Eighty Hours in Penang (Day One)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

After waiting for like years, my dream of traveling to Penang Island, Malaysia became reality. Thanks to my colleague for initiating this trip and becoming such a great travel mate.

Spending nearly four days in the island, wandering in the narrow streets of its old Georgetown, I couldn’t help but feeling like going back in time, when the British established the settlement, and the Chinese, Malay, Indian, Arab, and other ethnic groups flooded the island and created a huge melting pot.

Today, the old town is listed as one world’s cultural heritage by UNESCO. Thank you for coming.

9:10 p.m. The Arrival
Taking a night flight from Jakarta to Penang, we had figured that it would be much easier for us to take the airport taxi to take us to the hotel we had booked few weeks earlier in Georgetown. We knew that we could just take a bus from the airport, but we had no clue where to get off.

The airport taxi, which is not the same with regular city cabs, is not metered. But don’t worry, no haggling is allowed. So, to get the taxi, we have to go first to the taxi boot located outside the arrival terminal, and buy a ticket. The price depends on the distance.
My first impression of Penang, through the taxi’s window, was it looked like Singapore, only less ordered and less cleaner. I kept staring out of the taxi’s window, hoping to see the Georgetown. Slowly the image of modern Penang with its vertical housings began to fade away from the window, changed into rows of old Chinese shop houses, temples, and in some parts, street hawkers.

The nearly forty five minute drives brought us to the Red Inn Heritage Hotel at 15 Love Lane. Soon after checking in, we walked to Lebuh Chulia, just few meters south from the hotel, where there were many street hawkers selling local dishes.
It was way too late for dinner, so we ended up buying “Lok-Lok.” It was some sort of satay, with a range of foods like meats, sea foods, and vegetables. To eat it, we had to dip it first to boiled soup placed in a pot. Commonly, it was served with peanut sauce. We simply love it. And that was our first dinner on the island.

Airport Taxi (airport – Georgetown): RM 44,70
Lok Lok: RM 15,10
Mineral water 1 liter: RM 4,00
Hotel (4 days, 3 nights): RM 464 + RM 50 deposit
8:45 a.m. Morning Walk
Our first destination that morning was the World Heritage Office on Lebuh Acheh. We thought we could obtain some information about the UNESCO site in Georgetown. With the help of google map, it was not really difficult to find it. We walked along the Love Lane to Lebuh Chulia, crossed the street to Lebuh Carnarvon where we found a traditional market.

It turned out that the office was closed on Saturday. So we had to do plan B, which was letting ourselves lost in Georgetown. So we walked to any directions we wanted without any help of a map.

As a person who came to Malaysia for the very first time, Georgetown in that morning didn’t really give me the impression that I was in a Malay dominated country since most people I found on the street spoke in Hokkien Chinese dialect.

9:30 a.m. Lebuh Cannon

We stopped at Khoo Kongsi on Lebuh Cannon. Kongsi is some sort of clan hall, or association of overseas Chinese people who share the same family name or clan. Khoo is one of five major Chinese clans in Penang. The other four are Cheah, Yeoh, Lim, and Tan.

Temple is the main building of every kongsi. Commonly it is surrounded by the clan dwellings. As for Khoo Kongsi, the temple is hidden and cannot be seen from the main road. We had to walk along a narrow alley between two rows of old terrace houses, dating back to the 19th century. 

After paying the admission fee, each of us was given a sticker, stuck on our shirt. As long as we had the sticker, we could enter this kongsi anytime during the day.

The temple was magnificent. It was like the biggest Chinese clan temple I had ever seen. Right across the temple, there was a smaller building which if I wasn’t mistaken, was an opera house. Standing on the plaza, between those two buildings, I imagined that in the past, life must have been very good in this place. 

We stopped by at Yap Kongsi, just a few meters walk from Khoo Kongsi. Apparently, the Yap clan was much less prosperous then the Khoo clan in Penang. The temple was pretty small, and I didn’t find any dwelling around it. We didn’t need to pay for admission fee as this place was free to enter.

10:40 a.m. Lebuh Armenian

Georgetown at this hour was like a hot steamy sauna. We walked to wherever we saw tourists as we had no clue where to go that morning. On a narrow street of Lebuh Armenian, we stopped by at a souvenir store and met Soon Choon Hor, a furniture maker playing a unique instrument with strings and keys. He let people take his picture.

11:00 a.m. Jalan Kapitan Keling

Since we had slept late on the night before, we woke up late in the morning and didn’t get the chance to have the breakfast in the hotel. I was starving and suggested my friend that we find a food stall.

The first stall we found was the one located right next to Masjid Kapitan Keling, an old mosque built in the 19th century by Indian Muslim traders. We had Nasi Kandar for brunch. It was basically plain white rice with curries. It looked like Indonesian Nasi Padang, but it was spicier. The taste was simply irresistible. 

Strolling along Jalan Kapitan Keling, we witnessed the diversity of ethnic and faith in Georgetown. Right across the mosque, we found some jewelry stores belonged to Indian Muslim and Arabic.

Heading to the north east, we found some Chinese shop houses and a Chinese temple of Goddess of Mercy, and right across the Chinese temple, we saw an Indian Hindu temple of Sri Maha Mariamman, located not far from Little India.

12:00 p.m. Lebuh Farquhar

As if to emphasize the diversity of faith in Penang, an Anglican church stood in the corner between Jalan Kapitan Keling and Lebuh Farquhar and named after St George. Too bad, we were not allowed to take pictures from the yard as it was not open for tourists. However, we were advised by the old security guard to return on the following morning as there was going to be a Sunday service at the church, and by that time, we would be allowed to take pictures from the yard.

Enough with the getting lost, we were then heading to Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. To reach that place, we had to walk along Lebuh Farquhar and then Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah before turning left to Lebuh Leith.
On the way to the mansion, we stopped by at an old Catholic Church of The Assumption. Tourists were allowed to get inside the church and took pictures in it. Right in front of the church, a statue of Marry was erected.

12:40 p.m. Chinese Blue Mansion

The mansion, also known as Blue Mansion, is only open for tourists at certain hours; 11.00AM, 01.30PM, and 03.00PM.

We came too early to the Blue Mansion. It was still 12:45PM, and it was not open until the next forty five minutes. So we ended up sitting at the entrance gate, together with the guard who was old and was very strict as not to let anyone go through the entrance gate before 01.15 PM. That was so much different with the common situation in Indonesia where people from any social class could easily break the rule.

Fifteen minutes before the tour inside the mansion began, the gate was opened. We bought the tickets and got inside the mansion. We had learnt from the internet that visitors were not allowed to take pictures inside the mansion during the tour. It was a relief to know that the rule was no longer applied. We could take pictures as much as we liked as long as we stuck around with the entourage.

The one hour tour began right at 01.30PM, guided by Joahn Khaw, a UNESCO cultural heritage specialist guide. With so many tourists around her, it was not easy for me to focus on her explanation. All I wanted to do was to capture the grandeur of the mansion.

I am not going to write here in this blog, the history of the mansion and all the stories behind it as I’m avoiding making mistakes in writing those matters. In case you are interested to know more about the Blue Mansion, I suggest that you go to its official website or buy the book sold in the gift shop at the mansion.

To know further about Cheong Fatt Tze, the main figure who owned this mansion, please go to this site.


03:10 p.m. Afternoon Walk
It was said that there were three seasons in Penang; hot season, hotter season, and hottest season. Well, I couldn’t agree more with that. Getting out from the mansion at around two, I found myself soaked with sweat.
From Lebuh Leith, we walked around the UNESCO World Heritage Site, stopped by at Chocolate Museum where we were allowed to taste few delicious chocolates, and bought some homemade kind of ice creams and ended up praying at an old mosque of Jamek Benggali.

Our next destination was Fort Cornwallis on Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah. To reach the place, we walked, again, through Jalan Kapitan Keling, where we stopped by an old Chinese temple of Goddess of Mercy. It was a typical old temple, just like the ones I had seen in some Chinatowns in Indonesia.

We walked again and then turn right to Lebuh Light, and crossed the street to Padang Esplanade right in front of the town hall.
One thing I learned about crossing the street in Malaysia was, despite the fact that Malaysia was similar to Singapore in many ways, it was so hard to find a proper place to cross the street and the drivers were definitely intolerant with pedestrians. I guessed in this case, Malaysia was pretty similar to Indonesia.

5:00 p.m. The Esplanade
The Padang was a huge green square with no paving on it. In this bright afternoon, people played soccer and jogged around the square.
Not far the town hall, there was a cenotaph erected to honor those died in wars. One of the wars written on the plague was Indonesian Confrontation in 1960s. Well, that stupid confrontation initiated by Soekarno would stay forever in their memory.

5:15 p.m. The Old Fort
We walked across the Padang Esplanade to reach the fort. It was a typical European fort established in the late 18th century to defense the island of Penang. One thing caught my eyes was the tall statue of Sir Francis Light, the founder of the British settlement on the island. He was like the Singapore’s Raffles of Penang. I hope one day the people of Jakarta will regard Jan Pieter Zoon Coen as the founder of their city and have his statue erected as a memorial.

I learned that the fort had been restored by archeologists. So it was not in the real exact condition as it had been in 18th century. Since it had not been occupied for centuries, all the spaces inside the fort were empty. I was interested to enter a building which had been used as a chapel by Francis Light.
The fort was designed to face the Malacca Strait at north. Some cannons were put facing the north to defense the island from enemies. The biggest cannon I saw in that place had an engraving of VOC (Dutch East Indie trading company) on its body. Why Dutch trade company and not the British? I had no idea.

It was over six in the afternoon, and we were exhausted from walking around the old town. On the way back to the hotel, we paused for taking pictures of another memorial monument across the Supreme Court.
It was erected to honor the Logan brothers. Their names might not ring a bell at all to most Indonesian people’s ears, but it was them who created the name of Indo-Nesia. Not only the name, had they also figured the archipelagos defined as Indo-Nesia.
To know further about Logan brothers and their roles in creating the islands of Indo-Nesia, please go to this site.

We reached the hotel before dark. Since we were exhausted from walking around the town – no riding bus at all – we kind of demanded a good and proper meal. We had heard about the famous fried Kwey Tiauw of Penang, and looked forward to having it for dinner.

Finding a halal food near our hotel was not as easy as we had expected. We were fortunate to find a Malay woman – assuming that she was a Muslim – selling fried Kwey Tiauw on the street. Confirming that there was no pork in it, we ordered two plates of it and two cups of Tea Tarik (tea with condensed milk).

Apparently, a plate of kwey tiauw was not enough to refill the calories we had lost on that day. We went for another Lok-Lok and ended up buying Kue Apom.

That night, we slept earlier than the previous night, hoping to get up earlier to catch the morning light. At our minds, there were several places to go. Hope we wouldn’t have to get lost again.


Khoo Kongsi Admission Fee: RM 10/personNasi Kandar (two persons): RM 18,80Blue Mansion Admission Fee: RM 12/personBlue Mansion Book: RM 69 Fort Cornwallis Admission Fee: RM 2/personDrinks & Ice creams: RM 30Fried Kwey Tiauw: RM 4/plateTea Tarik: RM 1,3/glassLok Lok: RM 96 Kue Apom: RM 3

Even though Georgetown is not as friendly as Singapore to pedestrians, I think the best way to enjoy the old town and sense its past glory is by walking.

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  1. impian juga ke Penang. dari tahun kemaren belum nemu tiket murah selain susah mecing jdwal ama travelmates. hihihihi. tp tujuannya trip kuliner sih. George T itu spot tujuan kulinernya kah Wib?
    oh iya..Red Inn tarifnya sehari brp?

    1. Georgetown itu ibukotanya Negara bagian Penang na. Itu kota tua nya UNESCO juga. Kalo makanan sih.... di georgetown banyak banget. Di tiap hotel ada brosur panduan buat nyari segala jenis makanan di sana.

  2. akhirnya ketemu juga. sayangnya ga ada review.
    buat cewek ini aman ga Wib?

    1. Aman kok. Di sana setau gue relatif aman. Tengah malam pun masih banyak turis jalan2 buat cari makanan.
      Jangan lupa juga sarapan di hotel. Roti canainya enak banget. Beda sama yang ada di jakarta.

  3. Greetings, do you happen to know the name of the instrument that the man was playing in the souvenir shop? I have only seen and heard it once before and would love to find one some day, but I do not know the name, so searching is difficult. Thanks!

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for coming to my old blog. I think searching is easy, considering that I wrote down the player's name in this story. The instrument's name is Taishogoto, according to this link: http://rage.com.my/brats-penang-2013-traditions-to-last/

      For more stories about Penang, please feel free to check out my blog at www.wibowowibisono.com