What would you do in Penang for 3 days and 2 nights? I was recently asked to design a travel program for a group of friends who were visiting Penang for a class reunion. Their requirements were fairly simple. Most of them have not been to Penang for years. They just want to get together. Catch up and have fun. Sounds simple. But it was not. Not knowing their likes and dislikes, it would be a challenge.
The easy part is that this group of friends are all my ex-classmates. I have not seen them for 35 years! We managed to reconnect via WhatsApp chat group. Thanks to one of our ex-classmates who managed to locate every single one of us through the social media. All of us has our own life - spread across the world - US, Australia, NZ, Singapore, Indonesia, China and various states in Malaysia.
Penang is world renowned for its food. It is the place to go in Southeast Asia if you love food, a food blogger or a travel blogger. But there is more than food. It is a UNESCO world heritage site within its zoned area with the largest collection of pre-war terrace houses, a living heritage and culture intact in the local's everyday life.
The 3 days and 2 nights travel program took in the culinary scene, sights and sounds of Penang. I tailored the travel program for 7 of them. Kept it simple and flexible. No budget was given. They left everything to me to decide. I decided not to go overboard and kept the price in the mid-range.
Arrival of my guests.
Meeting point at Padang Brown Food Court. This food court has been around as long as I could remember growing up in Penang. It is one of the 3 "the place" for the locals to go and eat with families and friends dating back to the 19th century. The other 2 places at the time were Gurney Drive and The Esplanade. Both still a popular destination but somehow different. I have written a post on Padang Brown Food Court which you can READ HERE.
Malaysian favourite past time is "eat" and "chit chat" regardless of the time of the day. We ordered a variety of local snack food to share and caught up on old times. By mid-afternoon it was about time to check in. I had an extensive research on accommodation choices for them. As they were in a group and to minimise the cost, the best option was to book 2 apartments within the same area through AirBnB. I was fortunate enough to find 2 apartments in the same building with 3 bedrooms - a king, a queen and a twin. The apartment is located in Gurney Drive. An ideal location within a 5-10 minutes walk to eating places, shopping malls and a nearby township called Pulau Tikus. It is also a short 10 minutes drive into the city of George Town.
Fortunately, they were all happy with my choice of apartments. The apartment cost $270 AUD for 2 nights each. An awesome deal for them.
We all rested for the remaining afternoon and freshen up before we went out for dinner. I gave them two venues - Bali Hai open-air seafood restaurant or local street food at the famed Gurney Drive open-air food court centre. Both venues offer a different culinary choices of food and a price tag to match. One is a restaurant quality with a mid-range to expensive pricing. The other is cheap eat with no frill. They chose Bali Hai. After dinner, we went for an evening stroll along the Gurney Drive seafront promenade, had a look at the Gurney Drive food court centre and went to a local supermarket - Cold Storage - at Gurney Plaza for some snack food and drinks to take back to the apartment.
Day 2 travel program was an exploration on local scenes, street arts and cultural heritage of Penang. We started the day with a visit to a nearby wet market at Pulau Tikus for a local style Penang breakfast of "Koay Teow T'ng" - essentially a silky, smooth rice noodle with minced pork and fish balls in a subtle pork broth. The wet market was a short 10 minutes stroll from the apartment.
During last night dinner at the table, everyone was talking about "durian". It is in season in Penang - July to August. And Penang is world renowned as "The" best place to eat durian - either at the durian plantations in Balik Pulau or along the streets. Durian is the King of all tropical fruit. You either love it or hate it. It has a strong pungent smell and the flesh taste like a custard or a melted blue cheese! The smell is so strong that it stays with you for a few days - in your breath, fingers and "accidental fart!". So we had to make a pilgrimage to "eat durian" as a MUST-DO for the group before they leave Penang.
As my friends visit was short and limited, driving to Balik Pulau and back would take too much time. Instead there were a couple of pop-up street stalls along Macalister Road, popular with tourists from interstate and overseas - Taiwan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore - more accessible without the need to drive to the other side of Penang island. One of the stall was known as "Ah Teik Durian". My friends chose this place as the destination for sampling some of the best Penang durian. They were very expensive! But the love of durian has no price for die hard fans like my friends.
Eating durian was not part of my 3 days itinerary. I had to fit in and everyone was happy. Next we went to the historic enclave of UNESCO heritage listed part of George Town and explored the old town on foot. We took a late lunch break at an old eating institution, "Tho Yuen" for some noodles and steamed chicken. It was a big hit with my friends. All raved about the food being traditional with time.
I guided them through some of the old streets, looked at the street arts, wandered the Chinese clan jetties for a nostalgic back in time and view of the harbour, a couple of afternoon coffee/tea breaks at some of the most wonderful cafe scenes Penang has to offer - the best and most popular among all is the China House, one of the first major cafe/art and music/gallery venue, the creation of a long time Australian expat who lives locally in Malaysia, who also owned a couple of amazing resort properties in Langkawi preserving the local cultural heritage and values.
By late afternoon, everyone was exhausted from the walk and the heat. We went back to the apartments and had a good rest before going out for dinner. In my itinerary, I have given them the options. But everyone wanted somewhere local and a light meal. We went to one of the Penang style coffee shop, affectionately known as "kopitiam" locally called Song River along Gurney Drive, not far from the apartment. A typical kopitiam can have only one stall specialising in one local Penang street food or a few stalls providing a culinary street food choices for the customer. At Song River, there was a good selection of street food to sample. After dinner, we went back to ChinaHouse for some drinks and live Jazz music entertainment. It was lively and packed with patrons. A good crowd and a good night.
The Day 3 itinerary was to pack and check out of the apartments by 12 Noon. Everyone agreed after a busy Day 2 was to rest and sleep in until 10 AM.
A local breakfast at a local Pulau Tikus's kopitiam called Chang Senr. There are a number of local favourites at this kopitiam - Char Koay Teow, Koay Teow T'ng, Chicken Rice, Curry Mee, Hokkien Mee, Economy Rice, Nyonya Rice, Sar Hor Fun and many other choices. It was the best place to round up a culinary experience for my friends trip to Penang.
A sense of relieve for me that it was a successful 3 days and 2 nights for the group and to recuperate after a busy long weekend. The experience of organising and tailoring the travel program was equally satisfying. Although we are much older, we all felt we were back in time to our college days and behaved like we were 35 years younger. We may have aged but in our hearts we are still young, our mannerism has not changed and our friendship remains.
Insight Penang blogs about travel and food, sharing with anyone who enjoys traveling to other destinations, taking photographs, meeting people, experiencing new cultures and traditions, enjoying cooking and trying other cuisines.