Shortly after arriving in Malaysia we spent a week in Georgetown, a historic city on the island of Penang. We’ll probably return there before our time in Asia comes to an end. Here are a few things that we loved about it:
The Authenticity: Each time we left our hotel on the fringe of the historic district to make our way into the city we’d pass scenes of locals going about their business as usual. A group of men seated on the ground outside a convenience store watching as an ancient looking Chinese man with no shirt and fewer teeth than fingers moved a black beer bottle cap across a stained and worn checkerboard. The smells of roasting duck, seafood and fried dishes lingering in the air from across the street where locals gathered around hawker stalls at the side of the road to grab a quick snack. Around the corner on Chulia Street a disassembled motorbike in pieces on the sidewalk outside a workshop while a mechanic covered in grease searches for parts to rebuild its engine. Georgetown seems to have managed the influx of tourism with more grace than almost anywhere we’ve been in Southeast Asia thus far, It’s really incredible that in many ways day to day life here continues uninterrupted by it.
The Food and Coffee: Hawkers cook food day and night in roadside stalls that have been passed down through generations. Countless restaurants sell a mix of Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, and Thai foods. Restaurant owners and hawkers take pride in their specialties and are happy to share information about the island. Coffee shops with excellent espresso are everywhere in Georgetown and stepping into one was like taking a comfortable step into one of our favorites from New York.
The History: Walking around Georgetown the sidewalks are more like choppy extensions of storefronts that rise and fall depending on how each building was constructed. Walking over the uneven surface is a slow and cautious task, but that’s a good thing because it forced us to take a closer look at what we’d otherwise pass by. Each storefront has such a history and uniqueness that it makes you feel like you could walk the same street 100 times and see something new each time. On the waterfront we found Chew Jetty, an entire community of houses and walkways on stilts over the water dating to the 1800’s. The atmosphere is a stark contrast to Georgetown’s busy and gritty streets – life is calm, quiet and simple – the way I imagine it’s always been.