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If there was one city we were been looking forward to for weeks, it was George Town. They call it the ‘food’ city of South-East Asia. It is also the bustling capital of the island Penang, connected to the mainland by a 12km long bridge. And it is UNESCO world heritage, mainly because of all those amazing colonial buildings.
The centre of George Town
George Town is called the most beautiful city of Malaysia on different sites, and we totally agree! The centre isn’t as modern as for example Kuala Lumpur but has this old, authentic atmosphere you would expect of a city in Asia. Something we could experience a little bit in Ipoh, but that was nothing compared to George Town. Thanks to its strategic geographic location, it has attracted many conquerors over the centuries, including the English. The result is a mix of cultures and nationalities, reflected in the different city neighbourhoods. Little India, Chinatown, the Armenian street, … are just some of them, and they are all filled with old English colonial buildings where you can find every cuisine from Asian to Western. Do we need to say more? We loved it there and stayed a full week with the kids.
East Indies Mansion
Occasionally, you just need to be lucky with a guesthouse. We booked with booking.com and at a very reasonable price appeared later on. When we checked the Lonely Planet after our booking, the East Indies Hotel was in there and got a rating in the $$$-category. Not the category we normally use for picking a place to stay ;-). Because we only paid €35/$40 for a huge family room, we obviously did a good deal.
We are guests in a 200-year-old colonial building that was completely renovated in 1980. And they did a fantastic job… there are two courtyards filled with plants, surrounded by the rooms connected with a long hallway. Our room is on the first floor and is huge! Especially since it connects with a common living area. We are completely over the moon about this gorgeous building. It feels as if we live 50 years ago, in mystical Asia we know from that era. The house is filled with beautiful colonial furniture, rooms finished with wood, open windows and courtyards. And above all, it is quiet and we sleep so well, and that in the middle of Little India in George Town.
Old colonial buildings
You could describe George Town as a colonial city. The centre is filled with old buildings, many inherited by the British, that are renovated beautifully now. You can take different heritage walks that will bring you to the best buildings. Unfortunately, we succeeded in missing one of the most amazing ones (Blue Mansion). But anyway, we saw a lot of other great houses. Even the kids enjoyed the experience of looking to the buildings and their decorations, colourful doors and lovely shutters. One downside, however, we had some bad luck with the weather. After some rain bursts we decided to buy some umbrellas after all and we could discover the city back again.
By the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century, a lot of Chinese immigrants came to George Town to work in its harbour. Quickly these water villages started to arise around the docks. Some still exist today and are still inhabited. Chew Jetty is the most famous one. Life is quite hard here, the people living in the jetty are rather poor. It is a Chinese bastion of stilt houses, complete with temples but unfortunately also very touristic. We discover a pier just next to it, with an amazing view on Chew Jetty. Less touristic and much quieter. And also very idyllic to take pictures, so we can indulge ourselves with our camera and drone. Definitely worth a visit!
Outside of the old city centre
Kek Lok Si temple
By coincidence, we read an article on this temple and the nice view of the city you have from up there. And because it is on our way to Penang Hill, we decide to go over there a first take a Grab to the Kek Lok Si Temple. We are flabbergasted by the size and dimensions of the site. On top of the hill shines a huge statue of 36,5 metres (118 feet) high. You have to take a lift to reach the upper part. And actually there were very few tourists over there even though the complex is absolutely fantastic. Probably because a lot of de Malaysians are Muslim and they don’t advertise too much about the Buddhist temple. A shame though, we were very enthusiastic. It was one of the most beautiful temples we have ever seen. En Hanne was deeply impressed by the local monks, religious habits and buildings.
On the ground floor of the temple, you could by a banner and hang it on a wish tree. Every banner had its own wish. A typical Buddhist habit to make your wishes come true. And of course, we also hang our banners on the tree. Jurgen chose ‘Booming business’, Heleen ‘Family to be safe’, Hanne ‘Being together forever’ and Yuna ‘Wishes come true’. So actually we covered the whole spectrum ;-).
After a rather exhausting walk from the temple (we should have listened to the taxi drivers) we arrive at Penang Hill. Luckily, the waiting cues are almost gone now (it’s a holiday in Malaysia) and we can go quickly up the steepest cable lift. And it keeps on rising… just until 833 metres (2732 feet). The tickets aren’t cheap, but it is absolutely worth it! The views are breathtaking. Only the endless row waiting to go back makes us worry. Hopefully, it has disappeared within a couple of hours. We order a soft drink at David Brown’s Sky Terrace and enjoy the marvellous views over George Town and the bay.
Imagine after 4 weeks of rice and noodles, you encounter your first hot dog stall. How big is the disappointment when the kids find out the ketchup turns out to be chilli sauce. The consequence is a long battle with their hot dog. Hanne doesn’t mind the spicy sauce as much, for Yuna is it a real struggle. From that moment on, they ask with every order if t spicy, lesson well learned.
In the meantime, the sun is setting and we get to see George Town by night. A view you could stare at for hours. When we want to go down again, the enormous waiting cue is unfortunately still huge. But for some reason, all those Malaysians stay remarkably calm. Some ‘foreign’ tourists are a bit nervous, but the Malaysians don’t even blink. We decide to cue after all and eventually it wasn’t that bad, we got down rather quickly.
George Town is another Malaysian city that distinguishes itself in street art. It is very popular out here. You can make a whole walk to admire all the paintings or interactive pieces of art. Some of them are really lovely, especially near the Armenian street. Also, kids have a lot of fun. It is a great way for them to discover the city. With the plan in their hands, they can look for the next painting while walking through the beautiful streets. In the meantime, we can take in the atmosphere of this old part of town. What an amazing piece of heritage it is!
Actually, you could write an entire article on food in George Town. And we will after seven days of tasting, seeing, smelling and especially eating all kinds of dishes. We thought we would lose some weight here in Asia, but it looks like that is not going to work out ;-). For example, we have eaten our best chicken tikka masala ever here. We thought we knew the Indian cuisine already, but now, after staying in Little India for a whole week, we can really talk about Indian food. And of course, we discovered a lot of Malay, Chinese and other dishes.
And the kids were very happy with the numerous desserts and then we aren’t mentioning the delicious juices! Luckily we took a lot of pictures to remember all these tasteful meals. So later one, we’ll give more information on food in George Town.
What did we think about George Town?
The article probably speaks for itself. We are very much in love with this amazing colonial city. Ipoh was nice, but this is the good stuff. George Town is more impressive. There is only one thing left to say, just go and see it for yourself! And we didn’t even see it all. The Tropical Spice Garden appears to be very nice, we didn’t see the Blue Mansion and there even is a little national park on the island with some beautiful beaches. When we ever have the opportunity, we most definitely will come back! The only downside again was that there were almost no sidewalks or crossings for pedestrians. But that appears to be everywhere in Malaysia. Not ideal with the kids, but we got used to it…
And just one other thing we would really like to share with you. At the foot of Penang Hill, we got to meet a Swiss woman and her son who claimed to have lost her card in the ATM. She asked if we could lend her some money so she and her son could go back to the centre and eat something. After doubting a bit, we tend not to believe her and we decide not to give her money. Also because we were almost out of cash ourselves. Especially Jurgen didn’t believe her, Heleen is doubting and is afraid we turned down a mother with her child when they were in need. A little while later, we read an article on Facebook that it is a scam and the woman is already active on the island for a couple of years. So everybody, be warned! Unbelievable she can do this for years in a row now.
It is always nice to hear something about the people who read our articles, so please leave us a message. Did you also go to George Town? We would love to learn what you thought about the city!