Apr 7, 2011

Malasia's Penang Island Beach Destination

We have been to several places in Malaysia and each area is unique. The capital city of Kuala Lumpur has the amazing twin Petronas Towers. Melaka is a beautiful historic city with a Dutch heritage. The world’s oldest rainforest is in Taman Negara National Park, there are two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, and several islands. This was our first time on the island of Penang, the countries most popular beach destination. The island is a fascinating mix of East and West. It is a well-developed and very tourist friendly.

There are many high-rise luxury condos and many more being constructed. They advertise “Malaysia: Your Second Home.” In ten years it may look like Hong Kong, a city of high rise buildings. Penang was under the control of the British for many years. During that time they built Fort Cornwallis and one of the famous landmarks is the nearby Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. The 60-foot tower was built in 1897 by a Penang millionaire to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign. A few years ago George Town, the capital, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage City. Besides the English influence there are the Clan Jetties created by the Chinese immigrant fishermen. The beautiful blue Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion built about 100 years ago by a wealthy businessman is a fusion of Asian and Western architecture. Because of the ethnic mix there are churches, temples, and mosques, one of which is called the floating mosque because at high tide it is surrounded by water. We visited two Buddhist temples that were conveniently located across the street from one another. Even though both were Buddhist one was Burmese and the other Thai. Like Christian churches there are variations in the Buddhist temples but they are all beautiful and fascinating.

Penang likes to promote itself as a culinary destination which, given the ethnic diversity, makes it a great place to eat. Americans may think they invented the food court and mall concept but the truth is they have had similar shops in Asia for years. They called their food outlets hawker stalls. Today hawker stalls have gone modern and are often in a food court. We had lunch at the New World Park where there was an amazing variety of food much of which was only a dollar or two a plate. My favorite was a local iced dessert called Ice Kacang. It was the perfect thing on a hot day and after spicy chicken curry. Ice Kacang starts as shaved ice topped with a variety of things: sweet red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly, palm fruit, ice cream, evaporated milk, and other things. It may not sound yummy but it is the best sundae I have ever had!

We stayed at the beautiful Park Royal Hotel for a week where they offered cooking demonstrations twice a week. We learned how to make Fried Koay Teow, the national dish of Penang, and Sweet and Sour Fish. Most of the week at the Park Royal we spent enjoying their beautiful pool and a great beach. The hotel has an amazing and harmonious cultural mix of people from Europe and the Middle East. There were ladies in bikinis swimming with gals in burkinis – a lightweight swim outfit that covers the body completely. Penang is a popular honeymoon destination for Saudis and the women went jet skiing and parasailing fully covered.