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Penang

by Charles Smith

April 23, 2006

Ringgat Malaysia ­ RM3.75 = USA$ 1.00,  Lorong = alley, Lebuh = street, Jalan = road, Makan = eat

Note: Prices, of everything, may be changing as many prices are going up in repercussion to big increase in diesel prices in the past month.

If coming from Bangkok the train is good, air-con, nice beds, good food at reasonable prices.  1020 Baht for lower berth in Oct 2005 and for as long as I can remember.  They drop you in Butterworth and the long distance bus terminal is next door.  The ferry to Georgetown, Penang Island, is less than five minutes walk up a pedestrian bridge and costs RM 1.20, but Georgetown to Butterworth is free.

There is a new long distance bus terminal on the island close to the bridge and getting to Georgetown is RM 80cents, and about 40 minutes in the terrible public buses.  But all long distance buses, no matter where they are coming from / going to, seem to stop in Butterworth after leaving or before coming to the Island so easier to make your departure or arrival at Butterworth and take the ferry across to / from Georgetown.  Bigger terminal too.

First stop - Penang Tourist Association Office.  Lots of free maps and pamphlets for all of Malaysia and they even give you the RM2 ‘Penang Tourist Newspaper’ for free ­ a very good price - and a wealth of info about things available to see and to do in Penang, including many maps and bus route numbers to most of the more popular attractions.  They are next door to the entrance to the Medan and Langkawi Ferries, which is across the roundabout at the north end of Lebuh Pantai (or beach Street).  If you like to hike and do remote trails buy the excellent book, “Nature Trails of Penang Island” published by the Malaysian Nature Society.

If you have ‘Post Restante’ mail to pick up, the General Post Office (GPO, 10760 Pulau Penang, Malaysia) is just one block south.  And there is a telephone office in the GPO building where you can make overseas telephone calls to home over direct lines.

Many decent maps are available for Georgetown but nothing for the whole Island and Butterworth/Prai.  The best has been the red, “Penang Bus Map and Motoring Guide” but it is at least 15 yrs old now so way out of date.  But have just found a very good new satellite map, ‘Concise Street Atlas of Penang’.  Very good, best I’ve seen.  Almost bought two copies but did not because discovered it fails in one very important aspect ­ no street and road index.  Without a street and road index a map is useless for finding a street. Plus the colors do not have enough contrast for reading in dim light.  So fired off an e-mail to them and they replied:

“We will published a "Detailed Street Directory of Penang" within 2 months time with fully index and 100++ pages. (ISBN: 983-2192-53-6). However, you also can get penang road map from the following titles which is also complete with road index, they are available in most of the major bookstore in Malaysia (eg. Popular Bokstore, MPH  Bookstore and etc.). 1. Map of Penang and Georgetown (ISBN: 983-2192-31-5, Selling Price: RM10.50) 2. Map of Georgetown and Seberang Prai (ISBN: 983-2192-54-4, Selling Price: RM10.50)”

I did see both of those though, and they do not show streets for the whole island.

Food: An all time favorite for me is still Restoran Yasmeen, an Indian place that serves the best tandoori chicken (after 4PM) I have ever eaten ANYPLACE! With tandoori chicken, tandoori nan bread, dahl, and three small potions of sauces at RM5.50. They are at 161 Penang Road, two doors south of Chulia street, and next door to Mustafa, another Indian restaurant.  Closed one or two Wednesdays per month but I have never been able to figure out or remember which ones…   A tandoor is an oven which is actually a large clay pot with a roaring fire in the bottom that could easily melt bronze and you will not see one very often. The chicken is previously soaked overnight in yoghurt and mild herbs and spices. Some places also have tandoori lamb.

For good breakfast, pasta, pizza, and other goodies: Ecco Cafe, 402 Chulia, a couple doors east of the Blue Diamond Guest House.  He makes his own everything - from scratch including the pizza dough, noodles, bread - everything!  9AM-1PM, 6PM-10:30PM.  But sometimes all day when there are lots of people strolling in. Long hours for a guy doing it alone!

The Blue Diamond has decent food too, especially breakfast, Mexican, etc.  In a nice patio garden setting.

There is a good all day dim sum place, Tai Tong Cafe, on east side of Cintra Street (Lebuh Cintra) about halfway between Chulia and Komtar. And the biggest dim sum garden imaginable, the Old Winston Coffee House, on east side of Jalan Anson, a bit north of Jalan Logan, open very early, close about 11AM, maybe later if there is a big crowd and if they have anything left...

A good Ice Kachang stand is just off east side of Penang Road one short block north of the pedestrian overpass bridge to Komtar on south side of Lebuh Keng Kwee.  No tables but they have a few plastic stools and the ice kachang is so good you probably will want to and will call it lunch!!!  RM 1.50 per bowl

For Thai food and other International Cuisine in an exotic setting and with the most breath-taking and spectacular view in Penang try to find, ‘Bukit Hill Leisure park and Restaurant.’  Tel: 04-8279805, 04-8279801, 019-4774077.  On top of a mountain in or near Bukit Genting Forest Reserve. North of Teluk Kumbar on route #6.  Look for their sign on the east (left) side of the road after passing an Indian Temple on the west side. The # 66 yellow bus goes past but it’s at least two or three Ks up a very steep private road so you’ll need a motorbike or some sort of transport. Not cheap by backpacker standards but the view and unique garden setting with interesting and sometimes humorous statuary is well worth it.  Or you can make up a nice economical meal with a selection from their long list of appetizers.  Especially try the bits of chicken wrapped and barbequed in some sort of leaves. They also have unique accommodation in cabins built on old boats that are set up on stilts.

Penang is well known for its wide variety of foods as so many nationalities are represented. And there are so many eating places it seems like at any time of day or night at least half the population is cooking for the other half. Prices and variety are so good that many people never eat a meal at home. If you know where to go the many hawker stall villages are a good eating experience too.

And since Penang was a British colony for so long there is no language barrier.

For Sleeps the main budget area is Chulia Street and other streets in that area.  I have tried many but found all to be minus a lot of stars. Noisy, spots in the floor where you cannot step or you will fall through, sway backed beds, indifferent staff, etc, etc. Even at some that have good mention in the Lonely Planet.

My first choice is still ‘Hotel Noble’.  36 Lorong Pasar, Tel: 04-2642372, 04-2612372, and 04-2632372. It’s quiet as Lorong Pasar is a short small ally one block N of Lebuh Chulia, and is between Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Lorong Chulia, which is one block east of Love Lane.

It's a two floor, 100 year old building originally built by the present owner’s grandfather.  Completely refurbished lately and beautiful.  The kind of airy old Chinese building with all sleeping rooms having outside windows and the doors facing into a large common room in center with tables and couches, etc.  Everything is new ­ beds, mattresses, pillows, everything, and a room with shower and twin beds is RM18.  So good it’s booked full every night although almost every other lodging place has been laying off staff and complaining about ‘no business’ the past four years.  So if you arrive too late, book for next day and spend your first night in some other flea bag dump on Love Lane or Chulia St.  Or call ahead and book a room before you get there.

Another good choice, ‘White House Hotel’  78 Penang Road, half block north of Chulia Street.  Single room, meaning one double bed ­ for one or two persons = RM 26 with hot shower. They also have doubles, triples, and dorms. Rates: fan room for 3-6 persons (three double beds) RM30-33, 2-4 persons (two double beds) RM28-30. New mattresses and pillows, hot shower in every room, and telephone ­ for incoming calls ­ coin phone in the hallway.  A bit noisy as in a busy area so try to get a back room. The plus being they are close to everything. New owner and even better than before as he has given it a complete clean up and new paint. Extremely clean and well managed. 50 rooms and booked full almost every night so phone ahead.  They will hold a room for you until 6PM, then its up for grabs to whoever of the many hopefuls who come by.  Tel: 04 263 2385. From outside the country ring: international access code (from Thailand is 001) then, 604 263 2385.

Third choice would be the Blue Diamond, on Chulia, just east of Penang Road.  Easily recognized by the lush green garden patio type setting of their restaurant out front.

Among the many interesting places to visit I would mention Chew Jetty.  An interesting old Chinese clan village built on stilts out over the water.  Complete with their stores, temple, and during Chinese New Year and other celebration times they even stretch e big movie screen between two tall pilings that stick up out in the water and everyone brings chairs to sit around on the end of the pier to watch old Chinese movies.  And from the end of the pier you can see dozens of small old style wood ships (or very large wood freight boats) sitting at anchor that bring fruit and vegetables and other things from Indonesia.  Chew Jetty is off of Weld Quay just south of Chulia Street. Walk south past a petrol station then turn left. Their Temple will be the first thing you will see, walk past it and on out the plank walkway to the end of the pier.


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