George Town/Penang – Street Art, love lane and crazy bus rides

I didn’t have much of a clue what to do in Malaysia before going, although I’ve bought a pretty looking lonely planet for exactly this reason… planning a proper trip! Penang however has been one of the reasons to visit Malaysia. Starting from KL, I took a bus, that would take me there in 5 hours. Being in Malaysia, I was once again reminded of how mediterranean this country is. 10.30 am means no one moves until at least 11.15! Also, the bus you’ve booked is not necessarily the one taking you there. So there I sat in front of a platform 12 sign, while the stifling malay heat was beaming on me, wondering why the previous bus (which turned out to be mine) didn’t take off. My mistake, sorry! Finally I bothered to ask somebody, who pointed at what seemed to be the previous bus, and I got inside. Of course the preordered seat was nonexistent, but hey, I’m in Malaysia and as an Italian I should be used to these things.

After 6h, completely frozen from the air conditioning, time indefinable and unreasonable breaks (in which I didn’t want to go out and to the restroom because I was afraid that the driver would take off without me, because there was no time definition for the break) and mysterious distributions of passengers sitting in my bus to other busses (they bought tickets for the same destination as me and seemed equally confused as the driver, who “coordinated” the chaos), we finally arrived at the destination Penang… or well, me and the 3 other passengers out of 20, that were allowed to stay.

At the bus station, with my bladder about to explode, I’ve had my first encounter with traditional old restrooms in Malaysia. I won’t go into details, but for all the women reading this: just imagine when you have a huge backpack on your shoulders and a camera kit around your neck and you’ve been sitting for 6 hours straight, the humidity is over 80% and now you have to stand there and…Well women will understand the struggle! After checking into my hostel in George Town, I walked around for a while, before heading into “Love Lane”. No, it’s not what you might think. Love Lane is a street, that seems pretty calm during the day, but it gets very vivid at night with bars, restaurants and live music. After having mexican dinner, I ran into three solo travelers who were looking for scooter rentals. We went for a drink (apparently there’s always Happy Hour, no matter what time it is), played some uno and called it a night.

The next day I decided to stay on my own for the most part of the day. After a great breakfast at the Mugshot Café (serving a bright selection of Bagels, smoothies, pastries and veeeery good coffee) I went to see the Wat Chaiyamangkalaram Temple, a very shiny golden Thai Buddhist Temple, with a 33m long reclining Buddha inside the main building. Behind the statue you can find smaller Buddha statues that correspond to the chinese zodiac signs. Right across the street is Dhammikarama Temple, a Burmese Buddhist Temple built in 1803 that has a very nice garden with many statues and mythical creatures.

Kek Lok Si Temple

If you’re planning on going to Penang, make sure to visit Kek Lok Si Temple! I was lucky to experience its beauty twice, once at daytime and then again at night, when it’s unfortunately closed but wonderfully lit (this is how I’d imagined Santa’s home as a kid). The chinese Buddhist temple is the biggest in Malaysia and located on Air Itam. There’s so much to discover, several shrines, buildings, a fountain and an amazing view over the city. When you arrive you can either choose climbing the stairs or taking a lift for about 3RM per ride. I’d say the temperature and weather will tell you what to choose 😉 Passing the beautiful garden, the fountain that looks like a lotus holding a pagoda and the amazing view over the city, you’ll find another lift which takes you up to the Kuan Yin statue, the goddess of mercy. While the surrounding is still under construction, the statue itself is enormous and leaves you speechless. Since it was close to CNY, they would light the whole temple starting at 7.30pm. Driving up the hill with a little scooter while passing under hundreds of red chinese lanterns accompanied by the scent of freshly cooked food from the market filling the air was simply magical and so “asian”…

Malay people will tell you that Penang has one of the most delicious and rich variety of streetfood in Malaysia and they were right. Although, if you’re not much of an adventurer it’s safe to ask locals first where to get the best food, in order to avoid unfortunate choices.

The beaches of Penang aren’t spectacular, though, but I’ve been to Batu Ferringhi and the Monkey Beach. I do miss the beach a lot these days and I hope to find myself laying on white sand very soon and listen to the waves gently whispering their stories to me. If you’re in George Town, go out and explore the city. It has a big street art scene and it’s always a pleasure to find new drawings on the wall, which sometimes are interactive by including real objects (bicycle, swing,…). Chew Jetti was rather disappointing for me. There used to be seven jetties in George Town, each named after a chinese clan. Chew Jetty is the most touristic of them and people still live there, which is why you should be respectful while taking pictures. Basically it’s like a market and you walk through it and at the end you have a nice bay view.

Overall it has been pretty fun. I’ve met several unique people, who shared trips and evenings with me. One encounter will always be very particular to me, because I’ve met a Spanish guy one night and with him not being able to speak good English and me not speaking Spanish for years, it has been quite a funny evening. To be honest I don’t know if I even understood half of what he was telling me in Spanish (his southern accent didn’t make it easier at all :D), but the beers kept coming so of course it got easier to communicate. Thank you, alcohol 😉

Stay safe wherever you are and keep smiling. Life is good – god is good.

Yours always,

ElinaAria aka. ChickenMonkeyBackpacking

Wat Chaiyamangkalaram
Street art George Town
Kek Lok Si Temple at night