Chasing street art in George Town

104 days travelling and we are loving the Banksy-esque interactive street art.

3rd January – 6th January (George Town, Malaysia)

Our journey to Malaysia began with a painfully long wait at Phuket airport. Unfortunately, transfers from Koh Lak down to Phuket airport were limited, unless you forked out for a taxi. We didn’t fancy flagging down a cheap local bus, as that felt like more hassle that what it’d save us (there was no real schedule, roughly every hour, and they can sometimes be full). So we booked a share minivan for around 1pm and our flight wasn’t until 10pm that evening. The journey down to Phuket only took around 2 hours, so that meant we had a ridiculously long wait at the airport – oh the joys of travelling. On the plus side, it ended up almost being a private transfer as there was only one other person with us.

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Luckily we’d downloaded a few movies onto our tablet to pass the time, although Phuket airport was still horrific. This was mainly because of its constant barrage of announcements over the poor quality speakers. It felt like they were then repeated again in English, German and Russian – you know, just for safe measure. I thought I’d gone deaf when there was a rare break of 5 minutes. It might go without saying, but we were pretty relieved to finally board our plane. The flight itself wasn’t too long and we landed in Penang just before 1am. We were able to book a taxi from the airport to our guest house in Georgetown, where we didn’t fall asleep until gone 2am.

Trishaw driver taking a break from the heat
Trishaw driver taking a break from the heat

The next day we were completely exhausted, having been woken up from 6am onwards by all the guests taking showers right next to our bedroom. It seemed like we had drawn the short straw with the rooms, as not only were we right next to one of the only bathrooms in the guest house, but our room was one of the only ones not to have WiFi. It would disconnect literally as you stepped through our bedroom door – typical.

Dragging ourselves out of bed, we decided to set off to explore Georgetown and find some breakfast. After a couple of false starts thanks to some poor recommendations from our guest house owners, we were pointed in the direction of Urban Daybreak by a friendly barista in a coffee shop we’d ducked into (shout out to Narrow Marrow – which also serves great coffee). It was just what we needed, fresh and healthy breakfast options to fill us up.

One of the many beautiful buildings
One of the many beautiful buildings

We then decided to make our way to one of the local shopping centres nearby, for the eternal quest to find my wife some sports leggings. After an unsuccessful look around some of the shops and getting increasingly weary from our lack of sleep, we spotted the cinema on the top floor. We enjoy going to the cinema at home and it seemed like the perfect way to spend an afternoon in our sleep deprived state. It almost felt like something we shouldn’t be doing and that we should be out exploring our new location – but actually going and taking the afternoon to do something like watch a movie at the cinema was the perfect thing to do. Scrolling through the screenings at the box office that day, we settled on Aquaman (I swear it was the best option). What was even better was that cinema tickets were only £3 each, a complete bargain considering how much they usually cost in the UK.

Once we had purchased the tickets, we had a slight wait before our film started and decided to eye up the popcorn counter. To our surprise, popcorn was just as cheap as the cinema tickets – only around £1.50 for a large popcorn. Excited, we decided to order a large popcorn and drink. This is where the confusion started. My wife was under the impression that these snacks were for sharing, but I had other ideas – I’m not good at sharing food. I eventually persuaded her to see sense and with a withering look she went to buy her own (regular sized) popcorn which she guarded with a scowl on her face. In the end, the large popcorn was probably too much, but I wasn’t going to let her know that.

The bicycle we hired from our guest house
The bicycle we hired from our guest house

The next day we decided to hire bikes from our guest house to go and find some of the local street art around Georgetown. The town has over 60 individual pieces, some of which are easy to find and others are more tucked away. We mapped out the top 10 we wanted to find and set off on our bicycles. Thankfully Georgetown is relatively compact and the art we wanted to see was all within a couple of kilometres of each other, so we were able to spot a majority of the artwork without any problems. Some of the art we wanted to see appeared to have faded or sadly had been painted over – hopefully some new art will spring up in their place. Some of our favourite art were pieces that incorporated ‘props’ into the image, such as a boy riding a motorbike which included a real motorbike sunken into the wall it was painted on.

“Little Children on a Bicycle” in George Town
“Little Children on a Bicycle” in George Town

We also went to visit the local clan jetties, which used to be controlled by 7 Chinese families. The jetties were interesting to wander around for 30 minutes and there was more street art to be seen while we were there, tucked away beside the wooden huts that lined the jetties. While we had the bikes we also decided to go and see the famous Blue Mansion. Although the building itself was a pretty colour, we weren’t blown away and opted not to pay the entrance fee to explore inside.

We also spent a morning exploring the wonderful Green Mansion, which was a short walk from our guesthouse. It actually came as a recommendation from an expat that we shared a table with at dinner the night before. Once the residence of 19th century Chinese tycoon, Chung Keng Quee, the house now serves as a museum dedicated to Peranakan heritage. The museum was home to an extraordinary number of antiques and personal objects which had been passed down through the family, from old make up and toiletries to jewels and clothes. It was a lovely way to spend the morning and learn more about the culture of Penang.

Some of the more modern and playful street art
Some of the more modern and playful street art

While we were exploring Georgetown, we came across a gorgeous little shop called 5.4 Degrees North. They had a really eclectic collection of products in their shop, ranging from clothes and shoes to cushions and Christmas decorations. As my wife was walking up the stairs to the second floor of the shop, some artwork caught her eye. It was a small turquoise door with a tiny handle, very similar to the doors we had seen around Asia (and that she had spent time posing in front of). The door was actually made from driftwood which had been collected in Langkawi by an Italian artist who was sailing around the world. Once my wife had seen it she fell completely in love and couldn’t let it go. After some gentle persuasion and a few calculations, we decided we would get it shipped back to the UK to await our return. Sometimes you just have to make an exception to the no souvenir rule.

The food we ate in Georgetown was some of the best we have had while travelling. Not only do they have amazing Malaysian food on offer, but the standard of western food there was the same level as you’d get at home (sadly it wasn’t much cheaper). We could have spent a week there just sampling all the cafes and restaurants in Georgetown – we could see why it has a reputation of being a foodies paradise. As well as Urban Daybreak, one of our favourite places to have some breakfast was Daily Dose. They did incredible berry smoothies and delicious breakfasts which filled us up all morning. Another favourite was Cafe Mews, where my wife tried the traditional Malaysian dish of nasi lemak and absolutely loved it. I had a fantastic beef rendang curry. We also stopped by a coffee shop, called Coffee on the Table, that did 3D coffee, mine came in the shape of a wolf. Gimmicky, but fun all the same and the coffee wasn’t bad either.

Nothing like a bit of 3D coffee art
Nothing like a bit of 3D coffee art

Although we really enjoyed our time in Penang, we had chosen our guest house quite poorly in that it was incredibly noisy – this meant we didn’t sleep extremely well, so were less inclined to go out and pound the streets for hours every day. We were also unable to plan our days very well due to the lack of internet, so we didn’t always make the best use of time during the day. It was also incredibly hot and humid. We were definitely looking forward to some peace and quiet (and our own bathroom) when we headed to Langkawi.

Until next time.

P.S. I really struggled to make any emotional connection to the characters in Aquaman. It was also incredibly corny, more so than any Marvel movie I’ve seen.

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