Penang, Malaysia

From KL we took a bus up to Penang for a couple of days. It was a gorgeous ride through Malaysia as the terrain became more mountainous and giant rock faces emerged from the ground. Penang is an island off of the northern west coast. The island is quite large which surprised me. I had done no research on the place and was expecting a remote island village to do some relaxing. Of course, Penang was another large, urban city.

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We stayed in Georgetown on the northern end of the island. Named after King George, this area was rich with history. It was ruled by Britain since the late 1700s but was liberated with the rest of Malaysia in the 1950s. There was plenty of colonial architecture around Georgetown.

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Fort Cornwallis was used during World War II when Japan invaded Penang, shown below.

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We explored a Protestant cemetery filled with many military men and women, most of whom died at early ages. The memorials were from the 1700-1800s. We saw many stones that read “Aged 21 years,” “Aged 18 years,” and so on. Sadly there were so many memorials built for infants that died, too.

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Apart from colonial architecture, there were large Chinese and Indian influences on architecture and culture.

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Chinese New Year lanterns were strung around every corner. In Little India many people were preparing for Thaipusam (a Hindu festival, see blog post).

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We ate most of our meals in Little India because we couldn’t stay away from those glorious dishes, fresh roti, and amazing samosas. We found a stand that sold the BEST samosas and we kept going back for seconds and thirds. They were only 50 cents each!

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A length of the island are occupied by old Jettys. It looked as if some families lived on them, but for the most part they were filled with souvenir shops and ice cream stands. It was a little nerve wracking to be prancing along these wooden walkways on a giant structure held up by concrete buckets. Out on the bay were huge cargo ships and some cruise ships.

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There is also a ton of street art in Georgetown. It was a great activity scoping them out around corners and in alleyways. The paintings complemented the sweet buildings in all of Georgetown. They looked like movie sets. The buildings were peeling perfectly to expose old bricks, fading in all the right places, and holding up stringy vines to its dusty drywall.

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From Georgetown we were able to take a public bus to Kek Lok Si temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.

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It was absolutely amazing from the very first building we set foot in. Three large Buddha shrines were fixed in the middle.

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Hundreds of Chinese lanterns were strung along the ceiling. 10,000 Buddha statues lined the walls of the temple.

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Every other structure in Kek Lok Si was this intricate! There was a seven story pagoda fixed in the corner of the temple, and we were able to climb to the top.

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Each level housed a different shrine that you could stop and pray to. Every nook had flowers, lanterns, and shrines. The colors were marvelous and kept your eyes dancing!

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There was a trolley to the top of the grounds so you could see the 120 ft tall statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

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Our accommodation in Georgetown was “100 Cintra Street.” It was the first time we walked up to a place and booked a room on the spot. Like the other buildings in Georgetown, it was aged in the most beautiful way.

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There was a front terrace with a tall steel railing. Vines were growing all over it. The inside was like stepping into an old mansion. There was antique furniture everywhere, wooden walls and flooring, tall ceilings. There were retro knick-knacks covering every inch of shelving and collecting inches of dust. The middle floor had the rooms: accordian style doors opened up to a platform with a bed.

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There were dorm rooms, too, with old sheets draped over the windows for privacy. We had a small seating area in front of our room with retro furniture. A funky 60s style staircase led up to an open-aired terrace. It was very Edward Scissorhands-like with half of the top floor covered and the other half opening up to a balcony. The rest of the upstairs were locked rooms. Peaking in you could see thick dust covering some seriously old furniture. There looked to be a solid silver vanity set, and a gold detailed four poster bed.

I had no idea about Malaysia’s history with Britain, and again, the architecture was just stunning. We spent hours walking about and admiring the amalgam of buildings in Penang. It was a lovely side trip from KL.

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