Penang—Isle of the Betel Nut

Explore Malaysia
By Li Yen, Epoch Times
September 15, 2015 Updated: December 7, 2015

Penang, in north western Malaysia, also called Pulau Pinang (Isle of the Betel Nut), derives its name from the plentiful betel nut palms lining its sandy beaches.

A melting pot of cultures, this ‘Pearl of the Orient’ still retains its old-school charm and remains a favourite destination for many holidaymakers.

Penang Street Art in Georgetown
Hunting down the numerous wall paintings and wrought-iron caricatures can be both an enjoyable and arduous task under the hot sun.

“The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This” mural in Georgetown. (Li Yen/Epoch Times)

Pose with the famous wall murals of ‘Kids on Bicycle’ or ‘Children Playing Basketball’. These well-loved wall murals by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic have become iconic landmarks of Georgetown.

Scattered across Georgetown are 52 wrought-iron caricatures, which capture the history of the street they adorn. For example, at Lorong Ikan (Fish Lane in Malay) where strings of fish were hung out to dry, the iron caricature hilariously depicts a cat stealing fish from the drying line. These caricatures teach us about Georgetown’s history in an entertaining way!

Iron cast caricature in Georgetown. (Li Yen/Epoch Times)
Iron cast caricature in Georgetown. (Li Yen/Epoch Times)

Many artisans can be found selling their works of art on the streets of Georgetown. An elderly man displaying his handmade paper planes captivated me. They reminded me of my childhood.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion
I have always been curious about the Peranakan culture, and the visit to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion offered me a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Peranakan. Also known as the Straits Chinese, their origins date back to the 15th century, and their ancestors were said to be Chinese immigrants who married local Malay women.

Peranakan culture is an integration of Chinese and Malay heritage to create a unique culture that is reflected in their clothes, jewellery, architecture, and food.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion in Georgetown, with its plethora collections of antiques and collectibles, satisfied my curiosity about the Baba-Nyonya culture. It also showcases a typical wealthy Baba home in the 19th-century, and its exquisite screen doors and furniture left me in awe.

Sun Yat-Sen Museum
Also located in Georgetown, the Sun Yat-Sen Museum at 20 Armenian Street is a place that holds a lot of memories. Also called the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Penang Base, this restored antique shophouse is where Dr. Sun gathered his supporters to discuss his plan to overthrow the incompetent Qing Dynasty government.

At RM5 ($1.25) per entry with free refreshments and a detailed tour guide, it was money well-spent, and I learnt a few valuable lessons about Dr. Sun Yat-Sen.

If you are not a history buff, looking around this long and narrow shop house—built in the 1880s—is still interesting enough to keep you occupied. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Base is a good example of a Straits Settlement merchant’s home, which features a courtyard garden and an old-fashioned nyonya kitchen.

Penang National Park
Bask in nature at Penang National Park! Overlooking the Straits of Malacca, this forest reserve has five natural habitats within—lowland dipterocarp forests, freshwater streams, mangrove forests, sandy beaches and a meromictic lake.

During my venture into the park, I stumbled upon some cheeky monkeys swinging through the trees above my head. Besides monkeys, the park is famous for its turtles (the Green Sea turtle and the Olive Ridley turtle).

Penang Hill
At a height of 833m, Penang Hill also boasts a railway that dates back to 19th century. The top of the hill was intentionally made accessible by railway so that the British could find a cool resting place from the summer heat.

It is worthwhile taking a train up to the peak of Penang Hill, where a breathtaking view and a cool temperature of 20–25°C await you. There is also a Ginger Garden, a David Brown’s restaurant, and Cliff Café—a food court that serves a variety of Penang delicacies.

Eating in Penang
The most popular destination for food in Penang is Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, where I sampled an array of local delights at the open-air food stalls. At the top of my list were Hokkien prawn noodles, char koay teow, Penang laksa, nasi lemak, rojak and chendol.

Hokkien Prawn Noodle. (Li Yen/Epoch Times)
Hokkien Prawn Noodle. (Li Yen/Epoch Times)


Penang Laksa. (Li Yen/Epoch Times)
Penang Laksa. (Li Yen/Epoch Times)

The best place to savour Penang’s famous assam laksa is along Air Itam. You will pass by this road when visiting Penang’s well-known Buddhist temple—Kek Lok Si.

Do not miss out on Chowrasta Market in Georgetown, where you can watch youtiao (fried breadsticks) being fried on the spot. The market is also where the locals shop for their groceries, and it has been in operation since the late 1800s.

G Hotel Kelawai
At G Hotel Kelawai, the staff were helpful and friendly. They were immediately attentive to guests from the moment they stepped into the hotel. I still remember the welcoming ice-cream treat from the staff while waiting to be checked in, and the chic Baxter Chester Moon Sofa at its sleek lobby.

Each of the 208 rooms at G Hotel Kelawai comes with eco-friendly Appelles toiletries, the world’s best mattress—Serta, a Herman Miller designer working chair, docking station, alarm clock, ironing facilities, a 55-inch Smart LED TV, a free non-alchoholic minibar, coffee machine, and free high speed WIFI!

Thanks to G Hotel Kelawai, I had a wholesome breakfast every morning at its stylish and classic bistro—Spoon. There is a wide selection of local fares ranging from Malay nasi lemak, Chinese dim sum, porridges, and char siew buns, to Western treats including freshly baked French breads, pastries, salads, and sausages.

The choice of beverages are plenty including lattes, hot tea or coffee, milk or soy milk, and fruit juices such as orange, apple, or guava juice.

With such a delicious breakfast, I started my day in Penang feeling energised.

I managed to catch a panoramic view of Penang from the pool and Gravity rooftop bar at the 24th floor. A drink at the Gravity during sunset is highly recommended for all guests.

With the hotel’s close proximity to Gurney Plaza, Gurney Paragon, and the famous Gurney Hawker centre, I could also shop and eat to my heart’s content!

Please visit for more information about G Hotel Kelawai.