There are enough excuses to be in Penang but November and December offer a few more to add to that list that’ll make it a must-visit destination.
Count on both hands the reasons anybody should visit Penang. You’ve got world-renown street food, robust culture, vividly alive heritage and great examples of east meets west architecture, not to mention friendly people, festivals all year round and wondrous flora and fauna. Yet, Penang offers a little more starting from the end of November with three music, arts and literary events that are fast becoming tourist attractions. In turn, they highlight interesting spots within their venues’ vicinity.
Starting from the end of Nov, Penang’s annual ’10 Days 3 Festivals’ kicks off with an instalment of the three-day George Town Literary Festival followed by the In-between Arts Festival which is a platform for an eclectic mix of arts events. Finally, it ends with four days of sublime jazz at the Penang Island Jazz Festival that puts international and Malaysian jazz bands on centre stage.
Stimulating Your Mind in Penang
Within, perhaps, 100 paces of each other in George Town sit independent bookstores such as Gerak Budaya on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Areca Books at The Star Pitt Street as well as on Lebuh Acheh. Then, just around the corner from the latter sits George Town World Heritage Inc. All three specialises in distributing, selling, producing Penang-centric books. They make good stops to pick up a book or two that will enlighten you on Penang’s history, culture and its people.Historic things to see around the area:
- Street of Harmony at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is landmarked by a variety of worship places alongside each other such as the Kapitan Keling mosque, Kuan Yin temple, Sri Mahamariamman temple with St. George church and Cathedral of Assumption around the corner.
- Lebuh Armenian offers a bucolic and halcyonic glimpse of what Penang was like during its heyday as a bustling trading port and the advent of immigration. That is, till ‘Armenian Street Got Talent’ event hit each Saturday evening with its pleasantly raucous live music and street bazaar vibe.
- Admire the clan houses and temples such as Khoo Kongsi on Lebuh Cannon, Cheah Kongsi and temple on Lebuh Pantai. Both are magnificent structures of Chinese-style design with intricate carvings on its roof.
- Traditional traders along Lebuh Pantai such as homeware shop at number 224, perfumer at number 184 and rattan weaver at number 393; tombstone engraver at number 34 Gat Lebuh Acheh; handmade beaded shoemaker at number 4 Lebuh Armenian; and flower garland maker along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.
While you’re at it, stimulate your mind further and make a stop for George Town Literary Festival. The festival’s a one-stop centre to absorb talks by guest authors and buy specially priced books on Penang at the pop-up stores. GTLF in the past had seen the likes of international authors such as award-winners Tan Twan Eng and Miguel Syjuco. This year, expect the likes of Robin Hemley, Franca Treur, Maureen Freeley and more from both the international and Malaysian literary scene. For more details on its various venues, visit www.georgetownlitfest.com and facebook.com/georgetownlitfestSample the Arts Scene of Penang
Tradition and modernity collide to create the artsy ambience in George Town. Art spaces dot the city with regular film screenings, performances and art exhibitions by local and international artists, photographers, sculptures as well as performers. Then, when hunger pangs hit you, step into anyone of the eateries on quaint streets that offer Penang street food in food courts, international cuisine in modern-rustic cafés and local delicacies such as traditional sweets or snacks. Foodie, artsy things to see around the city:
- Art galleries with all-year round art exhibitions are China House on Lebuh Pantai, Sekeping Victoria on Lebuh Victoria, Hin Bus Depot on Jalan Gurdwara, Jawi House Gallery and Seni Mutiara Gallery both on Lebuh Armenian and Wei-Ling Gallery at E&O Hotel on Lebuh Farquhar.
- Street Art is almost ubiquitous around the city, spot at least a dozen around Lebuh Armenian and Lebuh Pantai areas where the famous ‘Kids on Bicycle’ can be located and wire sculptures depicting humorous Penang life around Lebuh Chulia and Love Lane areas.
- Food wise, you’re able to sample and observe just how various Penang street food are prepared from the multitudes of hawker stalls dressing the streets along Pengkalan Weld and Lebuh Chulia, at food courts such as CF food court on Pengkalan Weld and Sri Weld food court on Lebuh Pantai. While traditional pastry can be had at Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Shop on Lebuh Victoria that has a comfortable sitting area for you to take a breather.
- Live music by mainly local musicians and singers is a staple at places such as The Canteen on Lebuh Victoria and Via Pre on Pengkalan Weld. While Soundmaker Studio on Pengkalan Weld offers a vibrant indie music scene mostly by local talents.
- While you’re at the Pengkalan Weld area enjoying the myriad street food it offers, pop by the clan jetties during sunset before walking down the road toward town to visit Fort Cornwallis on Lebuh Light.
Once a year, a small-scale but no less stimulating arts festival is held in the city. Charmingly named the In-between Arts Festival, it is a body of arts events made out of everything that’s in between words and music. IbAF encourages and focuses on local artists from all genres congregate, experience, explore and collaborate. Most of all, the IbAF highlights the venue in which it is held each year. Absorb Penang’s Relaxed Ambience
So, shed away daily life’s stresses and stray away from George Town city for a moment or two. Stroll on the beach in Penang, soak in some sun or simply admire the sunset on the horizon. Besides that, let your limbs loose with a leisurely walk among statuesque trees, fragrant herbal plants and a natural orchestra of forest creatures at a planned garden or the world’s smallest national park. All these are a mere 15-minute drive from the city along a pleasant, windy coastal road.Relax, exhale and visit these places in the area:
- Tropical Spice Garden in Teluk Bahang is home to numerous local flora and fauna. A popular spot among tourists, the garden is a respite from the hustle of George Town and a terrific introduction of herbs and spices used in the delicious local dishes ubiquitously found on Penang streets.
- Batu Ferringhi offers pretty beach areas for a spot of relaxation and from which to watch the sunset. On clear days, vivid indigo and fuchsia paint the sky by around 7pm.
- Organised hiking trails are at the ready within Penang’s national park deemed as the smallest in the world. This area in Teluk Bahang is over a thousand hectares and in it sit a turtle conservation centre at Pantai Kerachut, a meromictic lake, a forest reserve, private beaches as well as countless flora and fauna.
- A popular cycling route is the Batu Ferringhi to Teluk Bahang dam road. From a windy coastal road, it then opens up to lead uphill to the open vista of the large dam where the international dragon boat race is held annually. Along this route is also where the outdoorsy Escape theme park offering extreme sport activities is located.
While in the area, when day melts into night, do a spot of shopping at the night market that opens at 6pm along Batu Ferringhi main road. There are also plenty of eateries and beach bars to enjoy a meal and a drink or three.
These areas are the venues for the annual, iconic Penang Island Jazz Festival featuring different acts from both local and international jazz scenes for four days. Tropical Spice Garden is the venue for PIJF’s Fringe Stages featuring mainly Malaysian jazz performers while the Bayview Beach Resort serves as the venue for the event’s main stages. For more details and to book your tickets, visit www.penangjazz.com