I made a short trip with the family up north to Penang quite recently as we had a wedding to attend in Butterworth. The fun thing about Penang is that it is a nice mix of old and new. There are old buildings located almost everywhere in the island city of Georgetown and it has that slightly colonial feeling if you spend some time driving through its streets. The hotel where we stayed was a typical highrise building but right in front it was a Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food restaurant that was housed in a colonial style mansion that had been well preserved. I presumed that the mansion would have been built sometime in the 1930s or the 1940s and it still looks majestic, if you ignored that large Colonel Sanders KFC logo upfront.
Even the buildings from the 1950s to the 1960s have a certain flair to it. Being another island city, there could be some similarities between Georgetown and Singapore city, but with less modern development like highways and wider roads of course. Everything is narrower and there are many small streets for an out of towner to explore, with a car, bike or by.... walking (the horror!).
- a mansion on Gurney Drive
For another example of old meets new one should go over the Gurney Drive or the roads around the area. We have bungalows, built by the Towkays of days gone by, situated right beside a highrise condominium or two. Somehow development has slowly transformed a quiet residential road into a bustling F&B outlet, hotel and condominium filled street. But I somehow have great respect to those individuals or families who are still holding out their family homes around this area instead of succumbing to the obscene amount of money that the sale of the land would bring them.
-the night market at Batu Feringgi
Of course, I was there on a weekend and the traffic on a Sunday morning was free from any sort of jams . This meant that I had time to soak in the overall experience even more. Oh yeah, the food was good and there are other things to do like frequent the night market located at Batu Feringgi. This is where you find all those tee-shirts, bags, shoes, DVDs and watches like in most large night markets in the region. Of course if you want original branded stuff, this isn't the place to go. This place is for everything else.
Another good thing about Penang is the food. I don't have to tell you readers out there about Penang food as you can see, read or hear about Penang Nasi Kandar, Penang Char Koay Teow, Pasembor and a few other specific food. You could try the stalls at Gurney Drive from the evenings or the thousands of seafood restaurants that litter the island and those Nasi Kandar shops and stalls around the Chowrasta Bazaar market and Chulia Street. Amazing food, but it is still sold at a reasonable price. Unless you really pig out that is.
Penang is a good seven to eight hours drive from the Causeway, or faster if you have the proper car and aren't bothered about those pesky speed traps. A trip from Johor right up to Penang is a fabulous experience. The North-South Highway is a little dull and tedious from Johor to Seremban, busy from Seremban to Kuala Lumpur. It gets better from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, where it passes the limestone hills which is nice to look at and when you pass Ipoh the highway becomes challenging. Uphill through the Menora Tunnel and down part of the Titiwangsa mountain range. This stretch is a fabulous drive with high speed sweeping corners coupled with a majestic view of the surrounding. Pass Taiping the highway gets bumpy due to the soft ground. This also makes a good test on your car's suspension and before you know it, you're in Penang. But good road trips are seldom short.
Of course to some it may not be as long as a trip to Hatyai or Phuket in Thailand (especially to some bikers I happen to know). The thing is that while people say that it is the experience during the trip that is important in motoring, there is sometimes equal satisfaction if the destination you arrived at is all that it's worked up to be. And Penang is such a place.