Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Penang, First Timer

The first question that I received was this: why Penang? I believe thanks to Pashatama's blog about Penang that I made a (partially) impulsive plan just to see what's Penang looks like. The main thing is that I love to eat. Some people may say that we eat to stay alive, while some others will say that we stay alive just to eat. Me? I just need a vacation, with good foods. That's all.

How about the budget? Well, my main targets are street foods, not glittering-top-class restaurants. Low season should be okay, so I booked the ticket (111 SGD with Jetstar), chose Ink Hotel (252 MYR + deposit 50 MYR) for 4 nights, and prepared myself with inputs from wikitravel, the bus routes, and several blogs about Penang. Not to forget about the offline maps (I chose OsmAnd since, during preparation time, Google Maps didn't have offline map for Penang). If you think that you'll need extra medicines for precautions, just bring them. Now, allow me to share the itinerary.

Day 0 ~ 9 Oct 2014.

Thursday began with a slight delay from Changi (booked 15:05, delayed to 15:55) to Penang (booked, 16:35, delayed to 16:50). Once arrived, I searched for the bus stop (once you went out the airport, turn to the left side). From there, I waited for the bus that would take me to Komtar Tower (102, 401, or 401E). Prepare exactly 2.7 MYR as there would not be change at all (or at least, you can pay 3 MYR and give up the change). I didn't choose taxi or "group taxi") since some of them prefers fixed price (within the range of 20-50 MYR). Spoke to the bus driver, paid the ticket, and sat for about 45 minutes. Although I could stop at the bust stop near hotel, I chose to stop at Komtar just to see what it looks like.

At the hotel, after all the administration stuffs, I started hunting. My first target? Fried char kway teow (stir-fried ricecake strips), at the junction of Jalan Siam and Jalan Anson. It's a mobile stall, opposite of Kedai Kopi Hock Ban Hin. Since it was dinner time, I asked for a plate of char kway teow, waited inside Kedai Kopi, and ordered teh tarik. I believe they "joined" only for dinner time. So, order the char kway teow from the stall, and order something to drink from the Kedai Kopi. I think there is an "unspoken" rule about this.

For 5.5 MYR, with the combination of duck egg, prawn, sausage, and fried lard, I couldn't resist.

Since I had a plenty of time, I chose to walk around Lorong Baru to see the night market. And, well, I could eat more. So, I ordered char koay kak (fried rice cake) and apem (banana and brown sugar).

Supper (5 MYR for char koay kak and 2 MYR for apem).
Now, about the "unspoken" rule, I believe the drink stall hold the power since they can only serve drink, which is cheaper than food. If you sit near a drink stall, order at least a drink from them. Do not - I repeat - do not order the drink from another stall since you will be forced to move near to the place you order the drink from.

End of day 0. I should eat more.

Day 1 ~ 10 Oct 2014.

A good sunny Friday, with Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) and Kek Lok Si Temple as the place I chose to visit. Why? One reason: the location, which is outside George Town. But first, breakfast. I chose Prosperous Dim Sum.

Technically, this is a portion for 3. And I devoured them, just because. Total bill? 31.3 MYR.

From here, I walked to Komtar, and waited for the bus number 204 (it's the only bus that will take you there). Prepared 2 MYR for the ticket, and you're good to go.

At Penang Hill, I purchased 30 MYR for the railway ticket (yes, that's the price for tourist). I couldn't explore further since there was some upgrades in several areas, plus it was hazy (yes, the burning stuffs from Riau, I believe). So, 1 hour in this place is good enough for me.

Next stop: Kek Lok Si temple. From Penang Hill, I thought it was easy to go to Kek Lok Si by feet. After walking under scorching sun around 20-30 minutes, I admitted I was wrong. I should have ride 204.

Before Kek Lok Si, my priority would be lunch: Penang Laksa.

Apparently, a lot of people love it (4 MYR).
Satisfied, I continued to walk. During my trip, Kek Lok Si was under renovation. Now, some people feel that this place was giving a "commercialized" aura. There is a lot of shops inside, and you need to pay 2 MYR to go to Pagoda, and 6 MYR to see Kwan Im statue. Some people will take this as a "scam", but for me, I think it's because they need funds to maintain this place. It's freaking huge.

I'm not saying that you must not go to this place. If you want to pay visit, just do it. It will take around 2 hours or so to explore this place. That's why, after this, I was "attracted" to look for something to eat. Near the Penang Laksa, I could see curry noodle. I didn't hesitate. Consider this as a "tea-time" food.

Surprisingly, the blood pig is pretty good. For 4 MYR, this is delicious.
The next stop would be another place to eat: a good oyster omelette (well, I could bring it back to hotel). According to some old articles, it was located at Kedai Kopi Bee San (it is not that close to Kek Lok Si). But unfortunately, I couldn't find the stall. Some said that the owner is retired. So, I decided to go back to hotel first (since I sweat a lot). 204 can take you back to Komtar. As for dinner, I decided another set of dim sum (De Tai Tong), and if possible, nasi kandar at Line Clear. Yet, another 15-20 minutes of walking would do.

32.8 MYR for dim sum (again, not a portion for one), and 8 MYR for nasi kandar (with chicken drumstick and shallot omelette).

End of day 1. I should say, at least the dinner was fantastic.

Day 2 ~ 11 Oct 2014.

Another good sunny Saturday, and I was curious about are some spots around George Town (the offline map really helps). From hotel, I'll go to the nearest spot: Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.
5 MYR for the ticket. You can learn something from here.
Ever watched 1911? Well, that movie can describe about the stuffs in this place, with some additions about the condition after Dr. Sun passed away.

Intermezzo: in a way or two, Penang reminded me about the combination of Kota Tua, Mangga Dua, Mangga Besar, Monas, Pluit, and Gading. Those are the spots that you can find around Jakarta. Perhaps, these photos can explain better.

The next stop? Breakfast. As a note, it would be hard for me to ignore Lorong Baru area since the location itself is close to Ink Hotel. I picked the place near Happy Mart: Sin Yi Nam.
Something light for breakfast: Hokkien mee (4 MYR) and kopi (1.4 MYR).
Is it enough? Nope. On the way to Khoo Kongsi, my nose picked another one: tiger char kway teow (just Google it, and you'll get several links).
This is delicious, Your Grace. 5.5 MYR with a cup of tea (1 MYR).

2 different foods for breakfast, and then, the next stop: Khoo Kongsi.

In a way, the kongsi system reminded me about Godfather (in a positive way). From what I see, education is one of the most important contribution in this association. I would say, good investment. For 10 MYR, I would say, this is a nice place to learn about something new.

From Khoo Kongsi, I took a (long) walk to Blue Mansion since it was a good day to have one. Plus, while doing so, I could see some murals and sculptures. It's a good idea to bring sunblock or umbrella, unless you want to get tanned fast (and furious too).
I won't put every street arts in this entry. Probably I'll make another post only for them.

The Blue Mansion is, of course, blue. You can only enter this place at certain times for guided tour: 11 AM, 2 PM, 3:30 PM. With 16 MYR for the ticket, just interact with the story of Blue Mansion told by the tour guide (probably with a hint or two about Feng Shui). It's worth my time.

Did I mention about how hot it was on that day? Time for late lunch then: the famous chendul (some will say cendol).
Teo Chew Chendul at Penang Road for 2.3 MYR. Look at the queue. I should visit this stall earlier.
And nearby the chendul stall (Joo Hooi Cafe), I picked something else.
Penang Laksa for 4.5 MYR, and lime juice for 1.9 MYR
Another plate of char kway teow for 6 MYR, with lorbak for 3.5 MYR.
Actually, it will take a while to go from Blue Mansion to this cafe. But I did it anyway. For food. Next stop: the Fort Cornwallis area (technically, Fort Cornwallis is near to the Blue Mansion ~ but, again, I wanted to eat something). By feet, of course. You can go inside the Fort Cornwallis (2 MYR for the ticket).

After all of these, my feet begged me to stop. All right. But first, walk back to Lorong Baru. The menu? Oyster omelette (8 MYR) and popiah (spring roll on yellow plate 2.8 MYR). I bought the otah (3 MYR) from an old lady who walked into the cafe, and offered every guests. All of them are delicious.

After the meal, there was a little surprise: a set of heavy rain. Well, it's time for something lighter.
Wanton noodle for 3.5 MYR at Hong Kong Tea Garden.
End of day 2. What a day.

Day 3 ~ 12 Oct 2014.

An sunny Sunday. There was nothing much left in my list. But first thing first: breakfast. You'll find this lor mee at Lorong Selamat (Kafe Fong Sheng, near Tune Hotel).
I ordered a big portion for 4 MYR. It goes nicely with ginger paste.
Next destination: Penang Peranakan Museum. Again, by feet.

In this place, although the jewellery section is guarded, you can still take photos and buy some souvenirs. The atmosphere is similar to the Blue Mansion, but there's not guided tour. Although the ticket is 20 MYR, which is a little bit more compared to Blue mansion, I like this place.

Here's another mistake that I made on this day: I walk from Penang Peranakan Museum to Dhammikarama Burmese Temple, which is almost near to Gurney Drive area. Luckily, there are places to eat ~
Just chicken and charsiu rice for 7 MYR. The green chili gave a nice assist.
After that "meaty" lunch, I continued to walk, and chose Dhammikarama Burmese Temple as the first stop. It was Sunday, and there was a preaching session (I think, since the monk spoke in different language, which, I assume, Burmese language).

Opposite of Dhammikarama, there's another one: Wat Chaya Mangkalaram. I think it's more for praying (and ash storage).

In case if you're wondering, unlike Kek Lok Si, these two do not charge a single cent (well, they are way smaller than Kek Lok Si).

Next stop: Gurney Paragon and Gurney Drive. Yes, these two are malls, and I just wanted to take a look. Too bad I didn't see the makan place around Gurney.

Shawarma at Gurney Paragon (10 MYR). It's pretty nice.
Since the main target was successfully infiltrated, I chose to go back to hotel. This time, I didn't walk, but rode 103 (I think since the distance is close, I was charged 1.4 MYR), which can take me back to Anson road (it's near to Ink Hotel). That shawarma gave me a full "tank", so I took something light for dinner.
Kway teow th'ng (soup) for 5 MYR at one of the stalls around Hong Kong Tea Garden (again)
Here's a side story. During dinner time, I met a family from Indonesia (Padang, to be exact): a young man (well, boyish face), his mother, and his aunt. The aunt said that she would take an operation due to her ankle problem (age factor, she said). Out of curiosity, I asked why she didn't take the operation in Indonesia. All of them smirked. "You know why, don't you?" It's not without reason that there are stories about how bad the medical service in Indonesia is. I can't say that every single hospitals and doctors in Indonesia are bad, since bad seeds will always be around, not only in medical fields, but other fields as well. As for those who can afford, they will go to other countries just for better medical services and better result, however expensive (in some cases, the cost is even slightly cheaper).

Day 4 ~ 13 Oct 2014.

It's time to go back to Singapore. But, again, breakfast is important. The flight would take place at 17:15. I had time for some mural and sculpture hunting. And, of course, food.
I found this lormee around Lebuh Ah Quee (3.5 MYR) while walking around for mural and sculpture hunting.

The curry mee at Lorong Selamat (5 MYR). This time, I don't use the pig blood.

To reach the airport, you can ride 102, 401, or 401E from Komtar. Prepare 2.7 MYR for the ticket, and you're good to go. It will take almost one hour (depends on the traffic). So, plan ahead.

Basically, I tried to use "cheapskate" mode when I decided to go to Penang. One of my friends said that if you travel in a small group, you can hire a local tour guide. But I didn't. So, I didn't have any intention to search for the rate. If I take a cab, it will cost me more (surely it won't be like 2 MYR per trip). Here are several "blur questions" that I asked to some of my friends:
  1. Is it okay to walk from Komtar to Air Itam, or at least, Kek Lok Si? Or by bicycle. Answer: bad idea. Although the map may say it will take around an hour and a half, if you're not familiar with the road (and not to mention the weather), it will be better to ride 204. Or taxi, if you want.
  2. Is it okay to walk from Komtar to Gurney Drive? Answer: another bad idea. My colleague from Penang said that it will be better to ride a bus. The map may say it will take 45 minutes or so. In the end, I chose to walk, and as a conclusion, I should listen to my colleague.
  3. How convenient will it be to explore George Town by feet/bicycle? Answer: it depends. Most of my friends say that it's possible. Besides, it will be a light exercise to walk from one point to another. I will point out that offline map is very useful if you want to explore George Town by feet/bicycle. Although the crime rate in Penang worries me, I can say that I was lucky enough. Probably it's because I dressed like a lazy bum.
How about pubs or bars? I didn't put it in the list. I assumed that my plans would drain a lot of energy. In fact, it did. I would go back to hotel before 9 or 10, so I didn't know much about the nightlife in Penang.

If you're asking about what's the most delicious food, from what I have eaten, all of them are delicious. Not to mention that my tongue can be the standard, but one of my friend said that if you can't make a delicious food, you will not survive in food business, especially in Penang. I believe he has a point. I do enjoy all of them. In other words, using Andrew Zimmerns's quote: "If it looks good, eat it."

That's all folks.