Georgetown For Culture Vultures
Ask the oldtimers and they will tell you: the Penang of a decade ago is a far cry from the one we know today. While many heritage buildings still stand strong thanks to restoration efforts by the government, a youthful arts scene has bloomed in keeping with the return of millenials from overseas. Tradition meets innovation, especially in Georgetown, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
To get a gist of the contemporary art landscape, all one has to do is wander the streets of Georgetown. Street art exploded on to the scene in 2012 courtesy of a Lithuanian artist by the name of Ernest Zacharevic. Infused with a touch of whimsy, Zacharevic’s murals, which include ‘Little Children on a Bicycle,’ ‘This Old Man’ and ‘Reaching Up,’ are among the most photographed sites on the island. Swing by the Penang Tourist Centre on Lebuh Light to pick up a walking trail map of the murals, which are all within walking distance of one another.
History buffs with an appetite for heritage will find themselves spoiled for choice in Georgetown. Founded by Francis Light as a trading post of the British East India Company, the city still carries architectural traces of its colonial past by way of crumbling war forts and old mansions returned to their former splendour. We recommend killing two birds with one stone by booking your holiday accomodations at a historic prewar hotel.
Penang’s past also goes hand in hand with Peranakan culture. When Chinese immigrants alighted on the island between the 15th to 17th centuries, they assimilated the local customs while retaining their own traditions, giving birth to Straits-born Chinese who identify as “Baba” for the men and “Nyonya” for the women. A myriad of museums on the island are devoted to educating the public about Peranakan culture, though some only offer tours upon special request, so conduct your research and call a few days ahead of time to gain firsthand access to viewing vintage jewellery, costumes and heirlooms.
Families traveling with kids will be glad to know that Georgetown also plays host to some of the most eclectic attractions in the country, from three-dimensional art museums to haunted houses. Some venues are known to organise free tours, educational workshops, paint jams or arts and crafts sessions for kids and youth, making Georgetown a family-friendly holiday destination without a doubt.
A good way to wind down your day would be to kick back and enjoy a live music performance. Georgetown’s nightlife is at its most vibrant on Love Lane and Beach Street, where buskers belt out their best tunes on the streets and homegrown bands perform their own sets in cosy little cafés. Time your visit right to experience a music festival with both local and international acts.