George Town, Penang – Malaysia

Our next destination was George Town, the colourful and multicultural state capital of Penang in north west Malaysia. The city is known for its British colonial buildings, Chinese architecture and mosques, but the thing I was most excited about seeing was its array of playful and artistic graffiti.

We left our hotel in Langkawi and picked up tickets at the ferry port for £14. We boarded the 10.30am ferry and took our seats in the hull of the boat, Tom’s favourite place to sit (not). The boat filled up quickly and we were on our way without delay. In classic Sophie fashion I picked up my Kindle and instantly fell asleep, waking up 3 hours later as we pulled into George Town. Top travel buddy.

For once there wasn’t a free-for-all to dig our bags out of the huge pile of luggage as instead the boatmen carried them onto the jetty. Everyone waited patiently (this was novel) and once we’d retrieved our belongings we made the 20 minute walk to The 80s Guesthouse in the old town.

Accommodation choices in the old town were somewhat limited, partly due to the nature of the area (it’s old, buildings aren’t springing up anywhere) but also due to the beauty… the architecture is incredible and there are loads of cute restaurants, so people want to stay here. Therefore, there was an associated price tag. The 80s Guesthouse was at the more affordable end of the spectrum but was definitely one of the most expensive hostels we stayed in for our whole trip at £20 a night. Having said that, it was also one of our favourites. The street consisted of British colonial buildings with colourful paint and plaster crumbling from the walls. Our building had an open and airy feel with a cool, minimalist living area complete with a tree growing in the centre of it. An open roof allowed a column of light to pour in which also served to keep said tree alive. At the back of the building was bathroom facilities, all modern but with a grungy feel e.g. huge polished concrete sinks. Large dorms were on the bottom floor and then a vintage (and very creaky/wobbly) wooden staircase led up to the twin/double rooms upstairs, again, basic but modern.

After settling in to our twin bunk bed room it was now 3 in the afternoon and breakfast was a distant memory. In search of a snack we stumbled into a cute coffee shop and accidentally ordered burgers. Oops. But by George (pun intended) they were delicious… proper homemade burgers made fresh in front of us by the young chef. After noting the English accent of our server we complimented him on the food and found out he was half English, half Malaysian and had moved out there to run his café and see what Malaysia had to offer. We said our farewells and went off to explore George Town.

We wandered leisurely through the old town with no real plan and stumbled across a few of the famous graffiti sites and watched people pose for photos. Feeling rather tired from travelling we chilled in our room and researched some of the hawker houses we could visit for street food. We walked for 30 minutes to one Tom picked out only to find it wasn’t open on a Wednesday so ended up walking for another 20 minutes to the next one.

It was a very humid evening and rumbles of thunder started to roll in from the distance. The sky began to light up and within seconds a light sprinkle turned into the heaviest downpour of rain I’d ever experienced. We dived under cover and took shelter in someone’s front porch, pressing our backs against the wall in an attempt to keep our legs from getting soaked. The family inside the home found it rather hilarious and offered us umbrellas, not that they’d be of any use in this rain. We gestured our thanks but turned them down and gradually made our way along the street, moving from one porch to the next, until we reached the hawker centre. It consisted of around 15 food stands and some outdoor seating which was now flooded. A quick scout of the food and it became clear that most of them were only serving fish which instantly put us off due to Tom’s allergies.

Annoyed at the goose chase Tom had taken us on I fell into a sulk and left him to investigate our food options. He beckoned me over and said someone had pointed him in the direction of a vegetarian restaurant nearby. We crossed the road to a tiny eatery with two tables of locals and took a seat. A friendly old lady came out and handed us menus written in Malaysian but she spoke English and kindly suggested she would just bring us a plate of food and see what we thought. We ordered some drinks but my water was served warm in a mug so I decided not to risk drinking it, adding to my annoyance. The lady served us two plates of vegetable noodles which were pretty average but Tom wouldn’t stop expressing how great he thought they were, further adding to my annoyance. After the long walk home I treated myself to a coke and a Dairy Milk to cheer myself up and revisited planning our Bali trip.

That night Tom had a bad night’s sleep so I got up early and dropped off our huge bag of laundry at reception then returned to bed. Once Tom had caught up on a bit of sleep we had breakfast downstairs (unlimited toast and tea) and then set off for the day, graffiti map in hand. We quickly worked our way along the tourist trail and spotted all the different graffiti spots, a lot of which incorporated physical items into the artwork, for example children playing on a bicycle or shooting hoops with a basketball.

In the afternoon we decided to visit another of George Town’s tourist attractions… the Upside Down Museum. We spent around an hour making our way through topsy-turvy rooms which had been flipped upside down and the helpful staff advised positions for us to get into to achieve the funniest photos. We cringed at most of it – Tom doesn’t like having his photo taken at the best of times so he wasn’t a huge fan of being directed into silly positions by strangers – but it was actually really good fun and the photos provided us with a few laughs later on.

We made our way back to our hostel and had happy hour beers at a nearby bar for £1.50, then, thanks to a recommendation from an old friend from sixth form, we made our way to the popular Chinese restaurant, Tek Sen. I’d given them a quick Google and it said people queue round the block for this place so we made sure we arrived for opening time.

There was already a huddle of people around the entrance so we made our way closer and grabbed a playing card from a stool – their ticketing system. Within a matter of minutes we were seated as we didn’t mind sharing a table with two Chinese guys. After last night’s culinary disaster Tom tasked me with ordering food so I opted for deep fried chicken with plum sauce, double roasted pork belly, fried veg and rice. The food was absolutely delicious and to top it all off they served proper Ribena. It’s the small things in life eh!

The following day was dedicated to admin and we set up camp in the common area of our hostel. I wrote a couple of blog posts and shortlisted some apartments in Manchester for my best friend’s hen party whilst Tom booked us a bus to our next destination and sketched.

We peeled ourselves away from our desk and indulged by visiting Holy Guacamole on Love Lane for dinner. We’d walked past it each evening and it was extremely popular so decided to see what the fuss was about. We weren’t disappointed… we shared amazing nachos, a beef burrito and a chicken quesadilla and it was some of the best Mexican food I’ve had. It was expensive for our budget at £16, but definitely worth it for our favourite type of grub.

We spent the rest of the evening chilling in our room and packed our things for our next stop… the Cameron Highlands!

See ya later, Sophie x

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