Georgetown was “discovered” by a Dutch spice trading company in the 1700’s. It was later colonized by the British, who renamed it after George the III. There is a huge history in Georgetown, one that I won’t cover in this post but it should be noted that due to the convoluted Chinese, Indian and British influence on the food, this capital city has gained the reputation of being the food capital of Malaysia.
We arrived at the airport and after going through customs, I used a taxi kiosk to purchase a ride into the city for about 48 MYR. Taxi’s are generally not metered in Malaysia, so it is advised to purchase your trip before you begin your journey.
The first thing that will hit you is the heat. Between the humidity and soaring temperatures, you almost can’t comprehend how hot it is. Where I come from, 26 degrees C (78F) is considered a warm day. Temperatures in Georgetown can reach 34 degrees C (93 F) and with the humidity it will feel like 40 degrees C (104F).
When we pulled up to our guest house, I had a momentary sense of panic.
We made our way up the stairway and checked in.
The room was on the 3rd floor (no elevator) and it felt like there was a furnace blasting extreme heat into the small, cement staircase. Our room (one of the luxury rooms that had it’s own bathroom) was tiny (maybe 150 sq feet). It was extremely clean and had hot water (I discovered how to turn on the water heater after two very refreshing showers), very white bedding and an air conditioning unit that quickly cooled off that small space in record time.
I just have to note that my partner-in-crime was a complete trouper about this place. He is a better traveler that I am. He just takes it all in stride.
After a surprisingly fantastic sleep, jetlag woke us up around 5 AM. We went out looking for something to eat. Temperatures at this point were bearable, probably around 26 degrees?
Despite everything we heard, Malaysia does not accept foreign currency. Indian food for breakfast? It was actually one of the only places that was open so early.
After breakfast we bought tickets for the Hop On/Hop Off bus, which turned out to be one of my brightest suggestions to date. The hop on/hop off bus was air conditioned and had multiple stops around the city for various tourist destinations. We would have never found these places on our own, nor would we have made it on foot. Not to mention, that A/C felt pretty good between locations. If you find yourself in Georgetown, spend the extra few dollars and get on this bus. It is a great deal.
Our first stop was the Blue Mansion, which was one of Cheong Fatt Tze’s most lavish homes.
Our second stop, we got off at the Dhamikarama Burmese Temple in Penang which was built in 1803.
The sheer size of this was staggering.
This wishing well was slowly spinning and each cup had one word written on it, like happiness or prosperity. If you managed to throw your coin into the cup, that word will come into your life.
After this temple, we walked across the street to see the Thai Buddhist Temple. Someone told us that there are over 5,000 temples in the state of Penang.
Pretty amazing hey?
This next picture is the view from my double decker Hop On/Hop Off bus and shows an average street in Georgetown. Sidewalks are not common, and when you walk on the road, mopeds are driving alongside the cars, exactly where you are trying to walk. They prefer to honk at you and not brake, so walking the streets in Georgetown can be quite harrowing at times. Pedestrians have no rights, we found exactly two cross walks and I won’t lie to you, crossing the street, especially at night, was terrifying. You could never make it across the street all at once. You had to walk to the middle of the street, while cars zoom past you on both sides and then continue on when it is safe. It is almost a game of pedestrian chicken and I had a few harrowing moments…
While on the Hot on/Hop off bus, we also drove by a house fire.
One of our last stops, we got off to find something to eat. By this point, I was completely on sensory overload. My trusted Birkenstocks had given me severe blisters, I was dehydrated, beyond hot and my entire body was wet with sweat. Every shop seemed to be burning incense. Each shop is tiny and every square inch of space is used. There are so many people, so much to look at, so many cars honking, so many different languages, it just takes your breath away.
We stopped off at another India restaurant for some food. Between the jetlag, the heat, and the spice of this meal, I barely ate. Culture shock had finally kicked in. Ha ha
Later that night, after a refreshing shower, we walked along the jetty. Each Chinese clan has it’s own jetty. This is one of them, and was across the street from our hotel.
After staying 2 nights in Georgetown, we said goodbye. The hotel called us an uber driver to take us to the airport.
I really like Georgetown. It was a huge shock to my system arriving there. The heat, the traffic and congestion. The tiny hotel room. The 2 inch gecko that ran across the wall in my hotel room. (Yes, I freaked). The amount of walking. The language barriers. The difference in food. Navigating around. All of those differences just throws you into serious culture shock. It is a complete assault to your senses. Let’s face is, this is why I love to travel. I love that jolt to my system where every sense is reacting to all the differences. Where your entire person is snapped out of your automatic gear and you sit up and realize, that yes, you are alive. And halfway around the world. Pretty freaking awesome!
As far as introductions to Malaysia, I think this historical place was a great place to start. Our 4o hours in Georgetown was just the right amount of time to come to terms with the time change, the reality that we were halfway across the world, and to adjust to the intensity, noise, and shock of this historical treasure.
Having said that, I am glad I did not book a week there. Two nights was just the right amount of time.
Stay tuned for our next stop….