The bus from KL to Georgetown cost about £14 for the two of us and took about 5 hours in reasonable comfort. The final part of the journey being over the remarkable new bridge that joins the island to the mainland. Sitting on the northwest coast of Malaysia, Penang is the area that includes the island of the same name and part of the nearby coast. Georgetown is the main town on the island and certainly the one which has most to offer visitors.
Having said that we weren’t really sure what to expect of the town, the reputation for fantastic food and old buildings was about all we had gleaned from the guidebooks. To begin with we were very lucky in the location of our hotel. It was at the start of Armenian Street which is one of the best streets to experience what Georgetown is about. It is full of little craft shops, museums and street art. Every Saturday night it is the setting for ‘Armenian Street’s Got Talent’, thankfully not a horrible variety show but a street market where local craftspeople are given space to display their products. There are the inevitable musicians, some of whom are actually quite talented but I will never tire of telling bongo players to get a real job.
The setting in Georgetown is just right for the street art, the artwork is funny and inventive. It makes use of old buildings and street furniture in original ways and often makes a statement at the same time.
We had probably one of our best meals while we were here. The location and history of Penang means the food has a combination of Chinese, Indian and Malay influences along with various colonial flavours. The meal we enjoyed was from a long established Chinese restaurant. The twice cooked roast pork was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. We knew it was fresh too as the butcher shop opposite had the carcasses on display out on the street!
During our time in SE Asia it has been interesting to see how the art from the region has been appropriated and used in the west. The influence on artists and architects such as Gaudi is remarkable, to the point where it feels like they have basically been counterfeiting Asian design. We came across a window pane in an old building in Georgetown that could easily have been a Rennie Mackintosh, if it hadn’t been there for years before he was born. I know a lot of these artists have acknowledged the ‘inspiration’ given to them from this corner of the world but the designs have very little in the way of differences.