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Something Old and Something New in Penang

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Hello people, I am back. From my Penang holiday, couple weeks of cold and four trips to the doctor, but you don’t worry about me. I am well now, sitting in my cozy room and thinking where can i go next and how fast can i save the moolah needed for it.

But first, Penang. A well-known vacation spot in South East Asia, Penang is located at the northwest coast of Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca (stolen info from Wikipedia, I need at least five minutes to figure out where is NW). Contrary to my fixation on travelling to new places because I want to experience different cultures, I have been to Penang before. A few times actually, but only as a child, with my mommy. This time I went to Penang with Hulk.

It was his birthday, so we were celebrating it my way.

Penang Road

It was still early morning when we reached Penang airport. On the ride to Georgetown, where we would be spending our first few days at, I saw many eye-catching things like a women center, free schools, Burma Road (are there many Burmese in Penang?). Penang looked like a whole little charming town.

Georgetown is another UNESCO world heritage site I visited. It meant I would be crossing off one of my list *excitement*. Georgetown is known for its colonial environment with lots of well-kept buildings, shop houses and street markets. I couldn’t wait !!

Heritage. Vintage. Old-town. Penang sounded promising. We reached our hotel, put our luggage and started to explore the town. It was convenient because we were staying at the center of it.

Penang Alley

Look at this beautiful building. We were transformed back in time.

After sometime, hungry pang came and we decided to have lunch. Our first meal was Nasi Kandar, the much-raved local food. Nasi Kandar is rice meal; steamed rice poured with many type of curries on top of it with various side dishes, from meat, vegetables to seafood. The thing about Nasi Kandar is you either love it (as most Penangite do, including my very own Hulk), or you hate it; I am the latter part. I despised mixing everything into my rice, and it had a bitter aftertaste.

Oh well, finding meals for the next few days would be a task because it was  Nasi Kandar shops on every corner we turned. Kinda like Starbucks store in Philadelphia (I remember quoting the same sentence somewhere else in my blog, so if you see it again and again, let it be, let it be my thing, to repeat my sentences).

After lunch, we walked to Komtar, passing by Chowrasta market. This market offered many souvenirs, food and otherwise (also Nasi Kandar). So stop by and get something to eat at Pak Ali shop.

The tallest building in Penang, Komtar is a multipurpose commercial building. For little me, years ago, Komtar was a shopping heaven. I fondly remembered Komtar. I remembered when my mom took me there every day when we were in Penang. I remembered buying glittery stuff from Komtar. I didn’t tell much of Komtar to Hulk. I was embarrassed that he might find me silly but still I was excited, I walked faster than him, there were small jumps in my steps to Komtar. But today, I wondered where were all those interesting shops i remember went? I saw a few restaurants outside; it had a huge supermarket, a pharmacy, a clothing department store and few questionable shops inside, but that’s that. This Komtar was not the Komtar I had in my mind. Ten minutes inside, I needed to step outside. I wish I didn’t get to see this Komtar. My memory had a much better Komtar than the one I visited few minutes ago (dramatic sad acoustic music play in the background). Sad, I needed stress snacking, so we sat at a Georgetown coffee shop (Penang version of Starbucks?). I ordered chicken curry and bread (nice!) to ease the pain and Hulk ordered his local favorite, the white coffee.

We were lost in our own thoughts. I was still puzzled on what happened to my Komtar; Hulk was thinking what the hell are we going to do with the rest of our long holiday. How did i know what he was thinking? I asked him, duh!

Oh, I forgot to mention, now that i well air-conditioned roo, it was so frigging hot in Penang. So hot. HOT. Penang was the hottest city I have ever been to and it turned me into one of those fancy pants weather complainer. I caved from the heat, I begged Hulk to go to our hotel, and it was only afternoon. We went back to our hotel, at Penaga Street, called hotel Penaga, to shelter us until the sun went down.

Hotel Penaga has a vintagey-cozy vibe and I dug it. It is a fairly small sized hotel, but it had been kept remarkably well through the decades. My favorite thing about it would be that the library. It is a small room with bookshelves, sofa and a cozy chair.

Book Rack

As for our room? I liked it a lot. it had wooden wardrobes, coloured windows and a long hallway inside the room. The interior of the room was a combination of both old and modern, but I ignored the new touch like the minimalistic neon green chair (why???) on the wooden floor. The bathroom was gorgeous and it had a Jacuzzi (ladies and gentleman, i finally tried Jacuzzi and I LOVED it). The bathroom had a city view; or does that make Penang a city with naked lady in the Jacuzzi view? Depends on your perspective I guess. I couldn’t care much, I just wanted to soak myself in warm bubbly water while reading, which i did, every day.

Whenever I travel and if I like the place, I would imagine myself extending my room stay for an unknown period of time, and I could truly see myself staying in this hotel for a long time except for the unbearable heat of Penang. Have I mentioned that it’s extremely hot? Yes, it was.

Hotel Penaga Penang Bathroom

In the evening, we got ready and planned to explore the happening part of Georgetown, Chulia Street, one of the oldest streets in Penang. According to the tour pamphlet i managed to read during the ride to the hotel, Chulia Street is one of the most happening place in Penang therefore we need to see it.

After some exploring and questioning, we found the beginning of Chulia Street and we started to walk down on it. There was a cozy backpackers hostel there worth checking called Syok@Chulia Street.

I saw many hostels, moneychangers, visa application places on this street. Apparently going to Langkawi or even Thailand is pretty easy from Penang.

After some time, “where are the happening places?”, we were wondering.

Yes, yes.. we saw few “chill-out” places. One called Kafe Monaliza BBQ Cafe (???) with an enormous Monalisa painting; claiming to be a Parisian cafe? But utterly lack the charm of a cafe,  so we walked some more. And yes, we did see westerners there, so we were in the correct place, but it wasn’t what we expected at all.

Then it sank in on me, Penang is heaven for backpackers; not so much for the regulars, suitcase-dragging people like us and especially not Hulk. It definitely wasn’t his type of vacation spot. This guy even refuses to go to many run down places in our own city. It felt like a wrong city to celebrate his birthday.

There was a silver lining on our aimless walk though, I found Hong Ping Hotel. This was where I stayed with my family twenty years ago, and the same hotel motel was standing still. Ah memories.

Walk.. walk..

Colourful shops, strong incense smell, sequins everywhere and songs blasting for radio. Little India was on the other end of Chulia Street, and so were we. Since we were already here and I couldn’t take anymore of the night heat wave we decided to have dinner nearby. We turned to the right corner and saw a two-storey restaurant called Capitan. It was packed with people; it had a TV and staff with uniforms. It looked decent, so we went there. I was disappointed beyond my low expectations. They played the same songs again and again on the TV. Watching Ladki Badi Anjani for the fifth time made me like Datuk Shah Rukh Khan a little less. As for the food, they served some watery curry which I am pretty sure wasn’t cooked at all. Mix curry powder with water and serve it to your customer. This customer won’t come back. Ever.  

The highlight of tonight was the trickshaw ride back to hotel, it has been so long since i ride on a rickshaw and it brought back more memories.

We were back in the hotel early. I knew Hulk was upset. I felt like somehow it’s my fault. I didn’t do enough research before coming here. Now nothing much I could do, on top of that I was sick. I had my cough syrup n slept through CSI but not before taking a mental note of who might be the murderer.

I am sorry Hulk, we shall celebrate your next birthday on a fancy city of your choice (and my liking).

As for myself, i still didn’t know whether i liked Penang now or i prefer the Penang twenty years ago. Maybe it would be easier to decide tomorrow, with a day trip planned by Raff our accidental tour guide.

Have you been to Penang? Where do you consider as a vintage place? and have you ever dislike a food much loved by local?

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