George Town, Penang, as seen from the ferry dock at Butterworth on the mainland.
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — Cameron Highlands was a bit of a snoozer, but George Town was a real treat. Several writers have described George Town as one of the top places to retire, and I can see why. Great food, lots of things to see and do, great people, interesting culture. I was reluctant to leave at the end of my week there.
It’s only a five-hour trip by coach from Brinchang to Butterworth. The coach leaves from Tanah Rata, just south of Brinchang, and stops in Brinchang to pick up passengers on the way to Ipoh terminal and finally Butterworth. As I discovered, the head office of the coach line, Unititi, is at the Brinchang Hotel, but the main bus terminal for the Cameron Highlands is in Tanah Rata. Good to remember for the next time I come.
I could have stayed on the bus all the way onto Penang Island, but my Airbnb hosts told me the ferry from Butterworth to George Town would put me closer to their home. Plus, it’s a lot more picturesque.
Here’s some history about George Town. Like many other cities with similar names, it’s named after King George III (the fellow we Americans had some difficulties with around 1776 or so). It became an important port for the British East India Company. Now, its population is about 500,000, and it is still important as a port city and commercial hub of Malaysia. In addition, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
[Its Chinese name is 乔治市 qiáozhì shì, a transliteration of “George” into Mandarin. Coincidentally, my adopted Chinese name is 乔远君 qiáo yuǎn jūn.]
Since I haven’t mentioned it before, Malaysia is a former British colony, and for that reason, English remains the lingua franca of this multicultural nation. So, I have had really no communication problems on this sojourn at all.
One example of George Town’s (and Penang’s) rich cultural mix is “the Street of Harmony” in George Town, where within a few blocks of one another, there are a Chinese Buddhist/Taoist temple, a mosque, a Hindu temple, and an Anglican church. The Buddhist temple dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, is one of the city’s oldest buildings, dating from 1800.
Aside from walking around town, finding street art and sampling Chinese, Indian and Malay food, here are some of my activities. I visited Penang Botanical Gardens, Penang Hill (by funicular), Batu Ferringhi (not yet part of the Ferengi Alliance), the Blue Mansion, and Kek Lok Si Temple. And I only scratched the surface of all that is there.
Rather than babble on, I’ll devote the rest of this post to photos, with lengthy captions. But before that, I want to say I really like George Town and intend to go back there sometime in the near future. You should go, too. There are frequent flights connecting Penang to the rest of the world. In fact, I took one to get to Singapore, my next stop.
On Sundays, one of the main streets in George Town is closed to traffic for a street market. This fellow was playing rock music to raise money for an orphanage in Thailand, on an electric tennis racket!
This bicycle is perhaps the most famous example of the city’s street art. There are maps pinpointing all of the iron art and murals in George Town, but it’s more fun to just find them by accident.
A view of the city — and Butterworth on the mainland — from the top of Penang Hill. There is a park on the hill, as well as restaurants, a mosque and a temple to the Hindu god Murugan. Monkeys live there, too.
George Town at night, with Butterworth in the background. Pardon the blurriness, as I didn’t have a tripod with me.
Kek Lok Si Temple 极乐寺 is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. It is lit up with colored lights every year for the Spring Festival.
These lights reminded me of icicles, though the temperature was almost 90°F.
One of two cosplay models at the temple. They told me they were college students just having some fun.
She’s wearing more traditional clothing than her friend, but they share the same hair color. 🙂
Another view of the lights from within the temple itself. Kek Lok Si is Hokkien dialect for Temple of Supreme Bliss. In Mandarin, it is Jílè sì.
The “Blue Mansion” was once of the palatial home of a Chinese entrepreneur of the 19th century, Cheong Fatt Tze. It gets its color from the indigo plant. Cheong began his business empire in Indonesia, but expanded operations in George Town. To impress his British clients, he built this house in the Chinese style, but used expensive clay floor tiles from Britain and wrought iron from Scotland. He left the home in his will to his seventh wife, Tan Tay Poh, who was six decades younger than he when they married. Cheong stipulated the mansion could not be sold until their son died. Penang businessmen bought the home around 1990. It was dilapidated and had to be restored. It now houses a boutique hotel and restaurant, as well as a small museum.
This is Pinang Peranakan, the home of another Chinese mogul, Chung Keng Kwee, who died in 1901. Its interior furnishings were better preserved than those of the Blue Mansion.
Street art commemorating Jimmy Choo, the shoe designer.
This street shows the traditional “shophouse’ style of George Town homes. The ground floor is for the shop, and the owners would live in the floor above.
One last street art example, Ficus Dreams. This is handblown glass affixed to the wall.
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