When we entered Singapore, we needed to have exit plans in order to secure our visas. We made plans to rendezvous with some SF folks in Penang in early November and accommodation looked good and cheap, so we decided to spend some extra time in George Town. It’s not yet clear if that was a mistake.
Our first AirBnB was nicely furnished, had ample space, very fast wifi and was only about $75/night. It had floor to ceiling windows looking out over the bay, and though it was a little south of George Town, it was in an area with lots of restaurants and bars and at least 4 coffee shops within 2 blocks.
While it looked great, it had an equal amount of issues… We went from having the nicest kitchen imaginable at our pet sitting place in Singapore, to one of the worst. The fridge was dorm-room sized, which was a challenge even though we don’t really cook that much. (I broke a bottle of wine when it tumbled out of the over-stuffed fridge – tragedy!) The electric kettle nearly caught fire, smoking and cinging the wall outlet. The cutlery was barely a step above disposable and constantly falling apart in our hands, and the single-burner cooker was a mystery to use.
It was also surprisngly noisy for being on the 20th floor… I expect it’s all the A/C units, but there was constant rumbling coming from the walls that I couldn’t manage to ignore. And we resorted to sleeping on a mattress on the floor due to the uncomfortable bed and uncontrollable A/C. So not exactly amazing, but we have stayed in much worse.
Penang is known for 2 things: food and street art. The street art actually started with a government-initiated project to celebrate the history and people of Penang. So in other words, the goverment hired artists to come grafitti up the town to encourage tourism. It has grown considerably since then, and you see groups of people wandering the streets in late afternoon/early evening (once the temperture had cooled slightly) to take photos with the most famous pieces.
I loved how many of them incorporated real objects – chairs, motorbikes, swings, etc. The less-famous pieces were just as delightful, and so many of them included cats!
Its very interesting to experience unusual holidays, or see how other cultures experience familiar holidays. In Singapore, we only passed one bar with any kind of Halloween decorations and the Christmas lights were already going up in mid October. In Penang, some bars promoted Halloween party on the preceeding Saturday night, but Diwali is apparant everywhere.
Halloween has always been my favourite holiday. Candy & costumes – what’s not to love?! It is a particularly huge holiday in SF (usually spanning a week) and I’m especially missing my friends and all the fun costumes they create each year. I am sad that it was nothing more than a regular day here – no costumes, no parties, no pantless nun handing me candy. Even worse, there was torrential rains and flooded streets, so any attempts to find some Halloween activities were thwarted.
That said, Diwali has been exciting to witness since it has taken over the whole town. There are a lot of lights on the street and fireworks started at 12:01am on Oct 29th and went until dawn. These aren’t the huge 4th of July-style displays, but rather a constant popping of smaller explosions (which we were initially worried was gunfire – guess I’m still American at heart!). From our AirBnB we had a view of most of George Town plus mainland Malaysia, and we could see the colourful bursts exploding all around.
We got off to a bit of a rocky start with food. Shopping in one of the largest grocery stores didn’t yield very good quality or selection of produce. Despite seeing chickens on the side of the road, even the eggs didn’t seem very fresh. We also made some poor choices on eating out – partially due to our first AirBnB location, and partially due to my vegetarianism. (Most of the local dishes are based on meat or seafood… when I asked for something “vegetarian”, I wound up with prawns.)
We did ultimately find some good spots for local food, though, and now I understand why Penang is so well-known for it. There is a very popular Indian place that is open 24 hours – the curries were flavourful and the naan was some of the best I’ve ever had. We also found a cafe that did vegetarian versions of more traditional dishes – I loved the coconut stew with tofu (instead of seafood). There is a Din Tai Fung (famous for dumplings) which was even better (and cheaper) than the one we went to in Singapore. And coconut ice cream is fresh, amazing and everywhere.
The Number 4…
…is unlucky here. In Chinese, the word for “four” is very close to the word for “death”. So in buildings, the floors are numbered: 3, 3A, 5 and 13, 13A, 15.
So far, everyone has been very nice and most things are cheap. Our accommodation hasn’t been entirely comfortable (the second one had a kitchen stocked primarily with saucers and unreliable wifi) but it could be worse.
We have been saving a lot of the tourist activities for when our friends arrive… I am very excited to see Dave & Sue!