A May 2005 trip
to Penang by Composthp
Quote: My original title was to be "Penang-chiak-gao-peng" (eat until you drop), for that was what we did in the 3 days that we were there. Our Penangite host/friend took great pleasure in filling our stomachs with cheap and yummy food and showing us the rich culture and history of Penang.
We spent a leisurely, yet hectic 3 days taking in the sights and trying out the different kinds of food Penang has to offer. Our days began and ended with "what shall we eat next", and any sightseeing in between was purely coincidental to digest off the calories and to make room for more food-tasting sessions. Hence, we found ourselves stumbling from site to site at our whim and fancy.
My first visit to Penang was more than 8 years ago, and my fondest memory was of its food. Penang has changed since, with its high-rise condominiums and malls, but the food remains just as delicious and cheap.
What to buy:
Him Heang Tau Sar Peah: This is Penang’s famous biscuit. Melt-in-the-mouth green bean paste is wrapped in fluffy layers of pastry. There are many imitators across Malaysia and Singapore, but this is the original and can only be found in Penang. Buy direct from their factory for that added freshness. It keeps up to a month if refrigerated (although we usually wipe out a box within 2 days). A box of 40 costs RM, while a half-size box costs RM.
Address: 162-Jln Burma
Operating hours: 8:30am to 5pm, closed on Sunday
Penang’s other exports are nutmeg licorice, nutmeg oil, nutmeg sweets, nutmeg (spice for cooking). Available at almost every souvenir shop, market, supermarket, and sundry shops.
For more information on Penang, visit their official website HERE.
Attracted by its Islamic-European influenced façade, we decided to stop at the Eastern & Oriental hotel just a street behind. The E&O hotel was established in 1885 and hosted distinguished guests the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.
Entering through the hotel via its revolving door was like walking into a bygone era when the British were the masters of Malaya. This hotel has preserved much of the old world charm and reminded us strongly of another grand dame, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
The cafe was bustling as locals flock to their weekend buffet high tea. The spread was mouthwatering, and we vowed to return the following day to try it. The menu has both local and Western cuisine. We ordered English tea and scones, as befitting the time and place, but could not resist trying their fish and chips as well. The scones were fluffy and moist, served with four different-flavoured jams and whipped cream, while the fish and chips were crisp, fresh, and utterly delicious.
The cafe was cosy, with its coffee-shop setting, high ceiling, and bright natural lighting filtering through its high-panelled glass windows. The service, however, was less than attentive, although friendly. While waiting for the food to be served, we took the opportunity to sneak out to the verandah and were rewarded with a lovely view of the ocean.
We returned the next day but were disappointed to learn that the high tea was not available. Nevertheless, we tried their tiffin set lunch, fish and chips (again), and the teriyaki chicken pizza. We did not leave disappointed.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 29, 2005
10, Lebuh Farquhar
The pristine white harbour light house and flagstaff situated atop the fort at the far left corner from the entrance is presently still in operation and out of bounds to visitors. The lighthouse served dual purposes. It acted as a beacon for incoming ships but also warned British residents living in Penang hill of danger.
Along the perimeter of the fort walls facing the sea are the famed cannons. All were installed by the British with the exception of one, the Seri Rambai cannon that was presented by the Dutch to the Sultan of Johore but later seized by the British. This cannon is now placed at the north-west bastion of the fort and local folklore has it that any barren woman wishing for a child, places flowers at this cannon will have her wish granted.
We spent a pleasant hour exploring the fort and admiring the views of the old Georgetown from the fort walls. Across the fort is the esplanade where locals gather during festivities, e.g., during the 15th day of the Lunar Chinese new year, single women would gather nearby to throw mandarin oranges into the sea in hopes that some lucky gentlemen might pick it up, a traditional custom for men and women to meet.
Operating hours: 8:30am to 6:30pm
Admission: Adult- RM$3, Child- RM$2
For more information, go HERE
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 29, 2005
Padang Kota Lama
Penang, Malaysia 10200
+60 4 261 6663 (Pena
Attraction | "The Lost Military Fortress: Penang War Museum"
This military fortress was built by the British in the early 1930s and spans over 20 acres. Dug into the hill of Bukit Batu Maung, the British created underground tunnels that housed intelligence and logistic centers, halls, ventilation shafts, sleeping quarters etc. It was taken over by the Japanese during the Second World War and converted into a POW camp. When the war was over, this fortress was abandoned and "lost" till recently. It now served as perhaps, one of the youngest living museum in the world for visitors to experience the history, relics and a taste of regimental life of that era.
There are various activities for the adventurous and the not so adventurous. The former, activities like paint-ball wars, WWII trench and jungle trekking, night tour, and team-building activities are available for a price. For the not-so-adventurous, there is a trail explore the fortress and relics in about 1 hour. Just follow the footsteps painted on the ground from the main entrance.
Since we were not all dressed for the more adventurous activities, we stuck to the trail and explored the fort relics. From the canon firing bay to the underground tunnels, the history lessons we learnt in school came alive for us. At the Malay and Indian barracks, we felt shivers down our spine as the barracks re-enacted the horrors of WWII, from the torture chamber to the "sex-slave" barrack that was set up by the Japanese.
The trail led us back to the souvenir shop (surprise-surprise). We did not linger however. With one last look at the pier below from the carpark, we bid farewell to the "lost city".
To get there:
This museum is not easy to find as it is hidden amid dense forest. The turn-in road is small and can be easily missed as well if not for the posters on the light posts. If you are taking public transport, the uphill walk leading to the fortress can be a little tedious and takes about 20mins. Best opt for the taxi.
Operating hours: 9am to 7pm daily
RM$10 for locals
RM$20 for foreigners
Camera fee: RM$2 per camera or video recorder
For more information: Go HERE
Wear light-colored jeans, cargoes, or khakis if you intend to try out the more rugged activities.
Hat and insect repellent is a must.
Wear comfortable and sturdy walking shoes.
Penang War Museum
No. Lot 1350, Mukim 12, Daerah Barat Daya
Attraction | "Fengshui 101 at the Blue Mansion"
The Blue Mansion was his favourite mansion and is located at 14 Leith street, or lotus flower street, as the locals called it. Visitors must join the 2-hour guided tour, held twice a day, led by the vivacious and witty guide. In narrating the life history of Cheong Fatt Tze and how the Blue Mansion was built, she peppered little interesting tidbits much like a friend sharing gossip to engage our attention. We were informed how Cheong Fatt Tze came to about his fortune and acquired eight wives in the process, why he bought a swamp filled with lotus flowers to build his mansion, how he almagated the best elements of the East and West (cast iron from Scotland, craftsmen from China) and cleverly elevated the back of his mansion so that it "rides on the dragon’s back". Of course, we also learnt why the mansion is blue. In fact, in that span of 2 hours of so, we learnt not only his life history but also the basic principles of feng shui (geomancy). We were hardly bored and did not even realize the length of the tour until it was time to go.
The tour began in the waiting hall while we were introduced to Cheong Fatt Tze and to the feng shui of the mansion before being led to the central courtyard for (yes) more fengshui lessons. Another history lesson at the dining area and a closer look at Cheong Fatt Tze and his wives, we were led up the wooden stairs to the upper rooms. There, we were shown the cleverly constructed window lourves called the Yin and Yang and the beautiful ceramic inlaid tiles. Down the stairs again to a little room where antiques were displayed. What fascinated me most was the built-in cupboards (it already existed then) and the painstaking restoration process. The tour ended with a brief sales pitch for their boutique hotel and a peek at one of the guest rooms. We were then led to the last room--the souvenir shop.
Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the mansion (other than the outside façade); this was strictly enforced by staff members unless you are a guest of the mansion (ah, the joy of having a compact digital camera flash off).
Tour hours: 11am and 3pm only
Admission fees: RM$10 (US$2.50)
Duration: 2 hours or thereabouts
For more information and a hotel reservation, go HERE.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 29, 2005
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
14 Leith Street
Penang, Malaysia 10200
+60 4 262 5289
Attraction | "On the Spice Trail"
We were sprayed down with insect repellent by the helpful receptionist at the main gate. It made little difference for I was constantly "attacked" by mosquitoes whenever I pause to take photographs. Still, pesky mosquitoes and inadequate signage indicating the various flora aside, we had a great time smelling the flowers, so to speak. This garden is still relatively "young" as we discovered, some of the flora are still mere saplings. The trails are all fairly easy to navigate about, even for wheelchairs and strollers. For those who tire easily, there is a hop on and off trailer ride that brings visitors from the main gate to the Visitor center situated atop the garden.
Hidden in the Ornamental trail is the Datuk Kong Tree where locals still pray to the spirits that reside in it (particularly a favorite among gamblers) and the giant swing that gives a panoramic view of the beach and surrounds (advisable to take off shoes for those wearing slip ons or you might have to leave barefooted).
Operating hours: 9am to 6pm
Admission fee: RM$10 (US$2.50)- inclusive of panoramic trailer ride
For more information: go HERE
Dress in light-colored clothing (unless you are interested in donating your blood).
Comfortable walking shoes are a must.
Insect repellent and hat are optional.
Tropical Spice Garden
Lot 595 Mukim 2, Jln Teluak Bahang
Attraction | "Anna and the King: Khoo Kongsi"
The ancestors of the Khoos hailed from the Sin Kang clan village in the Hokkien province of China. They were wealthy traders and in 1906, they built the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (Dragon Mountain hall) clan temple in Cannon road. Restoration works were undertaken in 2000 at the cost of RM$4.2m and is today regarded as a cultural and heritage icon.
The temple is hidden away from the main road. Visitors must walk past a row of 19th century shophouses before turning right to the Khoo Kongsi administrative office where admission tickets are sold. Exiting the office, we were directed across and a little further down the road. Turning left, the temple finally came into sight. We took time to explore the small ancestral hall on the right prior to crossing over the courtyard to the temple proper. Here, tablets inscribing the names of the Khoos are placed. Moving towards the courtyard, the building facing the temple is actually a stage for Chinese operatic troupes to perform during festive seasons. Crossing the courtyard, we entered a door on the right hand side. This led us into the museum and ancestral hall where we learnt the history of the Khoo clan through relics and artifacts from the 19th century. It made us curious too of our own ancestors. How fortunate that the Khoo clan has this hall to remind them of their roots!
Moving out of the museum via the souvenir shop, we made our way up the stairs to the temple itself. The carvings on each pillar, wall and door were ornate and intricate. Guarding the central temple hall are two marble lions, two turbaned Sikh guards, and door deities flanking each side of the door. Carvings of auspices creatures and symbolic flora like phoenix, cranes, lions, dragons, lotus flowers, etc., adorned the walls, ceilings, and beams. Look up and the gold-inlaid sign of Leong San tong (dragon, mountain hall) greets all visitors. The threshold was deliberately built high to "forced" visitors to bow to the Gods and ancestors upon entry into the hall as a show of respect. Here, huge murals depicting traditional Chinese literature like the 18 loh-hans and Confucius teachings dominate the walls. Due to the intricate carvings, the temple is practically enclosed in a net to protect it from nesting birds.
Coming back to Anna and the King, my friend did not manage to meet Jodie Foster, Bai Ling, or Chow Yuen Fatt; she did, however, manage to catch a glimpse of Bai Ling’s body double.
Operating hours: 9am-5pm
Admission fees: RM$10
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 1, 2005
18 Cannon Square
Pulau, Penang, Malaysia 10200
+60 4 261 4609
We arrived a little after dinner hours and were lucky to find a parking spot and a table almost immediately. With such a variety of food to select from, choose a table near the stall that you intend to purchase food from as seats are premium and stall holders are territorial.
We hit the nearby vicinity upon landing in Penang for a late dinner (or supper) and were introduced to lok-lok, a hybrid between kebabs and steamboat. This is a great way to socialize and get to know the locals, as everyone gathers around a table laden with all manner of kebabs circling a small pot of bubbling clear soup in the center of the table.
To eat: diners select the partially cooked kebabs and place them into the bubbling soup till cooked, dip them into their preferred sauces like satay or chilli sauces and enjoy! At the end of the meal, the number of sticks is counted, and diners are charged accordingly.
Penang Rojak: The difference is in the sauce and the ingredients. Penang rojak uses more fruits than vegetables. Common ingredients found in Penang rojak include pineapple, green mango, jumbu air, guava, cucumber, turnip, and fried crispy fritters tossed in fragrant dark prawn sauce.
Assam Laksa: This is almost their national/signature dish. It consists of slippery rice noodles soaked in spicy-sour soup topped with sardine flakes, strips of cucumber, and beansprouts. The Penang version has no coconut milk; rather, tamarind juice is added for that added sourish kick. Though I am no fan of laksa, I deemed it my duty as a visitor to try it at least once and lived to tell the tale.
Char Koey Teow: This is my favorite dish--the one dish I crave for whenever I travel. It is essentially stir-fried yellow egg noodles with white rice noodles in sweet black sauce, prawns, egg, and (yes!) beansprouts. The Penang version is lighter compared to Singapore’s version but still sinfully delicious and fattening.
Other dishes we tried were fried tung hoon (fried vermicilla noodles), BBQ stingray in fiery sambal sauce, and assorted desserts like beancurd in brown sugar syrup; needless to say, we stuffed ourselves till our stomachs felt like overstretched balloons that would burst any moment. I think this was where we gained 1kg instantly.
To aid in digestion, we headed across Gurney drive to the paved walkway along the beach. Here, couples and families jostled along to enjoy the sea breeze and night views. Children were kept entertained with balloons and bubbles while their parents took a breather, couples engrossed with themselves, or friends simply hanging out together. If the sea air is not to your liking, head down to the Gurney Plaza next to the food stalls. A relatively new mall, the 1st floor boasts a café strip with cafes like Starbucks, Secret Recipes, Segrefredo sited next to each other and all vying for the young and trendy crowd. A perfect way to end the night no?
How to get there:
Just hop onto a taxi or trishaw and say "Gurney Drive."
Operating hours: 6pm to 12am
Dishes range from RM$2 (US$0.50) onwards.Non alcoholic drinks from RM$1.
We took a leisurely drive along the coastal road of Batu Ferringhi. This is where "big" name hotels like The Shangri-La, Holiday Inn, and Bayview Beach resorts are located. Our main purpose was to seek out the best roti canai (known as roti prata in Singapore, they are Indian-styled pancakes served with curry gravy) in Penang, just after Mutiara Beach hotel at the end of Batu Ferringhi. It was business as usual with anglers standing precariously at boulders just off the beaches trying to hook the next big one, tourists engaged in sea sports, and locals picnicking and enjoying the sea breeze. The winding road offered beautiful views of the sea and resorts on one side and mature flora shading the road on the other. There are several informal lookout points along the way and attractions like the Butterfly Park, the Tropical Spice Garden, and the Batik crafts to keep the locals and tourists occupied.
We ordered mutarbak with potato and onion filling, roti canai served with spicy chicken curry, and tea tarik ("pulled" tea). The roti canai was crispy and fluffy, while the mutarbak were stuffed full with potato and onion wrapped in thinly stretched dough. It was a truly cheap and satisfying meal at the end of a long drive.