When we sailed to Penang last November we both agreed our stay on this fascinating, vibrant island was too short and we should revisit sometime. As a complete surprise for Elaine’s return to Malaysia, Bob had booked a short (35 minute) Firefly flight there from Langkawi for 4 days of R & R and sightseeing. We overflew Rebak Marina shortly after takeoff – see photo on Pipistrelle’s Journey page – and got a bird’s-eye view of Pipistrelle!
While we were there we would also be able to obtain 2 month tourist visas from the Thai Consulate General – not otherwise available on entry to Thailand. An uncomplicated procedure, we arrived at 0930, completed the requisite forms, handed in our passports, left for some sightseeing and returned at 1530 to pay the fee and collect our visas.
The Heritage Hotel in the heart of old George Town was our base. Modern and comfortable with air conditioned rooms and ‘wifi’ facility, it is within easy walking distance of Armenian Street, numerous temples and a range of restaurants – ideal for us! Not to mention the shopping malls nearby – but we won’t!
Hidden away among high rise blocks is a magnificent gold tower of the Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Thai Temple. Built in 1845, it houses the Reclining Buddha. At 33 metres long and completely covered in gold leaf this Enlightened One is said to be the largest of its kind. Finger and toenails are decorated in striking mother of pearl mosaic!
Just opposite is the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple founded in the early 19th century where halls, shrines, pagodas and goldfish ponds in the grounds are a haven of calm and serenity.
Noteworthy are a golden Buddha, standing about 10 metres tall with marble head and feet, and a hall of Buddhas in different facial and hand poses.
On a comical note are statues of two boys carrying a bell between them.
A pair of Guardians and Protectors or Panca-Rupa with elephant trunk and tusks, deer horns, horse’s legs and ears, body and tail of the fish and the wings of the mythical Garuda bird guard the world, where the Indian Ocean takes centre stage!
At 830 metres above sea level, Penang Hill dominates the island and we took the funicular railway to the top. With signposts telling us we were 14,000 km from London, only 2,400 km from Hong Kong, and 2,000 km from Ho Chi Minh City, once more endorsing the centre of the universe obviously had a definite Asian focus. A mass tourist attraction, unfortunately we found little to inspire us apart from a marvellous mural on a temple at the summit and the rather hazy outlook over the city.
In the distance we saw clearly Straits Quay Marina (SQM), and even a vessel making the approach. It was none other than Oceans Dream with Jackie and Adrian on board, who had already invited us to supper with them that evening!
The Botanic Gardens established by the British in 1884 from an old quarry is the only garden of its kind in Malaysia, reminiscent of one of the London parks on a much smaller scale and unfortunately parched in the driest months the region has known for some years. Though disappointing overall, we saw some cheeky macaque monkeys, terrapins with lovely markings and the very unusual and beautiful flower of the cannonball tree, so called because the fruit resembles just that – a cannonball!
We strolled along Campbell Street, lit by Chinese lanterns at night, and during the day on the way back to our hotel came across a ramshackle shop front where a man was poring over a piece of oblong red card. He was applying gold lettering to the card which when framed would become a prayer card to be deposited at a temple.
Back in Armenian Street we took in funky street art (see also Postcard from Penang), some created by Ernest Zacharevic.
We walked along historic Cannon Street with its terraced houses and discovered the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi.
This fine Chinese clan house complex was completed in about 1906, having been built in the 1850s and destroyed by fire some years earlier. It belonged to the Khoo clan who had emigrated from Hokkein Province in southern China and made their fortune as merchants trading in Malacca and Penang. It was completely self-contained and self-governed, included educational facilities, shops, temple and opera stage. Beautiful carvings and architecture abound. An extensive and costly restoration project was concluded in 2001. It was well worth paying the modest entry fee.
To sum up, we love this enchanting island with its diversity of architecture, people and scenery.