to cede Penang to his company.
Further back of the St George’s Church stands the Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Teng), at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. This temple is the oldest Chinese temple in Penang, built in 1728.
Further down the road on the left is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple: This temple is at Penang’s “Little India”. This is an Indian temple for people of the Hindu faith. During those early years, streets were pretty quiet. I think it didn’t matter on which street to locate any building. This temple was built facing a narrower street on Lebuh Queen with its back facing the busy Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. By the way “Lebuh” means “street” and “Jalan” is “road”. This is a typical south Indian style temple with a front-facing tall tower or “gopuram”. This is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, built in 1833.
A short walking distance from across the Indian temple is the Kapitan Keling Mosque which was built in 1801 for the Muslim community from South India. Hence the name Keling, meaning people of the Indian origin. Kapitan means captain. Kapitan kelings were those people from Southern India who were appointed as leaders of their community by the then British government.
The mosque features Mughal-style domes and Moorish arches. A sight to behold.
At the end of Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, is Armenian Street (Lebuh Armenian). Do you know that the Chinese Revolution had its beginning inside a house in this street? It’s not a joke. It was in this unassuming indigo-blue terrace house at number 120 Armenian Street (Lebuh Armenian), that the Chinese revolutionary Dr Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925), the first President of the Republic of China, began his vision of a new China. Dr Sun had spent a significant period in Penang. Penang was his revolutionary base, where he planned his strategies to overthrow the Ching dynasty of China. The Chinese people of Penang had played a very significant role in this great historical revolution of China in terms of finance and manpower. So you might like to take a look at this important historical house and be a part of the great histories of China and Penang.
From Armenian Street, just walk around the area to see a number of temples and clan buildings like the famous Khoo Kongsi clan temple and another old mosque at Acheen Street. After that, just ask around for direction to Weld Quay. It's about 10 minutes walk. Along Weld Quay, you will find two interesting sites. The first are the Chinese clan jetties, where houses are built on stilts along the shallow shore of the island. Each clan jetty houses people of similar surname. So we have the five jetties by the surnames, Chew, Tan, Lim, Lee and Yeoh, although the younger generations may have shifted to live elsewhere. There is a sixth jetty with mixed surnames. These jetties tell a story and is a testimony of the resilient pioneer spirit of the Chinese immigrants seeking a better future in the maritime activities in Penang more than two centuries ago. The communities are so closely knit and safe that they don’t have to lock their doors.
Adjacent to these clan jetties, is the ferry terminal, with ferries plying between the island and the mainland. These ferries have maintained an immaculate record of accident free service since its inception in 1920. It’s a 15-minute ferry ride, just like the famous Star Ferry service of Hong Kong. The Penang ferries carry both passengers and vehicles. They are very brightly painted and are definitely an outstanding icon of Penang. You must get on board one of these ferries. And they are free! Just walk up the ramp and go straight to the ferry. If the ferry hasn’t arrived yet, just wait a while and you will not be disappointed. Yes you get a free ride to the mainland, but the catch is you need to pay at the mainland terminal when returning! Breathe the sea air, enjoy the scenery on both sides of the island and the mainland, and the spectacular view of the Penang Bridge on the horizon.
After a full day’s outing, you can take a rest and freshen up. By then the sun will be setting, and it’s time you can head towards where the action is, for the evening. The area around Upper Penang Road, Chulia Street, LoveLane and Muntri Street comes alive when the sun sets. ( Please note the road signs will use the Malay terms “Jalan”, “Lebuh” and “Lorong” for road, street and lane.) Around this area, you will find pubs, eateries, karaoke lounges, and beer gardens with life bands, to quench your thirst. Take a leisurely stroll around this area to savour a wide variety of food which will satisfy every palate. And it is around this area where you get to rub shoulders with a kaleidoscope of tourists from all over the world, from backpackers to the well-heeled, for within this area, you will find the little budget guesthouses as well expensive hotels, notably the legendary 5-star E & O Hotel at Farquhar Street. The colonial-style E & O Hotel (or the Eastern and Oriental Hotel ) is a legend in itself, was established in 1885 and its famous and distinguished guests included Sir Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudyard Kipling, Hermann Hesse, Dr Sun Yat Sen, Somerset Maugham, and even Charlie Chaplin.
George Town, Penang, With Komtar Tower
Penang Hill Cable Car Station
The Present Penang Hill Cable Car
Penang Hill Cable Car (2nd generation)
Penang Hill Cable Car (First generation wooden coach which I used to travel in as Manager of the Penang Hill Hotel in 1974)
Nostalgia : Me (on the right) as a young manager of Penang Hill Hotel with my receptionist, Indian gardener, and postmaster of the Hill, at back garden of Hotel
As a schoolboy with my 2 Malay friends in front garden of the Penang Hill Hotel (Christmas Day 1967)
Moon Gate, near Botanic Gardens, starting point for hike to Penang Hill
Other major places of interest
Penang Hill Cable Cars
For the next day, you can start the morning with a ride up Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) by cable car. Head to the area called Ayer Itam and the Cable Car Station is at the end of the road by the hill slope. It is advisable that you go very early in the morning to avoid the long queue. The first service starts at 6.30 in the morning. The ride up Penang Hill is an exhilarating experience where you can feel the gradual change in temperature from the very hot and humid on ground level to a cool atmosphere of between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius, when you reach the top of the hill. Along the ride you will enjoy the panoramic view of the island especially George Town. Penang Hill is about 823 meters (2700 feet) above sea level.
The Penang Hill Railway is a cable system which we called the funicular railway. The construction started in 1906 and became operational in 1923, originally and specifically to take the Colonial Masters and their ladies up the hill to cooler climes so they could have their rest and recreation with high tea and scones. For their comfort and a little reminder of home, they built beautiful English cottages around the surrounding area on top of Penang Hill. Many of these cottages still stand today. Oh, those British of that era!! Well, all good things must come to an end, for them that is. Now they are gone, we locals get to enjoy their legacies! Ha! Ha!
While on the hill, you can still enjoy the English high tea and scones at the hill-top restaurant just like the early British. After that don’t forget to walk further up to the Belleview Hotel. Walk through the hotel to the back where the hotel restaurant is, and you can enjoy the panoramic view of George Town and the mainland. We used to call it "Horizon Unlimited".
I have a personal affection for Penang Hill. You see, way back in 1974 I was a young Manager of the one and only hotel on Penang Hill, aptly called the Penang Hill Hotel. It is still there and operating under a new name called Belleview Hotel. When I was in charge, it was already an old hotel, with only 12 rooms. A room for me as Manager, and that left only 11 rooms for the guests. During those days I would have the opportunity to enjoy the leisurely ride in the wooden cable car moving at snail speed. There were first class and second class seats. Being Manager I was privileged to enjoy first class seat! During those days, there were two separate cable tracks ending at the middle station. We would need to change cable cars at the middle station. The whole journey would take about 45 minutes. Those wooden cable cars were in service up till 1977.
Incidentally when I was a school boy, with two Malay friends, we hiked up Penang Hill from the Moon Gate at Waterfall Gardens, and as fate would have it, we took a picture in front of the Penang Hill Hotel which I would become its Manager, 7 years later! Take a look at the photo on the right.
The wooden coaches were subsequently replaced by a more modern version and faster cars which took 30 minutes to complete the journey. Then lately in 2011, a more advanced Swiss-made air-conditioned coaches began operation. The 2 cable lines were joined into a continuous track of 2,220 metres (7284 feet or 1.4 miles), and the whole journey now does not stop at the middle station, but instead the coaches take passengers straight up the hill in 10 minutes! That works out to be 8.4 mph. or 13.3 kph. That is pretty fast on elevated tracks. To me there is no more fun riding on these so-called modern coaches. But then again, what you don’t get to experience, you don’t miss the fun. These speedy modern machines are merely efficiently fast commuter coaches. Nothing more than that. There is only one advantage for the tired tourists, less waiting time, especially during peak holiday periods.
There are two videos on this cable car ride at the end of this article. Do take a look at them.
Fantastic Sunbeam Shining Over George Town
A very rare photo of the construction of the Penang Hill railway track
I love this one. The Penang Hill Hotel. I can recognize the front compound. Must have taken when I was in charge. From a postcard for sale in ebay.
Forty-one Years Later! (13 Oct 2015)
The first generation cable car to Penang Hill (The slow wooden coach I used to enjoy)
Forty-one Years Later! (13 Oct 2015)
The Jade Emperor Temple
The Jade Emperor Temple
This is a Chinese Taoist temple next to the Penang Hill cable track. It’s a bit difficult to write the local name in English, but here it is..T’i Kong T’nua in Hokkien dialect. If you take the cable ride up Penang Hill, you will pass this temple on the right of the track, about 30 seconds from the bottom station. Loosely translated, the Jade Emperor is the Heavenly King regarded as the supreme deity within the Taoist pantheon of deities. The temple has recently in 2011 completed its major renovation and restoration by artisans from China. You need to climb the elevated steps to reach the temple.
Bats' Cave Temple
Bats' Cave Temple
This is a very obscured little Chinese temple in honor of “Tua Pek Kong” or God of Prosperity. Actually it’s more like a local “Patron Saint”. I can vouch that not many locals know of this place. It is located past the Jade Emperor Temple. Don’t expect to see hundreds of bats, but you would not be disappointed to witness simple nature at its best. This is the place where I used to have my walking exercise a few years ago when I was living near the area. It is a very pleasant walk up the slightly elevated narrow winding road from the Penang Hill Cable Car Station. Take a look at the video at the end of this article.
Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple
If you visit Penang Hill early in the morning, you should be back down from the hill by lunch time. You can choose to have a more relaxed but expensive lunch at the hill restaurants, or you can enjoy the local foods downhill at Ayer Itam; that’s where you will be heading to visit the spectacular Chinese temple, the Kek Lok Si Temple, one of its kind in the world. Set on an elevated hillslope at the end of Ayer Itam, construction of the temple began in 1890, and by 1930 the final structure of the seven-storey pagoda stood majestically on top of the hill overlooking the Ayer Itam village below. Many locals are not aware that the architecture of this pagoda is very unique and is the only one of its kind in the world. The base of the pagoda is of traditional Chinese design, the middle portion is based on Thai architecture, and the top crown is Burmese tradition. This reflects the harmony of the three main Buddhist communities and the two major schools of Buddhism, namely Theravada and Mahayana.
The latest “tourist” attraction of a 30.2 meters bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy was built in 2002 further uphill. And in 2009, a huge octagonal granite roof shelter was completed to protect the statue, adding a majestic sight to the whole temple.There is a cable rail service to take visitors to the top from the highest temple building. It will take you a full afternoon visit to do justice to this imposing temple.
If you are lucky to be in Penang around February, come Chinese Lunar New Year period, you will not want to miss the spectacular night scene of the Kek Lok Si Temple. The whole temple area including the rooftops will be lit with thousands of colored light bulbs, revealing the splendor of the temple. The whole temple on top of the hill can be seen far away as you approach Ayer Itam township; especially spectacular during nighttime when it is fully lit during the Chinese Lunar New Year period.
This site is so beautiful and fascinating that I have imbedded 5 videos at the end of this article for your viewing pleasure.
Splendor of Kek Lok Si Temple at night
Heaven On Earth, Simply Surreal!
Full Moon At The Goddess Of Mercy Pavilion
Fireworks At The Kek Lok Si Temple
Fireworks Over Kek Lok Si (4 Feb 2016)
Nattukottai Chettiar Temple, Waterfall
New Hilltop Temple Opposite The Nattukottai Chettiar Temple
The Waterfall Indian Temple
Another prominent Hindu temple worth visiting is the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple, or more commonly called The Waterfall Temple, as it is located near the waterfall gardens (Botanic Gardens as described further down this article). This is a very crowded place come Thaipusam, a popular Hindu festival which I shall describe later in this article. This year 2012 in June saw the grand consecration of a new additional temple on top of the hillock, opposite the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple.
Viper snake in the Snake Temple
The Snake Temple
This is a Chinese temple built in 1850 in honor of a Chinese sage. It is located at Sungai Kluang, along the way to the Penang International Airport, Bayan Lepas. This temple can boast of being the only one of its kind in the world. It has life pit viper snakes curling around its pillars and surroundings! Worth visiting and to be friends with snakes. For the tourists, you can pay to take photos with pythons on your shoulders!
Monkeys siting on the "canon ball" at the Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens is the most favourite place of the local people, as this is where they can enjoy nature. It is the place where people go for exercise every morning and late afternoon. Set in a natural undulating 29-hactre site, the Gardens has a natural waterfall, a small reservoir, plenty of natural flora and fauna. That’s why it is also called the Waterfall Gardens, or even the Monkey Gardens. Unfortunately the waterfall and the adjacent reservoir are now a restricted area for security reasons.
The Botanic Gardens area is also a haven for local hikers as it has many jungle tracks leading to many remote parts of the island. The most famous being the Moon Gate which takes you up Penang Hill with a 3-hour hike.
Have you ever seen a canon-ball tree. If not this is your chance. On entering the main entrance, after the big tree on your right, you will see a row of short trees. Look carefully and you will see “canon balls” hanging below the branches! These canon balls are actually the fruits.
A most fascinating site at the Gardens is the ever present wild long-tailed monkeys. You will see them as you stroll along the winding paths along the Gardens.
Muka Head Light House
The National Park and Light House
Although Penang is a very small island, it also has a National Park on the north-west side of the island, called Muka Head. In this park there is a meromictic lake at Pantai Kerachut, where the stream water meets the sea water but remain separate. And believe it or not, there is even an old lighthouse built in 1883 still in operation.
Meromictic lake at Pantai Kerachut
A butterfly in the Butterfly Farm
The Butterfly Farm
This farm is for tourists to get acquainted up-close with the many species of exotic life butterflies. They are bred in a huge enclosure where they are free to roam around with humans. Apart from butterflies, there are also other tropical insects on display.
The Aqueduct and the Guillemard Reservoir
The aqueduct is a hidden gem, even most locals don’t even know that there is such an engineering marvel up the hills running down the valley from Batu Ferringhi to Vale of Temp Road. This aqueduct was constructed in the form of a huge drain tapping water from upstream and draining the water downhill joining through underground pipelines to a twin-reservoirs on top of Vale of Temp Road, a hillside suburb. The aqueduct is painted in white and resembles a long white snake slithering downhill. The aqueduct was constructed between 1926 and 1929. It is 6 km long of which 1.4km is in tunnel. The aqueduct cum reservoir system was another British engineering marvel. Not only of its utility value, the architectural design of the twin-reservoirs called the Guillemard Reservoir is a sight to behold. Because of its unique design, the locals call it the “spectacle reservoir”. Unfortunate it is now a restricted area for security reasons, and you won’t be able to see it. The aqueduct is such a hidden gem that it is also difficult to pinpoint its location. So the next best approach is to show you via Youtube, at the end of this article.
The War Museum
The War Museum in Batu Maung south-east of the island is actually a real piece of World War II history. The area consists of an underground tunnel under a fort.
Ayer Itam Dam
Dragon boat race at the dam
There are even two dams in this small island. One on the hill above the Kek Lok Si Temple, called the Ayer Itam Dam. The other newer dam is on the north-west of the island called the Teluk Bahang Dam, which is also used for dragon boat races.
Penang Bridge in the evening
The New Second Penang Bridge
Map Showing Locations Of The Two Bridges
The Penang Bridge
Where there is an island there’s got to be at least a beautiful bridge. The Penang Bridge is 10km long connecting the island to the mainland. Once a year the bridge is closed for the morning for the Penang Bridge International Marathon event. This event attracts professional international marathon runners from all over the world.
A new 15km second bridge was opened for public use on 1st March 2014, a testimony of the importance and vibrancy of Penang Island.
Fireworks Display On The Opening Night Of The Second Bridge On 1 March 2014
Batu Ferringhi night market
Flea Markets, Night Markets, Little Stores and Modern Shopping Malls
Penang is a shopping paradise. From antiques to branded goods. There are many night markets and flea markets. For air-con comfort you can visit the many big shopping malls around town. Just ask around for locations.
A beautiful island definitely has beautiful beaches; pristine sandy beaches! The beautiful beaches are located on the northern side of the island along Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bunga, Batu Ferringhi, and Teluk Bahang. This area is where you will find most of the hotels and budget guest houses. All of them situated by the beaches where you can just walk bare-footed to have a swim, or just stroll along the beach with the sound of the waves beside you.
Along the stretch of the Batu Ferringhi road, there is the daily night market where you can get some bargains on anything you fancy.
Batu Ferringhi Beach
Teluk Tempoyak Beach, Penang.
The Changing Skyline Of Penang
Every month is a celebration. With the three main cultures of the Chinese, Indians and Malays, we always have good reasons to celebrate, be they traditional or religious. We are always busy celebrating life. Life in an island paradise is such a joy. Come join us celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year, Hindu Thaipusam, Muslim Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. And of the course Christmas and the count-down events on the evening of 31st December!
Penang Hokkien Mee
Laksa : CNN World Top 10 Yummiest Food survey, Penang laksa ranked number 7!
Nasi Kandar (Indian assorted curries with rice)
Food, glorious food!
Yes, food glorious food! I purposely leave this topic at the end because this is the most interesting and appetizing piece of information. Penang can boast itself as the gourmet paradise of the world. From its long history of a busy trading port, Penang has been the indispensable destination of traders from the east and west. When humans met, delicious foods appeared, and evolved. We now even have the latest fusion cuisine not found anywhere in the world.
It is actually quite impossible to describe the taste of every dish you can find in Penang. You need to visit Penang and try them all for yourself to do justice to the foods of Penang, from street foods, hawker fares to fine dining, from the east and west, and in between! In order to savor the diverse tastes of the local foods, you have to rub shoulders with the locals in the coffee shops, roadside stalls and the hawker complexes. Then you will experience the full ambiance of Penang's favorite tastes.
In a recent CNN World Top 10 Yummiest Food survey, Penang laksa ranked number 7! While on this topic, my number one favorite is Penang Char Koay Teow (fried flat rice noodles with prawns, cockles and duck egg). And the best one is from the "Tiger" stall. "Tiger" being the name of the original operator. The lady who takes over is his daughter-in-law. And the young girl is her only daughter helping mommy during the current school holidays. This "Tiger" stall has a long history, older than me. I used to live within walking distance from this stall during my younger days. The original "Tiger" was selling then.
(Postscript : 19 March 2014. I just came back from this "Tiger" stall. Each time I went, there was a hefty price increase. Today is the last straw; the price increased again. The price is now unreasonably expensive.To add insult to injury, there were no more Chinese sausage pieces. So there are only 2 ingredients left, prawns and the miserably minute cockles. I shall not patronize this stall again. "Char Koay Teow" or fried flat noodles is actually quite easy to fry. I shall now fry my own Char Koay Teow.)
Me with my favorite Char Koay Teow family. The man is the son of the original "Tiger". I call him "Tiger Child"!
My number one favorite stall : Name of this stall is "Tiger" Char Koay Teow
My number one favorite food : Char Koay Teow from the "Tiger" stall
Char Koay Teow Update (26 Sept 2014)
This is the latest update on my favorite local dish, char koay teow. I have located the latest stall just near my location which fried up a very high standard of this local dish. Looks like I shall be patronizing this stall more often. Take a look at the two photos below.
Penang Popular Char Koay Teow
Char Koay Teow street hawker
Let's watch him in action. Last of the breed who still uses the traditional stove with charcoal
Penang Street Food
Durians : The King of all fruits
That's me with the king of fruits, Durian
Me and my pure coconut water direct from the fruit!
Fruits beyond description!
The food topic is supposed to be the end of this article. But wait, there is still another surprise from this special and “mysterious” island, the local exotic fruits. The King of all fruits in the world, the best of its kind can only be found on this precious island. It is the Durian!
Do you know what durians are? They can even be used as arsenal, if you can stand its smell. The name “Durian” comes from the Malay root word “duri” meaning thorns. So the durian is a thorny fruit. Throw it at someone and you might kill him. Please do not ever do that. I shall not be held responsible. This fruit is so "nauseating" that even eating it will trigger womitting, that is if you have never tasted it before in your entire life.
This fruit comes in different shapes and sizes and the flesh inside is equally complicating in texture, taste and smell. For the average foreigner the fruit stinks to high heaven, or rightfully to deep hell! On the first taste, this foreigner will have a shock of his life with uncontrolled exclamation of the worst rude explicits in his own language. Thank goodness the locals won’t understand him. But if you are English speaking, then say sorry. What you would be exclaiming would be something like this in the most polite manner, “ Smell like hell, taste like hell!”
What other exotic tropical fruits? Mangosteen, rambutans, coconuts, jackfruits, chempedak, pomelos, and lonkong, just to name a few.
After a good feast of durians, it is recommended that you eat lots of mangosteens and drink lots of coconut water, to cool down your body temperature and to quench your thirst as durians will make you thirsty and make you feel very warm.
To read more about durians, mangosteens and coconut water, please go to my articles:
Where to stay
As a tourist island, you will be spoilt for choice in accommodation, from cheap budget guest houses to 5-star hotels. The two main areas where accommodation facilities are widely available are the heritage area in George Town, and the beach belt along Batu Ferringhi.
There are even private homestay arrangement with personal guide service thrown in. This special arrangement is usually done privately, as the people involved are not in the tourist and accommodation business.
World-Famous Penang Personalities
One notable hallmark of Penang is that it has perhaps the most number of millionaires in the country, especially in the years gone by. Another accolade is that Penang has many world-famous personalities in its very rich historical developments. Dr. Sun Yat Sen (1866 – 1925), the first President of China, though not born in Penang, had his operating headquarters here during his initial struggle against the Manchu Dynasty. One brilliant Penang-born personality was Dr Wu Lian Teh (1879-1960) who helped China eradicate the pneumonic plague pandemic in 1910.
And of course, the current world-famous Penang-born personality is none other than Jimmy Choo, the acclaimed international shoe maestro.
Jimmy Choo The Shoe Maestro
This article is not exhaustive
Actually a short stand-alone article like this one on Penang can never do justice to its majestic splendor with so many topics to cover. Each topic is rich in history and flavor. I would need to present each topic in a separate article to explain in detailed. That is why you will find a lot of websites concentrating solely only on Penang. As for me, this a semi tour cum nostalgic rendition of my home, the island of Penang, the Pearl of the Orient, the Island Paradise.
Now please sit back to enjoy the videos below.
Please do not miss the last video on Penang taken in 1932!
Penang, one of the best places for food and to retire
A "feather in the cap" for Penang. Penang has been consistently rated as one of the best places to retire, and the place where you get to enjoy the best foods in the world, from the authentic hawker-style local street foods to elegant find dining. What you need is to be present in person!! Just like me, the lucky one!!
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Ascending Penang Hill by Cabel Car
Descending Penang Hill by Cabel Car. (Note Tunnel 1922 @1:18minutes)
Bats' Cave Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple filmed by tourist
Kek Lok Si Temple by another foreign tourist
Kek Lok Si by night. (The accompanying music is a Chinese Lunar New Year song)
Another Kek Lok Si by night
Trip along the aqueduct
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