Penang- Where Street Art Meets Street Food

With yet another long weekend upon us, it was time to venture out on the first road trip of our “Ross’ in Malaysia adventure-time.” (I have no complaints about another long weekend- the holidays are one advantage of this lifestyle, as Thad gets both American and local holidays. Last weekend was Hari Raya and this upcoming weekend will be Columbus Day. We celebrate all the things!)

Maybe we chose poorly.

You see, it seems everyone in Malaysia owns a car, or maybe two. The government has done a lot to subsidize the prices for vehicles, so many families actually own more cars than they have people able to operate them, which makes for some horrific traffic, any day of the week. Then, add on top of that a national holiday and maybe one should consider holing up in the house for the extended weekend.

But of course, we did not do that.

Instead, we joined the masses leaving the city, heading to a variety of vacation spots around the country. Our destination of choice was Penang, an island off the west coast of the country, known for two main attractions- the street food and the street art. A mere four hours away, I thought this would be the perfect getaway for a few days.

But, there was traffic. Lots of it.

Oh yes, and a monsoon.

We headed out for our four hour road trip at 3:45PM and finally made it to Paradise (Who wouldn’t book a hotel on the beach called Paradise?) at midnight.

Eight hours.


Really, traffic was flowing okay until we got to about twenty kilometers outside of Penang. (Yup, I now judge distances in kilometers. I still have to look up the Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion every time I turn on the oven, but my driving references are all KM these days.) Once we hit that last stretch though, our path was blocked first by the most inanely set-up toll both known to man (three lanes of traffic filtered into no lanes- just a jumble of cars trying to get through the station) and then by the pouring rain. After finally paying our toll and getting across the bridge to the island, we came to a literal standstill on the surface streets of Penang, as the heavy rain backed up traffic for hours. From the edge of the island to our hotel should have taken maybe twenty minutes, but it ended up taking nearly two hours. I can’t even begin to tell you how excruciating that last stretch was! (But, we did get to list to the entirety of Ryan Seacrest’s Top 30 Countdown, so I am up on how to “Shake it Off” with Taylor Swift and that Demi Lovato “really doesn’t care” anymore.)

Not wanting to let Friday night’s journey get us down, on Saturday morning we headed into George Town to check out the sights. The sky was cloudy, but the roads were dry, which made it seem like a perfect day to take a walking tour of the area. In retrospect, we should have taken some umbrellas along with us. (They were in the car, but we figured we wouldn’t need them. What were we thinking?!) Before long, Thad was drawn in by the lure of the hawker stalls, because who couldn’t resist steaming bowls of noodles, plates of fried chicken skin or a bit of offal? Luckily, his tummy rumblings coincided perfectly with the start of Saturday’s rain. It rained.

And rained.

And rained.

With our umbrellas safely tucked into the trunk of our car, we were stuck at the hawker stalls for almost two hours! A bowl of noodles and several skewers of chicken gizzards later, we decided the rain had let up enough to make a break for it. The food was good and bountiful- possibly too bountiful. I am not sure Thad will be craving the gizzards anytime soon!

Our hours-long journey and shorter, but still seemingly endless wait at the hawker stalls, was rewarded though with some fantastic street art. Scattered throughout the old city of George Town, visitors can find graffiti/murals on alleyway walls, many incorporating 3D artifacts into the images. My favorite was two young kids playing on a swing, but I was also drawn to the Asian dolls in a pool of purple. With an art map in hand, we searched high and low to find the various installations, Thad getting good shots of nearly all of them. (Most of the photos below, as with most of the photos on this blog, are his doing.) As we wandered, I couldn’t help but think of a few friends at home and one particular former student who is now an artist in Seattle, all of whom would have absolutely loved these narrow city streets and inventive public art.

Penang is definitely an island worth visiting and we’ll be headed back there, after rainy season has passed. I still need to ride the funicular and check out the national park on the tip of the island, none of which were accessible through the sheets of rain and, at times, heavy winds.

Knowing that the traffic back to KL would rival that of Friday night, we headed back in the morning, hoping to beat the rush. And that we did. As it turns out, Penang really is only four hours from Kuala Lumpur!

Holiday or no though, I think next time we’ll be flying.

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4 thoughts on “Penang- Where Street Art Meets Street Food

  1. Those murals are really awesome! I enjoyed how they fit it into real life, like the boy standing on the real chair. How cool is that?!?! Thanks for sharing these. Oh, and Thad did a great job with the photography!


  2. Pingback: July in June | In Search of the End of the Sidewalk

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