The Hidden Secrets of Penang

Melanie Cahill 31 March 2018
In my experience Georgetown, Penang is a myriad of diverse culture populated by Chinese, Indians and Malays, a fascinating people that live in a vivacious, multicultural capital. From visiting Monkey Beach, trekking through the worlds oldest rainforest and seeing Kek Lok Si temple lit up for the Chinese New Year, everyday was an adventure.

I was lucky enough to be invited to visit Malaysia courtesy of Malaysian Tourist Board and Qatar Airlines and even luckier to be upgraded to business. Luxury is the definition of travelling business with Qatar Airlines, this long haul flight from Dublin to Doha and onto Penang left us feeling relaxed and ready for our busy week ahead. They simply excelled in every aspect of our flight.

On landing in Penang, we checked into the Eastern and Oriental Hotel. Seeing why this hotel was awarded 5* was easy as every corner of this beautiful hotel seeped elegance and splendour. Definitely fit for a King, or even Prince Charles who recently visited the E&O. Having checked in and indulged in the comforts of our rooms, we geared up to explore Georgetown.

We headed off on a UNESCO heritage tour where we visited Peranakan Mansion and Khoo Khongsi. The stately mansion of Peranakan offers an insight to the rich and wealthy customs of the 19th century “Baba” merchant, and Khoo Kongsi acts as a central point for the Chinese community and happens to be one of the most prominent Chinese lineages and alluring structures in south east Asia. We explored Georgetown and had a quick ride on a trishaw, an excellent way to delve into the roots of Penang. My driver was charming Malayan man that told me all about history and delights of Georgetown, this is an intriguing use of transport to wander through the city.

Rising 821 metres above Georgetown is Penang Hill that exhibits panoramic views of Penang and the surrounding islands. Here, you will find one of Malaysia’s top tourist attractions, The Habitat. This is a world class facility that is committed to conservation and environmental awareness and allows you to appreciate part of the world’s oldest rainforest. Trekking through this breath-taking jungle transports you to a different world, so hard to imagine that this natural kingdom of beauty lies just beyond the bustling walls of Georgetown. Home to some beautiful flora and fauna and of course some incredible wildlife, we were simply mesmerized. We saw giant black squirrels, reptiles and exotic butterflies, even a few tarantulas which to say the least I quickly moved on from. This is most certainly the place to visit for a complete, exhilarating and educational Malaysian rainforest experience.

After a jam packed day, we made our way back to Georgetown all full of adrenaline and amazement after experiencing Penang’s wonders. We then had the privilege of exploring Georgetown at night and were lucky enough to see the Kek Lok Si temple lit up for the Chinese New Year. In a city that is predominantly inhabited by Chinese people, we couldn’t imagine the spectacle that we were about to see. Instantly, we were transported to Chinatown. We aimlessly wondered through the streets of this diverse city and marvelled at the street food and street art. It was a food lover’s paradise.

Our final day offered a completely different side of Penang. We ventured forty minutes outside the city to Kuala Sungai Pinang in Penang National Park where we found ourselves on a boat sailing through a mangrove into to the open sea. The stark contrast from the bushy, green mangrove to wide open waters was astonishing. The scenery changed instantly into white sandy beaches scattered along the coastline.

We stopped at Pantai Kerachut beach which is home to a turtle sanctuary as well as a bridge that leads you into another Malaysian rainforest that has stood proudly for nearly 130 million years. There are treks that you can embark on to explore this rainforest some up to two hours long, unfortunately time allowed us a short adventure into this paradise. Trekking through this particular jungle will eventually lead you to Monkey beach, another popular tourist destination also accessible by boat. As you can guess, this beach is home to many different breeds of monkeys and observing these curious little creatures was both amusing and awe striking. After some relaxing we headed back to our hotel for a luxurious night’s sleep in preparation for saying goodbye to Georgetown and heading onto our next adventure.

On our last night we dined at the renowned Mews Restaurant that offered an assortment of food that famously reflected the city’s diverse culture. After our meal we explored “Love Lane”, the heart of Penang’s nightlife. Once a place where men brought their mistresses and ultimately how it got its name, Love Lane is more known in modern times as a vibrant street with bars, restaurants, live music, fun and dancing. This diverse and multi-cultural city left me intrigued and amazed by what I had seen of Malaysia and I couldn’t wait to see more. If you want a unique and fulfilled insight of Asia then Penang is a must visit. There is so much to do and so much to see, one could simply explore this city for ages and see something new every time. It ticks all the boxes, amazing street food and street art, white sandy beaches, rainforests and ancient Asian history, words can really do this wondrous city no justice.