Sunday, 8 November 2015

South-East Asian Adventures: George Town, Malaysia

After three days on the island paradise of Koh Samui, we got up at the somewhat ungodly hour of 4.30am to begin a looooong travel day. 

One ferry, three minivans, a border crossing, two new passport stamps and 14 hours later, we made it to George Town, the capital of Penang in Malaysia!

We watched night turn to day from the ferry and wound our way through mountains, past palm trees and beside rice fields.

Immediately after crossing the border, Malaysia felt different to Thailand. It's cleaner, brighter and neater somehow - for example, the main roads are lined with manicured bushes.

We arrived in George Town just as the sun was setting, which was gorgeous. Before we'd even made it off the minibus, we were all saying how much we liked George Town already.

You may be thinking George Town is not a very Malaysian-sounding name. And you'd be right to think so, oh astute one. The city is named so because it used to be owned by the British ('iya!) waaaaay back when. And that's also why we found roads called Buckingham, Leith and Cannon Streets.

After settling into our hotel (nothing to write home, or blog, about) we were all pretty hungry and tired so popped over the road to another night market similar to the one in Koh Samui.

There was a huge range of cuisines to choose from, but as much as I love Thai food, I was ready for a break from pad thai *gasp!*

The interesting thing about Malaysian cuisine - and culture in general - is that it's a massive mish-mash and thus hard to pin down. The three dominant ones are Chinese, Indian and Malay, and that's why George Town is home to Little India and Chinatown areas.

I figured a mish-mash meal was thoroughly appropriate: to start with I accidentally ordered the biggest freshly-squeezed pineapple juice I've seen in my life (let's just ignore all the latest guidelines about only drinking 200ml juice a day because SUGAR IS OUR ENEMY).

Then I shared some sweet potato dim-sum, which were absolutely diviiiiine and unlike anything I've had before. I had no idea what they'd be like when I ordered them but sometimes you've just got to take risks in life, am I right?

What they were, dear friends, were little mouthfuls of deliciousness: sweet potato purée encased in something of marshmallowy texture (but not taste), covered in sesame seeds. They were scrumptious!

I then moved on to a big vegetable biryani which cost all of 75p. I kid you not. It was a huge portion too, unlike the small meals in Thailand. Well, small compared to Western standards.

Although not everything in Malaysia is as cheap as Thailand, some of the things you find are crazily bargainous. However I am finding that because everything's cheap I end up buying loads of drinks and snacks and general stuff wherever I go, which probably defeats the benefit of the cheapness but OH WELL. Gal's gotta eat!

As someone who can't sleep on transport (I think it all comes down to fomo and not wanting to miss anything, much the same as why I never fall asleep during films/TV, but I digress), I was more-than-flagging by this point. Bedtime it was, excited for a day of exploring George Town tomorrow.

Much like two of my former homes, Bristol and Brussels, George Town is a city bursting with fabulous street-art, and we started our day with a tour of some of the best ones.

Have a look:

My faves were the above ones all done by a Lithuanian artist called Ernest Zacharevic, and supported by the government (I think). Aren't they cool?

Despite apparently being in the city centre, it didn't feel like a city centre. Definitely not in the style of European cities anyway, but then again Bangkok was the same.
George Town is a lot cleaner, calmer and less hectic than Bangkok thankfully. It's a really interesting city actually and the centre is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage site - there are big shopping malls home to the likes of Starbucks and H&M, but exploring the old centre we found traditional Malaysian, chaotic and slightly scruffy shops and cafés rubbing shoulders with sleek, modern, more Western ones. It kind of worked though.

There were Chinese temples and mosques just round the corner from each other, and Little India and Chinatown just streets apart.
As we explored, I picked up some scrummy coconut ice cream for breakfast, which is everywhere in George Town. It's not coconut flavour ice cream, but rather ice cream made from coconut milk. We get it in the UK (I like Coconut Collab's Snowconut, for example), but it's unsurprisingly sooooo much cheaper over here. Super refreshing too.

One of the nice things about George Town is that it's on the sea. Or maybe the very end of a river. I'm not exactly sure but I know you'll forgive me.

At the waterfront, one of the charming areas you can explore is Clan Jetties - as the name would suggest, it's a jetty jutting out over the water, lined by little shops and stalls.
I picked up one of the best mango lassis I've ever had (the mango smoothie obsession of Thailand has swiftly transformed to mango lassi) and wandered to the end to admire the view.
Not too shabby, eh?

For lunch, we decided to make the most of the Indian cuisine on offer in George Town and went to a fab vegetarian restaurant called Madras New Woodlands Restaurant. It was divine and super authentic (not a korma or tikka masala in sight!)
Full to the brim, after lunch we ventured out of town and up Penang Hill. Not only were we treated to the most wonderful views across the city and sea (just before the rain descended!), but we also met some rather cheeky little fellows with a habit of photo-bombing.
You've gotta take a selfie with a monkey, right?

That afternoon we also experienced something which I have now experienced on multiple occasions here in Malaysia: having my photo taken by Malaysian men. Not because they read my blog and are mega fans (sadly I don't think I've quite reached that level of fame), but because I am, despite my tanning efforts, somewhat white.

It's not just me though – as a group of largely fair-haired, fair-skinned, blue/green-eyed girls we have frequently noticed men filming or snapping us. It makes you feel uncomfortable to say the least.

Moving on though...

That evening we felt like doing something somewhat classy so went up to Bar Three60 at the Bayview Hotel, which is a rotating sky bar and restaurant with incredible views over the city. It isn't actually the swankiest of places but the views were indeed incred (it was extra cool as we saw lightning!) and the cocktails were extremely tasty. Lychee-elderflower martinis may just be my new fave beverage. Although this peach-raspberry-champagne concoction was also pretty scrummy...
The next morning I enjoyed a traditional Malaysian treat for breakfast: banana roti.
It's sort of like a sweet crepe crossed with filo pastry, filled with sliced banana, and dayum, it was tasty.

After munching my way through that I went off to see one of George Town's many attractions: the Cheong Fatt Tze house, also known as the blue mansion, for reasons that will become clear once you view the photo below...
It's a gorgeous old Chinese-style mansion right in the heart of George Town, surrounded by skyscrapers and modern buildings. We went on a tour and learned all about the colourful character that was Cheong Fatt Tze, and how he worked his arse off from nothing to become mega-rich, and then built this mansion essentially to prove his wealth to the British. It was fascinating.

And that was the end of our time in George Town! It was a really pleasant and interesting city, and I definitely recommend a visit. Has anyone been?


  1. Some really lovely and atmospheric photos here :) it looks like you're having such an incredible time! Also kudos for actually updating the blog while you're away!!Those sweet potato things look so so nom xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua Italy

    1. Thanks Lucy! It is a struggle as the internet out here does my head in but I'm trying! x

  2. Interesting write Rachel. I am from this part of the world and really glad that you enjoyed your tour


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