Penang Top Five: Robert Brennan
Having lived and worked in ChinaHouse, a restaurant in Penang, for six months, Robert Brennan has gone to almost every corner of the island by bus. Here this Australian shares the five things he has grown to love about Penang.
Rapid Penang buses are cheap, reliable and nicely chilled with air conditioning. One of my favourite trips is catching the 502 from the Komtar bus terminal to Balik Pulau. It takes you west through Air Itam where you can see the amazing Kek Lok Si temple (worth a visit) up on the hill and the bustling shopping and food strip of Air Itam. Once you leave Air Itam, it climbs the range that separates George Town and Balik Pulau. When you reach the top there’s a great view over Balik Pulau to the coastline and sea. After an hour bus ride, you’ll be in Balik Pulau. Walk down Jalan Tun Sardon to Jalan Balik Pulau, at the junction, next to the old market, is Kim Laksa at the Nan Guang Coffee Shop. Their famous assam laksa is delicious. Catch the 401 bus for a different and longer route back to George Town that travels via the south of island, the airport and Queensbay Mall to Weld Quay.
Penang National Park
One of the wonderful things about Penang is that you don't have to travel far from George Town for a dose of nature. The number 101 Rapid bus takes you to Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang. At the end of the route takes you to the entrance of Penang National Park. The smallest national park in the world has big things to offer such as a number of walks through it and the 1.5 hours walk to Monkey Beach hugs the coastline, taking you through a beautiful forest and a wonderful beach where you can enjoy a coconut juice and a swim. Then continue for another 30 minutes to the lighthouse up the hill at the end of the beach. Be armed with a bottle of water because it gets hot and humid. An alternative way back is by boat which is a great way to view the coastline. You can book a boat before you head off on your walk at the boat stalls located on the right of the park entrance.
Beef Noodles at Lam Ah Coffee Shop
At this coffee shop on the corner of Beach Street and Chulia Street is the popular beef koay teow soup in town. Since it’s opposite the Bomba on Beach Street, it’s often referred to as Bomba beef koay teow. Its proprietor, Teng, starts early in the morning and serves her soup with rice noodles, different bits of succulent, tender beef (you can ask for a censored version if offal puts you off), bean sprouts, fresh herbs and little bits of crunchy pork fat. It's served with a side of chilli sauce and a gorgeous smile from Teng. There is also a great oyster omelette stall here too. Jenny, the coffee shop owner, serves really good local kopi with a rich chicory flavour and refreshing nutmeg juice.
A walk through Little India is a wonderful treat for the senses. There are loud Bollywood tunes blasting out of speakers, an array of different smells from the incense sticks burning and bright colours from the beautiful pieces of sari and jewellery shops. For breakfast, one of my favourites is masala thosai at Sri Ananda Bahwan on Lebuh Penang. There are are two of these restaurants on the same street but go to the vegetarian one. The thosai there is with a crispy crust and fluffy inside and filled with potato, onion, mustard seeds, curry leaves and spice. It’s served with yummy coconut chutney, mint chutney and spicy sambal.
Seawind Café, Tanjung Bungah
This not-so-flash cafe in Tanjung Bungah is one of my favourite places to have a drink on the island. The food isn't bad, the drink list is nothing too special but they have cold beers, a great location and spectacular view. It's right on the water, so come in the evening as the sun goes down and enjoy a cleansing ale. Once the sun has set, enjoy the shimmering lights of the mainland across the sea and a sea breeze rather than a robust sea wind that can blow you away.