After my recent adventures in the wild, it was time to mix it up again and spend some time in a proper city. Malaysia’s colonial gem Penang, renowned for good street food and its street art, seemed to be the place to be on my way up the Malaysian Peninsula. In between I had a brief stop on the Perhentian Islands which I didn’t find too worthwhile. Hence I decided to post no coverage of this leg here. However, coming from the Perhentians, I took a minivan over to Penang and once again I lucked out. I booked on a very short notice and found a driver who just had to drive a minivan back to Penang for an upcoming group tour. That meant he was going without passengers, just me. I had the whole van for myself which made the rather long ride an diverting affair. I arrived late at night in Georgetown and was dropped off right in the middle of Chinatown. I found a good hostel and was eager to go exploring the next day. My mission was to find all of, or at least a big part of Georgetowns famous street art.
Street Art Central Georgetown, Penang
I heard a lot about the street art in Penang but wasn’t too sure about how to find the spots which were said to be sometimes well hidden in little back alleys and courts. Fortunately the internet has some great resources for finding Penang’s street art. The two that helped me the most, were the following:
Equipped with the map on my smartphone and braced for a long walk with a hearty breakfast, I set out for my Penang mission. What I didn’t consider however was the incredible heat in Georgetown. It was blazing hot that time and as soon as I left my hostel, it became clear that this mission would have to be broken up. A break around noon seemed like a good idea.
Georgetowns street art is basically spread all over its Old Town with a lot to discover on the west side. Just wandering around the little lanes and busy streets, in and around Chinatown and Little India is worth an excursion. But looking for the hidden art gave the whole thing a different twist. The most famous pieces were hand drawn by Lithuanian born artist Ernest Zacharevic. His art is very distinctive and among other murals and sculptures in Georgetown, I liked his best. My favorite ones were “The little Girl in Blue” and “Brother and Sister on a Swing”. So rich in detail and so lively. I found a few nice murals but then just had to head back to the hostel for my noon break.
The heat was almost unbearable and resting underneath the hostel’s air condition watching a movie was just the right remedy. The hostel was situated in Love Lane, right smack in the heart of Chinatown. The atmosphere was relaxed and since I stayed for about 4 nights, I was able to get to know some of the staff and some long time guests a bit better. It was good fun but the best member of staff was the house cat though. It always seemed to guard the entrance and checking out the incoming guests. At night the little tiger became more active, roaming the streets of Old Town Georgetown. The next morning he was usually to be found totally knocked out on the couches in the common area. What a life….
Cats everywhere in Penang
Penang in general is absolutely crazy about cats. You see them everywhere and unlike in other places in Asia, where they tend to be very shy and scared of humans, they were very tame and trustingly here. You could spot one literally around every corner, patrolling their territory and maybe looking for some treats from the humans. Penang’s cat frenzy is best signified by yet another piece of street art, a mural named “Skippy for Penang”. This literally huge specimen seems to be watching over Penang and its human inhabitants. Apart from this prominent piece, there are quiet a few others which feature cats and Penang’s love for them. All of this made the city even more likable than it already was.
Penang – a place of past, present and future
The Chinese influence is just ever present with little and bigger temples spread across Georgetown’s Old Town and traditional businesses tucked away in the many little alleyways. A lot of colonial architecture has been preserved or restored which gives the place a very special atmosphere. At the same time new and fancy business make up for a great and very distinctive mix. Artsy cafés exit just beside an old school Malay / Chinese food place and hip backpacker bars can be found next to traditional craft workshops or street food stalls.
Penang and Georgetown was a place to relax and unwind for me. Besides my quest for Georgetowns street art and aimlessly wandering the streets, I didn’t do a whole lot. I played some basketball with the locals at night, watched movies, went our for food. That was about it. But the atmosphere of the city makes you just feel home and at ease and that was exactly what I needed before returning to bustling Kuala Lumpur to catch a flight to Myanmar / Burma. Penang has more to offer than just Georgetown. Penang Hill, the national park and some supposedly nice beaches seem to be well worth visiting. I personally was happy to just take in the atmosphere of Georgetown and take it easy for a few days.