Malaysia Penang Georgetown - backpacking around the world in 333 days
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around the world in 333 days

REPORT 13 - Jan. 2001

Malaysia
Penang, Georgetown

Exotic Temples, rich cuisine and a unique heritage combine to make Georgetown one of Malaysia's most exciting and diverse cities. Once a thriving British trading colony, it now attracts backpackers in hordes on route to or from Thailand. The breathtaking sights and unrivalled architecture ensure most are in no hurry to leave. They cram the colourful streets where mystical temples stand side by side with budget guesthouses and Chinese hawkers dish out noodles long into the night. For a taste of Malay culture and religious diversity, Georgetown cannot be beaten.

Our exploration of the sights started at Fort Cornwallis, one of the most historic sites in the small islands history. When Francis Light first stepped ashore in 1786, he built the fort as a defence against the French and it was from that point that the whole colony grew. However, apart from the cannons and the view out over the coast, it was a little disappointing, as it has been left to decay almost beyond recognition. After the magnificent forts in India, I suppose it did have a lot to live up to, but it looked suspiciously like they were trying to rebuild the fort rather than restore it.

If you were wondering what I meant by religious diversity, then Lh Pitt road is all I need to say. The immigrants who arrived in the 1800s have all left their mark and given Georgetown the eclectic culture that makes it so diverse. The oldest Anglican Church in Penang, St George's, is a towering structure makes a remarkable comparison with the Chinese and Hindu temples and Mosque all on the same road.

The most interesting of them all for us was the Kuan Yin Teng Temple; built in 1800, it is the oldest Chinese temple in Penang. Outside fluorescent dragons smouldered as devotees offered bundles of incense to the Gods, their prayers rising with the smoke. Dedicated to the Goddess who is associated with fertility and good fortune of mercy and worshippers had left offerings of flowers and fruit. This temple stood out as being so different in style, it became our favourite.

The Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple cannot be missed because of its vibrant entrance tower, over 23 foot high and containing 38 intricate statues of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. A haven of tranquillity compared to the Chinese Temple it houses a shrine to Lord Shiva. The style reflects traditional Southern Indian architecture and the inside walls are adorned with brightly coloured statues. On the opposite side of the road was the Masjid Kapitan Keling. Built by the troops of the British India Company in the late 1700s, it was the first Mosque in Penang. It was also undergoing construction work so we could not enter, but the bright yellow dome and turrets towered into the skyline. Outside we caught our trishaw driver taking a nap in the afternoon heat.

We saved the best for last. The Kok Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and has to be the most spectacular. Situated in the middle of the Island, it was definitely worth the journey as its unique blend of Chinese, Thai and Burmese architecture combine to make an explosion of colour. Layered onto the hillside, every staircase seemed to lead to a more colourful and detailed shrine, each one containing numerous mystical figures and statues. It all leads up to the central sanctuary, which was really an awesome sight; the giant gold Buddha statues on the wall dwarfed us and the shaven headed monks walking around in their orange robes gave it a really spiritual feel. It is also home to the spiralled Pagoda of 10,000 Buddha's, from which we got a brilliant view out across the city. The temple had been one of the highlights of Malaysia.

We nearly skipped Penang because of a typing error in our guidebook. If we had chosen not to come, we would have missed one of the most diverse melting pots of South East Asia. A perfect showcase of Malay tradition, Georgetown bustles with life and oozes culture, whilst still managing to offer all the modern amenities of a big city. Maybe it was because they showed live English football in the bars or even its deep cultural roots, but for whatever reason, we enjoyed our stay in Georgetown although we came away a little disappointed with Malaysia as a whole. There was just really not that much to see and we had zipped up to the Thai boarder quicker than expected.

Jon & liz
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Fort Cornwallis


St.Georges Church


Kek Lok Si Temple


Kek Lok Si Temple

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REPORT ARCHIVE
The Beginning 14 - THAILAND Bangkok
01 - INDIA Delhi 15 - THAILAND Bridge Over the River Kwai
02 - INDIA Agra Taj Mahal 16 - THAILAND Chang Mai - The Long Necks
03 - INDIA Jaipur 17 - AUSTRALIA Kakadu National Park
04 - INDIA Camel Safari 18 - AUSTRALIA Ayers Rock
05 - INDIA Mount Abu 19 - AUSTRALIA Great barrier Reef
06 - INDIA Goa 20 - AUSTRALIA Fraser Island
07 - INDIA Mumbai (Bombay) 21 - AUSTRALIA Sydney
08 - HONG KONG 22 - NEW ZEALAND South Island
09 - PHILIPPINES Boracay & Panglao Island 23 - NEW ZEALAND North Island
10 - PHILIPPINES Bohol Chocolate Hills 24 - USA Hawaii Oahu Island
11 - PHILIPPINES Banaue Rice Terraces 25 - USA San Francisco
12 - MALAYSIA Kuala Lumpur 26 - USA Washington DC
13 - MALAYSIA Penang, Georgetown 27 - USA New York
  28 - UK - THE END
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Kuan Yin Teng Temple

Kuan Yin Teng Temple

Sri Mariamman Temple

Sri Mariamman Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple

Masid Kapitan Keling

Kuan Yin Teng Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple