George Town is a city at the north-eastern corner of the Malaysian island of Penang. Named after the British King George III, the island was leased to a British trade boat captain in exchange for protection from the Burmese and Siamese armies. The captain, however, had no intention of fulfilling the lease and instead set up George Town as a trading port.
While the island is commonly reached by ferry from the mainland for less than a dollar, it is reachable by road via a pair of bridges. Penang bridge is 13.5km long while the newer Penang 2 bridge is 23.5km. George Town has several long waterfronts adorned with hotels and shipping yards.
Like most other major cities in Malaysia, George Town’s streets are littered with art. In 2012 the city announced a street art project for the annual George Town Festival. Now there are more than 100 pieces on walls across Old City. Some pieces were created by Ernest Zacharevic, the famous Lithuanian artist responsible for other works across Malaysia.
While some of the art is in the form of murals, often with a cat theme, other pieces use props. One of the more famous pieces includes a bicycle set against a plastered wall with a pair of children painted to look like they’re riding it.
Since the festival, wrought iron comic designs have also begun appearing around Old City.
Penang Hill is the tallest hill on the island and is one of the most popular tourist locations. At 883 metres, it gives amazing views over George Town, the coastline and mainland Malaysia.
The easiest way to get to the top is by funicular train, a train operated from top and bottom by cable. Near the top the train passes through a brief tunnel, noted as being the steepest train tunnel in the world. While the ascent is fairly sedate with the training chugging up the hill, the descent can be quite exhilarating as it races towards the bottom.
At the top there is a double story food court, several private restaurants, an owl museum, a mosque and a hindu temple.
Penang National Park
The smallest national park in Malaysia, Tama Negara Pulau Pínang, is in the very north-west of the island, about 13km by road from George Town. There are several ways to get to the national park, by tour bus, local bus, car or as we did, by scooter. We couldn’t help ourselves, we enjoy riding them.
While the park is small, it does have several longer trails, the longest being 6km. There are many species of animals in the park, including two different species of monkeys. This cute but cautious girl is a Spectacled Leaf Monkey.
With rain imminent when we arrived, we decided to only take a short walk to the Canopy Walk, about 20 minutes along the trail. The Canopy Walk stretches for 250m through the tree tops. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was closed. So we walked back through the forest and along the waterfront to the scooters before heading back across the island.
As part of the lease for Penang Island, the fort was built to protect the island from pirates, the Siamese and the Burmese, but it never actually saw battle. The grounds of are now used as concert venue.
The cannon barrels that remain on the walls are sometimes used by locals as a fertility charm. If flowers are left by barrels it’s supposed to help an infertile woman get pregnant. I guess size does matter when it comes to cannons…
Kek Lok Si Temple
On our way to Penang Hill we spied a very large temple at its base. On our final morning in George Town and with a few hours left of our scooter hire, we headed inland to check it out.
Ken Lok Si, meaning Temple of Supreme Bliss, is said to be the largest buddhist temple in South East Asia. At the temple entrance there are lines of shops, restaurants and a turtle pond, a buddhist tradition. The main Pagoda is built in three distinct architectural styles, the lower third is Chinese, the midsection Thai and the top Burmese.
On the hill above the temple, up a 100m skylift, is a 30m tall bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
Overall, George Town has a modern feel about it and is set up both for locals and tourists alike. The Old Town does have a more closed-in feeling, with thin streets and many hostels and guesthouses.
Next we catch a ferry to Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah.
The Trail Wanderers