George Town is a charming little city with multicultural heritage communities, pre-war buildings and curious little places that have so much history behind them. Also not to mention the cafés which seem to be popping up faster than ever these days. I’m not an active café hopper but I do have a few favourites that I normally frequent.
I took the opportunity to capture the vibrancy in George Town in March last year when I was on my street photography outing at the Chowrasta Market.
My morning stroll in the heritage enclave that Saturday morning took me to these places.
Breakfast at Toh Soon Café
Once I was done taking pictures at the market, I headed over to the ever popular Toh Soon Café which is famous for its eggs and toast. It is normally packed with patrons, especially on the weekend and public holidays, so you’ll be lucky to get a table once you arrive, or else you’ll have to wait a while till someone vacates their seat.
Since it was a Saturday morning, most of the patrons were tourists and visitors who might have not had the chance to eat there on weekdays. The coffee shop is closed on Sundays.
I ordered my usual toasted bread with kaya (Malaysian coconut egg jam) and soft-boiled eggs. I always take coffee but I opted for hot Milo that morning instead. What’s interesting about the toast bread here is that they are toasted over charcoal fire which makes it taste better than oven-toasted bread.
If you get there early like at around 9am or 10am and you get a place to sit, you might not be able to enjoy a peaceful meal throughout. Because once you are almost done, the other patrons who come later than you would automatically spot your empty plates and half-drunk coffee cups. They would then conspicuously hover nearby, waiting for you to get up and leave so they can have the table before someone else grabs it.
Next on the list was Little India to thread my eyebrows. Best known for the multitude of colours and catchy Indian music, Little India is the place to be. Photography enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice over the many elements to photograph here.
From the bright saris to colourful flower garlands, there is always something interesting to look out for. And if you’re here in Little India, don’t miss out on trying the banana leaf dishes!
There’s a large Chinese community in George Town so there are plenty of historical temples to visit. To start your adventure in Chinese culture, begin with the Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Teng in Hokkien) in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (formerly Pitt Street). Built in 1728, it is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Penang.
The temple is always a hive of activity with local and visiting devotees paying homage and offering prayers to the Kuan Yin deity. There are lots of pigeons in the temple’s vicinity; look out for when they fly! Free meals are also offered to the homeless.
The Yap Kongsi in Armenian Street is a sight to behold. With its intricate rooftop designs and amazing architecture, this beautiful structure is undoubtedly popular among tourists. It was built in the 1920s by the Yap clan who originated from Fujian Province, China.
Over in Armenian Street is the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple (or Poh Hock Seah), which is a legacy of the Chinese Traders Society (as mentioned on the signboard). Built in the early 19th century, this Taoist temple is dedicated to Tua Pek Kong who is worshipped by the Chinese community in the country. I like the bright, colourful motifs on the walls at the entrance.
Street art in George Town
Now that George Town has turned into a place for street art hunting, getting up close and taking pictures with the artworks have become sort of a must-do activity in Penang.
The most popular mural would be Little Children on a Bicycle in Armenian Street. Vandals have tried to deface it a couple of times but luckily the smart locals knew how to remove the stains off the wall to make it look as good as new. Go on weekday mornings, preferably on non-public holidays to avoid having to wait in line for a photo.
At the nearby Lorong Soo Hong, you would not miss a bright purple mural of a boy wanting to ‘teach’ people how to speak the Hokkien dialect. Most Penangites speak this dialect (even the non-Chinese can speak it fluently!), and it’s a useful language to pick up to communicate easily with the locals.
I have more photos of George Town in my phone and camera, so I’ll be sure to publish them in my upcoming posts here and on Facebook.