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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Street Art Capital of Asia | Georgetown, Penang | Malaysia

Updated: Mar 7

When I arrived in Penang, I had no idea that Georgetown was the street art capital of Southeast Asia. What an international accomplishment!


It's true...


I found out very quickly why it was given such a prestigious and creative honour.  I've been to a lot of cities that boast a considerable amount of street art, but this one certainly takes the cake. Everywhere you went... street art.  Wandering through the streets, up & down the alleyways and along the jetties, you couldn’t help but notice the numerous murals, drawings, steel sculptures, graffiti, splashes of colour, and more.  Some of the pieces encouraged interaction and were well worthy of a selfie. Regardless of the artist's style, each piece was worthy of attention and greatly contributed to the artistic ambiance of the city.


The whole centre of the downtown core was an imagination vibe and I had a smile on my face the entire time, delighted with every new piece I encountered. Wandering through Georgetown was like being tossed into an outdoor art gallery. You just couldn’t escape the creativity.


I could’ve walked forever... and I did... down every road, up every alleyway, and into every nook and cranny… just breathing it all in. It was as if I was under a magical spell. As I may have mentioned before, I am a sucker for bright lights and vibrant colours. Street art fits perfectly into that category of appeal, and they had me.


Hook, line and sinker.


Through Little India and Chinatown… along the pier to the Chew Jetty, Kek Chuan Road, Lebuh Armenian, Cannon Street, Penang Street... I hit them all and just kept circling around to experience them again. I became obsessed with... (how do I say this?)... hunting art & culture.


The ‘hotel’ we were were staying at was… unusual.


It was cheap and cheerful... of course, and that is the reason I chose it, so I shouldn't complain too much. It was very similar to that of a hostel but offered individual rooms and shared facilities. It was a tall building and there appeared to be two or three floors of rooms. We were on C level and I believe there might have been three rooms down our hallway.  I had one, Sammy had the other… and we couldn’t figure out if the remaining room was a travelling family or related to the owners... or both.  'Related' to the owners would have made perfect sense because they were loud beyond respectable and tolerable... yet seemed to suffer zero consequences.



Ironic, considering the owner had sent US a fairly curt outline of their policies. No words were minced when dictating what was and wasn’t permitted on their premises. There wasn't an ounce of pleasantries in their instructions.


Basically? Comply or leave immediately.


The kids were rambunctious to the point of downright obnoxious, as they ran up and down the hallway, slammed doors, and yelled at each other. Until past midnight!!! In addition to that, the incessant firecrackers made it impossible to get any rest.


This was the norm for both evenings...


On the second day in Georgetown, we took a taxi to the northern tip of the island, the Batu Ferringhi. I’d read that the beach was pretty, it had a brilliant evening market and a gorgeous garden café that was worthy of a visit if only to immerse yourself into nature for a meal. Of course, when we arrived, the restaurant was closed, the market wasn't open until 5pm... and we didn’t make it to the beach.


Out of luck.



Had I been on my own, I would have probably spent the entire afternoon roaming around Ferreghi and seeing everything there was to see. Sammy is not a walker, nor much of a city explorer, which is only one example of our travelling style differences. Always trying to encourage her to suss out local spots of interest, she showed some interest in a local Batik factory, so we hailed a ride and made our way there. At first, it did sound like it might be interesting; an interactive artistic studio, but it ended up just being an overpriced workshop/warehouse.  


Essentially it was a tour bus stop.

A money maker.


One of the ladies took us for a brief tour in the workshop and provided a bit of a tutorial on how batik is designed. That was interesting, though not entirely as interactive as Sammy had anticipated.


Leaving Georgetown and preparing to travel around northern Malaysia, we decided the best option was to rent a vehicle.  Considering there were two of us, and we had our packs, it was probably the best and most efficient way to see as much of Malaysia as we could, all the while, avoiding public transportation.


At first, I had contemplated taking the bus down to Kuala Lumpur for vehicle pick up but decided against it when I discovered it was a 9+ hour trip.  We could have flown, but in my opinion, the extra cost trumped any airport security hassle. The most efficient way to do it, although slightly more expensive, was to pick up the car in Penang and drop it off in Kuala Lumpur.


That was exactly what we decided to do.

Everything was set.

I had confirmed the booking and the initial deposit had been taken from my account.


Then… in the middle of the day right before we were set to pick it up, without an ounce of an explanation, they just cancelled it.


No explanation.

Nothing.

Seriously.


They merely sent an email informing me that my car reservation had been cancelled.


What????


Other than that, I had no idea what was going on.


First things first, I checked my credit card… and it appeared to have been charged twice.  That was obviously concerning. If I have learned anything, especially while being on the road, online credit card statements are not to be taken seriously until charges are 100% posted. Pending charges and pre-authorizations tend to be listed twice and it can mess with your head.


This being said… I still freaked out. Slightly.

It was a lot of money!

If there is one thing I can’t stand… it’s hassle.


I tried every possible avenue to contact someone who could confirm the cancellation, provide an iota of explanation and put my mind at rest about the charges on my Mastercard.


With double charges pending, I was hesitant to book another car right off the bat. This was getting expensive and I couldn’t exactly afford to just be throwing money, willy nilly, off in each direction, to secure a car that might be cancelled at any given moment.


I’d prefer the aggravation of the bus.


Surely they could have given me an explanation as to why my car was cancelled. Do you not think? I don't ask for much in this world... but a little glimpse into their world of cancellation would have sufficed. I think they owe it to you to let you know.


Run out of cars?

Technical difficulties?

Made a mistake with too many bookings?


If not, then just a simple apology for the inconvenience would have been appreciated. After a few online searches, many emails and a handful of WhatsApp messages, I managed to get ahold of the dealership and the booking company. They both confirmed that the car was, indeed, cancelled and that the pending charges had already been reversed.


Nothing like a little booking catastrophe to set your heart on fire.


I immediately booked another one through Europcar… and thankfully no one cancelled it before we arrived to take possession.



We caught a Grab to the Penang airport to pick up our vehicle, only to discover that

there was no Europcar. We were like lost clowns, wandering around the airport searching for the Europcar counter... to no avail. This renting car business was getting on my nerves. We probably would have gone in circles, aimlessly searching... but I finally got irritated and stopped to ask another dealership for some assistance.


They pointed to the road.


Huh???


There was a lone girl standing on the side of the roadway with the car, waiting for us. Bizarre. We headed over to her, and lo & behold, it was our Europcar car. I asked why they didn't have an office and she told me that they gave it up during Covid.


Ok.

Covid's over... get an office.


Their desk was an abandoned wheelchair on the meridian, and I signed all of the papers on the trunk of the car. She encouraged us to circle the vehicle, to take pictures of any dings and dents and damage... which was a good idea and something I usually think of after I have driven away. Once everything was said and done, we took off into the wild. When I say 'wild,' I am referring to the berserk traffic of Penang. I jumped into the driver's side and took the first shift of driving... which perhaps wasn't the best idea, considering five minutes down the road, I almost smashed us all up in a roundabout.


Ok… in my defence, driving on the left-hand side of the road is a learning curve for me. It’s one thing to do it on a moped, but it’s a completely different story when you’re behind the wheel of an actual vehicle.  I have spent 25 years driving on the right-hand side of the road. My brain was systematically programmed for the complete opposite. It was tough to wrap my brain around the reverse. I kept turning on the windshield wipers when I meant to signal. My left hand kept searching for the stick shift and I had no idea what to do with my feet. Even putting on my seatbelt muddled me right up. I found I hugged the left-hand side of the road, and more often than not, I had to concentrate on not only moving the vehicle over, but keeping it over.


As a passenger, when Sammy would park, the first thing I would do was pull the emergency break up... purely out of habit. Of course, we managed it in the end and ended up coming off without a hitch. But there were moments of… uh oh...


Driving to the mainland of Penang was impressive. I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a bridge so long before. It was 13.5km long and is one of the longest bridges in Asia. It was enormous and just seemed to stretch out forever. The Europcar girl had given us a lanyard with a special code card and told us it was specifically for crossing the bridge. She gave us explicit instructions to take it to any petrol station and top it up with money before attempting the bridge, or we would not be permitted to cross.


Ok… we did that.


What we didn't know then, but we discovered shortly after, was that this code card was not only for the Penang bridge but for the gargantuan amount of toll booths scattered all over the country. Tolls are a big business here.


BIG.


More on that to follow...


It wasn’t long before we were out of the city and making our way into the Cameron Highlands. These highlands of Malaysia are known for their natural beauty and unique attractions... such as tea plantations, strawberries, lavender and more. They are a must-visit for travellers, but unfortunately, the day we passed through was not the best of days, so we didn't get the picturesque views I would have liked.


It was foggy, misty, grey, overcast and drizzling with rain for almost the entire drive. The rolling hills that I had envisioned as lush and dramatic, were entirely covered in greenhouses. Thousands and thousands of greenhouses.  It was mind-boggling how many long greenhouses there were, and all connected. It was like Malaysia was one big greenhouse. 


We spent one night in a town called Brinchang, which I read online was cited as one of the uglier towns in the area. Of course it is...

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