Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A Taste of Penang

Our most recent stop on our great Asian tour was Georgetown, Penang, in the north of Malaysia.  When we left the Perhentians, our initial plan was to go to Kota Bahru for the night, and then catch a bus the next day for Penang.  However, when we got off the boat from the Perhentians, we found out there was a minibus leaving that morning directly for Georgetown.  We decided to take this bus as it would save us a lot of travel time.  The ride itself was on a beautiful windy road through the jungle.  The bus would frequently get stuck behind giant logging trucks filled with enormous trees, and we'd be forced to go very slowly.  We still made good time, and got to Georgetown before nightfall.
The Lonely Planet recommended a couple of hostels in Chinatown, and so we gave the minibus driver an address of a hostel before we set out.  Well, instead of dropping us there, he dropped us at a different hostel that he was told by his employer to drop us at (or so he says).  This hostel was quite cheap, offered free wifi and looked quite clean, but out of principle we did not want to stay there.  So we checked out about 5 other hostels, all of which were slightly more expensive but offered about the same thing (except for one very sketchy place that was filthy).  Deciding to save a buck, we returned to the first hostel and booked a room for $8 CAD/night.  The people we met on the minibus also decided to stay there, so we had friends in the building which was nice.
After settling in, we headed off to the night market for food.  Penang is known primarily for its delicious food, as it has had a long multicultural history with large populations of Chinese, Thai, Indians and Malaysians calling it home.  These cultures have all mixed together, and created some delicious food.  The local special is assam lemak, which is a spicy and sour fish noodle soup, with the sour taste coming from the assam (in English: tamarind paste).  Greg quite enjoyed it, but it was rather too sour for my taste.
Incredible Indian food in Little India.  That mango lassi was *amazing*
The other thing Penang is known for is its beautiful colonial architecture.  The British controlled Penang as a port for many years, and many of the old mansions and government buildings remain.  All this mixed in with Buddhist and Indian temples made for a very interesting city!
Anglican Church in Georgetown

We also had a couple of days to leave the city and explore the island.  Our first trek was to Kok Lek Si temple, which is the largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia.  It was very impressive!  Beautiful colours everywhere, and of course lots of street hawkers selling all sorts of random souvenirs.  The top of the hill is crowned by a giant statue of Buddha.
View of the temple from the street

In front of a fountain in the temple with our new friend, Jen, who we met in the Perhentians

Being 'round' in the round gate

Candles in front of a statue of Buddha

Giant Buddha statue

Our final full day in Penang we went to Penang National Park, which according to my mom's googling is the smallest national park in the world.  Our initial plan was to hike to monkey beach to see some monkeys and go for a swim.  But when we arrived at the park office, we were told there were baby turtles at the turtle hatchery!  I insisted that we go see the turtles, and we joined with a friendly American couple for the hike.  It was only ~3.5km each way, but there was a lot of hill climbing, and with the heat, we were utterly exhausted by the end.  The turtle hatchery was created to increase the population of sea turtles.  It's on a beach that is a popular nesting site for the turtles, and once the mothers lay the eggs, the conservation folk go and dig up the nests and put the eggs in incubators in the hatchery.  Once the eggs hatch, they put the turtles in a large bin of water, and release them back into the wild.  This reduces the number of turtles that are eaten by predators either in the nest or on their trek from the nest to the ocean.
Meromictic Lake. Mark, I will give you a cold beer if you can tell me what a meromictic lake is without googling it!

Baby sea turtles waiting to be released into the wild

Reward after the hike: an amazing chocolate banana crepe-type thing.  We stopped for cold lime juice at a tiny stall on the side of the road outside the park gates. Who knew they'd have such deliciousness??

All in all, Penang was a very interesting place to spend a few days.  This was our last stop in Malaysia: next up, Thailand!


  1. So I'm guessing this is where 'penang curry' comes from! Yum! That crepe looks delicious and lime juice sounds incredible. We are off to England tonight and I will shortly be experiencing the cuisine of the locals there, I have packed my pepto bismol.

  2. Gah! BABY TURTLES! Is there anything cuter??

    Looks like you're having an amazing time. I didn't know Penang was so interesting!

  3. We also did not know that Penang would be so interesting! We were a bit concerned about having to spend 5 nights there (due to flight schedules) but it turned out really well. There was so much to do. And baby turtles of course were adorable!

  4. Oh my god! I love baby turtles too.

    Mark guesses that the lake has something to do with layering...and will have to look up the rest. Does that warrant a cold beer?