The narrow asphalt-laden streets of Penang sparkled after a particularly heavy downpour. We were just in time, alighting from our van as the rain abated. We walked and found a delighted boy clutching mightily at her sister while riding a bike; a wall painting that is now synonymous with the city. I have seen this boy through the years, his face always the same, still giddy with excitement, his sister, still confidently pedaling the bike several times bigger for her size. I have grown older every time I see them, and they have not.
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Georgetown was one of the two, the other being Langkawi, shore excursions that the SuperStar Gemini offers to its cruisers. The ship’s guests can actually choose over several tour packages while on the cruise, each varying in activities to suit any traveler’s taste.
|DETAILS OF PENANG|
Us, we went for the historical tour which costs SGD110.00 per head. The tour touches on four sites in Georgetown, a trishaw ride, two local shopping sessions and a dinner buffet. It lasts for about six hours and is inclusive of transportation and tour guide. Not bad, if you consider the posh buffet dinner.
|DOCKING IN AT PENANG|
I thought our Penang tour would be ruined when it started to rain just as we were about to dock, but as we boarded our van, our tour guide cum driver was quick to hand out raincoats. We were soon zipping our way to our first stop.
|NEW STREET ART AT CHEW JETTY|
A caricature of a laughing grandma and his grandson welcomed us at the Chew Jetty. It is actually one of the six existing jetties in Penang. With the multitude of souvenir stores and cafes lining up the wooden jetty, you’d know right away that this is the most famous of the six.
|LOCALS RELAXING ON DECK|
|WALLS ARE CREATIVELY PAINTED|
These jetties are actually centuries old. Settled by Chinese immigrants looking for work on the docks, they eventually named each jetty after their surnames. So the one we were standing on is actually from the Chew clan.
|VIEW OF A NEIGHBORING JETTY|
These two-meter wide wooden jetties, made of thick wooden planks on concrete stilts, stretch for about 300 meters into the Penang Harbour. And on both sides of them are wooden stilt houses, most of which in Chew Jetty particularly, have now been converted into shops and restaurants.
|LOCALS HAWKING FOOD|
|A ROW OF RESIDENTIAL HOUSES|
You can still, however, see some structures being used as homes, especially if you check out the narrower side streets, or side jetties to be more precise. But if you do, make sure that you’re not invading on their privacy, nobody likes a paparazzi.
PENANG STREET ART
|BOY ON A BIKE BY ERNEST ZACHAREVIC|
There used to be a wall mural by famous Lithuanian street artist, Ernest Zacharevic, on one of houses along Chew Jetty, unfortunately, the elements has left it to nothing but a faded outline. We were told not to worry though, as several of Ernest’s artworks are still well-preserved in Georgetown.
|EVEN ALLEYS GET AN ART TREATMENT|
And so we walked and passed by one of his most famous works, the Boy on a Bike. I have photographed this mural several times before and it’s getting harder and harder to come up with a new angle for this particular street art. I looked around and found a bicycle parked on the sidewalk parallel to the wall, aha.
|A TYPICAL GEORGETOWN STREET|
It took some minutes before our guide was able to peel everyone off the bicycle kids, people just love having their photographs and selfies taken here.
|LOVELY SHOPHOUSES REUSED FOR A MORE MODERN HELLO KITTY ERA|
We took several steps along Lebuh Ah Quee, admiring the old shophouses, now converted into, errrr, shops, but more modern ones, before taking a left turn and entering a gate where more old shop houses stood. Georgetown can definitely give our very own Vigan City a run for its money when it comes to turn-of-the-century structures.
KHOO KONGSI TEMPLE
|INSIDE KHOO KONGSI TEMPLE|
Khoo Kongsi Temple, the name doesn’t ring any bell for me. For someone who has frequented Penang, this actually excited me; finally, something new. After entering the temple compound, it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve been here before, well on its outer court, to be more specific. An entrance fee of MYR5.00 thwarted us from proceeding onwards before. This time, with all the fees shouldered by the shore excursion, I went in without being stopped for tickets.
|ENTERING THE COMPOUND|
Built in 1851, this ornate Chinese temple is hailed as the grandest of its kind in all of Malaysia. The temple was constructed by the Khoo clan who came from China’s Hokkien Province. It is set on a granite-paved courtyard, fronted by a traditional theater and surrounded by row-houses from its clan, a sort of gated protection for the temple.
|THE TEMPLE FACADE|
From its rich intricate decorations, you’d immediately assume that this was built by a powerful and wealthy clan. But if the level of ornamentation is already intense on the facade, it even pales in comparison to the interiors’ main hall where every inch of the walls, roof, beams and columns are decorated in reds and golds.
|CHECKING OUT THE MUSEUM|
Latching off the temple’s right side, a small structure which I reckon to be the former clan house, now functions as a museum, relating the history of the Khoo clan and housing relics of their former lives.
|TRISHAWING OUR WAY AROUND PENANG|
To clean our palate off too much history, we then proceeded to Jalan Penang where a score of red trishaw carts, fully decorated with flowers, were parked. Trishaws are three-wheeled bicycles with drivers set at the back. I have seen these guys before when we stayed at the nearby E&O Hotel Penang. With the garishness and kitschiness of their trishaws, I swore I would never ride one.
|RELUCTANTLY RIDING A TRISHAW FOR THE FIRST TIME|
But it was such bad form to beg off riding one when everyone was gamely hopping on to each of their own trishaws. So, even with a bad taste in my mouth, I grudgingly boarded one myself.
|AN EASIER WAY OF EXPLORING PENANG|
The seat was comfortable enough and since the driver was out back, we had a full view of the road. An old Malaysian dude pedaled us along the historic core of Georgetown, I can tell it wasn’t that easy, what with the combined weight of my cameras and my tummy.
|FROM NARROW STREETS TO THE MAIN HIGHWAY|
We meandered along parts of the city we usually walk on in the middle of the day, the sun making as sweat buckets. This was a different kind of Georgetown tour, however. I was wont to admit it, but I was really enjoying the ride. It was easy and effortless. I guess never swore off anything until you’ve tried it. These trishaws, at least, weren’t as bad as those at the Melaka Dutch Square, haha.
|PICK YOUR CHOCOLATE|
For shopping, I thought we’d go inside one of Penang’s many malls along Gurney Drive, but was surprised when we were herded to a chocolate shop, and later, to an herbal store, I think.
I’m not really into sweet stuff, but luckily, Cocoa Boutique’s chocolates are the dark types. You can even go darker, our guide said, as they also sell chocolates with more than the usual percentage of cocoa! I was wowed, then immediately proceeded to their free taste area, lol.
|SHOPPING FOR STUFF TO BRING BACK HOME|
The second shop we entered sells ginseng, spices and tea stuff. I’m really not that familiar with teas, preferring coffee or better yet, beer. But yes, they do have 3-in-1 coffee and instant teh tarik, so it’s not a total lost for a tourist like me, haha.
It wasn’t really the shopping that I’d had in mind, (what I had in mind, bootleg Star Wars Lego mini-figures) but it was good nonetheless.
BUFFET DINNER AT G HOTEL
|BUFFET DINNER AT G HOTEL|
For dinner, we finally turned up at Gurney Drive. We sat our weary asses at the comfy chairs of G Hotel’s swanky Taste Café before raiding the buffet table.
|A BOWL OF NOODLES, PLEASE|
|MY KIND OF BUFFET|
I love how most of the offerings are local dishes, Penang being a center for culinary delights in Malaysia. I took in a serving of shrimp, some brown rice, a couple of baked mussels, some roasted duck and finally, a whole plate of mee goreng. Repeat two more times.
PENANG CITY HALL
|THE HISTORIC PENANG CITY HALL|
I thought we were done and were about to go back to the SuperStar Gemini when our van stopped in front of two white edifices, the Penang City Hall and the smaller Penang Town Hall. Everyone went down and proceeded to the adjacent field where larger-than-life cute bears depicting all countries of the world were on display. But I’m more into architecture than bears, so into the facades of the buildings I turned.
|THE ADJACENT TOWN HALL|
The Penang City Hall, built in 1903, is a Malaysian National Monument. The structure is quite beautiful in its ornate Edwardian sort of way. It is said that this is the first building in the city that utilized electric lights and fans. Okay, then.
|ALL ABOARD! BACK TO THE SHIP, EVERYBODY!|
And finally, it was really time to go back on board. It was now officially my third time in Georgetown. But every time I come here, there are always new things I discover, from food to places and even people. Indeed, like that boy on the bicycle, no matter how old Penang is, it just never gets old for me.
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