Do you want a full packaged of street adventure? Hit the road and go to the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia: Penang.
As a state by the Strait of Malacca, Penang is famous for its street adventure. Street art, street food and streetscape are easily found in this culturally rich area. Claimed as one of the creative cities in Malaysia, Penang is a worth-added destination to your bucket list.
Since its inscription as a World Heritage Site along with Malacca on July 7, 2008, street arts are scattered around Penang especially in Georgetown and create a vibrant street art scene. This was started with Marking George Town project in 2009, which tells the social history of streets in Penang through the use of wrought iron caricatures. The project, which showcases the works of cartoonists such as Tang Mun Kian and Baba Chuah, has contributed in generating awareness of the rich history of the streets among locals and tourists.
However, street arts in Penang gain its most fame when a Lithuanian Artist, Ernest Zacharevic created a series of eight wall paintings (murals) depicting local culture, inhabitants and lifestyles, as part of the Georgetown Festival of Arts and Culture in 2012. Soon, the wall paintings become one of the main attractions and the street art scene has bloomed like never before.
Street art in Penang can be categorized into three main categories. First, the Marking George Town series street art which consist of 52 iron structures depicting fun pictorial anecdote about the history of the streets and Penang’s heritage such as story on Nasi Kandar, Rock Candy, Beca (pedicab) and so on. These street arts were commissioned by the Penang tourism board and are a fun way to learn about Penang history.
Second, the Ernest Zacharevic works, which include eight untitled murals that soon, become a big hit. People then create names for these murals such as Kungfu Girl, Boy with a Dragon Pet, Kids on Bicycle, and so on. These murals are located in Lebuh Ah Quee, Lebuh Armenian, Lebuh Cannon, Lebuh Muntri and other lebuh (streets). Zacharevic works are by far the most popular street art. People are willingly to queue to take pictures with these works and buy souvenir with these works appearing on it.
The third street art is the 101 Lost Kittens series. This is a collaboration project between Thai artist Natthapon Muangkliang and Malaysian artists Louise Low and Tang Yeok Khang. This collection has 12 cat-related street artworks that contain messages to create awareness towards stray animals like “please care and bathe me”, “no animal discrimination” or “love me like your fortune cat”.
In addition to those three street art categories, there are also several random artists creating many different street artworks and others commissioned by the local tenants. Some hotels even create their own version of artworks for branding and marketing purposes. Thus, hunting for street arts in Penang is very easy since they can be found in almost every corner of the streets.
When you are feeling tired after hunting for street art, treat yourself with street food in Penang, which reflect the Chinese, Nyonya (Peranakan), Malay and Indian and also Thailand influences. Long known as the food paradise in Malaysia, Penang offers more than tens street foods you can hardly resist. Penang was even recognized as having the Best Street Food in Asia by Time magazine in 2004. Besides, Penang is also ranked as top ten greatest street food cities in Asia according to CNN Go and has been voted as the top food destination by Lonely Planet.
The popularity of street food in Penang is supported by the fact that it is easy and cheap to eat out any time of the day or night. In the morning you can stroll to the closest fruit stall and have some refreshing breakfast for less than $1. You can also have Nasi Lemak or Chicken Rice if you want a bit heavy ones. Later at noon, you can have Chendol Or Coconut Ice Cream to help you dealing with the heat and the humidity in Penang. Then, at night, plenty options are available ranging from noodle, seafood to fast food.
One of the best places to taste Penang’s food is Chulia Street. Here you can find Mee Goreng, Nasi Kandar, Char Koay Teaw, Chicken Rice, and Rabbit or even Deer Burger. In Penang, you will never running out of idea for food choices. To make it even more perfect, here in Penang, it is difficult to find a store that has a rating lower than “delicious.”
As for the snack, Penang has Biscuit Tambun with red bean paste or durian paste filling. If you want something crunchier, Buah Berangan (Chestnut) can also be an option.
Penang is like a melting pot for various cultures and traits due to its history as a trading area during British colonial time. Consequently, Penang offers attractive views of Penang Peranakan Mansion, Masjid Kapitan Keling, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, Khoo Kongsi, Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple and other cultural sites. There are also plenty distinctive museums in Penang like Upside Down Museum, Gold Museum, Camera Museum, and etc.
These cultural sites and museums create interesting streetscapes that complete the street adventure in Penang. From colorful umbrellas and lanterns decorating kongsi to colorful flowers and Indian dress in Little India, all shape worth-seeing streetscape. Besides, as a world heritage site, the old buildings in Penang, especially Georgetown, are maintained to preserve their original structures and shapes. Thus, the atmosphere of an old town is highly influencing the streetscape in Penang. Sometimes, there are also street performers who perform in the street of Penang adding the charm of this city. Street adventure in Penang is definitely one of a kind.
*This article was also published in Indonesia Travel Magazine