I’m in George Town, that wonderful UNESCO World Heritage listed city in Penang where the very traditional and contemporary collide. This stunningly cosmopolitan and energetic city is one of extremes from the frenetic modern pace of hipsters, street art and stylish cocktail bars to the rickety old trishaws parked in front of crumbling yet ornately lovely clan houses. This city really is all about grit and glam as its intentional beauty sits oh so effortlessly right alongside the raw and the rough.
Now I love this city. It is a maze of narrow alleyways, archways, lanes and streets that pulsate with colour, energy and community spirit. There are grand town halls, mansions, antiquated merchant stores, clan jetties, colonial buildings of exceptional beauty (made even more lovely when floodlit) and unsurpassed history.
The centuries old and wonderfully quaint clan jetties with their fish traps, old wood fishing boats, stilt houses and long winding planked wood walk-ways are the last of a once thriving Chinese settlement. Do be respectful when visiting as these water communities are still home to many families who eat, pray and live there……...
Penang itself is beautifully multicultural with three prominent religions. I visited serene mosques, shrines with their garlands of fragrant blooms left by dedicated worshipers and temples where saffron robed Buddhists light huge joss sticks.
It does get very hot here so it’s best to sight-see first thing in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the stifling 95% plus humidity. The good old foot falcon (just watch for the large open drains) is always my preferred mode of transport however do hire a trishaw for a couple of hours as it really is one of the best ways to truly appreciate this town.
I really do admire the strength and bravery of the trishaw men and their ability to maneuver about in the heaviest of traffic. Though lean and seemingly fit as a fiddle, these men are by no means young. Always nut out your price before you go, which is negotiable, and these guys will fill your afternoon with history and all the little hidden gems you won’t find on your own so kick off your shoes, sit back and enjoy………
Although I have bestowed much love upon George Town, it does, as anywhere in the world, have its flaws. It has been said of George Town ‘she was once a pretty woman who just hasn’t washed her face in a while’ and perhaps there is some truth in that statement. For me, the absolute charm of this lovely city lies in its grimy time-worn soul however that grim extends to her deep-water sea harbour and water-ways which are polluted, murky and an outlet for raw sewage. What a elegantly ironic moment though, when I photographed a heart floating among the rubbish strewn waters of the Penang Strait. Please love our oceans. They really are some of the most importantly beautiful places on earth…….x
There are one hundred and one things to love about this graceful melting pot of a city and although the tourist numbers are growing, George Town holds firm its alluring and peaceful charm. You can still take a leisurely stroll about the streets, wander past temples filled with faded paper lanterns, listen for the melodic call to prayer and explore lanes filled with water-marked terrace houses safely and without the intrusion of large tourist crowds.
Part II, the amazing street art of Georgetown, coming soon………xx