By Tang Ching Yhee
A pearl is made when a foreign substance slips into the shell of a mollusk. The mollusk then covers it with nacre, the same shining substance that is found in the inner shell – layer by layer, surface to surface. A wild, natural pearl takes decades to be cultured.
Just like a pearl, Penang was cultured the same way. Foreign labourers were brought into the port to start a new life, a different life from the ones they left behind. They left their culture on the things we see today – from streets to buildings, cuisines to clothing. This exquisite metropolis took decades to be cultured. Why else would Penang be known as the pearl of orient?
Penang island is just the right size to be explored in one day, yet plentiful enough to offer travellers a variety of attractions. Whether you are a traveller who prefers a destination with a calm and natural setting, or one that is exciting and happening, Penang is the perfect place for you. Here are some of the attractions and activities that you should include on your to-do-list.
Board the Hop-On Hop-Off (HOHO) bus
For a convenient and worry-free travel, the HOHO bus provides the best transportation service for travellers to have a hassle-free journey. With its brightly painted body, topped with roof seats that make up the second deck of the bus, the HOHO bus is surely an eye-catching, hippie-looking vehicle. Upon purchasing the tickets online or on the bus itself, passengers can literally hop on and hop off the bus when it makes its pit stop at different points, allowing passengers to discover Penang at their own pace.
The HOHO buses take two routes – the city route and the beach route. The city route buses roam in the heart of Georgetown whereas the beach route buses travel up North to the Tanjong Bungah area. The buses make over 33 pit stops. The assistant on board would introduce and promote the attractions at each stop over the loudspeakers on the bus. To switch routes, passengers can get off at the interchange points at Chowrasta and Gurney Drive.
Unless the sun is scorching hot, be sure to take the opportunity to grab the roof seat because it would give you an extraordinary bus riding experience. This gives you the advantage to feel the breeze and see everything from a higher point. Check out HOHO’s website for more information.
Chowrasta Street is one of the oldest settlements of the Chinese and Tamil immigrants in Penang. At present day, you can still find shops along the street that have been running for decades. These small businesses make up one of the original landmarks that gave Penang its historical identity.
The high-rise malls and shopping centres pose a threat to these family businesses, but the experience of shopping at Chowrasta Market could not be replaced by any other. First, you would be hit by the aroma of roasted chestnut upon stepping into the market. Then, you would be greeted by the friendly stall operators, inviting you to check out their goods. Most of the stalls are managed and run by the owners themselves, who probably inherited the business from their ancestors. Thus, they are very knowledgeable about their products.
Aside from clothing, souvenirs and toys, the best-selling goods in Chowrasta Market are the local titbits. Whether you are a local or a foreigner, no one can resist the delicacy of these snacks such as dried nutmegs, pickled mangoes and bean paste biscuits. These titbits also make perfect gifts when visiting friends or relatives in another state or country.
Since there are several stalls that sell the same product, visitors should take the opportunity to haggle. In fact, the culture of haggling is widely practised by Penangites.
Penang Amazing World Studios
Art can be very subjective; it is not something that everyone knows how to appreciate and enjoy. In order to expand the reach to people, many innovative ideas have been used to transform classic art in a way that the audiences could be a part of– thus the emergence of interactive arts.
The Penang Amazing World Studios are unlike any other 3D Art Museums in Penang. It has over five different categories – Augmented Reality, Virtual Whirl, Little Common Street, 3D Trick Art and Photo Matrix. A ticket priced at RM28 would enable you access to all of them.
At the Augmented Reality section, visitors are given the opportunity to experience a roller coaster ride in a small, pitch black room. They are given 3D virtual reality goggles and headphones to put on, and then the ride begins.
Virtual Whirl incorporates physical actions and technology. Visitors stand in front of a projected screen while their motion is being detected and monitored by a camera, thus controlling objects shown on screen.
For those who fancy the history of Penang, Little Common Street brings you back to the early days of Penang. Fairy lights with cut-out birds dangle on the ceiling. Historical settings of different venues such as coffee shops, cinemas and wet markets are set up for visitors to take photos.
If you are an Instagramer, the 3D Trick Art is the best place for you to show off creative photos to your followers. Better yet, the paintings are all characters in Warner Bros – Buzz Bunny, Superman, and our all-time favourite, the Joker.
The highlight of Penang Amazing World Studios is the Photo Matrix. In fact, Penang Amazing World Studios is the very first place that offers this to its visitors. Surrounded with 36 cameras, each one is placed at every 10 degree of the circle. Upon the count of three, all the cameras will capture the posture of the subjects in sync at 360 degrees. There is nowhere to hide! Visit Penang Amazing World Studios here.
Tropical Spice Garden
Are you a nature person? The Tropical Spice Garden is not only a tropical garden that brings visitors closer to Mother Earth, it also takes you on an educational tour about spices and its rich history.
Upon entering the garden, visitors will each be given a recording device that plays documented audios introducing the spices at each stop, allowing them to learn at their own pace. Tall and shady trees shield visitors from the baking sunlight.
In the garden, visitors can discover over 500 different species of flora originated from all around the world, all brought into a 4.5-acre nature gallery. To top that, tea of the season is served to visitors as they arrive at the bamboo forest pit stop, a great refreshment after a long stroll.
The entry ticket is RM26 per adult – a small price to pay for such an enriching experience. For more information, visit Penang Tropical Spice here.
Once known as the last standalone cinema in Penang, Odeon Penang has been refurbished into an interactive museum. Tickets are priced at RM28 for adults.
A tour guide is assigned to every group to lead them to different sections of the museum. Moreover, the guides are always ready on hand to help visitors snap photos with paintings on the wall.
Still maintaining its physical architecture, visitors get to take a glimpse at the old-school movie theater via a special camera. Wooden chairs are packed in front of a large screen made of white cloth. The theater is completely dark, with the only light source coming from a projector at the very back.
The museum’s most priceless possession – the artwork from a famous Korean artist, Kim Jung Gi is put on display. Every stroke of Kim’s brush marked the setting of Penang in olden times. More on Odeon Penang here.
Share this with friends and family or to anyone who wish to explore Penang. Special thanks to Penang Hop-On Hop-Off for sending Han Chiang news’ trainee journalists on this trip.