One of my closest friends, Sarah, spent six months loving people and playing frisbee in Malaysia. I had originally hoped to shadow her around her city, but instead I found myself visiting after she had headed back to the states. I wasn't alone, thankfully, and Casey made plans to come along with me. We planned to plan for about three weeks but instead left our actual plans to right before and even during our trip. We had a list of things, a very small idea of what to expect, and no checked bags.
Upon arrival in Penang, we took a taxi to our guesthouse, Carnarvon House. The space was incredible, an old shop house converted to house about fifteen guests at a time. Every morning had light like you wouldn't believe and the owners, Terry and Eunice, took it very seriously that each of their guests feel at home. They even found out what we liked for breakfast and brought it to us on our last day (it's called Roti Canai, make sure you try some if you go to Malaysia)!
After settling in, we headed to a little café called the Mugshot, a place known for it's bagels. We made sure to try the fresh ones: sesame seed, with a huge smear of cream cheese. The bagel warmed up the cheese and the whole thing was enough to fill me up for the rest of the evening. We walked to find the shore, anxious to see the ocean each day since we never see the beach in Chiang Mai.
Day two was for street art exploring and boutique hopping. We saw every color of the rainbow possible on buildings, in shops, adorning temples and in the sprayed and painted art throughout Georgetown, the capital of the island. We walked Armenia Street probably five times in that one day, finding beautiful postcards, henna artists and water chestnuts out the wazoo.
After a lunch of the famed char koay teow (a pad thai ish dish with three times the meat and slimier noodles), we found the Blue Mansion and then made our way to The Alley, the coffee shop where Sarah worked during her last three months in Penang. The place was industrial and hip, the perfect hidden café for any foreigner who doesn't want to look too much the tourist. We had churros and split a cronut (I could have eaten my own, but I denied my sweet tooth... miraculously). While we hung around a couple days later we got to judge a latté art contest. Check out that upper left, the art from the newbie won out!
In the morning we bought a ticket for the Penang Hop-On Hop-Off bus, the tourist bus that hits all the hot spots in town. (My advice, buy a bus pass for the rapidPenang buses instead. It's the same price as the tourist bus and is for seven days instead of one. Wish we had found that out before our last day!) We headed to the lookout outside the main city, called Penang Hill. On the way there we saw several different types of monkey, brown, black, you name it. The flora was beautiful and colorful like everything we'd seen of Penang thus far, plus the view didn't disappoint either.
The next stop we hopped off at was Kek Lok Si Temple, a Buddhist temple of epic proportions. Traveling from a mainly Buddhist culture, it was interesting to see that this temple was even more over the top than many of the wats we'd seen in Thailand. There was an entire pool of turtles waiting to greet visitors before you even began the journey up the stairs leading to the entrance.
Before we hopped onto the beach route of the tour bus, we stopped for a lunch of Penang Laksa, a unique noodle soup in a fish broth. I think I said to Casey at one point that it "tastes like medicine I wouldn't want to take." I'm not sure what I meant by that, and I don't remember hating it, but I also remember thinking I wouldn't want to eat it again. The Malay men next to us told us we used chopsticks better than the Chinese, and that's all that really matters in the grand scheme of this lunch. We cleansed our palettes with Chendol, an icy peanut soup with red beans and cold jelly noodles. Something I never thought I would enjoy, enjoyed.
We headed out on the beach route and went all the way to the end of the line, getting off at the Penang National Park and running out onto the wharves and the beaches to experience the impending doom of the storm rolling in. We didn't escape before the downpour soaked us through!
As the sun was setting we (after freshening up of course) walked to Kapitan for incredible indian food, and then over to ChinaHouse, a café with amazing cakes, a beautiful bar and a never ending hallway that led to a music venue in the back. The tables had paper on them and they offered fancy pastel crayons to draw with. Arted rice boxes hung everywhere and the place was buzzing from the moment we walked in. Casey ordered a chocolate cake neither of us could finish and I had a malted milk brownie.
Saturday was our third full day, most of which was spent going to, traveling and recovering from our time at Monkey Beach. We took the bus to the park where we hired a boat to take us to and from the area. Once we arrived we walked up and down the shore to check things out before wading out in to the super blue (but not so clear) water. We ate and basked and walked, and I'm still surprised we didn't burn at all.
In the evening we enjoyed a ferry ride to and from the mainland (free one way, less than $.60 to go bak), gawking over the views and loving the salty wind. When we returned to the island, we met up with a couple of Sarah's friends for a trip to where the locals eat: street stalls on Chulia Street. We tried Wanton Mee, which is like the heavenly version of the noodles soups here. Only better. Think thin noodles in a saucier soup than a traditional broth, with greens, pork, and crunchy, fried fat. Yes. Fat. We also tried Curry Mee, which is a cuttlefish soup and I wasn't a fan. You can see for yourself if you look at Casey's Instagram (@cmccollum12). The pictures were pretty indicative of how I felt. After dinner we wrapped up the evening with a visit to the massive Macallum, a restaurant and café that also teaches classes in baristadom.
For our last morning we headed to Constant Gardener (another of Sarah's recommended shops) to debrief our trip and have some time to read and record what we'd been doing all week. It was nice to have some quiet and calm time to process all that we'd done, and CG was a perfect place to do so. Eric, one of our friends from the night before, picked us up and we picked up a quick lunch of chicken rice on our way to the Penang Bridge, particularly a part of it more known to locals. Eric and Jovern were fantastic hosts to us during our last couple days in Penang, showing us the best spots and treating us like long lost friends.
Jovern and Eric took us to the Lobby, a new space born out of the owners of The Alley and a clothing line called Pestle & Mortar. Having just opened a week before we were there, the place was pleasantly busy, several shoppers stopped in and we saw lots of customers while we sipped our iced coffee and (for Casey) juice. Jovern ordered a "piffle," which may be the combination of a pizza and a waffle, I'm still trying to figure that one out. Our last stop before the airport was dinner at Sri Ananda Bahwan, an indian restaurant known for its banana leaf rice meal, which I happily (and as a challenge, since Jovern didn't think I could finish it) devoured. We left for the airport with full stomachs.
We may have been prepared to hit all the things that we wanted to in Penang. We did just about everything on the list we had when we arrived. We weren't expecting to fall in love with the colorful and culturalful atmosphere of the island quite as much as we did. Though we explored it to the full, we can't wait for an excuse to go back.