Christmas 2013: Festive cheer in Penang

What we say: 3.5 stars

Christmas in Malaysia can sometimes feel a little underwhelming if you are used to the three-month build-up of lights, decorations, festive jingles and the unbridled shopping that takes place elsewhere in the world. However, when you know where to go, you’ll discover that the island is definitely doing its bit to generate some good old-fashioned Christmas cheer, so here are a few of the best places to go and find it.

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Christmas tree or giant green egg? Either way, the decorations at Straits Quay are impressive.

Straits Quay
This popular marina-side mall north of Georgetown undoubtedly wins the award for Penang’s most bizarre Christmas tree. Although you might argue it more closely resembles an egg, it is nevertheless one of the most impressive decorations in Penang and the larger-than-life candy canes, startled reindeer and slightly scary fairies that surround it complete the ‘Enchanted Christmas’ theme. It forms the focus for many a festive event during weekends throughout December, includi ng carolling 17:00 on December 7, 14 and 21) and special appearances and photo sessions with Santa (all day on December 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22 and 25). You can also get crafty in Santa’s workshop (14:00-16:00 on December 8, 15, 21 and 22). Even without the events, the piped carols and bustling weekend atmosphere should help to raise your Christmas spirits.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel
It’s difficult to imagine anywhere more traditionally ‘Christmas-y’ than the E&O Hotel and every year since 1885 it has upheld the spirit of the season by really going to town with the festivities. An immaculately decorated tree, commendably realistic holly garlands and rousing carols greet you as you enter the foyer and in the lounges and restaurants the traditional decorations, set against the background of colonial splendour, evoke images of a traditional Victoriana Yuletide and make you feel a bit like you are on the set of period drama Christmas special. You don’t have to be staying here in order to take a look inside the foyer, and if you would like to venture further, you could always indulge in a little pre-Christmas gluttony and treat yourself to an expensive but highly delicious cream tea, including sandwiches, cakes and scones, in the seasonally decked-out 1885 restaurant (56 ringgit per person, plus service and tax).

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The lounge at the 1885 restaurant feels intimately festive, and evokes images of Victorian Christmases past.

Gurney Plaza
Not to be eclipsed by Gurney Paragon, its sparkly new shopping mall neighbour, Gurney Plaza still flies the festive flag for Penang and is a perennial favourite in the build-up to Christmas. As well as a glittering array of lights and decorations, it ramps up the revelry by pumping out Christmas hits and offering an array of events and entertainment throughout December. This year, the all-singing, all-dancing Christmas musical spectacular, in the main atrium, will be staged daily at 14:00 and 18:00 from December 14 to 24 and look out for special visits by Santa over weekends throughout December.

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The main atrium in Gurney Plaza, which hosts Christmas-themed stage shows.

Christmas feasts
Turkey dinners don’t feature particularly highly in Penang’s restaurants, but there are nevertheless a few options for traditional Christmas fare.

At the 1885 Restaurant in the E&O Hotel, you can indulge in a traditional six-course pig-out, including turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas pudding plus a wide variety of other options from the fine-dining menu. Dinner on December 24 and 25 is 268 ringgit per person (plus service and taxes), and for some extra Christmas spirit, you can also opt for a selection of different wines with each course (368++ ringgit). Meanwhile, the family-friendly lunch on Christmas Day is 168++/78++ ringgit for adults/children, including soft drinks and juices.

Expat favourite Healey Mac’s Irish Bar, in Straits Quay, will also be celebrating in style. If it’s a friendly atmosphere you’re after, you will definitely find it here, and as well as serving up a great range of wines and beers, including draught Guiness and Kilkenny’s, they also lay on a pretty fine spread. The food is good at any time of the year, and the special Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menu includes a turkey roast, a glass of mulled wine on arrival and a shot of sambucca to wash it all down with, for 120++ ringgit per person.

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Head on down to Healey Mac’s for some good ol’ Irish seasonal warmth and hospitality.

Finally, why not head down to the beach for Christmas and indulge in a buffet at the Lone Pine Hotel in Batu Ferringhi. The food isn’t necessarily traditional but the opportunity to over-indulge certainly is, with a wide variety of options both Western and Eastern. Dinner on Christmas Eve and Day is 128++ ringgit per person, which includes unlimited wine, beer and fruit punch, while the family lunch on Christmas Day is 88++ ringgit per person and includes as much non-alcoholic punch as you can drink – though, being Christmas, you may want to raid their well-stocked bar for something a bit stronger.

You can find more suggestions for things to do here, so whether you are you a planning a full-on itinerary of celebrations, or simply want to mark the occasion quietly, there is no lack of options for having yourself a merry Christmas in Penang.

Straits Quay
Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang
10470 Tanjong Tokong
T: 04 891 8000
Eastern and Oriental Hotel
10 Lebuh Farquhar, Georgetown
T: 04 222 2000
Gurney Plaza
Plaza Gurney
170-06-01 Persiaran Gurney, Georgetown
T: 04 228 1111
1885 Restaurant
Eastern and Oriental Hotel
10 Lebuh Farquhar, Georgetown
T: 04 222 2000
Healey Mac’s Irish Bar
Ground Floor 3A – G – 9
Straits Quay
Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjong Tokong
T: 04 890 3477
Lone Pine Hotel
97 Jalan Batu Ferringhi, Batu Feringhi
T: 04 886 8686
Last updated: 1st September, 2014


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