Penang Holidays - The Unforgettable Experience

Penang Holidays at Historical Georgetown

Photos by Flickr

Penang holidays will never be completed if you do not visit the historical city of Georgetown. The city is dotted with old colonial buildings that give nod to the grandeur of the British past. Some of the houses are left for disrepair, some creatively renovated and others are reproductions. As I look down from my 14th floor of Sheraton Hotel room, it is hard to believe how this ancient city has transformed itself into a vibrant and exciting place. Isabelle Bird, a Victorian tourist
during her Penang holidays summarized Georgetown as "A brilliant place under a brilliant sky"

Georgetown, with a population of about 250,000 people is named after King George III. It is a throbbing city that feels much larger since it is spread out. For traveler, Penang holidays in Georgetown offers a menu of unique adventures, exotic eating experiences and memorable stay. Adding to the frenetic pace is the traffic juggernauts which are made up from a brigade of cars, buses, lorries, the dying-out ancient trishaw drivers and younger people swerving in and out on scooters.

Hawker stalls, especially those on Gurney Drive, along the beachfront, seems to appeal to both locals and tourists. With a few dollars you can buy superlative Asian food from the dozens of stalls that draw the biggest crowd after sunset. It's a "sit of outdoor park" atmosphere. After walking past several stalls where I can see the steam swirling upwards, I made my choice from three separate stands. Who knows how they can find their customers after you've ordered and paid, but they did. The difficult issue was deciding what you wanted as the variety was so great and the smell so enticing. On every bowl's, the aroma was dedicated to the individual owner.
Nearby the hawker stalls is the incredibly popular 10 floor Gurney Plaza Shopping Mall. A great place for shoppers.

My driving guide, Hassan is a man who seems to know everyone and everything about Penang. I was surprise to hear from him that Chinese form the largest communities in Penang as I always thought that the race populace mix is something similar to Indonesia where Malay is the majority. He also mentions that the living pace in Penang is getting faster and land is fast becoming a scarce and expensive. A bowl of Laksa use to cost him RM 1.20 but now, it is almost triple, he seems to snarl.

In Penang, education is free if you study in government school and you come from low income group. Unemployment is only 3% but the downside is that there are no unemployment benefits or pension plans if you've been an independent business person. An old trishaw rider, Mr. Ling is still working hard in the scorching heat of Penang using a transportation segment that is fast dying out. People are getting richer and with booming IT and Hi-Tech industries, more and more expensive car are roaming on the streets. Young people nowadays don't even think about getting into trishaw business anymore, Ling says sadly.

Another tradition that dies includes the legendary Eastern and Oriental Hotel which is located along Lebuh Farquhar. The hotel after years of fades grandeur, closed for two years for well needed renovation and restoration. The hotel now is totally spruced up with rooms always occupied. Although I did not stay there, but I did have a splendid lunch in the famous tiled E & O's Palm Court where they have retained the old charm, with even the original floors and moldings. The white painted stucco hotel still maintain the exterior Victorian touches and like it's sister hotel, Raffles in Singapore, represents a glorious age of past. The hotel is truly recommended if you are looking for convenience, beauty and reputation.

One morning, I decided to give Hassan a free hand to decide for my Penang holidays itinerary and he drove me to a spacious courtyard of Khoo kongsi. The clan house was originally built in 1894 to assist and protect immigrant from clan war. The organization dates back to 165 years. Unlike North American, the kongsi is a secret society for people with the same surname. The mysterious clan house was rebuilt in 1900s after it was burnt down. The structure is meticulously crafted with saddle shaped roof, magnificently adorned hall and ornamented beams of the finest wood all done by Chinese master craftsmen. There are 3 secret entrances to the Khoo Kongsi, each located in between the row of colonial shop-houses. According to the trustee of the Khoo Kongsi, Not just any Khoo can become a member but only those from Hokkien Province.

The temple that house one of the worlds largest Reclining Buddha is located not far away. Wat Chaiyamangkalaran or 'Wat Chaiya' in short was donated by Queen Victoria to the Thai community in the 1800s. The 33m sculpture Buddha is covered with gold gilt and looking like porcelain, has his head resting on his right palm, signifying Nirvana. It is reputed to be the largest reclining Buddha in Malaysia and 3rd largest in the world.

Across the street, is Dharmmikara Burmese Temple built in 1815. There is a pair of carved elephants guarding the entrance. Here, you can see mythical figures and religious icons dotted around the temple grounds and with few men meditating under the Boddhi tree. Several visitors are seen tossing coins into a wishing pond that is located at the temple courtyard.

The day is steaming hot but a visitor can't leave without going to the legendary Blue House or Cheng Fatt Tze mansion. The exterior, an exciting indigo has the blue sky to emphasis the color. Feng Shui is meticulously incorporated into the 38 room mansion with 2 windows once owned by its namesake, a most successful and flamboyant Penang businessman. Waiting for the tour, the ceiling fans don't help the oppressive heat, Mother-of-pearl inlaid ironwood chairs are inviting so a few of us sit as we listen to the guide who goes into every minute detail of the magnificent
mansion. The stately mansion, now a privately owned small hotel has 15 theme bedrooms but before visiting them, the guide holds us hostage in the rectangular and tranquil courtyard. Her tour seems never ending in this hot, humid atmosphere. However, the award winning mansion is really worth seeing and exploring.

I did visit some other famous attraction in my Penang holidays such as the great Fort Cornwallis, the tallest building in Penang (Komtar), Museum & Art Gallery, St. George Church, Chinatown and Little India. After hot days of sightseeing, rest and relaxation and dipping in a cool water pool at a nearby beach resort would be the most obvious and intelligent choice. However, with my love for this city and with all the noise, history, mystery and beauty, I opt instead to remain in Georgetown throughout my Penang holidays. A steaming hot! decision but well worth it.

JAMES COOK from England

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