The Pearl of the Orient

Penang – The Pearl of the Orient Part 1/3 (Day 1)


I took a 3D/2N trip to Penang during the long Labor Day weekend courtesy of MAS (Cheers Jon!). The aim? To travel Penang, see the sights, and sample the local food for under RM 1,000. The air tickets were sponsored and I was given 1k as spending money to prove the point. I only brought the 1k and my credit card along (just in case).


I booked a hotel with my credit card a couple of days before the flight – it’s at Cititel, Penang which is smack dab in the middle of the clubbing district (and the associated trappings like pimps and people of indeterminate gender soliciting you). There are cheaper options out there, but Cititel is pretty close to just about everywhere so it’s a great location.


We were supposed to take the first flight out of KL so I woke up nice and early to get to KL Sentral. You can check in straight at KL Sentral via the City Air Terminal if you’re flying Malaysia Airlines and you purchase a KLIA Express ticket.


It saves a lot of time and hassle – just make sure you’re there two hours before your flight departs. Your luggage needs to be loaded into the ERL (which is what everyone else calls KLIA Express – I still call it KLIA Express coz I want to).

klia express

…while you catch up on sleep on the 35 minute train journey to KLIA. πŸ™‚


Anyway, we arrived there just to find out that our flight has been cancelled. However, one of the good things about MAS is that they provide you with passage on the next available plane and a RM 15 meal voucher to boot. The meal voucher can be used at the food courts and other participating outlets like McDonald’s and Delifrance. I didn’t know that until now. Interesting!


I remember my flight being cancelled while I was studying in Melbourne due to fog. The MAS people transported us back to Melbourne CDB (from Tullamarine where the airport is – distance is about KLIA to PJ) and put us up in a nice hotel for TWO nights with dinner and transport back to the airport the next afternoon. That incident has always stuck in my mind as one of the finer points of MAS.


Whoa, when I ramble, I really go on and on and on. Back to the post!

me plane

I have always wanted to go to Penang. The Pearl of the Orient is known for its unbeatable hawker food. It’s also known for drivers who constantly have one hand on the honk. I saw a motorcycle emit a loud honk for no reason at all. I was honked for just looking at incoming traffic wrong. Hmph.

penang trishaw

Anyway, the first day was spent walking around Georgetown. We checked into the hotel, dumped our bags and headed out in search for lunch. There is a city bus service operated by Rapid Penang that allows you to get around the island for free. It’s very useful for those travelling on a budget – it stops by most popular attractions and it arrives every 15 minutes or so.

penang char kueh tiaw

Unfortunately, we didn’t wait long enough and hailed a taxi before we saw the bus passing us by. The bus exists and it’s reasonably puntual so catch that if you’re on a shoe string. The first stop of the day is to the famous Lorong Selamat Char Kueh Tiaw. I ordered two plates of the Lorong Selamat CKT and was told that it’s going to be a one hour wait (!!!).

selamat char kueh tiaw

No shit, one hour wait for Char Kueh Tiaw! It’s unheard of, but then again the Lorong Selamat CKT is really famous so I figured it’ll be worth it.

ckt eggs

Thus, we placed our order, which is then queued in a complicated system involving eggs and numbers written with a felt tip pen on the previously mentioned chickens-that-will-never-see-the-light-of-the-day. I don’t know how it works but our order was done within an hour.


Anyway, we also checked out Cheong Kim Chuan a.k.a The Nutmeg Place while waiting for the CKT. You can get the famous (yes, again, this word) Penang nutmeg in various forms ranging from ointments to edible snacks in here. I bought two packets of nutmeg. It’s preserved nutmeg though; I couldn’t find the fresh ones.


Why would I want fresh nutmeg? It’s a little known fact that eating enough fresh nutmeg will give you a Really Shitty (TM) but allegedly intense 24 hour trip, much like brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpets) which is Not Recommended (TM). It’s more of a delirient than a hallucinogen.

cheong nutmeg

Enough about trips of that sort! :p

sun yat sen

We also checked out Sun Yat-Sen Centre

black power

…but it was closed coz it was Labor’s Day so I only got the opportunity to take a rather inappropriate photo with the statues in front.

selamat ckt

Anyway, we went back to Lorong Selamat after walking around the various little alleys that surrounds the place – it’s quite fun if you’re into watching police question ladies of questionable morals standing suggestively outside dodgy storefronts or getting chased by dogs. Jesus, apparently chaining dogs isn’t very big in Penang either.


Back to the Lorong Selamat CKT, it was more than worth the 1 hour wait. The prawns are HUGE, juicy and succulent. Delicious – nothing short of what I’ll expect from an island.

penang selamat ckt

The seafood is hella fresh over here and the CKT is done well – it’s not too salty and has just the right amount of crispy pork skin and bean sprouts.

me ckt

The serving size is a bit on the small side though, but that’s not a huge problem since Penang is a food haven and you’re here to eat as many different dishes as you can! πŸ™‚


Anyway, after that we decided to go on a walk around Georgetown…this is the “octopus bridge”, so called due to the complicated multi-pronged access to the pedestrian bridge crossing.


It’s part of our journey to the iconic Komtar building. Komtar used to be a must-go destination back when I was a kid. The tower is the highest point in Penang and thus, we decided to head up to the Observation Deck.

komtar od

Big mistake.

komtar view 3

Disappointing would not be enough to explain the Komtar fiasco.

komtar chairs

Imagine a deserted and dilapidated observation deck…

komtar view 1

…with soiled and dirty windows that you have to work (gah, on my vacation?) to get good photos of the “Penang scenic view”.

komtar pass

…that charges an staggering RM 15 for entrance (daylight robbery!) and gives you a bottle of mineral water as compensation.

komtar view 2

…now imagine a grumpy woman manning the desk.

komtar view 4

…and a cafΓ© and restaurant that folded somewhere in the 1970’s due to lack of business.

komtar locals

…the only redeeming factor? Got to know some locals. :p

day 1 cendol

Anyway, after that rather unfortunate experience, we were walking back to the hotel when we saw the famous Penang Road cendol and partook in it. It’s not to be missed!


That night was spent at the famous Gurney Drive where the locals congregate and cause an amazing traffic jam (it’s almost a gridlock). It’s a good thing we walked…it took about an hour for us to actually reach the cursed place, but I reckon it’s faster than taking a cab.

gurney crowd

Gurney Drive is full of good ol’ hawker food, Penang style. It’s where the locals go to eat so you gotta know it’s good. πŸ™‚

gurney drive

Some of the not-to-be-missed dishes: Duck egg char kueh tiaw, ma zhi and pork satay.

We were lucky enough to catch street fire performers in action. It was awesome! πŸ™‚

day 1 end

I dare say it’s a pretty good first day in Penang. Total damage? I couldn’t calculate, but its way less than RM 200. So far, so good! πŸ™‚

Stay tuned for Day 2!

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47 thoughts on “The Pearl of the Orient”

  1. Dude, that is some sorry ass looking breakfast bun, all wrinkled up like some fat boy sat on it. The airhostess….I don’t know, seems to have a little resemblance to the bun….bad camera angle!

  2. HB, great photos and entry. All the guys enjoy reading of your life in Malaysia. Your blog most popular here in San Francisco. Foods making everybody hungry for it. Nice hotel and view. I did had a ball python named Slim now RIP. Monkey my sister got me turn out to be a stuffed toy one.
    Bongo is the name doesn’t do much for a toy so I will get a parrot now. Now here is 55 degree.

  3. I had diarrhoea after consuming tonnes of food at the Gurney Drive back in 04. I was vomiting and passing loose stool the whole way back from Penang to KL. It was a miserable experience.
    But still Penang is a nice place to visit=)

  4. Haha. I also want free ticket and 1k to spend, can? Keke
    Anyway, this is my 2nd attempt to comment. =x i don’t know why it took so long to submit the comment and it fail?

  5. Gurney Drive is ok, but it is a tourist trap. Friends and family took me to another place (can’t remember the name now) where it was near a school. Hawker centre there was much more delicious than Gurney Drive (with better parking).

  6. And oh btw, Rapid doesn’t let you go around for free ? You gotta pay, but its pretty comfy and reliable. The only laid back is the rude drivers.

  7. Great…post about Penang! Now I can bring up what I always do and see if anyone out there agrees with me!!
    Penang food is sweet, right?? I’m not just talking about the desserts, but there’s sugar in almost every dish! Even my multiple char kuey teows tasted sugary!
    No? πŸ™‚

  8. e: LOL! That’s the Delifrance breakfast set that I got with the voucher. Airport food always sucks.
    chefmel: Me too! Best place for hawker food in the entier Malaysia! πŸ™‚
    Vickie: Thanks! Ball pythons are quite hardy creatures, I lost mine a couple of times (amazing capacity to squeeze even through insanely small openings), once for 3 weeks (!). Turns out it was hiding in a cupboard. No food. Still alive. πŸ™‚
    eric: Yup, Penang is an awesome place! I love it to bits! πŸ™‚
    Darren: Thanks! I’m not qualified though, I just read up on what to do in Penang before I went since it’s been ages since my last trip.
    Annie Pau: Thanks Annie! πŸ™‚
    TianChad: Yup, Penang can be done for remarkably cheap. πŸ™‚
    Drinking not included, naturally. Did some of that in Day 2.
    KY: I ate at both Lorong Selamat CKT, and I must say, this dude’s is better.
    shaoweii: Ask MAS, I’m not loaded. πŸ™‚
    Hmm…could it be the connection? Seems fine on my end.
    Naoko: Tourist trap? The price seems very reasonable, and a lot of the locals eat there too. πŸ™‚
    ShaolinTiger: G Hotel eh? Can’t be done with the RM 1,000 budget. πŸ™‚
    I saw the hotel though, love it.
    Yup, that’s the best thing about Penang…a lot of (small) meals throughout the day. πŸ™‚
    benjy8769: Ah, I’ve never been to Seberang Prai. I would have loved to go but didn’t even manage to go to Batu Ferringhi.
    jeff: Cheers mate! πŸ™‚
    chefmel: There’s a tourist bus that allows you to ride for free! No kidding, it goes around town to the various historic places. It’s not colored like the Rapid Penang busus but it’s operated by Rapid Penang. πŸ™‚
    Jade Zheng: Haha! Coincidence gua…was writing more about Penang. πŸ™‚
    Jenny: Thanks Jenny! πŸ™‚
    Yeah, it is a bit sweet, but I come from Sibu, where Foochow cuisine (not Foochow but Sibu is predominantly Foochow) is generally sprinkled with a healthy amount of sugar so I’m used to it. πŸ™‚
    cindy khor: Yeah, it was an awesome trip! πŸ™‚
    When are you coming back?

  9. Shirley Snow: Yeah, I love Penang!
    Was given a choice between Kuching and Penang and I chose Penang. πŸ™‚
    Simon Seow: Pork lard eh, no wonder! πŸ™‚
    -c@nEy-: Lorong Selamat CKT is really famous!
    I even read about Penang CKT (the sisters one) when I was in Penang. πŸ™‚
    I prefer this guy’s CKT to the sister’s one a little bit down the road.

  10. PakweHensem: Penang is actually remarkably cheap. πŸ™‚
    foodcrazee: Yeah, with Cititel at RM 200 per night, that’s about half of the budget. But Penang is helluva cheap if you stick to its best parts – hawker food and going around revisiting the tourist attractions you went to as a kid. πŸ™‚

  11. wow, one of the picture gurney drive showcase a fine lady back. she only wearing soemthing to cover the front.. mmm

  12. Hb, as a foodie, all i can say is great!!! On the breakfast photo, all you need add is a couple of fried tomatoes and mushrooms, a slice of bacon, and may be some beans and you would have a full irish or english breakfast. ( here in the south US, substitute grits). Plus the pic of a nice shrimp was so nice. I used to like minedeep fried, and still like them that way. But more and more, I find I like simple preperation for seafood. Just broiled. Like scallops. Just lay them in a dish, with a little butter or oil and parprika, and some crispy bread to soak up the juice. Excuse me, I am hungry, HB. God bless. It is memorial day over here, now. Let us try to honor the guys, ( and women ) that fell in the past, by not being such fucking hard heads. The kids need it. Here is wishing you well, HB, and all you love. Sincerley, Tom.

  13. penang is my hometown !!! penang nice right??!!peaceful XD…and lot of nice foods!!!!btw…u’re tempting me wth the char koay teow at lorong selamat !!!*-*

  14. Cititel at RM200 per night? I stay there every time I stop by Penang – RM150 a night but right now they have some kind of anniversary promotion – RM99 per night! I think you will have to book online… Gosh! You’ve been fleeced! LOL!!

  15. Mr. Juanstep: Well, there is a Pearl of the Orient Tower in Manila and there is a Pearl of the Orient Sea in the Philippines, but a quick Google search confirms that Penang is the Pearl of the Orient. No offence mate, I just had to search to confirm. πŸ™‚
    nononono: Aha! Thou has an eye for details indeed. πŸ˜‰
    tom robinson: Memorial Day, eh? I wish you well mate, I know you’re ex-military. Happy Memorial Day!
    I love seafood too, but I prefer to take mine raw…sashimi and stuff like that. πŸ™‚
    fikri: Oh noes! Nutmeg! Shitty trip? πŸ˜‰
    coco: Penang! Yup I love the place! πŸ™‚
    Lorong Selamat CKT is the best!
    suituapui: I booked really, really late. It was Labor Day’s weekend and I couldn’t find the cheaper rooms (most of the hotels are booked out) so Cititel was charging peak rates. :S
    Oi! STP! I heard you came KL but never call me one? :p
    shim: Yeah, it’s all thanks to MAS. Cheers! πŸ™‚

  16. Sorry, buddy. Had a tight schedule. Chris Tock gatecrashed the gathering I was attending at Baywatch and he said you’re staying nearby…but it was past midnight. Didn’t want to disturb you in the thick of the action… Wink! Wink! Hehehehehe! Next time! Didn’t get to meet Eiling too! Was hoping I would. πŸ™

  17. Oops…actually Chriso had to resort to doing that as that would be the only he could get to meet his mentor (LOL!!) before I took the early MAS flight home the next morning…

  18. Myhorng: Yup! I went to that one too! But I prefer the guy with shades. The sister’s CKT is tooooo oily. I don’t really fancy that. I like the subtle flavor of this guy’s. I’ll post about the sister’s soon. πŸ™‚

  19. I know this is a rather belated comment but I figured I need to make some necessary correction to some of your points in this post.
    1) “…it’s also known for drivers who constantly have one hand on the honk…”
    ==> Most of us drive in silence. It’s the blardy motorbikes that are impatient nincompoops. That’s them for being spoilt of not having to wait in traffic (zig-zagging between cars is a must-have skills for all Penang motobikers). If u think Penang drivers honk for no reason, wait till u get to India. I got stressed out just sitting in the backseat listening to the honking all around, ALL the damn time!
    2) “…the famous Gurney Drive where the locals congregate…”
    ==> Locals ONLY go there if they are bringing out-of-town friends who insist on having Gurney Drive food. By ourselves, we’d never step into that area. All the food std is below average and we can definitely get better food elsewhere around the island. The food at Gurney is (a) overpriced (b) not that great taste-wise (c) repetitve. If u observe properly, u’d see that most of the stalls sell the same kinda food.
    Sorry abt the Komtar Observation Deck. It is quite an embarrassment to us locals πŸ™
    U’d get a much better view from the top of the Penang Hill. Maybe next time when you’re here, we plan a hike up? πŸ˜‰ It’ll take between 2 hrs to 5 hrs – depending on how fit you are. πŸ˜‰

  20. Eleen: Heh! Cheers for the information! =D
    I wanted to go up Penang Hill too, the furnacular train ride but it was too packed at that time – school holidays plus a weekend me thinks, so we had to wait 5 hours for it and in the end decided not to go.
    Okay, let’s go next time I come to Penang! πŸ™‚

  21. Sure I will take you up Penang Hill, but on one condition : we hike up. πŸ˜›
    We can take the train to get down ‘cos I hate downhill hike (killer for knees).


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