On a tip from Lu, we flew from Kuala Lumpur to Penang to check out its capital, George Town, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also on a tip from Lu, we stayed at Traders Hotel in Penang in order to take advantage of its free guest shuttle to an affiliate property in Batu Ferringhi, so we could enjoy a beach-side resort for a day. We straight up copied Lu’s family vacation. The ocean water in Batu Ferringhi was too infested with jellyfish to swim, but the kids thoroughly enjoyed the resort’s water slide and pool.
George Town was an assault on the senses. It’s got a lot of character, and I don’t mean that as a euphemism for dirty, old, and smelly, although it’s all those things too. It’s a historically rich and vibrant town, with pockets of ugliness and decay; and, with an open sewage system, one’s nostrils are indeed assaulted every so often with noxious odors. But there’s an organic beauty and charm about the cityscape that makes it so much more interesting than you might think at first glance. Amidst the grittiness and grime are also pockets of exquisite loveliness, hidden gems of visual, culinary, and cultural delights. George Town is known for its hawker food stalls (some of which we enjoyed more than others) and its urban street art (which we loved). Although the kids were reluctant to walk around searching for street art at first, after we rewarded them with jelly beans and promised more for each picture taken, they were urging us and each other on enthusiastically with exclamations of “Let’s find more art!” If it takes jelly bean bribes to expose our kids to culture, then so be it. I didn’t take pictures of most of our meals in Penang but we hit up a lot of the famous classics: Char Koay Teow (flat rice noodles stir fried with garlic, prawns, bean sprouts, eggs, and chives), Penang Assam Laksa (rice vermicelli in a tangy fish broth seasoned with lemongrass, chilies, and tamarind and topped with onions, herbs, cucumber, lettuce, and prawn paste), Chee Cheong Fun (steamed sheets of rice flour rolled, sliced, and served with chili paste and shrimp paste), Roti Canai (Indian-Muslim style flatbread served with lentil or chicken curry dipping sauces), and Fried Oysters (in a crispy egg omelette).
There were many tourists, like us, with their cameras, but it didn’t feel touristy. It felt genuine and authentic and real. I’m so glad we got to explore George Town at this particular moment in its history, and I hope it never gets gentrified or stripped of its quirky, unique character.
Full album can be found here: