Georgetown, located in the northeast corner of Penang Island, is the second largest metropolitan area in Malaysia and it’s inner city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a interesting architecture, where old colonial buildings alternate with big, beautiful muslim mosques and colorful chinese or hindu temples. This isn’t the only thing that makes Georgetown special: its unique street art attract many people from Malaysia and elsewhere.
There are wall paintings everywhere in the city and most of them have been made by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic in 2012. Zach, as he signs himself in his work, has been able to create something brilliant. On the walls of Georgetown you will see simple life moments like kids playing or people resting, made more realistic by the addition of bicycles, chairs or other physical objects to break the 2D dimension.
Another series is the ‘101 lost Kitten’ depicting 101 cats spread around the city. The project is a collaboration of different artists wanting to bring some awareness towards stray animals. Good luck finding them all!
The last one is a series of iron structures, each one telling a story of the street it’s located on. This project was an initiative of the tourism board wanting to teach some history about the places in an unusual way.
I think that the majority of paintings are around chinatown, but you can find them anywhere. During the day the most popular spots get busy with people wanting to take pictures of those unique pieces, but that wasn’t a problem for us. Arriving from Melaka with a night bus at about 5.30 in the morning gave us the perfect opportunity to explore the city under a different light. Not only did we manage to see some of the most popular paintings without having to wait to be able to take a picture but also to see the city waking up. Even though nothing really opens before 10 am and the town is more active in the evening, some places selling coffee start to set up pretty early and from there you can observe the Georgetown waking up, which can be really interesting.
Speaking of waking up, one thing that everybody will tell you to try is the Dim Sum for breakfast. There is a long list of suggested places and we chose the Tai Tong in Lebuh Cintra. The place is really popular with mainly locals, which is always a good thing. Now, how does it work? After you sit on the table and you order some tea, you will see a few people going around the tables with their trolley. In those trolley there are different kinds of Dim Sum filled with chicken, pork or fish; some different kinds of pudding looking things with rice and meat and some other things that looks like dumplings (I am very bad in remembering how the food is called, I need to start writing it). They will leave on the table what you like and add the price to a piece of paper that you will need when it is time to pay. Now, I guess that for many people it is nice and it’s easy to try different kinds of things… but… having fish or things with very strong flavors at 8 in the morning, isn’t really my thing. I am not ready for that and… no, just no Dim Sum for breakfast for me, thanks.
The food in general is excellent in Penang and, if you want to have a big choice of different things, you can find a bit of everything at the Red Garden Food Court.
Moving on with other awesome things about Georgetown, there is a free loop bus that will take you around the city which is really helpful, plus the transport in general is pretty good and, as usual, everybody is very helpful when you look like you need some direction. There is a bus that, from the city, will take you up to Penang Hill, from which you can have a nice view of the city if the weather is good. Plus there are gardens, many flowers, the temple… it is really nice to walk around the hill for a few hours.
There is also a bus that will take you to the national park from where you can choose between different tracks to explore the jungle. We choose the easy one that took us to monkey beach, which was really disappointing. The beach was full of rubbish and I saw many people having picnics and leaving their rubbish there or throwing plastic bags in the sea! Why would you do that? Apart from the beach, the track in the park is nice and there are few monkeys around, which you need to be careful because if you put something on the ground, as usual, they will try to steal it. Those monkeys can be little bullies sometimes!
In conclusion I think that Georgetown is my favourite city in Malaysia, and this is also because the smiling faces on the walls influence your perception of the town. I was reading that Ernest Zacharevic, in his paintings, gets inspired from wherever he is so his work becomes “a response to whatever social environment I get exposed to”. Well, I would say that happy kids playing, as a response to Georgetown, should definitely tell you something about this place.