Admittedly, I had no idea Georgetown Penang existed until around 2014. While working on a project in Malaysia I was invited on a food tour with a company called Simply Enak in KL. My partner and I ended up heading to Penang soon after to take the tour there as well. And I was blown away. Now, I visit the city regularly. While I’m an avid food enthusiast, Georgetown has so much more to offer than excellent food. Sidenote, Georgetown’s Indian and Chinese cuisine are excellent in every way. Innovative Street Art, colonialist architecture, and a hybrid immigrant culture combine in this UNESCO World Heritage Site to create a sensory overload that won’t break your wallet. Here are 14 images that shoe just how underrated this city is.
Here’s a Trishaw. Sadly, it’s one of the things which makes Georgetown so unique but’s going the way of the Horse and Buggy. Commercialization and easy money elsewhere is killing off the Trishaw industry because younger Malay aren’t picking up the trade. It’s difficult work for not much pay. Going to be a sad day when these cultural icons disappear.
Georgetown has no shortage of delicious Indian restaurants. Hameediyah, Sri Ananda Bahwan, and Restoran Tajuddin Hussain to name a few. But I always recommend Kapitan. While it’s more “corporate” than the others I’ve listed, it’s consistent in quality and an easier transition for those used to “western” hygiene standards. Not to mention, their Tandoori Chicken is off the chain.
Many don’t know that Stanley Kubrick was also a great photographer. He once said of photography, “I think aesthetically recording spontaneous action, rather than carefully posing a picture, is the most valid and expressive use of photography.” I couldn’t agree more. My love of this medium is about capturing a moment in time that will never happen again. It can never be entirely duplicated. The authenticity of life. That’s why I love photography. Every time I visit Georgetown I come across scenes like this. This man spends his days making wicker chairs like the one he’s sitting in. In the foreground, you see one of the many pieces of street art that covers the city.
Georgetown’s row housing will immediately jump out at you. With colonial elements abound that will surely be recognizable to anyone that’s visited Britain. As you walk the streets you’ll notice wide open doors and windows. Offering you a voyeuristic look at Penang life in a way that many cities don’t offer. Communities are close-knit and people are extremely welcoming to guests.
One thing that’s definitely spread around the world from Georgetown is it’s amazing Street Art. While the roster of artists has expanded in recent years, it all started with Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic. His amazing works reinvigorated the art scene in Georgetown and has opened the door for other extremely talented artists.
These Iron Caricatures have heads turning in Georgetown. The Malaysian sculpture studio SCULPTUREATWORK won a contract from the Penang State Government in 2009 as a way of marking Georgetown’s then-new status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Their proposal was ‘voices from the people’. Each of the 52 pieces features historical information about the location and dialogue between characters. Worth a visit just to find them all. The perfect free walking tour.
Georgetown’s street food culture should be mentioned in the same breath as Bangkok or Istanbul. Where I think Georgetown prevails is sheer diversity. Chinese, Indian, Malay, and a bit of Portuguese makes for a diverse foodie city. Reach out to my friends at Simply Enak for an excellent tour.
Georgetown is a place of many faiths. With its history of colonialism and immigration, you’ll find everything from Mosques to Taoist temples. While Islam is the dominant religion at 44%, you’ll see Buddhists and the Hindus quite often.
Pictured above is something truly special to Malaysia. It’s called a Lok Lok. Lok Lok means “to dip”. A wide range of food like seafood, meat, and vegetables is skewered on sticks and placed around a table or cart. You grab whatever stick you want and dip it in the water to cook. Kind of like poaching it. Then dip it in whatever sauce you want. I’m partial to peanut sauces. The perfect introduction to Malay street food. Combining a bit of each culture.
The premise of this photo essay relies on the idea that Georgetown is underrated. I’ll admit, there’s definitely a thriving backpacker scene here. While not as large as say Koh Phi Phi or Bali, you get regular waves of backpackers.Though it’s usually those looking to slow down a bit. Georgetown isn’t exactly a party destination. But you’ll find plenty of great hostels.
I’ve made no secret about Indian cuisine being in my top three food favorites. So you know Georgetown is a must visit for me. I’ve gotten pushback for saying this, Georgetown has some of the worlds best Indian food. At times better than Indian and the U.K., I would go so far to say that Durban South Africa is it’s biggest rival. The Indian cuisine in Georgetown eliminates the sanity issues of India and the high costs of the U.K. Putting it in rarified space. Affordable and safe.
Meet Lee Beng Chuan. One of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. This man is 89 years old and still gets up early every morning to make Sandalwood Joss Sticks. Something he’s been doing for over 60 years to feed his family. He represents everything about Georgetown that speaks to me. Tradition, Passion, Identity, and Longevity. A true master of his craft and ambassador for cultural sharing. It’s a blessing to have met him.
There are very few cities that haven’t been overrun by mass tourism. Georgetown is still one of those places. But as western culture infiltrates Penang, it appears many of this UNESCO sites charms are on borrowed time. So come while you have a chance and make sure to bring your appetite and thirst for knowledge. You’ll get a crash course in cultural exposure.