I was born and bred in Penang. Spent 20 of my formative years there before I headed overseas to study. It is no surprise that Penang will always have a special place in my heart even though I’ve now relocated to Singapore. My family, along with many close friends, in fact, are still there.
So what does a Penangite do, where does he eat and go whenever he goes back? Well, here’s taking you on our trip last Dec (Yes! This is a super late post!) when we brought Buddy back to meet family and friends. Given that the beauty of Penang is timeless by nature, I reckoned it’s better late than never to share some of the little secrets and gems which I continue to discover in my beloved hometown.
While I love many aspects of Penang, one of the banes of travelling in Penang is the traffic. Roads in Penang have largely remained unchanged while the population of vehicles has ballooned . This has made traffic come to a snarl at some parts of the day. Moreover, driving in Penang is just as ‘legendary’ as its culinary reputation. Cab drivers charge astronomical fares by trips (not by metre). All these factors make travelling in Penang a hassle unless you have the budget to hire a local driver. However, during this trip, we discovered a pleasant way out: Right outside our hotel, Golden Sands Resort, is the newly launched Penang Hop On, Hop Off Bus…endearingly termed as the ‘HOHO’ bus – an acronym of its full name.
The HOHO Bus ply 2 routes that bring its passengers to 50 tourist spots in Penang. Both routes begin from Stop 1 at Gurney Drive. The scenic beach route goes via Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang while the 2nd route winds through the city going to Penang Road all the way to Botanical Gardens and the foot of Penang Hill. You can transfer between routes at Stop number 1, Gurney Drive. Tourist tickets are pricier than those for locals. A HOHO Bus ticket lasts for 24 hours beginning from the time you board. There is also an option for a 48-hour ticket.
Sweet, Savoury… Slurp!
For our inaugural HOHO Bus journey, we hopped on the bus at the bus stop right outside the Golden Sands Resort and headed to Gurney Drive where we switched to the city route and headed for Chowastra Market (Stop 9) for my fix of Penang Road Chendol. As the bus was spanking new (about a month old), it was spotless. We loved the fact that the top deck has an air-con section and an open top section so we could zip in and out to enjoy the breeze. There is free Wi-Fi in the bus but the bandwidth is limited. We are not complaining because we didn’t come here to surf the web.
After the 45-minute ride, including a brief stop and changeover, we were right in the heart of Georgetown: Chowastra Market – a haunt for locals and tourists looking to buy anything from spices and biscuits to souvenirs.
For me, since young, there’s one other reason I come here – the famous Penang Chendol which is still served from the same hawker cart at the very same corner. Make no mistake, it’s the one next to Joo Hooi Coffee shop and not the competitor (which is no competition really) opposite! Though the queue is long, it moves fast and take my advice, eat it there, standing, sweating, slurping it down and let the mixture of coconut milk and coconut sugar do the trick. Even as an overseas student, we would ask our parents to deep-freeze it for us and hand-carry it to their desperate kids overseas! Typing this makes me miss the Chendol so much!
While you’re at Joo Hooi, step right in for some seriously good Penang hawker fare – even the locals come here. The Char Koay Teow (CKT) is as authentic as it gets: fried in a large wok complete with clanging spatula. Then savour the Penang Asam Laksa – this is it folks, the rice noodle (thick bee hoon) melts in your mouth and the soup is a perfect blend of sour, savoury and minty complete with texture from the mint leaves and shredded yellow-tail flesh. OMG!
Another dish you can try at the same coffee shop is their ‘Lor Bak’ consisting of deep friend ingredients served with century egg, pickled ginger and the heavenly starch sauce. This one required a bit of a wait and while doing so, have another bowl of Chendol outside, although the coffee shop does charge a small fee for bringing the Chendol in.
100 years old and still standing:
We tarried awhile and took in the sights, sounds and taste of a city center I knew so well before taking the bus to stop number 12 on the city route – Clan Jetties where we toured Chew Jetty at Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay), a place which I didn’t even knew existed in all my 2 decades growing up in Penang.
Chew Jetty is one of the 8 jetties set up nearly a century ago by some prominent Chinese from the Hokkien province in China who were escaping extreme poverty in China. These jetties are basically waterfront villages built on stilts that house the early coolies and port workers. Today life (and time) stands still for the families who still live there (albeit with the addition of some modern comfort such as TV and sofas etc). Chew Jetty is the largest and most lively (happening) jetty located near Gat Lebuh Armenian.
It was quite an experience being a tourist in my own hometown. Walking out to the jetty on the wooden plank walkways and admiring the funky and quirky décor of these homes. Taking my time to discretely looking into their homes but also taking the chance to admire the souvenirs or savouring some sweets and snacks which these homes are selling – remembering that these are STILL people’s homes. Amazing! Even more amazing is the fact that some of these stilts have been reinforced with cement inside paint buckets and stacked on top of each other! It was quite an experience!
‘Never ask a Penangite’ …
I’ve always told my wife never to ask a Penangite where to eat good food because there is good food virtually anywhere! After spending an hour at Chew Jetty, we proved the statement correct again: On the way back, we stopped by a nondescript road side Bah Kut Teh (Pork Rib Soup) stall along Pengkalan Weld road and true to my belief, the meal was sensational – pork ribs stewed to soft tender texture soaking in the deep and rich herbal soup with hints of what seem like a thousand spices. I beamed proudly.
On that note, you should ask a Penangite where NOT to go for food and we would usually point to some overpriced hotel café or the airport.
The next day, we decided to take advantage of the last few hours of our ticket’s validity by taking a short trip to the Escape Adventure Park. The last stretch of the scenic beach route bypasses some of the best pristine beaches in Penang where, if you’re game enough, you can try swimming in them. The route passes by the Butterfly Farm and the Batik Craft Factory as well. But for today, our destination is the Escape Park, stop number 31.
Chew Jetty 姓周桥
Address: 59A, Chew Jetty, Weld Quay, 10300 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
ESCAPE PARK PENANG
The ESCAPE Park is a large treetop adventure park with forest adventure activities for the whole family. The main feature is the Forest Treetop Trails designed for kids as young as 4 to ‘kids’ as old as ‘100+’ as the website proclaims. The treetop trails consists of ropewalks, flying foxes, beam walks etc…all high up in the air!
The trails are safe and calibrated to suit the different age groups. While my spritely daughter took to the trail literally like a monkey to a tree, thanks to her experience at the Bali Forest Adventure (another excellent adventure park set within one of Bali’s forest reserves), her Daddy had to flex muscles I’ve long neglected to overcome the obstacle courses. Boy, I was so glad I survived to tell the tale!
The ESCAPE Park is excellent for the whole family because it also has a variety of other adventure-based activities. For really young kids (0-3), there i the ‘Monkey School’ a very basic rope trail with a low level flying fox. This trail is excellent as it allows parents to accompany their children and helps build confidence. Its also a great trail to orientate your young children before attempting the Monkey Business Trails.
Aside from the trails, here are the other activities like the Zoom Bug – a slow ‘Luge-like’ vehicle that can be controlled by zigzagging movement down a short slope and the Foxy Barrow which barrows within an old house where kids can crawl through in virtual darkness with a flashlight helmet. Parents can view their kids from monitors outside.
Go Ape, is where kids and adults literally climb a fully-grown mature tree complete but all safely harnessed. Discovery Dig is a non-adrenaline activity where adults and children pan for ‘gold’ – tokens to be exchanged for a simple ESCAPE souvenir. It’s a great family bonding activity.
Finally, there’s the Tubby Racer – this is super Shiok! It’s like a water park tube slide except on dry land. It’s amazingly thrilling and xciting. Once is never enough but be warned, lugging the large tyre tube up to the hill top can be tiring but it was all very worth it!
Before we realized it, we’ve spent 3 hours at the park. We were craving for more but we had to return to the hotel before our HOHO bus ticket expired. Here are some tips to survive the ESCAPE Park:
- Arrive early and head straight for ‘Monkey Business’ as it gets filled up fast. Once the crowd sets in, everything slows down.
- Wear your sports shoes (compulsory), dress in comfy light clothing.
- Store in Locker: If you are doing any of the forest trails, your belongings should be kept in the lockers which are conveniently located near the entrance in the ‘barracks’. No belongings are allowed up on the treetop trails for safety reasons.
- Repellent and Sun-screen: If you’re the type who are prone to mozzie bites, do slap on repellent but during our trip, it was quite mozzie-free.
- Duration: We spent 3 hours at the park and it was grossly insufficient. Next time, we will devote one full day to enjoy the trails.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 6pm
Tips on taking the HOHO Bus:
- The HOHO Bus does meander through some hilly roads and passengers on the top deck with motion sickness tendencies may want to sit on lower deck. The drive is slow and the motion is not to jerky – the road doesn’t allow any speeding anyway.
- Maximize your trip by planning your route using the tourist stops on the website or map. Buy your tickets from the bus conductor when you board. This way you can still use a 24-hour ticket the next day before expiry.
- Plan your trips and decide on where to stop. You can change routes at Gurney Drive. The city route goes through the city center and nearby suburb. Avoid travelling during peak traffic times as the jams may be horrendous.
Penang Hop On Hop Off Bus
Off the Hopping Trail:
Penang Street Art:
During this trip, we decided to pay our first visit to the famed Penang Street Art made famous since 2012 by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. Other local artists have since added theirs at various nearby locales.
To view these, I had to depend on my trusty ‘driver’ who has been ferrying me around since I was born. Yes, my Mother, who gamely brought us around some of these small lanes to see these wonderful pieces of art. Here are some of the pieces which we saw and their actual locations:
- “Little Children on a Bicycle” by Ernest Zacharevic, Armenian Street.
- “Boy on a Bike” by Ernest Zacharevic Ah Quee Street.
- “The Awaiting Trishaw Paddler” by Desmond Yeo, Penang Road
- “Brother and Sister on a Swing” by Louis Gan, Step by Step Lane
- “Children Playing Basketball” by Louis Gan, Gat Lebuh Chulia and “Reaching Up” by Ernest Zacharevic, Cannon Street.
This site lists the entire collection by Ernest Zacharevic: http://www.onlypenang.com/where-to-go/penang-street-art-wall-painting-at-penang/
Seeing these unique art pieces that use a mix of 3D media and conventional paint, was quite intriguing. The life-like drawings were very well done and depicted some of the fleeting images of the carefree Penang life. While these streets are not far from each other, it’s best to hire a local driver to bring you around in ease and comfort.
If you have a driver (or a GPS), do consider my next secret:
So where does THIS Penangite really go to eat?
I still stand by my statement that Penang is filled with GOOD FOOD virtually everywhere – stab in the dark and you would get fantastic Char Koay Teow. It’s true but if you want to know where this Penangite gets his ‘kick’, here it is: The two coffee shops at opposing ends of Lorong Delima 6 in Island Glades – this housing estate which is about 20 minutes from town is where I grew up in. It’s a one-stop oasis to eat it all and at local prices. No need to travel here and there and pay exorbitant prices. It’s well-known among locals there and the whole place gets filled up easily during dinner time. As Island Glades is en-route to the airport, you can also choose to come here for one last hawker feast before you fly off.
GPS Coordinates for the coffee shop at Lorong Delima 6 (Island Glades): N05 22.972 E100 18.242
I love Penang and am very proud of my heritage and lineage. It has many gems to offer. With the HOHO Bus now, you have the added convenience of discovering the place and the people personally at your own pace. Enjoy Penang!