Malaysia – Penang IslandBack to Story

Around Penang

Taking a drive around the island is a must do activity if only to see what goes on if you are visiting the main city of George Town. Just along the coast you will find the resort area Batu Ferrinhgi. It had its hey day in the ’80s but the Shangri-La has recently been revamped and is a huge and prominent hotel along this stretch.  Unfortunately going for a swim in the sea is out of the question due to the pollution and jelly fish. However, most resorts have a pool so no need to worry. The Shangri-La grounds are also a destination in their own right with lush palm trees and great examples of local flora.

The local herb and spice garden is not far away. Here you can see examples of many of the spices and herbs growing and hear about their medicinal uses.  They encourage you to take a tour by not providing any maps which when you are at the entrance doesn’t seem a big deal. However when you get up there you soon realise not all roads lead where you need to go – all roads lead to the museum and shop of course!

Along the coast road are tourist attractions that feel like you’re in a 1980s time warp. Despite this it is interesting to stop and see the Batik factory and their traditional techniques.  When we pulled in it was pleasing to see the local kids there learning the art technique and creating their own masterpieces to take home.

The process starts with stencils which are dipped into hot wax and stamped on both sides of the chosen fabric.  It is explained as you walk around that this is how you can tell if something is handmade or factory printed. Handmade both sides of the fabric have the printing.

Once the wax dries the fabric is stretched onto frames where it is painted. The wax stops the paint from running and it looks somewhat like a paint by numbers kind of exercise.  Each piece can obviously be crafted with different patterns and colours.  The fabrics are then boiled so the colour is fixed and the wax is no longer on the fabric.

Just along from the factory area is a butterfly farm where you can see lots of the local coloured bugs taking to the air.  This really does look like a relic from the ’80s with fake rock at the entrance. Perhaps it is of interest if you’re an enthusiast or have kids in the car.

The national park of the island offers camping holidays, jungle walks and boat rides to nearby islands. There is also an impressive array of trawling boats that are tied up along the jetty.  I am told they sell their wares on nearby streets and also in Georgetown in the markets.

The drive up over the hills is interesting and allows you to see some of the fruit farms and jungle areas.  There are some good views over the island as you climb over the hills. On the other side you are rewarded with what I am told is the island’s most famous laksa.  Apparently different regions specialise in different types of laksa – for example the Singaporeans adding coconut milk.  According the Wikipedia, laksa is a blend of Chinese and Malay food.  This perhaps explains the different interpretations.  The Balik Pilau laksa is an interesting sweet and sour flavoured noodle soup but the broth is clear and the dominant flavour is definitely fish.

On the way back into Georgetown stop and take a look at the Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple.  It’s perched high up on the hill and to see it all you either have to climb a lot of steps or jump in the vehicle.  The temple is also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss and dates from 1904.  It is still a work in progress and seems to have many styles to the maze of corridors and prayer halls. There is a giant souvenir hall, which you need to walk through to take the lift.  This feels strange in a temple but I guess they need to fund all those additions.

Travel photographs from Penang Island including images of Balik Pulau, Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple, Teluk Bahang and around island

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