Quite unexpectedly, I found myself visiting two UNESCO World Heritage sites this year. The first was George Town in Penang, Malaysia. It has been many, many years since I’ve visited Malaysia, other than two or three visits to Johor Bahru in the past three years. I had been to Penang once when I was a child, so it’s no surprise that there was little I could remember of it.
Penang’s George Town district is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s easy to see why. Till today, there is plenty of old architecture, where meandering streets are lined with elaborate temples and Peranakan shophouses with intricate details. Some of these shophouses have been refurbished, some converted into hostels for backpackers, while others have been left to the elements. It’s this mix of old and new that makes George Town fascinating. There’s an old world charm to George Town that gives a glimpse into Singapore’s past. After all, we do have a shared history of Peranakan culture and architecture.
Because George Town spreads across a large area, it can be easy to just wander and miss out on some of the interesting sites. And this is where Penang’s now-famous street art comes into the picture. All you need is a map of the walking trail to spot beautiful murals hand-painted by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. I love how evocative the murals are. The facial expressions alone tell a story!
Walking the trail to discover the murals is like being on a treasure hunt, especially when the murals come in different sizes. They can also be quite hidden. Some can be so much out of your expected sight line that you might need to retrace your steps to find them. But if you see a crowd of people clicking away on their cameras, there’s a high chance you are close to one.
Within the same district, you’ll also land in Little India. You’ll know it by the music that blares from the shops and fragrance of garlands as you enter the enclave. While walking about, I even came across a hole-in-a-wall jewellery shop. I took a quick peek inside and was surprised to see it packed with customers. I saw a lot of gold necklaces and bracelets glinting off necks and wrists. It’s also not often you’ll see a Volvo like this that, to my untrained eye, looks pretty vintage and in mint condition.
Be sure to stop at 14 Living Story at 14 Armenian Street. It’s a quaint and very easy-to-love shop with some interesting and hip vintage-style souvenirs there. And if you’re lucky, you’ll see an ‘uncle’ playing an old Chinese melody or two on a little colourful instrument.