It looked just like the Philippines, a little bit like Vigan. I told my friend that I was not impressed, not that it was not a beautiful place, just that it’s hard for me to appreciate a nation that is geographically similar to my country. When I leave my side of the world, I want to be amazed, I want to be curious, and see something different. I know though that despite the many similarities, Malaysia is not the Philippines. And so I tried my best to get to know it in the little time that I had. If you too are planning to go to Penang but only have a short time to spare, here’s a travel guide to George Town.
Where is George Town
George Town is the capital city of Penang in Malaysia and that was once among the British settlements in Southeast Asia. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its architectural and cultural townscape. All over the city, you will see pre-war buildings, perfectly melding in modern times.
George Town, Penang is a city of the past and the residents and businesses understood this well. Thus, the town has pretty much retained its old charm as the people have made an effort to preserve the town’s colonial-era look.
How to get to George Town
The first order of business is to get yourself to Malaysia. From there, you have two options: take a domestic flight to Penang or take a bus or a train. I did it by plane [Read: 5 Flights, 3 Airports: the horrors and wonders of flying]; flew to Kuala Lumpur then another flight to Penang. From Penang International Airport, I took an hour-long bus ride to George Town.
Alternatively, from Kuala Lumpur, you can go by train. KTMB has daily trips to Butterworth; travel time is 6 hours. From Butterworth, you may take a ferry or a taxi to the island.
I suggest that you book a Grab or an Uber instead, may cost you around RM 20 (₱305.29 – $5.90) but it would definitely save you a lot of time.
For more information on how to get around Penang, you may check out this link.
Where to sleep in George Town
There are many hostels in George Town, one of which is the House of Journey Hotel & Guesthouse. The rate is cheap; only MYR 40 ($9.40 – ₱483.58) per night in a 6-bed dorm room. The deal comes with free breakfast. Click here to read my review.
Where to go to George Town
I was a lone wolf on this trip, I didn’t even make friends so I had no instant travel buddy. I also had some sort of a situation back home that forced me to mind my budget. Thus, I took out 3 destinations from my original itinerary and made do with what I could reach by foot and what my budget would allow. Here are the places that I was able to visit in my 2 days of exploring:
Back in the day, there are cameras that are so big, they looked more like sewing machines like this late 19th-century studio camera that I saw on display as soon as I entered the Camera Museum.
Camera Museum is located at Jalan Muntri, open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. For 20 RM (₱243.67 – $4.73), you will learn the history check out cameras of different kinds, forms, and sizes. From the vintage ones like the daguerreotype camera to the most high-tech like spy cams.
I am not a camera enthusiast but I still find the museum interesting anyway.
George Town Street Art
The street art is all over the town, they are hard to miss. This is one of the major attractions of George Town and you can easily check them out on foot, with the help of a map. Click here to see the story of my self-guided street art tour.
A huge part of the heritage trail is the clan jetties, the last bastions of the old Chinese settlements in Penang. These are houses on stilts, each water village is named after a Chinese clan who dominated the jetties.
There are 6 of them but I only took the time to visit one the most tourist-friendly, the Chew Jetty. I walked over a long walkway made of planks and checked out the little shops that were built by the residents in front of their stilt houses. I thought of buying a souvenir but decided against it. There is a view of the sea at the end of that walkway and a temple. I saw the tourists busy taking pictures and the locals, selling their items.
Where to find coffee in George Town
I will do you (and myself) a disservice if I didn’t find a café. Good thing, there are many to choose from in George Town. Here are the two cafés to get your fix.
Purr-Fect Cat Café
Cats are royalties; they do not wag their tails when you go home, they do not fetch, you can leave them in the house with just food and they will be okay, and they do not want to be pet, at least not all the time. Despite knowing their nature, I went to this cat café thinking that I would get to cuddle at least one cat; I wish. One cat almost scratched my face when I tried to reach out to it, the other cats ran for their lives when they heard me coming, a dotted cat kept trying to get to my coffee. This pretty much sums up my experience at Purr-Fect Cat Café in Georgetown Penang.
Purr-Fect Cat Café is adjacent to the Camera Museum and when I saw it, I thought I should go ahead and check it out. There is an entrance fee of RM 13 (₱158.15 – $3.07), but unlike the cat cafés in the Philippines, there is no time limit. I was the only customer during my visit, I should have been happy for the opportunity to be alone with the cats, but being ignored by these furry animals was no fun at all.
There is only one cat I was able to pet, let’s call her Queen (not sure of its gender though). She is sitting by the window; white, fat, and furry, and doesn’t give a fudge about things. She let me stroke her, but she didn’t purr or showed any signs that she liked it. At least she didn’t try to stop me.
The café is upstairs, below is their shop where you can buy items with cat designs.
The Mug Shot Café
The Mug Shot Café can be found along Lebuh Chulia. It was one of those hipster cafés scattered about the city and the only one I bothered checking out, not that I didn’t want to explore but overdosing on caffeine is never a good idea. I noticed, whenever I passed by that it is always filled with patrons, mostly young foreigners armed with their laptops.
Just like the other establishments, it sits in an old building but designed in a way that makes it quite appealing to the Instagram people. I love the natural light coming from the high ceiling. Their seating arrangement is communal, tables and chairs are made of hardwood. It was clearly not designed for lounging, which may explain why customers don’t linger more than they should.
WiFi is available for free but I gave up after a few failed attempts to connect. My skin was damp and sticky from exploring the city, thus I ordered an iced coffee to cool down. The coffee is too bitter and remained so even when I kept adding sugar into it. To appease my sense of taste I ordered a bagel with cream cheese; I finished it in silence, not wanting to talk with anyone.
I saw a few people taking pictures by the mug shot wall—hence the name of the café—after scribbling their “preferred” crime on the placard. A woman wrote arson, a young man wrote robbery, if I had the chance I would have written murder.
Where to Eat in George Town
When I travel alone, I don’t eat a lot and so I was not able to go deep into the food scene of Penang, a shame as it is considered a gastronomic capital. That’s me when I’m alone, I’m lazy. The street food market along Lebuh Chulia opens at 5:00 p.m. I practically dragged my arse out of the hostel into the street on my second day just to check it out.
Most vendors are of Chinese descent; note that Malaysia’s demographic is composed of three major ethnic groups, the Bumiputras (Malays), the Chinese, and the Indians. The mixture of race is greatly reflected in Malaysia’s cuisine. My appetite was low so I just ordered one noodle dish called wan tan mee RM 5) (₱61.01 – $1.18) and a glass of cucumber juice RM 2.50 (₱30.51 – $0.59).
The juice is pure, no other additives, just water, and freshly pressed cucumber. The wan tan mee, I ordered from a small stall manned by an old Chinese couple. It’s a bowl of delicious thin noodles with vegetables, pork strips, and dim sum; I loved it!
When I went to Chew Jetty, I had an early dinner at CF Hawker Center. I had a clay pot chicken for RM 6 (₱73.42 – $1.42). The rice is sticky with a generous serving of chicken chunks; quite awesome.
My suitcase is small, but it was no fun pulling it along for 750 meters to get to my hostel. I had an option to take a bus, but it only takes a 10-minute walk from the jetty so I figured I should just go on foot. What I didn’t anticipate is how hard it would when you have a suitcase in tow. And so there I was grunting, pulling, lifting my suitcase over uneven surfaces, all the while looking at my map to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I walked the length of Chulia street trying to find Hong Ping Hotel. Behind this hotel, is where you can find the House of Journey hostel & guesthouse. (more…)
A visit to Koh Samui is normally an ideal blend of time spent lazing around on the picturesque beaches, coupled with some adventurous forays into the neighboring islands. Formerly a small fishing community, this place been transformed into one of the most popular tourist destinations of Thailand, catering both to the cost-conscious as well as the as wealthy thrill-seekers alike. (more…)
It was only a 6-minute walk but it felt like forever on a street that was permanently flooded due to a busted water pipe. I had my suitcase in tow and walking on a road with that terrible condition was no joke. After two nights of my stay at MNL Beach Hostel, I spent the remaining days in another hostel, Second Wind Bed, Bunk & Breakfast, also known as Second Wind by MNL. (more…)
I think we can all agree that if budget is of no concern, we would prefer to stay in luxurious accommodation. Who would say no to comfortable beds, complete amenities, and room service? Certainly not me, and sometimes I like to indulge, but with great expectations. If I have to pay more, it’s gotta be worth it. After all, isn’t that the point? We are paying for the convenience, therefore we expect nothing less. Hence, I had great expectations for Henann Crystal Sands Resort, the latest addition to the growing number of luxury hotels by Henann Group of Resorts. It’s created by a well-reputed hotel chain, I knew we were in for something great.
I saw Henann’s service van waiting for me and my friends at Caticlan airport. The driver dons a barong shirt, the van is clean and spacious. Note that it serves all Henann resorts in Boracay, but aside from another female guest, we had no other company in the van. We were driven to a private port with a beautiful waiting area. There, we were greeted warmly by the staff, given bottled water, before we were ushered to the back of the building where a private boat awaits us.
Just last week I went to Boracay and I went through all the trouble of passing through the jetty port, paying for the environmental fee and terminal fee. This time, none of those happened; everything was pre-arranged, we need not worry a thing. To not wait in queues, not deal with a lot of people, and to be treated like a VIP, it’s definitely one of the best experiences in the world. And this is all just a prelude. I had a lovely weekend in Boracay last week, 90% I attribute to the fact that we stayed at Henann Crystal Sands.
In Boracay alone, there are 5 Henann resorts, such as Henann Regency Resort & Spa, Henann Lagoon Resort, Henann Garden Resort, Henann Prime Beach Resort, and the newest player, Henann Crystal Sands. As of this writing, the 6th resort is being built and is expected to open in 2018, the Henann Palm Beach. Indeed, there are so many of them, there is a running joke that Boracay will soon be called Henann island. Humor aside, what this ultimately indicates is that there is a huge demand for luxury accommodation on the island; one that only Henann can provide. Anyone, including me, would be eager to know why. With a stroke of luck, I was able to find out with two other bloggers (Pancake of TravelHistoryCulture and Jeng of Foodinthebag).
This beach-front hotel on Station 2 has a modern coastal Filipino design that perfectly complements the vibe of the island. It has an impressive number of 188 rooms, with two long swimming pools in the middle of the lot, enclosed on all sides by the hotel’s buildings. During our visit, it was still on soft opening, and some parts are still being constructed including the upper deck swimming pool that gazes out to the sea.
There are three kinds of rooms; Deluxe Room, Premier Room, and Premier Room with Pool Access. We stayed in a Premium Room with a single bed and a queen size bed. It is equipped with a safety lock, a flat-screen TV with cable, fridge, a closet with hangers, electric kettle, and to my surprise, two umbrellas that guests are free to borrow. The bathroom is amazing, it has a rain shower, a bathtub, toilet with bidet, and of course towels and toiletries are provided. Though we didn’t stay in a room with a pool access, we were happy that it has a balcony that looks out to the swimming pool. The view, definitely makes every morning sweet.
One of my metrics to deem an accommodation excellent is the WiFi connection; I am happy to report that it works perfectly. I was so in love with our room I didn’t want to leave. I made sure that in the two nights we were there, I was able to enjoy the bed and got me some good night sleep.
The in-house restaurant is another matter and just like the rest of the hotel, it was clearly made to impress. Sapphire Restaurant offers breakfast and dinner buffet and à la carte meals for lunch. We were greeted warmly by its chef, Mr. Gene Gonzalez who introduced to us some of the best dishes that they have to offer. For dinner, my favorites and personal recommendations are Tuna Ceviche, Croquettas Negra, Marinara, and Kare-kareng Bagnet.
The staff is also one of the best things in this resort. Everyone is courteous and they will always greet you even when you happen to be just walking by. They are well-trained, friendly, and efficient. When you ask for assistance, they will attend to you right away. Seriously I could go on and on about why I love Henann Crystal Sands, but the gist is, there is no way you will not enjoy your stay here. You will be treated like a VIP, you will be amazed by their good facilities, and you will love their food, three things that we all want when having a vacation.
There are many ways to love Boracay, but why not make it more amazing by staying at Henann Crystal Sands. For room rates and booking, click this link.