historic Georgetown

Posted from Perai, Penang, Malaysia.

I don’t know where to begin. But from the moment I got to Georgetown in the state of Penang, Malaysia I knew I loved it here. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, the architecture is historic and it’s hot. Damn hot.

The island of Penang is so much more than just Georgetown, but I never really ventured that far. There’s beaches and resorts and mountains and forests, but having spent far too much time and money on islands and beaches I was ready for some time in the city. Georgetown was just the beginning of what I needed.

 

The very exclusive night market. The volume was quite loud, but the singers were quite good.

The very exclusive night market. The volume was quite loud, but the singers were quite good.

When I arrived in the city late at night I graciously took a lift from a neighbour of the hostel I had met 10 minutes prior to the night market. I was leery, but fatigue can make you do stupid things. Happy Ken, as he calls himself, told me it was the best place to get food. He took me there on his motorbike, dropped me off and told me how to walk home. Thanks. Really. Thanks.

I really wasn’t in the mood to go through a busy alley filled with street stalls and people shouting at me to buy some other piece of junk that will make me regret I went to another night market. I just needed to stop the pain in my stomach, having not eaten in eight hours. To my surprise, the night market was an outstanding collaboration of food vendors, and only food vendors, in a courtyard surrounding a stage where a man and woman took turns singing songs only the Malaysians knew. No one was booing. People were clapping. So I think they must’ve been good.

I got some excellent Portuguese food, (I know, right?) found an ATM machine with the help of the Portuguese owners and got back to my hostel after a short walk down well-lit and busy streets at nearly 11 p.m. And only 20 or so gawkers.

My hostel, Red Inn, of course, is not on a well-lit street, but it is in the main guest-house area of the city. If you’re not sure where to stay, just head to Chulia Street near Penang Street and go for a walk. Mine was on Love Lane, right in the middle of historic Georgetown. You can get any level of accommodation here – from dirt cheap and bug-infested, to dirt cheap with clean linen. Stay classy. Go for the clean sheets.

At Fort Cornwallis old cannons still line the bank pointing out to shore. They were operational up until a decade or so ago.

At Fort Cornwallis old cannons still line the bank pointing out to shore. They were operational up until a decade or so ago.

About the gawkers. There’s a bit of worry at times for me here. I’m a solo female traveler, and it wasn’t until I got here that I understood why some women wear fake wedding rings. Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country, and it’s not exactly part of the first world. On every single outing I got approached by men. Every. Single. Time. And often. I handle it graciously, and for those of you who know me, I can’t believe my tact either. But I’m a guest in this country and I don’t want to offend anyone, or put myself in any bad positions. But I never felt threatened or unsafe at any moment. I like attention. This was just a little too much. I am in the midst of concocting a diabolic lie about where my fake husband is.

City hall. Think our cities need to vamp their style up.

City hall. Think our cities need to vamp their style up.

Now I say it’s Muslim, but this country is made up mostly of the Malays, Chinese and Indians. The religions are Buddhist/Confucianism, Islamic and Hindi with the odd Christian in there. And all these people have found a way for hundreds, if not thousands of years to live peacefully with each other. It’s really a spectacular circumstance to behold.

Everyone has occupied this country and left their mark, though. The English, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French. The Indians. The Chinese. The Japanese. Everyone. Due to the mark the English left on Georgetown UNESCO has recognized it as a world heritage site. The buildings are beautiful. Shop owners or home-owners are not allowed to alter the buildings, and any repairs must meet strict guidelines of heritage restoration. My hostel was one of these buildings. And let me tell you, Mr. Lee was a bit put out about having to follow such strict regiments.

The British spent a few hundred years in Penang – doing what they do best – occupying other people’s countries, but when I look around today at this place, a part of me can’t help but think it would never have been so special without that episode in its past.

Most of the streets were lined with building in this style.

Most of the streets were lined with building in this style.

While this may look like a gorgeous sidewalk beneath the arches, this is really just prime motorbike parking. This was afternoon, so most of them were out.

While this may look like a gorgeous sidewalk beneath the arches, this is really just prime motorbike parking. This was afternoon, so most of them were out.

 

Due to the heritage rules, the doors and windows must remain intact, apart from the bars.

Due to the heritage rules, the doors and windows must remain intact, apart from the bars.

Open sewers, a clever yet smelly sign of ancient city-planning are everywhere. Be careful when walking the streets or you could very well fall up to two meters down into one of these culverts.

Open sewers, a clever yet smelly sign of ancient city-planning are everywhere. Be careful when walking the streets or you could very well fall up to two meters down into one of these culverts.

 

More old buildings.

More old buildings.

 

Old architecture in a much more poor part of town.

Old architecture in a much more poor part of town.

In downtown Georgetown there are a few museums, some old mansions, a fort built hastily by the British to protect the city from pirates, modern hotels, a large shopping center, a deep-sea pier – deep enough for cruise ships to dock, a mountain with a tramcar line to the top and many ancient temples and monuments. The fort costs two Ringgit. The museum was one Ringitt. That’s where I got my history lesson.

Welcome to Little India.

Welcome to Little India.

I rented a bicycle one day and rode around for hours. I went through Little India and Chinatown, and even an area surrounded by mosques which I don’t know what to call. What I was really in search of, though, was food. Penang is said to be the culinary capital of Malaysia. I ended up eating lunch at a restaurant on Penang Street called Pinnochio. I had a delicious chicken meal with salad for under $3. I later found out the owner was from Montreal and we had a chat about life in Malaysia, French-Canadians and how he’s dreading going home.

Evening street food. Yum.

Evening street food. Yum.

In the evening the food carts come out and that’s where some of the best food is to be found. I keep trying random things and sometimes I have no clue what I’m eating, despite the amount of people who speak good English here. I trust nothing. I still worry I’m eating dog. But I haven’t had a food poisoning bout since Cambodia, so either I’m really lucky or my stomach has adapted. Time will tell.

Alcohol is expensive in Malaysia – most probably due to taxes and religious influences. Some restaurants don’t even serve it. But they will let you bring it in from outside. And then they will judge you.

I spent three nights in Georgetown and found it to be a very beautiful city. Actually, I would go so far as to say it’s one of the best places I’ve been to so far in Southeast Asia when you add up everything it has to offer. Of course, this may change when I get to my next destination, Kuala Lumpur.

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