Penang: An Old Town Charm

30 Jan. 2014

That morning I woke up quite refreshed after arriving in Penang the previous night. Morning in Red Inn Heritage guesthouse was crowded. People are gathered in the main hall, preparing their own toast and coffee. From where I see it, I was the only Asian around. Except of course, the guesthouse staffs.

After taking a hot shower, I went to the main hall and had my breakfast. Toast with jam and roti canai with curry sauce. Coffee too. While eating, I opened my map, the one I got from the staff during check in last night. I’m figuring out where I want to go. And how do I get there.

Well…this is a bit hard. Since previously I was going to come here with a friend. And I thought that we can rent a car or something and share the cost, which is a lot easier and time savvy. But then, since I’m solo on this trip, I suddenly have to plan, last minute. Damn!! I should have planned this before. But I didn’t have the time.

So… I decided to go to Wat Chayamangkalaram Thai Buddhist Temple & Dhammikarama Burmese Temple first, which are only a little outside the Old Town. Then I planned to proceed to Penang Butterfly Farm and Batu Feringgi Beach which are a bit outside of Georgetown.

From the guesthouse in Love Lane, I walk 5 minutes to the main street of Chulia. Have to wait for bus quite a long time. When the bus No. 101 come, I immediately aboard and the RM2 bus ride stopped next to the temple 10 minutes later.

Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple

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The temple was built in 1845, with one of the largest reclining Buddha statue in the world stretched for about 33 meters and covered in gold. Inside you can find many Buddha statue in various seating positions, depicting wisdom. Outside you will find many devas statue and mythical creatures. The temple also holds ashes to some people. Many come here to pray for their lost loved ones.

From the outside, you feel like you are in Thailand. Very colorful. I love the place. It has a serene charm. Saw someone praying in one of the small temple. Left RM10 for donation. The building is undergoing continuous renovation. Thought that will be a nice gesture to help preserve it. And deep down pray that this kind of diversity will keep the world alive.

Dhammikarama Temple

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Located just opposite to the Thai Buddhist Temple, this Burmese temple is the center for the Songkran festivities, usually celebrated in April, or well known as Thailand’s traditional New Year Day. The serene surrounding features Bodhi trees, Buddha statue, wishing pond and a huge pagoda temple. You can go to the top of Pagoda and see a little part of Penang’s skyline.

Traveling solo means a lot more landscape picture. And usually no picture of you what so ever. Well…. honestly. I don’t trust people holding my camera. I’m always afraid that I asked the wrong people and they ended up running away with my camera in their hands. I know…I shouldn’t be so skeptical in looking at others. But having to be a Jakartans changes a lot of things. I become the so-called-insecure traveler. Like every people I met will try to get money from me. Or every wrong turn I make will take me to an even dodgier place.

But at the Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple, I did get a picture of me. Between the crowds, I asked a guy with a camera to take my picture with the background of the majesty Reclining Buddha Statue. Then I took his picture in return. He’s a Phillipino from California. We talk for a couple of minutes only before bidding farewell to each other.

About noontime, I took the same 101 bus to Penang Butterfly Park. Took about approximately 1 hour till I get there. And get instantly disappointed. The park closed already due to the Chinese New Year. But they will open again in the morning. So yeah….i didn’t get the chance to visit the famous Butterfly Park.

Taking the bus, I go the same route I came in and stopped at Batu Feringgi Beach. I immediately remembered Bali and its infamous Pantai Kuta. Same feeling. Batu Feringgi beach has golden sand, blue waters and a lot of beach activities provider from banana boat to parasailing.

I took the time to sit in the beach and just listen to the mild wave. Unfortunately that’s just about everything the beach can offer. I heard that the beach is also use as an event venue for party or concerts. I didn’t spend much time there since I got nothing to do anyways. So I proceed to get some lunch. Can’t find a local warung. Maybe because it’s Chinese New Year’s eve and most of them open half day.

After my lunch I went back to the town. Taking the same bus number. And managed to arrive in Chulia Street. I can see from the map that all the tourist objects around main Old Town of Georgetown is only a walking distance. So I followed the map from Chulia Street to find some of Georgetown’s highlights. From Mesjid Kapitan Keling. Little India to Esplanade Park.

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Actually the name Esplanade Park reminds me of Helsinki’s Esplanade Park. Ow….how I can still recall the feeling I had when I visited the place. Such a lovely park in Helsinki. Crowded and filled with beautiful flowers during the summer time.

Esplanade Park of Georgetown is a bit different. All pavements. But yes…many trees to sit under and enjoying a book. It is located by the sea shore, but no swimming please. Next to Esplanade is the famous Fort Cornwallis. I took the time to come inside this famous site.

Fort Cornwallis

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Fort Cornwallis was built by Captain Francis Light when first landed in Penang. Use as British administrative and military post for East India Company, back in 1786. You can find the lighthouse, historic cannons and a small chapel inside the ground. Also, some dioramas telling the long history of the fort.

From the fort, I walked about 10 minutes passing thru some of Georgetown’s tourist highlights before arriving back to my guesthouse in Love Lane.

That night I arranged a meeting with a couchsurfing friend. Couchsurfing is a online community for backpackers. So yeah…I went to meet Fahmi, a 24 year old business student. We had dinner at Nasi Kandar Clear Line. Had only a brief meeting and chatting during the dinner, since Fahmi live on the main island, in Buttersworth. He have to catch the bus of 45 minutes ride back.

After the brief dinner, I went looking for a coffee or maybe beer. Just to help ease my headache. Yes…I got headache due to a very hot and sunny day I just experienced. So, I went to Muntri Street, just beside Love Lane. You can find some guesthouse as well on this street. And there I found Mish Mash coffee shop. A small coffee place with unique setting. Besides coffe, they also sells many kinds of imported cigars. Some from Cuba.

So I went inside and this nice looking barista greeted me. I ask him for a cappuccino and went outside for the smoking area. Five minutes later he came with my cappuccino.

“Would you like some sugar? You can choose your own kind of sugar. We have so many here”, he offered.

“Like what?”, I asked.

“Maybe you would like to see? Please come with me”, he said.

So I went back inside following him. And on the counter, he showed me many kinds of sugar. All self-made. Sugar with cinnamon, sugar with lemon, vanilla essence sugar and many more. So from all, I chose sugar with cinnamon. It happened to compliment the cappuccino.

I spend about 30 minutes in the lovely setting of Mish Mash. The owner is also very attended to me. Offering me to go inside incase I feel quite hot outside. But by sitting outside on this Chinese New Year’s eve, I can see some fireworks in Georgetown sky, lid by the Chinese as a token of celebration. Happy Chinese New Year!!

Was back at the guesthouse before midnight and sleep like a baby due to exhaustion.

*the rest of the Penang trip story will continue*