by Jonny Boyle
August 3, 2006
Charles Smith has covered a lot of great points in his reports on Penang , so I will try not to repeat what he has said. However my comments wouldn’t be complete without also recommending the services of a tour guide by the name of John Khoo. We used John to take us on an island tour on our first day in Penang and found him to be a very helpful, reliable, informative and above all friendly guide and highly recommend his tours. As well as tours of Penang Island he can arrange to take you on tours on the main peninsula. He took us to many of the sights listed in the major guide books but also to lesser known areas such as the Chinese fishing villages built on stilts and the mangrove swamps on the west side of the island (make sure you take mosquito repellent). John’s details are in Charles’ report – his mobile phone (012-5867243) is the best way to contact him. He charges 25 RM per hour.
You can pick up a free Penang map at the airport when you arrive – it is ok, but does lack details of smaller roads. Also free is IN Penang magazine, aimed at your average tourist rather than backpackers, but does have details of the local sights and dates of upcoming festivals. It is published every other month and also contains a map.
Food in Penang is rightly held in high esteem, not only by the locals but also by Malaysians in general and those from further afield. There are many very good cheap restaurants and stalls dotted throughout Georgetown and beyond. Yasmeen (Jalan Penang, close to the junction with Lebuh Chulia) has been recommended as a perennial favourite and I can vouch for this. The tandoori chicken is out of this world, far better than any that I subsequently had in KL (and I tried a lot of different places). Another excellent Indian restaurant is Sri Ananda Bahwan in Lebuh Penang located in Little India (don’t get this mixed up with Jalan Penang!). The Tandoori chicken here rivals that of Yasmeen and the Punjabi curry was probably the best I have had anywhere. A great selection of naan and roti breads plus banana leaf curry too. There are lots of food stalls along Lebuh Chulia including Malay and Chinese and you can just spend an evening grazing here, trying out the local specialties such as Penang Laksa. The Cendol stall on Lebuh Keng Kwee, just north of KOMTAR off Jalan Penang, serves a delicious ice desert great for helping you cool down! There are two of these stalls – one of them is always very busy – that is the one to go to.
There are quite a few large hawker centres in Penang offering a range of foods, but they do need searching out. There are lots on Jalan Macalister and a couple more on Jalan Anson. These can be a bit of a walk from the main accommodation areas though, so you may want to try them out for lunch before deciding whether you want to venture over there at night; pavements are not always the best maintained in Penang . One good hawker centre on Jalan Macalister (on the left hand side heading out of town) is Pinang Delicious with a large green sign. There is a much smaller centre with just a few stalls (mainly Chinese) very close to the Traders (formerly known as Shangri-La) Hotel on Jalan Magazine. It is diagonally opposite the hotel to the left and is excellent and very cheap.
If you want to treat yourself to some Chinese seafood, then Ocean Green on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah is very good. Located at the end of a road off Jl Sultan Ahmad Shah (down the side of a hotel), it is open air (but under cover with lots of fans to keep you cool) and looks out over the sea and is a popular place with the locals. This is a more expensive place to eat than most of the Penang venues, with a meal for two coming to about 100 RM. The soft shell crab and noodles were excellent
Komtar is worth a trip up for the view, although the building itself is very tired (as is the shopping centre beneath it). The entrance to the tower itself is on Lorong Beem, just around the corner from the bus station. I spent ages trying to find it – it was the last place I looked!
Georgetown is small enough to get around without using taxis, but if you do want to use one to get a break from the heat, make sure you agree a price first as they don’t use their meters (even though legally they are supposed to). For the few journeys I took around town I found that the price they first quoted was almost double what I ended up paying. For longer journeys (such as to Kek Lok Si temple or Penang Hill) either take the local buses from the bus station near by the Butterworth ferry terminal or take a taxi. There is a free shuttle bus around town which is worth taking if only to get yourself acquainted with the layout of the town. They claim it is air conditioned, but if it is it isn’t very effective
Trishaws may seem like a bit of a tourist cliché but I would recommend taking even a short trip on one – gliding along (almost) silently through the back streets of Georgetown is an experience worth having. Just make sure you agree the price before you get in.
The morning market is very interesting and great for photo opportunities but make sure you get there by 7am (or earlier if you can!) to see it at it’s best, by 9am it is pretty hot and humid and most people will have left and stalls are being packed away.
Travelling on to Thailand can be done by train or mini van. Tickets for trains can only be booked on the day of travel at the KTM office at the Penang ferry terminal which is not ideal, and at the border stop of Padang Besar you have to get off the train to go through immigration. You could try to book your ticket through a travel agent instead. The train departs Butterworth (on the mainland) at 1410 hrs and arrives in Hat Yai at 1820 hrs. The ferry to Butterworth is free (the journey back to Penang costs 1.20 RM). Travel to Thailand by mini van is quicker and cheaper and tickets can be booked at any travel agent on Lebuh Chulia (the van will pick you up from the travel agents). If you are travelling to Hat Yai in the afternoon be aware that the van will have travelled down from Hat Yai in the morning, so any delays will have a knock on effect on your trip. We had a wait of almost 2 hours for the van, but the journey itself was fine, although we arrived in Hat Yai quite late.
I found the people in Penang to be amongst the friendliest I have come across on my travels and spent days wandering about just striking up conversations with total strangers – I’m sure you will have a good time too.
Author's website: http://www.shimmerimages.co.uk
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