After a total of 51 days spent in Thailand, Kyle and I were ready for a change of scenery. Multiple bouts of food poisoning had put us off Thai food, and while it’s hard for some people to believe, we were very beached-out. The minute we crossed the border into Malaysia from Thailand and saw smooth roads, four-lane highways and manicured grassy patches, our moods began to shift from subtle irritation as to why we hadn’t booked a flight home already to a slight rejuvenation to keep trucking on just that little bit longer. It’s amazing how you notice and appreciate something like the presence of guardrails on the road after travelling in areas where these safety precautions are non-existent for several months.
We arrived in Georgetown on the island of Penang in Malaysia after a full day of travelling, and decided to splurge a bit on the hotel that my parents would be coming into the next day. We had said goodbye to them on Koh Tao with the expectation that we wouldn’t be seeing them again for the rest of the trip, but since we cut out a few islands and came straight from Koh Phi Phi, our schedules coincided perfectly. Eating at street stalls while slugging down a few beers was a great way to end our travels with them, finishing in much the same way that it all began (but substitute the Pad Thai for a good curry).
The main attraction of Georgetown is the food, and man is it ever delicious. Indian food was my favorite here by far, with restaurants offering a full tandoori set including chicken and naan bread with multiple dipping sauces. I’m someone that usually goes for the chicken tikka massala, but I’m glad I branched out on this one and ordered items I wouldn’t have normally tried. While in Georgetown, going to Restoran Kapitan in Little India is an absolute must. The tandoori sets here cost $4.37 Canadian, and come with enough chicken to last you from brunch until beer time (let’s say 6PM to be modest). We ate here twice and were drooling just as much in anticipation the second time around.
Unfortunately while we were there most street stalls were closed for the Chinese New Year, but we did manage to have some success on Lebuh Kimberley on the last night. Dishes ranged from soups to Pad Thai-like noodle concoctions, all for only a few bucks. For seating simply purchase your food from the stall, then head into one of the seating areas and order drinks for a table.
Reggae Hostel is a popular chain throughout Malaysia, and with a great atmosphere, bar area and beds with the most privacy I’ve ever seen in a dorm room, this is the place to stay for something a bit more luxurious. Sounds expensive, but we only paid about $10 each per night in Georgetown. For something slightly more upscale, you could try the Hotel Malaysia, which is where my parents stayed while visiting.
While we focused most of our time in Georgetown, renting a scooter and exploring the island of Penang would make a great day trip. A friend who we met up with later said she loved zipping through the surrounding areas, and would recommend this for anyone who feels comfortable on a scooter. Instead, we hopped on a local bus and headed to Penang Hill for the day. Taking the cable car up to the top is always entertaining, and we spent a good chunk of time wandering through the forest area, taking in the views and appreciating the slightly lower temperature compared to the intense humidity in the city. Despite almost being attacked by a monkey (not as cute and cuddly as you might think), overall it was a good day.
For city sightseeing, head to Pinang Peranakan Mansion on 29 Church Street (entrance fee $3.33 Canadian). The museum is more like a house filled with various furniture, jewelry, clothing and other items from a wealthy Nonya family showing various bits of heritage through the ages. After that, wander over to the Clan Jetties by the Quay where the first settlers set up shop. The Jetties are basically small villages propped up over the water, complete with accommodation, personal housing and a few tourist stores. After this, take in the various pieces of street art around the city. In 2009 a project began titled Marking Georgetown. Since then multiple pieces of art have popped up all over the city, making it possible for visitors to make their own street art walking tours.
For us, the main attraction of Georgetown was the food. Unfortunately because of Chinese New Year our options were more limited than usual, but Restoran Kapitan alone was enough to make us want to come back to this city. Moreover, it was much cleaner than the islands of Thailand, and Malaysia in general felt much closer in terms of infrastructure and general wealth to the western world than the rest of Southeast Asia. This was the perfect first stop on our Malaysian experience.