Our lovely hosts Isabella and Brad, in Vientiane, Laos had invited us to stay with them in Penang and our destination there was Gurney Park.
Brad met us at security, Landy was taken care of and we were flabbergasted to be shown where we were staying. We had a whole penthouse on the 39th floor with astounding views overlooking the sea and the shores of Butterworth.
Brad left us to tear around George Town to our hearts content and then at meal times, conjured up a whole range of food options across the broad pallette of Malaysian cuisines. I had not realised that apart from its colonial history and architecture, the town was renown for its street food and is one of the street food capitals of the world!
With the help of Brad, food dishes I might have regarded with a certain amount of hostility, soon became my new best friends.
Before we get into the food, I should explain that Penang is not just about modern high rise residential blocks and fancy shopping malls, but its main attraction is George Town, which has achieved a Unesco World Heritage designation. It is not immediately obvious that this status is merited, but give it time and the untidy streets with both improved and unimproved houses reveals its charm.
George Town is the multicultural capital of the Malaysian island of Penang. Once an important Straits of Malacca trading hub, the city is known for its British colonial buildings, Chinese shophouses and mosques.
Georgetown was established by Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786 and Fort Cornwallis dates back to this period.
In 1867 it became a British crown colony and most of the best colonial mansions date from about 1900.
Built by wealthy Chinese merchants or criminal clans, they are typically well restored, stocked with collectable antiques in the Chinese or Malay styles, and include steel columns from Glasgow!
As you weave your way back and forth along the streets trying to work out which are worth the trudge, you come across unexpected arty murals, brightening up alleys and walkways. There are still people offering to transport tourists around on bikes!
In George Town you are never far from a sizzling wok or an aroma filled tandoori oven each preparing its own version of chicken.
Being a sea port, seafood and fish are freshly available and this is a place where everyone can find something that pleases them to eat. What I had not expected was that parts of the city were overwhelmingly Indian.
And other parts Chinese. We are working our way towards Chinese New Year which is absolutely huge here. Every street, building and store is selling red products. We plan to be in Singapore over the period and there will certainly be fireworks!
The food offerings followed suit. However, some of the street food markets just mixed it all and you could wander around, sit at any table and selected food cooked streetside is brought to you right there.
George Town and Penang is not just about the street food, but discerning locals can find an array of posh coffee shops selling their own brands of freshly ground coffee.
One night after dinner we were led to an extraordinary Speak Easy. This hard to find trendy bar was secretly hidden behind an enormous fridge in an icecream parlour and a hidden sliding door! We went in and Jim said, well we certainly wont get a drink in here. How wrong he was.
As if all that was not enough, we found a bar selling gold leaf encrusted icecream at a comparable price. Not for the feint hearted.
On Sunday we visited a pop up market in the former Hin bus station. This I would recommend. Great vibe and very relaxed and arty
There was an accoustic guitar player with a wonderful play list, a selection of crafts and artworks were being sold and ofcourse - street food, good coffee and fab murals.