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What to do in Penang
I spent three short days in Penang during a recent visa trip. A great spot filled with brilli...

By eleshepp

Declared by UNESCO 'a living world heritage city' in June 2008, Georgetown is a meld of historic 19th century buildings and contemporary Malaysia. Sights and attractions, fine dining, numerous shopping malls and travellers from all over the world all come together here in a vibrant, colourful city teeming with locals who are living their lives as they have done for generations.

If you could imagine Laos' Luang Prabang, but three times the size, with traffic lights, busy morning commuters and car ferries crossing the Mekong between oil tankers and fishing boats, then you're heading in the right direction.

The inner city is a fascinating place to wander about, with endless choices of tree-lined streets and tiny little crisscrossing lanes. Historical buildings, art galleries and a myriad of temples are among countless other attractions that share the space with good shopping, restaurants and people hanging up their laundry in front of their houses.

The first thing travellers often experience coming to Georgetown is the wide array of food venues, with new ones seeming to pop up at nearly every corner or bend.

When it comes to history, some of the must-see sights include Fort Cornwallis, Town Hall with its accompanying cricket field and the very informative Penang State Museum. On Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling -- 'The road of four religions' -- are St Georges Church, Maha Mariamman Hindu Temple, Kapitan Keling Mosque and the fascinating Goddess of Mercy Temple, one of the island's oldest shrines. Whole villages built on stilts called Clan Jetties jut out into the sea -- each jetty belongs to a different clan. On the outer edges of town are some larger temples and sights like Penang Hill Funicular Railway, the Botanical Gardens and the impressive Wat Chaiya Mangalaram, a Thai Buddhist temple.

Diversity and harmony among the religions has played an important role in the development of Georgetown. Around Lebuh Aceh and Lebuh Armenian for example is an old Indonesian mosque, yet in the same street a couple of houses down you can find old Chinese clan houses like Choo Kongsii and other temples. Every area has its own mood yet everything is neatly linked together.

Around the Weld Quay ferry, traffic is in a state of near constant flow, while the kongsiis around Lebuh Armenian are very sleepy. Around Gurney Drive people do their morning jogs while at night people flock there to the many eateries that line the same seaside drive. Lebuh Chulia with its many Internet cafes and wandering backpackers retains an old-time traveller's vibe while Upper Penang Road plays host to night clubs and bistros set in old heritage houses, along with The Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

Georgetown has many a nook and cranny and dotted through the city are beautiful mansions, albeit some old and broke, but others transformed into bars and chic cafes where live bands play late into the night. The more you explore, the more you'll find in this fascinating amalgam of East and West.

While the city is quite large, the area of interest to foreign visitors is pretty compact. Look at a map and imagine the inner city as a triangle where the tip is Fort Cornwallis, with the sea to the north and south and Jalan Penang cutting through north to south. Lebuh Chulia bisects the triangle.

Visiting the sights in Georgetown is best done on foot but tread carefully: pavements are uneven and drains are either open or covered over in the most rickety fashion. Weaving in and out of the fronts of shophouses often feels like a chicane as you avoid motorbikes and the general overspill from lower floors but it's fun: Keep your eyes open and you are as likely to spot a noodle maker as you are tailor's shophouse.

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Text and/or map last updated on 21st August, 2009.

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What to do in Penang
By eleshepp, 23 November 2010
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