Butterworth, Malaysia


“Why don’t you just go straight to Kuala Lumpur?” asked my taxi driver when I arrived by train in Butterworth. “Because I want to see Butterworth,” I replied. “This is Butterworth,” said the driver, “this is it.” Butterworth is the coastal town from which you can travel to Penang island, where trains from Thailand and northern Malaysia stop, and trains to Kuala Lumpur start. Most people travel straight through this little backwater, but I had already visited Penang and I wanted to be somewhere “normal and boring” before I continued my journey to Kuala Lumpur.

Butterworth street scene

There really isn’t much of interest for tourists in Butterworth, but I wanted to experience everyday life in Malaysia, sipping teh tarik in street corner coffee shops, and eating at hawker centres. And Butterworth is great for that. There are few tourists there, and eating and drinking are so cheap compared to Penang, KL, Malacca and the other more touristy places I have visited in Malaysia. So if you are travelling through, consider a stopover in Butterworth, and experience real life, Malaysian style.

View to Penang

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Komtar, Penang: Stunning Views from the Tallest Building in Georgetown, Malaysia


Komtar is the tallest building in Georgetown, by far, and going up it to enjoy the breathtaking views was my favourite Penang activity.

It rained throughout our entire trip to Penang, and after three days of nonstop trudging around looking at Georgetown, the botanic gardens, temples and museums all while clutching our umbrellas and returning to our hotel with soaking wet shoes, it was time for an indoor activity. Of course, it was our last day when the sun finally came out.

Komtar Tower For only RM 5 each we took the lift up to the 60th floor. Stepping into the viewing area, the vista spread out before us of Penang with its white tower blocks, colonial era roofs and forested hills behind was stunning.

View from KomtarWe could see out to sea and across to mainland Malaysia, and by having a closer look we were able to spot the intricately detailed roofs of temples. Having soaked up the view from the main room, we asked if we could go round to see the other side, and we were able to look out from most of the round building, getting a 360-degree impression of the island.

View 2If you visit Penang, go up the Komtar building. It’s not obviously advertised and we hadn’t read about it in our guidebook, but it offers one of the best city views I’ve seen in Southeast Asia.

Not suitable for vertigo sufferers!

Not suitable for vertigo sufferers!

 

Spot Fort Cornwallis in the distance.

Spot Fort Cornwallis in the distance.

View 3

Eat This: Mee Goreng, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia


Mee GorengStopping for a break from our rainy walk around Georgetown, Penang, we found ourselves at Medan Selera Lapangan Kota foodcourt, on the edge of Padang, the open “field” area right next to Fort Cornwallis.

We noticed Hameed “Pata” Special Mee was serving a lot of customers so we decided to try their mee goreng, or fried noodles. And it was delicious. Well worth it if you are hungry and nearby, and only RM4 each. We washed it down with a yummy coconut shake for RM2.50 each.

Mee Sotong stall

Penang: A Wander Through Georgetown


Penang, a Malaysian island, is a popular tourist destination. I spent a few days looking around, following in the footsteps of my grandfather, Peter Allen, who often spent holiday time there. He frequently travelled to Southeast Asia for his work as a scientist in the rubber industry, and I remember receiving postcards from Penang (he also visited Bogor, Indonesia).

Temple rooftopsGeorgetown was the first place the British arrived in Malaysia, the beginning of Britain as a coloniser in Southeast Asia, and it’s full of colonial era architecture. Now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are more colonial buildings in Georgetown than anywhere else I have visited so far in Southeast Asia.

Although it rained almost constantly throughout my entire trip, I didn’t want to waste time sitting in my hotel. Wandering through the streets of Georgetown and visiting some of the tourist attractions was still bearable, even if my hand ached from holding an umbrella for several days!

Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis (RM2 per person) is the site of the first British entry into this region. It is amazing to imagine Francis Light arriving here on his ship and building the original fort, made of nipah palm, and then remember that a palm tree fort was the start of hundreds of years of British rule in the Malay archipelago.

Gunpowder StoreAt Fort Cornwallis today, there are the remains of the old stone fort walls (that were built after the initial nipah palm construction), as well as the gunpowder store. Cannons point out to sea. Some of the tunnel-like rooms have been made into a museum that traces the history of the fort.

Padang

Across from Fort Cornwallis is the Padang, or “field”, a large open grassy area. There is a foodcourt here, called Medan Selera Lapangan Kota, where we enjoyed a tasty mee goreng (fried noodles) and coconut shake. On the opposite side of the Padang are some large and impressive colonial buildings, including the town hall.

the Town Hall buildingPenang Museum

Another short walk and we arrived at the Penang Museum (RM1 each). This was actually very interesting, adding to the knowledge we had gleaned from the Fort about Penang’s history. Each ethnic group has its own room displaying cultural items, furniture, clothes and so on, that are considered to represent the ethnicity. Upstairs are displays about old Penang. Outside in the museum courtyard is a real old-style funicular train carriage, that was used at the Penang Hill funicular railway.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Then we walked on to Pinang Peranakan Mansion (RM10 each). Peranakans are found in Malaysia and Singapore, and are mixed-race people. The term is most often used to describe people of Chinese-Malay mixed race ancestry. Peranakans have their own distinctive culture, from wedding traditions to home décor. The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is indeed a mansion house, where items of peranakan furniture, clothing and household items are displayed. The furniture is stunningly elaborate and highly ornamented with mother-of-pearl details and it fills an opulent house. There was not much information available about the items on display, but it was worth a visit to experience such extravagance.

mother-of-pearl benchEthnic Enclaves

Penang has its own ethnic enclaves, and we wandered through Little India, filled with colourful fabric shops. A man rushed up to us, trying to sell us a Bollywood DVD. We saw Sri Mariamman temple, but it was closed by that time.

We did see an interesting Chinese ancestor temple which had been recently refurbished and had amazing detail in its brightly painted carvings. Chulia Street and Campbell Street, parts of Chinatown, were filled with Chinese writing on shop signs.

Chinese temple paintingGeorgetown is a great place for randomly finding yourself somewhere interesting. It’s small enough to walk around in a day, including visits to museums and temples. And it’s bearable in the rain.