I was so excited in my first visit to Penang. I’ve heard so many good things about this island state, particularly Georgetown. Much like Malacca, it’s a known food haven for gourmands and a place to stir up your creative juices with numerous street art in the city. I came early morning with little sleep since I had an early flight in the morning from Kuala Lumpur. Before coming here, I made sure I had arrangements for a Historic Georgetown tour via KKday. My hotel check-in time was after lunch so I decided to kill time with a morning tour after leaving my baggage at the hotel.
The capital of the Malaysian state of Penang, Georgetown, is named after King George III when the British colonized Penang in the 1770s. Georgetwon (fondly called by locals as GT) is the second largest city in Malaysia and also known as the “Food Capital of Malaysia”. I wouldn’t be surprised by this with the confluence of nationalities hence a rich mix of flavors in one place.
Interestingly, Georgetown has the largest collection of well-preserved pre-war buildings in Southeast Asia, found in the oldest part of the city. Earning its place in the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2008.
KKday Historical Georgetown tour
My tour started in the hotel where I’m staying. There was a slight delay at first which was my fault. Since I’m not technically checked in, my name was not yet on their record. The driver sent by Asian Experience (the company tie-up with KKday) did arrive ahead of time and looked for me at the reception. Since I was a little sleepy, I forgot to inform the reception regarding the arrangement. Good thing KKday has a grace period of one hour as guest may be delayed from travel. I asked the receptionist if there was someone looking for me and indeed the driver was already there. Connecting with my tour guide, we rolled off to explore.
My driver, Zainon, took me to our first stop at Pulau Tikus suburbs for a couple of Buddhist temple close to each other. What’s special about these two temples are their lineage. The Dhammikarama Temple is a Burmese temple which is prevalent in the design of the stupas. Built in 1804, it is the oldest Burmese temple on the island of Penang. Just across Jalan Burmah is the Wat Chaiyamangkalaram . This one is a Thai temple that houses the third longest reclining Buddha in the world.
Colonial Penang Museum
Still in the high-end neighborhood of Pulau Tikas, we visited the Colonial Penang Museum. I had no idea what this gorgeous looking British home holds but it turns out to be one of my favorite stops on the tour. Will delve into this deeper on a later post but let me just say it’s unexpectedly worthwhile. Learning about the lavishness of the colonial era and how the British and rich Chinese merchants outdo each other in extravagance.
The Old Heritage Suburbs
Heading to the city’s oldest neighborhood, we drove by some of the key establishments. From the town hall, currently being renovated Fort Cornwallis and the Queen Victoria Clock. Then we rolled on to Harmony Street. Why harmony? The street lines up places of worship from different faiths – a church, a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Chinese temple and other temples.
At one end of Harmony Street is the famed Art Street where the iconic street artworks from hired London-trained artist, Ernest Zacharevic, can be found amidst the beautiful heritage houses in the area. This deserves another post by itself.
My last stop was at Chew Jetty. The seaside Chinese village on stilts is already centuries old. Each jetty here is named after each clan. Fascinating place to walk around and get a glimpse of their life on this seaside neighborhood.
The whole Georgetown Historical tour lasted for five hours. I could understand why the itinerary was designed this way as it gives a very good cursory look at each vital aspect of Georgetown’s history. The tour was more comfortable as I rode in an airconditioned car as we explored Georgetown. Zainon was a good driver but he’s not really a guide. He would take you to the places but let you explore on your own. He would give bits and pieces of trivia on areas he’s familiar with but that’s it. That’s why places like the Colonial Penang Museum stood out because of their affluent guides. But since this is like a quick runaround the sites it’s a good way to maximize one’s visit in Penang if the visitor has limited time. For me who’s staying for a few days, it helped me to get quickly familiar with the city and get my bearings. Some areas I returned for a more extensive exploration.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.