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).
…while you catch up on sleep on the 35 minute train journey to KLIA. :)
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!
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.
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.
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 (!!!).
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.
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.
Enough about trips of that sort! :p
We also checked out Sun Yat-Sen Centre…
…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.
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.
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.
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! :)
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.
Disappointing would not be enough to explain the Komtar fiasco.
Imagine a deserted and dilapidated observation deck…
…with soiled and dirty windows that you have to work (gah, on my vacation?) to get good photos of the “Penang scenic view”.
…that charges an staggering RM 15 for entrance (daylight robbery!) and gives you a bottle of mineral water as compensation.
…now imagine a grumpy woman manning the desk.
…and a café and restaurant that folded somewhere in the 1970’s due to lack of business.
…the only redeeming factor? Got to know some locals. :p
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 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. :)
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! :)
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! :)
Stay tuned for Day 2!