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Art in Penang, a creative traveller’s paradise

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Getaway Category: Culture & HeritageGetaway Tags: Art, georgetown, malaysia, and Penang

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  • With an inspiring desire to build a vibrant creative community, art in Penang is flourishing. High quality resources used for traditional crafts are readily available, providing any artist with boundless potential to create. Kick started by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, murals are found on almost every wall in Georgetown, giving colourful character to an already bustling city. This itinerary is designed to encourage walking between destinations, taking it slow to properly absorb the creative energy Georgetown has to offer. Be sure to wear a good pair of walking shoes.

    The mix of the traditionally practiced crafts and innovative youth makes Penang a vying contender in the global arts scene- definitely worth a visit!




    Day 0 in Penang, Malaysia

    9pm: Arriving at Penang International Airport

    Clearing immigration is fairly smooth, you’ll be out to explore Penang in no time. We recommend taking an Uber to your hotel, as it is significantly cheaper than taking a taxi. Wifi is available, so you will be able to call for one with the app (Apple/Android) on your phone.

    If you prefer to take a taxi, just walk over to the taxi counter in the arrivals hall. Have the address of your accommodation prepared, and tell the receptionist. He or she will key it in and generate the amount that you need to pay for the taxi. You’ll pay at the counter and be guided to your allocated cab.

    10pm: Drinks 

    If you don’t mind splurging a little, drop by Three Sixty Revolving Restaurant Skybar for a 360 degree view of Georgetown. Food and drinks are top notch! If you’re on a budget, give Junk Cafe a try. Patrons rave about their burgers, chilled ambiance and fantastic service.

    One of the benefits of staying in Georgetown is the multitude of food and drink options, almost always within walking distance. Ask your hosts for recommendations or keep a lookout for interesting spots around the area.

    Day 1 in Penang, Malaysia:
    Art galleries and exhibitions

    9am: Breakfast at Toh Soon Cafe

    Toasted over charcoal, slices of bread are browned nicely before kaya (coconut spread) is slathered on with slabs of creamy butter. Served with half boiled eggs and either coffee or tea, there is no better way to begin your day. Waiting lines are long for Toh Soon’s traditional Malaysian breakfast!

    10am: Ernest Zacharevic x E&O Gallery

    If you’re looking to appreciate the works of Ernest Zacharevic in a comfortable setting, head to the iconic Eastern & Oriental hotel. There, you can find Zacharevic’s original artworks as well as specially curated pieces from internationally acclaimed artists.

    1pm: Lunch at Tai Buan Porridge

    Teochew porridge is an old favourite for a hot meal thats not too heavy, but comfortably hearty. Rice porridge is served with a variety of dishes, most of which are delightfully tangy to flavour the rice. Be sure to order the Ham Choy (preserved salted vegetable), it complements the rice wonderfully.

    2pm: Penang State Museum & Art Gallery

    Commonly referred to as the country’s best museum, the Penang State Museum contains a permanent gallery and a temporary exhibit space. The permanent museum is dedicated to telling the stories of Penang’s history through various artefacts, beautifully conserved.

    The art gallery on the other hand showcases traditional Penang craftsmanship and the works of local artists. This space occasionally hosts exhibitions as well. Check here for the latest updates!

    4pm: ShopHoward

    Photographer Howard Tan freely plays with colour, creating abstract beauty in his limitless depictions of life. Born and bred in Penang, he experiments with various topics and recreates them to form lingering compositions. His shop holds a vivid collection of anything that caught his inspired eye, as well as some of his own merchandise available for purchase. Despite his undeniable talent, Howard remains humble and friendly- a real pleasure to talk to!

    5pm: Dinner at Tek Sen Restaurant

    With only one kitchen, Tek Sen Restaurant serves scrumptious Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka and Straits fare. Recognising their growing popularity, Tek Sen has cleverly accommodated to the steady crowds by moving to a larger, more comfortable space on Carnarvon Street. You must order the roasted pork!

    7pm: Drinks and dessert at Narrow Marrow

    This weekend-only cafe operates in the living room of its creative owners. Combining art and food, Narrow Marrow doubles as a gallery that often features local artists. Shelves of books are at your disposal, to enjoyed with homemade food and great music. Frequented by the creative community, Narrow Marrow’s artistic energy is undeniable.


    Day 2 in Penang, Malaysia:
    Arty Cafes and Street Art

    9am: Breakfast at Cecil Street Market

    If you’re looking for a taste of Penang’s best offerings, Cecil Street Market has it all. Scattered tables are filled with happy families enjoying a hearty Sunday breakfast. It is common to see a variety of dishes laid out for members of the table to share.

    You can also find stalls selling a wide range of packaged Malaysian snacks. If you’re looking for souvenirs, these are a great option.

    10am: Street art is everywhere!

    Listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2008, Georgetown is best enjoyed without a plan. Take a couple of hours to wander and be surprised by hidden art complementing its surrounding environment. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track!

    Street Art by Ernest Zacharevic

    Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic is globally known for his outdoor paintings that feature interaction between environment and character. Described by the BBC as ‘Malaysia’s answer to Banksy‘, he held his first solo show in Penang at the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre. Keep a lookout for his colourful installations, intended to be a ‘surprise in secluded spots, designed to resonate with the local people’.

    Wrought iron sculptures

    In 2009, a competition was held to create an tangible mark on Georgetown becoming a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Local sculpture studio SCULPTUREATWORK won with their idea of wrought iron caricatures telling stories of the people. The comical pieces can be spotted all over Georgetown, see if you can catch all 52!

    12pm: China House

    An aesthetically pleasing mix of classic and contemporary styles decorate China House’s interior, giving a favourable impression on anyone walking in. Board and card games are available to play with, and tables are covered in white paper- just waiting to be coloured on with the provided crayons. Pay a visit to the shop upstairs, selling artistic wares mostly made by local artists. A large table stands in the middle of the cafe, tempting patrons with a delectable selection of baked treats.

    2pm: Hin Bus Depot Art Centre

    A short walk takes you to the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre, Georgetown’s dynamic centre of creativity. Managed by creatives, the art centre was formed when Ernest Zacharevic was looking for an exhibition venue.

    The pioneer in creating murals on Penang’s walls, Zacharevic fell in love with the charm found in the abandoned bus depot. Hin Company saw its potential and began renovating the depot, intending to build a creative space hosting the unlimited possibilities of art.

    Aspiring to be an international creative hub, The Hin Bus Depot Art Centre regularly holds exhibitions and art events. While we were there, a photography exhibition by Studio Howard was showing. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and got to meet Howard as well. Check their Facebook Page for event updates!

    On Sundays, a pop up market is held from 11am to 5pm.

    3pm: Bricklin Cafe Bar

    Make a stop at the Bricklin Cafe Bar, right next to Hin Bus Depot. Although a tad pricey, their mocha and iced chocolate are definitely worth a shot.

    4pm: Run Amok Gallery

    Run Amok gallery seeks to establish themselves as an alternative platform for unrepresented artists to share their forms of visual communication. Striving to liberate art from commercial intent, selections with social political relevance to Penang is favoured by the gallery. Previously located on on Lorong Hutton, Run Amok gallery has relocated to the vibrant Hin Bus Depot compound. Follow them on Facebook for the latest updates.

    6pm: Dinner at Chulia Street

    When evening comes around, stalls come to life at Chulia Street- selling freshly cooked food by the roadside! It is fascinating to watch the skilled cooks at work, churning out mouthwatering plates of hot food at an impressive speed. There is no question when it comes to quality, these stalls have been serving their food for decades.

    Be warned, the rain can make things a little messy. There is hardly any shelter in case of rain, so do bring an umbrella to be safe.

    7pm: Drinks at Hong Kong Bar

    The oldest bar in Penang is a favourite amongst travellers. Founded in 1920, the Hong Kong Bar is filled with stories of history, much of which was contributed by visitors from all over the world. Scrapbooks, newspaper articles and old money notes will tell any patron of this bar’s eventful past- if not, the owners will be more than happy to share. Make sure you sign the guestbook before you leave!




    Accommodation in Penang, Malaysia

    Luxury

    Eastern & Oriental Hotel (The E&O)

    Styled in the British-Raj era, the Eastern and Oriental Hotel is a testament to the history and traditions of ‘The Pearl of the Orient’. Ideal for the modern business traveller, it has a gym, spa, infinity pool and a stunning sea view.

    Prices start at SGD$256

    Mid-range

    The Blue Mansion or Cheong Tze Fatt Mansion

    This strikingly blue mansion is a living tribute to the achievements of Cheong Fatt Tze, a successful Chinese businessman. Built for his beloved 7th wife, the mansion was built with the beauty of traditional Chinese houses in mind and follows the auspicious rules of Feng Shui.

    Prices start at SGD$128

    Budget

    Siok

    Meaning ‘cool’ in Malay, Syok used to be an ancient shoe store. Now a hip hostel in a trendy location, it’s decorated with striking modern paintings created by young local artists.

    Prices start at SGD$30

    Getting to Penang, Malaysia

    Silkair by Singapore Airlines has daily flights throughout the day to Penang. Prices start at SGD$279.30 

    Jetstar has daily flights to Penang, usually at 9.45am and 7.30pm. Prices start at SGD$5

    Things to Note in Penang, Malaysia

    Ask for directions! Part of the charm in Georgetown is found by getting lost, but never be afraid to ask for help. The locals are warm, friendly and always happy to direct you to their favourite places.

    By law, taxis are required to use the meter and issue a receipt. However, not all drivers obey this rule. Be sure to check before getting into any cab, even when booking through your hotel. To avoid being tricked into paying a fixed fare, we recommend using Uber instead.

    Always have cash with you. Many of the stalls and shops you’ll stumble upon only accept cash. You don’t want to miss out!

    Always have insect repellent with you. Depending on the weather, the mosquitoes can be quite relentless.

    The old grittiness is part of Georgetown’s charm, but tissues and wet tissues are useful to have if you’re particular about cleanliness.

    The weather can be fairly unpredictable, so do carry a poncho or an umbrella in case of sudden rain.

    share your experience by using #singaporenbeyond on social media!

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