What to see and do in George Town – Penang Island
After landing in the early morning at Penang Airport, I ask for a bus to Georgetown. The bus stop is in front of the airport entrance and the ticket to the city costs 2 Ringgit ( 0,50$ ). The ride to the city centre is around 50 minutes and the Bus terminal is close to the Komtar Mall. After leaving the backpack in the guest house, it is time to explore this beautiful city, Unesco Heritage site since 2008. My first stop is the Kek Lok Si Temple. From Jalan Penang Road, I get into the bus n. 201 (it costs 2 ringgit ) and after 30 minutes I jump down at Jalan Air Itam, just a short walk from the bottom base of the temple.
Penang has a strong and influential Chinese community and Kek Lok Si is one of Southeast Asia’s largest Chinese Buddhist temples and one of the most well-known attractions in Penang, and a pilgrimage site for some Buddhist followers throughout Southeast Asia. Before getting the temple, built on a hill, I first have to pass by many street food stalls and then walk up a gradual inclining set of stairs and walkways, that are sheltered by many ”Chinese” souvenir shops. The tour is very interesting, I first visit the Kek Lok Si pagoda, known as Ban Po Thar, with its 7 levels ( climb to the top took just about 5 minutes ) and built in 3 different sections, the base in a Chinese style, the centre is Thai and the top is Burmese. Reached the top I have a very wonderful overview of Kek Lok Si temple, the big statue of Kuan Yin and the island of Penang. Left the pagoda I go straight to the Kuan Yin statue ( i have to take a ” inclined elevator” ), a 36.5-meter high bronze statue of the Goddes of Mercy. It’s surrounded by a bigger octagon-shaped pavilion and there are also some other small shrines and pagodas in the area, as well as a deck for a view of Penang.
Leaving the Pagoda I go back to Jalan Air Itam to have an early lunch at Penang air Itam Laksa, said to be one of Penang’s most famous street food stalls to eat Asam laksa. It’s one of the popular local dishes of thick rice noodle with Asam Laksa fish base soup and filled with a different type of sliced vegetables like onions, cucumber, mint, chopped red chillies and red ginger flower. I have to tell that it was one of the tastier I’ve ever tried so far, with the right balance of sour and savoury that allowed me to just gulp down the whole bowl of gravy after finishing every last strand of the thick noodle! After this ” local food stop”, I’d like to climb the Penang Hill but the weather is not that good, and surely I can’t enjoy the city’s view from the top. I decide to go back to the town ( taking the bus n. 203 getting down at Jalan Penang road ) and start visiting the most interesting and historical spots. Once in the town centre, I take the ”PenangCat” free shuttle bus, a free service that help you visiting the Georgetown heritage sites. I get off in front of the Queen Victoria memorial clock tower, then I visit the Old Cornwallis Fort.
Captain Sir Francis Light, representing the good ole British East India Company, first built a wooden fort here in 1786 and founded Georgetown, a British colony named for Britain’s King George III. Between 1808 and 1810, convict labour built the current stone fort with the star-profile shape of the walls allowing for overlapping fields of fire against enemies. Even though nowadays it’s not so particularly impressive, it is the largest and most intact fort remaining in Malaysia. The outer walls stand to enclose a rather spare park where you can find on display artefacts from the days of British rule.
Once left the Fort I walk along the seafront (Jalan Tun Street) seeing the world war monument, the town hall and the city hall. Following Jalan Masjid street, I have a short stop to St. George’s Church and the beautiful Goddes of Mercy Buddhist Temple. Along the same street, it is worth visiting the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple but above all the Kapitan Keling Mosque. It is the oldest mosque in George Town and it was established with a large site endowed by East India Company in 1801.
After a quick break drinking a beer, I have a stroll around Chinatown, with its beautiful colonial houses and the famous “Lebuh Armenian Street“. Along this crowed street you can enjoy George Town Street Art. It all started in 2012 George Town Festival with a street art project called “Mirrors George Town”. Since then, street art has been popping up all over the city. Throughout the town, you can also find a unique series of steel – rod caricatures which retells the history of the streets and stories of its communities in a local voice. Before having dinner my last stop is Little India, walking around Queen Street and Chulia Street. My short visit to George Town is over, but with no doubt it was worth!
Need to Know about George Town
|How to get there
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It is very easy to move through the town. The best way to enjoy your visit is by walk. Anyways there is a free bus service called “CAT” which stops close to the main attractions of the town. If you want to visit the attractions out of the town, you can take the local buses. The ride is 2 ringgit. Kek Lok Si Temple is served by n. 204, 203 and 201 bus line; Pantai, Acheh NP, Tropical Spice Gardens, Butterfly Farm, Monkey Beach are served by n. 101 bus line; Penang Hill by n. 204 bus line.
Another useful way to visit all the main attractions inside and outside the town is the “Penang Hop on – Hop off” Bus. There are 2 different routes (city and beach route) with a frequency of 20/30 minutes (city route) and around 1 hour and 15 minutes (beach route). The ticket costs 45 ringgit for 24 hours and 79 ringgit for 48 hours.
Check on klook.com all the activities in town and its surroundings.
Where to sleep
There are many sorts of accommodations: hostels, guest houses and hotels. The average price for budget accommodation is around 80 ringgit. I slept at Islander Lodge, not far from Chinatown.
Where to eat
There are many restaurants in the city and the average expense for a budget dinner is around 30 ringgit.
Mural and street art
If you are keen on street and mural art, ask your accommodation or at Tourist Information Centre (10, GF, Lebuh Pantai Beach street) the “Marking George Town” map. This useful map leads you around the city finding out all the steel – rod sculptures and the other popular art. At the Information Centre, you can also join a free tour of the city every Tuesday Thursday and Saturday at 10:30 (it lasts around 1 hour and a half).