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Friday, 11 January 2013

Round the world travel: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia




Where we are

A little island off the West coast of the Malaysian mainland with the honour of being an UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique blend of cultural and historical buildings.  I've wanted to go here since reading a Guardian article in the Travel section one Saturday morning a few years ago.  The idea of wandering around a colonial town that had been restored and re-patriated to its location intrigued me.  What we found was even better; a great and proper melting pot of Malay, Indian, British and Chinese all holding their own culture high, but coexisting happily and proud of their Peranakan nature.

Where we stayed

The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion aka The Blue House, an award winning reconstruction of Mr Cheong's base, home of his 'favourite seventh wife' according to the complimentary tour we took during our stay.

It was beautiful from the outside (and very, very blue), covered in enamel frescoes and stained glass windows.  Inside it was organised in accordance with Mr Cheong's personal Feng Shui, which whether or not you believe in it, did make it very ordered and symmetrical in a pleasing way.

Our room was named Nanyang, each of the thrity-odd rooms has its own name and decoration scheme to match.  We had straw hats on the walls and giant maps of colonial Malaysia.  The room felt like a bizarre mix between what I imagine of an Emperor's bedroom and my old boarding school apartment (as staff not pupil).  Looking at the pictures of Mr Cheong in his robes in one and top hat and tails in the other, I don't think the blend was incidental.

What I read

The paper every morning on my Guardian Anywhere app since we finally had access to consistent wifi and somewhere to lounge post breakfast.  Then I got sad about the state of the world and downloaded some chicklit so terrible I'm not even going to admit to having read it.

What I listened to

Boat To Row's EP 'Higham Hill'.  A cure for sadness in all its folky adorableness.

What we ate

EVERYTHING!!!  People come to Penang to eat, which we didn't know until we arrived, but since we were doing pretty well elsewhere at wandering around eating it just got really out of hand here.  There aren't enough superlatives even in my considerable arsenal for just how yummy everything was.  As our tour guide pointed out, there are no tourist restaurants in Geourgetown only local ones with tourists in them, if you're not good, you shut down. Fast.

Katsu curry and udon noodles at Red Garden Night Market.  Wagamamas is now going to be sad by comparison.  Also it doesn't have loud karaoke and bustling family gatherings. More sad points.

Banana and plum lassis at Amelie, a teeny gypsy caravan of a cafe whose door is nearly obscured by its own greenery.

A beautiful three course meal overlooking the beach at Thirty Two, set within another gorgeously restored mansion.

The 'best brownies in Malaysia' and Penang white coffee sitting at a street table in Mike's Place, where (possibly) the eponymous Mike made us laugh with his comments on Greg's drinking and the US presidential race.

One of the best Indians I've ever eaten at Kashmir, a packed and noisy affair presided over by a sunglasses-at-night bossy patriarch and a team of fairly useless waiters.  The tandoori chicken was so good I can see why repeat customers forgive the terrible service.

Kopis and Nasi Lemak for lunch at 32 Light Street.  I wish I knew how to make Kopi when we get home, but google has not been forthcoming.

A weird jasmine tea from Jing-Si Books and Cafe.  They lured us in with the promise of books and coffee and then proceeded to launch into an 11am prayer service.  Turns out they're a Buddhist charity sect who learned canvassing techniques from some friendly Catholic nuns.  Half expected my atheist heart would burst into flames.  Except I didn't, because I don't believe in that stuff.

Gorgeous creamy porridge and fat french toast every morning at the hotel.  Washed down with excellent coffee and fresh squeezed juice.

What we did

Tried to walk off some of the calories with the '5 cultures on 2 feet' walking tour - from the Colonial district of courts and forts, to Chinatown temples and the noisy, colourful Little India finishing in the brightly painted, restored Straits Collection houses of Lebuh Armenia, where the clan chiefs used to live.

Wandered in the heat through the functioning Clan Jetties built out over the water.

Got a lesson in Penang history at the Penang Museum.  It was odd, humbling and interesting to read colonial history from the other side.

Realised that a few boards of information go a long way in historical sites' interest as they were sorely lacking from Fort Cornwallis.  

Walked all the way along the sea front to the new Gurney Plaza and saw the last showing of Skyfall.  This was more like I'd been led Malaysian cinema going to be - people chatting, actually answering their phones and having a conversation, eating actual hot dinner foodstuffs and generally not paying alot of attention to the film at all.

Sat on the day beds in the hotel's beautiful courtyard, stroking the mega fluffy house cat and pretending to be wealthy Malay business people.

I'm ashamed to say that was it.  Aaaalllll the rest of the 5 days we were eating. Or wandering around looking for places to eat next.    

Follow this to my flicker page for more snaps. Take that rubbish internet!

1 comment:

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