With a family holiday long due, we decided to spend a few weeks in Penang and Langkawi, Malaysia, with a few days stop in Singapore on the way home.
2019 Asian family holiday — Leg 1: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Departure: Melbourne to Singapore, then on to Penang
Changi Airport, Singapore
Despite having been to Singapore many, many times in the past with the Navy, I’d always sailed there (usually to Sembawang) and therefore had never been to Changi Airport before! Anneliese and I were very excited to check it out. We had 4.5 hours in the early morning to have a bit of a tired but fun wander around the airport looking at the shops and all the little gardens in each terminal. Anneliese had her first ever Starbucks mocha frappe-chino!
First stop: Penang, Malaysia
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Georgetown, Penang
Known as ‘The Blue Mansion’, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion Hotel is a beautiful, world-heritage listed mansion built by Cheong Fatt Tze, a Chinese merchant (as well as financier, tycoon, diplomat, politician, philanthropist and minister, called the “Rockefeller of the East”) in the nineteenth century, with the help of a Feng Shui master. It was an amazing place to stay and hands-down the best accommodation we stayed in on our entire trip. It as breathtakingly beautiful and serene, just walking through the open courtyards full of grandeur, history and elegance.
One of my daughter’s favourite comedies is Crazy Rich Asians, so she was very excited to realise that the mansion served as a filming location for one of the movie scenes!
The best aspect of Penang has to be the food — the geographic location, long maritime history and mixed varied cultures of Penang have developed a world-renowned cuisine. For a handful of ringgit, we devoured meal after tasty meal at lots of market stalls, roadside stands and restaurants.
We particularly loved the Red Garden Food Paradise, which was (dangerously) right next door to the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion! Char kwai teow, bak kut teh, dry chilli frog claypot, barbeque squid, satay chicken, hokkien mee, roti chanai, kojak, pad thai, chicken teriyaki sushi, lok lok, mee goreng, yoong taufu, ikan panggang, biryana curry claypot, kueh tiao soup… the list just went on at this great hawker market.
We also had fantastic meals at Kota Express, a modern Penang eatery in Georgetown — where we had nyonya chicken lotus leaf bun, grilled chicken rempah udang, and “trio Asian capellini” — as well as a really nice char kwai teow and prawn mee at the Kim Hai Thong Café, just downhill from the Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam.
World heritage history and culture
Georgetown is part of a ‘joint’ UNESCO World Heritage Area with Melaka. Georgetown has a rich heritage and culture, described by UNESCO as “the most complete surviving historic city centre(s) on the Straits of Malacca with a multi-cultural living heritage originating from the trade routes from Great Britain and Europe through the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and the Malay Archipelago to China”.
We particularly loved seeing all the architecture, and Anneliese took a particular joy in posing for photos at the front doors of many of the traditional houses around Georgetown.
There is some brilliant street art around Georgetown, with heaps of murals and wall paintings seemingly in every street. Although there has probably been graffiti forever, the street art scene is a very recent development, but it adds to the culture and history of the place as murals depict nostalgic childhoods in a less-developed Penang, and both bemoan/celebrate the tourism that Georgetown now enjoys.
We visited Fort Cornwallis, walked the streets around the municipal centre and took a quick shot of my partner Danielle (a criminal barrister/lawyer) in front of the Mahkamah Tinggi, the High Court of Penang. This building saw the birth of Malaysia’s judicial system, so was a nice little stop. We also visited many clan houses and jetties, temples, and other historic areas of Georgetown.
Kek Lok Si Temple, Air Itam
On Day 4 we spent the majority of the day visiting the Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam. A huge Buddhist temple spanning multiple levels and featuring a statue of the goddess of mercy ‘Guanyin’ that stands 120 feet tall (>36 metres) at the pinnacle, this was a very beautiful place and we had a great day out.