George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, sits in the northeast of the island. Packed with head-turning architecture, it is a centre of commerce and creativity. From street art and night markets to temples, floating houses and historical mansions, here’s our pick of places to go while you’re here.
Welcome to one of the liveliest, loveliest corners of George Town, which serves the city’s Indian-Muslim community and extends a warm welcome to all visitors with sounds of Bollywood movie music and the honk of scooter horns. From breakfast on, you can feast like a maharajah on pasembur (sweet salad), roti jala (“net” pancakes, so-called for their lace-like surface), murtabak (meat-stuffed pancake), biryani (rich rice dish) and all kinds of brightly coloured syrupy desserts. Food here is a cross-cultural event between Tamil Indian and Arabic cuisine – so loosen your belt and get ready to royally fill your face.
Every Sunday morning, the traffic along Penang Road grinds practically to a halt. The reason? Everyone wants a slice of this fabulous market, with its farm-fresh poultry, its bargain-price clothing and its piles of household items. Whatever you need, the likelihood is that you’ll find it here, milling about with the masses and their shopping bags. Top tip: if you’re peckish, locate the roasted-chestnut stall, which turns out delicious snacks. It is usually to be found at the fork between the market and Penang Road, but if you just ask around someone local will direct you to it.
The heat will be sweltering but you won’t want to miss this sight – so head out with a hat and bottle of chilled water and you’ll be rewarded with a new understanding of Malaysian muhibah (cultural harmony). At the corner of Lebuh Farquhar and Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, you’ll find St George’s, the oldest Anglican church in Malaysia. It all but rubs shoulders with Kuan Yin temple, the oldest Taoist temple in Penang. And next to it sits the Kapitan Keling mosque, built by Muslim Indian settlers in the 19th century. You can enter each religious site for free, though there is a specific dress code for entering the mosque. Contemplate the harmony of these three beautiful structures, which radiate tranquillity and spirituality.
Part of the Penang Heritage Trail, the clan jetties are six water villages housing seven old Chinese clans, namely the Lim, Chew, Tan, Yeoh, Lee, Koay, and unnamed (mixed-surname) families. The “floating” houses, made of wood and aluminium, rise on stilts above the surface of the sea. The most tourist-friendly of the lot is the Chew Jetty, featuring a long walkway, souvenir shops and a small temple. You’re guaranteed some magnificent Instagram shots – just be aware of local sensibilities, as this is a residential community.
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