Thursday, 3 July 2014

George Town, Penang: A Food & Culture Adventure

This travel post is written by Delphine who blogs at Life in the Wee Hours. She travelled to Penang with her husband and kid(s), Anya (3 years) in March 2012; with Anya (3.5 years) & Adam (1 year) in December 2012 and with Anya (5 years), Adam (2.5 years) & David (3.5 months) in April 2014. 

This holiday is suitable for families looking for a quick getaway and good food. Penang is one of the best places for a short trip with kids in tow. There are several flights available from various budget airlines and it takes just over an hour to get there so the little ones don’t even have time to fuss on the plane. The people there are friendly and it’s easy to get around on foot, by taxi or even on a trishaw. Free shuttle buses around the main tourist spots are available as well. 

Here's a list of the top 5 things to do in George Town: 

1. Eat Your Heart Out

Penang is a foodie's dream come true. There's just so much affordable, delicious food that both adults and kids will enjoy. You can start with a dim sum breakfast at the 80-year-old Tho Yuen. The dim sum there may not be the absolute best in Penang, but the old school setting makes dining there quite an experience. Another yummy breakfast option is roti canai, thosai and teh tarik at Sri Anada Bahwan in Little India. For lunch, head to the popular (but some say overrated) char kway teow stall at Kafe Heng Huat on Lorong Selamat or stand in line for the street hawker that appears in the late afternoon at Siam Rd. 

Afternoon tea at the Eastern & Oriental is a must-have; kids will love the little sandwiches, cakes and scones, and they can run around outside after tea. Leave space for dinner and get some Assam laksa, prawn noodles, curry mee, loh bak, nutmeg juice, cendol, etc. into your system. The food at Gurney Drive is not outstanding but it is tourist-friendly and you can find all the local favourites in one place. If seafood is your thing, Bali Hai serves up very decent fare and the kids can gawk at the tanks of live seafood while waiting for the food to arrive. Needless to say, my kids ate non-stop in Penang! 

2. Hunt Down Street Art

Kids who enjoy a little treasure hunt will have fun looking for street art around George Town and posing for pictures with the murals. There are maps available at the airport and hotels; arm yourself with one of those. The afternoon heat in Penang can be merciless so slap on some sunblock, put on your sunglasses, drink lots of water, and bring along an umbrella for shade. You can also consider hiring a trishaw to take you around for the day if you have little ones who tire easily. 

Our favourite murals were the ones by Ernest Zacharevic and you can see more of his work at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre (opposite Grand Continental Hotel). Word of advice: they claim to open at 12pm but you are better off going at 1pm! 

3. Visit The Blue Mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is probably the most famous building in Penang and for good reason. The beautifully restored mansion painted in a striking blue is a stunning backdrop for photographs. There are daily guided heritage tours at 11am, 2pm and 3.30pm. For a truly unique experience, stay a couple of nights at the Blue Mansion and imagine life in a bygone era. We were guests there back in 2012 so we could explore the place freely and the kids also made friends with the resident felines. The karaoke singing from the Red Garden food centre next door goes on past midnight but it wasn’t really an issue and my kids slept through it. 

4. Get High

If you need some fresh air, head up Penang Hill on the funicular train for an incredible view of Penang. Perfect if your kids are early risers because the train runs from 6.30am. Make sure you get a seat right in front or at the back so that the little ones can look down or up the hill as the train makes its ascent. There’s a playground at the top (where the Hindu temple is) where kids can play. You can grab a bite from the cafes and refreshment stands or bring your own picnic basket along and have a picnic amidst the greenery. Cabs are hard to find in the area in the evening so take the bus or arrange for transport to pick you up at the base. 

5. Pretend To Be An Extra In Little Nyonya

At the lovingly restored Pinang Peranakan Mansion, you can get a glimpse into the lifestyle, culture and traditions of a typical rich Baba family. It was one of the locations where The Little Nyonya was filmed and the attention to detail in the re-creation makes you feel like you are visiting someone’s home. If you need to escape the oppressive heat or a passing shower, a visit to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion will keep the kids occupied. Entrance is free for children below 6. Little ones will be amazed (or maybe horrified) to see that people kept a chamber pot in the bedroom under the bed or in a nightstand to relieve themselves at night. You can even have a little game of finding the secret passage that leads from the mansion to the ancestral temple next door. 

Other kid-friendly activities in Penang that you can check out are the Penang Butterfly Farm, the Snake Temple (if your kids are not squeamish) and the Botanical Gardens. It's hard to run out of things to see, do and eat. Tell us, what are some of your favourite things to do in Penang?

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