George Town

As I got an unexpected extra night in George Town, I thought I would write a little post about the place.

First of all George Town is the only city on the island of Penang which is just across from the North-West of mainland Malaysia. Historically Penang has been an important trading post to a number of countries and remains a major port.

Georgetown today has quite a lot to offer a visitor. I’d say it’s a good place to visit for a weekend for my Singaporean friends, for a non beach break. The town is good-sized but still very walkable. Lots of places offer bike hire which seems like a good way to avoid the frustrating taxi drivers.

On that note, do be careful. In a day I’ve seen numerous near misses and one crash. A large SUV drove straight through a stop-signed cross-road, causing a moped to skid, swerve and then lose it skidding across the tarmac.The driver pulled over while his passenger got out and checked on the chap who was picking himself up with a freshly skinned knee. He rolled down the window looking fairly amused, rolled his eyes while saying “motos, huh” to me, then chuckled at his wit.

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Georgetown is a UNESCO world heritage site because of its distinct styles of architecture which reflect the different waves of immigrants– colonial British, Anglo-Indian, Chinese and Malay. Makes an interesting place to walk around if you like that type of thing. While wandering you’ll come across many temples that you can stroll into. There are also plenty of museums to find out a bit more about the history of the place.

The Chinese quarter is dominated by rows of shophouses, displaying their wares from fishtanks to gravestones all day before closing for the evening at around 7pm. Shophouses in Singapore are very rarely still used as homes as most have been converted into offices now, whereas here they are very much still the family home and business. Walking around in the evening, you glimpse multi-generational Chinese families enjoying their dinner in these same shophouses, with the shutters half-closed. Some stock will have been moved to uncover a TV and camping chairs to relax upon. Which is fine in say a tailors’, but looked odd in a butchers’. Imagine relaxing in the evening surrounded by pig carcasses and bacon.

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Those different immigrants over the last couple of centuries have made George Town a great place to eat. From very cheap street eats and hawker centres to a growing number of higher end restaurants offering more refined dining at still reasonable prices. Obviously the main strengths are Chinese, Indian and Malay foods. A good prata roti is an excellent way to start the day and there are plenty of options on that front.

Finally, while exploring you’ll come across various bits of street art scattered about. There are 24 metal installations explaining the reasons for the street names or giving explanations about the streets history. For instance Love lane (now nicknamed Backpacker Alley) was where rich Chinese businessmen housed their mistresses. Alongside these are random bits of Banksy-equse art down little alleyways. Apparently George Town employs a city artist called Ernest Zacharevic from Lithuania who is responsible for these. Maybe every city should have one.

I hope today will be a bit more successful on the train front!

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