Places: Penang

I haven’t written a travel post yet, and I think it’s time I do. And what better place to write about then the place I would most associate with the word ‘home’ (there are multiple…#CulturallyConfused).

Penang is a small island off the west coast of Malaysia where I happened to move when I was eleven years old. At the time, it was devastating. I cried for three hours into my dad’s shoulder, asking him why he was making me move to the other side of the world away from my established sixth-grade routine. Six-and-a-half years later, I was crying again; this time, because I was at the Penang Airport, saying good bye to friends I know will always be there for me, and leaving the island I that had become my home.

Penang from the sea

Okay, sorry for that emotional but necessary (?) aside. Anyway, when most people think of a tropical island in Southeast Asia, they think beaches, suntans, snorkeling, etc. I’m sorry, but Penang isn’t the best place for these things. Of course, these options are available – water sports like parasailing, jet-skiing, banana boating – these I would actually recommend at the beach. But the actual beach and water are nothing to die for – the water isn’t very clear, there are jelly fish, and the sand isn’t soft. It is fun for bonfires and just general being-by-the-ocean (which is something not to be undervalued, I miss having the ocean around me). There are a number of restaurants, hotels and hang-out places near the beach that are great too – Sigi’s by the Seat and  Bora Bora (formerly Sunset Bistro) are great hang-out places, while Rasa Sayang (Penang’s “6 star” hotel), Parkroyal, and Lone Pine are all hotels along the Batu Feringghi beach.

Roti Canai
Char Koay Teow

Food is one part of Penang you can’t miss…I would say that it has arguably the best mix of food of any other city in the world. By that I mean that you can find delicious food of any type and any price range (besides Mexican. That one’s difficult). The hawker (street) food in Penang is amazing, and probably cheaper than anything you could make at home. For this reason, many Penangites eat out more than they cook. Hawker food ranges from Malaysian Chinese food to ‘mamak’ (Indian-muslim) food to Western food even (I would check out the Northam Beach cafe hawker stands – they have a really good French hawker place!). My favorite dishes are Char Koay Teow, which is sort of Penang’s signature dish, and Roti Canai. I also really, really miss having Iced Milo and Iced Lime Juice…you really don’t get those things here! Apart from Hawker food, there are also some really nice restaurants. My personal favorite is Bella Italia, a really good, small Italian place started by an Italian man. Their pizza is amazing (it’s thin crust and really light), their pasta is good too, and their tiramisu is some of the best I’ve tasted (granted, I’ve never been to Italy). If you like Indian food, I would recommend going to Woodlands (in Little India) for brunch; it’s the some of the best South Indian food I’ve ever had. I feel like I’m forgetting most of the good food in Penang, but there’s only so much I can fit in a blog post!

There’s a lot to see in Penang too, and all of it reflects Penang’s unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western cultures. One of my favorite places in Penang is Armenian Street, which is an artsy part of town where there are art galleries, furniture shops, and my favorite jeweler in the entire world, Jonathan Yun. The tiles on the sidewalks of Armenian street are even artistic. It’s wonderful. Another must-see is Kek Lok Si Temple, a majestic Buddhist temple in the hills. It’s especially beautiful at night during Chinese New Year – it’s all lit up and looks heavenly. I really like going there just to relax and light a candle during the day too – it’s a spiritual, peaceful haven nestled at the base of Penang’s hills.

The tiles of Armenian Street
Kek Lok Si Temple, lit up during Chinese New Year

I guess there’s a gaping difference between living in Penang and visiting it, but I tried to merge the two in this post. Arguably the best part of Penang is having the ocean in sight at all times, it’s always a relaxing and calming feeling to see the ocean surround you; that’s definitely something I miss. Sometimes I can’t figure out what it is about this island that makes me so enthralled with it – it has a unique charm – but it’s definitely a mix of its landscape, culture and people. It will always be home!

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