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Heritage Cycling Tour
Penang is famous for maintaining its heritage from centuries past, protecting its historical and poignant buildings. The sleepy morning haze, contrasted with the busy and wide awake commuters trying to beat the traffic, is a typical sight along Penang roads during rush hour.
Tanjung City Marina
We set off at 7.30am to begin our cycling adventure at 1. Tanjung City Marina, with the breezy sea air hitting us pleasantly and putting us in a holiday mood. The marina borders the Penang ferry terminal and gives an excellent view of the boats and yachts that frequent the open waters. It is always open to the public and you can stay for as long as you want. Many restaurants and cafes are also nearby, such as the popular seafood restaurant Weld Quay Restaurant, De Yard Café, Sushi Kitchen and The Mugshot Café.
By now, the sun was beginning to peek out from the clouds. It was the perfect weather for a bike ride.
Weld Quay was a busy trade centre back in the day. Penang was once a bustling hub and popular trade capital due to its strategic location in South East Asia. It served as a portal between the East and West to trade tea, spices and other materials. Excited to explore George Town Heritage area, we hopped on our bikes after being provided with helmets, safety jackets and water bottles.
At 8.40am, while the weather still held a balmy breeze, from Tanjung City Marina, we cycled over to visit the 2. Chew Jetty, one of the six clan jetties, Lee, Lim, Tan, Yeoh and Mixed Clans. We were attracted once again to the settlement of wooden houses and shops built on stilts that is named after the surname of the people that built the community. The ambience promoted a sense of nostalgia of the good old days. While most of the descendants had left the jetty, many of their grandparents still stay there. At the end of the jetty, where a temple was built, we were pleasantly greeted by a peaceful view of the port and sea.
We crossed the busy main road from the Chew Jetty to enter the bustling, narrow streets of George Town. We were enchanted by the old-world charm that stayed with us as we gazed upon the preserved colonial buildings and pre-War houses. Many still held signs, doors and windows from long time ago. Some of the roads were still constricted and cobble-stoned, and one could picture it filled with bicycles and pedestrians instead of cars back in the day as they went about their shopping.
Steel Rod Sculptures
A tourist in George Town cannot miss the attractive 3. Street Art and 4. Steel Rod Sculptures that cover many of the buildings in the town. We stopped to look at several during the tour. The street art murals started as a project for the George Town Festival 2012 by a young Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, who painted simple and lifelike paintings on the bare walls of the buildings. Some depict everyday life in Penang, like the “Boy on a Bike” and “The Awaiting Trishaw Paddler”, while some are whimsical like the “Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur” and “Broken Heart”. The project was a huge success, with merchants and owners of various street buildings catching on to the trend and covering their walls with their own paintings, like the “Teach You To Speak Hokkien” painting that offers some funny phrases in Hokkien. These paintings just add to the existing charm and character that George Town already has.
The Steel Rod Sculptures is a collection of caricatures placed on historic streets of George Town. The idea was to depict the history and culture of Penangites through creative art pieces made by steel, such as the “Too Narrow”, “Tok Tok Mee” and “Main Street” ones.
Cheah Si Sek Tek Tong
The busy town was already crowded with locals and tourists alike by the time we reached our next stop, which was the famous 5. Cheah Si Sek Tek Tong. As we entered a tapered hallway with high walls in the heart of the oldest part of George Town, off Armenian Street, we didn’t expect to be greeted by a magnificent building adorned with shimmering gold and red paint just around the corner. The Cheah Kongsi secret society is the oldest of the five clan associations in Penang. When many members of the Cheah clan from South China immigrated to Penang in the early 19th century, this association building was formed as a communal place to look out for the Cheahs’ welfare.
The double-story building has Peranakan (Straits Chinese), European and Malay influences decorated with traditional Chinese paintings and ornaments. Besides treasure chambers and meeting rooms, there are even three secret passages for members to escape during times of conflict in the past. Although admission is free and visitors can wander around on their own, asking permission from the caretaker is encouraged. Tranquil, airy and creatively designed, it exhibits a feeling of comfort, where the acts of solidarity it fosters to the members of the Cheah clan can be envisioned.
Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh
Masjid Kapitan Keling
As we continued our tour, we passed by 6. Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh, an antique mosque located at the junction of Lebuh Cannon and Lebuh Acheh. It was built in 1792 as a place to bring Muslims together, however because many Indian Muslim immigrants couldn’t understand the language they conducted the sermons in, their headman Caudeer Mohudeen built the 7. Masjid Kapitan Keling in 1901, which was our next sighting. This mosque is adorned with crescents, stars, arches, stained glass windows and a towering minaret. The cream coloured building stands magnificently against the backdrop of orange sky at dusk and is one of the country’s most beautiful and historically significant mosques.
We continued on to Little India. It was almost noon and the sun was sweltering, when the smells and sounds of Little India enticed us, so we decided to stop for a break and have some typical Malaysian refreshments like teh tarik (pulled milk tea), sirap ais (iced rose syrup) and 8. Tosai (also known as Dosa, fermented crepe/pancake), at a popular Indian restaurant, Sri Ananda Bhawan. There are many clothing and jewellery shops as well as restaurants lining the streets of Little India with loud Indian music blaring everywhere, giving off a lively and jovial atmosphere.
Sree Maha Mariamman Temple
Feeling rejuvenated after some cold drinks, we continued on our tour to the 9. Sree Maha Mariamman Temple, located in the heart of vibrant Little India. Built in 1833, it serves as the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. Intricate sculptures of the Hindu gods and goddesses were built, overlooking the entrance, and it is known as a powerful place of worship.. ‘Mari’ means power, and ‘Amman’ means mother, therefore Hindus also come here to pray and perform vows and rituals for their mothers. The temple is open for everyone, worshippers and tourists alike during the morning and evening, and it is respectful and customary to remove your shoes before you enter.
Hong Kong Shoe Store
Moving on, we cycled 500 metres to 10. Hong Kong Shoe Store. Recently relocated to Kimberley Street, the Hong Kong Shoe Store is popular for being the place where the famous designer Jimmy Choo learned to make shoes, as he was an apprentice there at age 15. However, there is more to the shop besides being associated with a popular brand. The shoe store, owned by Wong Heng Mun, whose father founded it, makes customised shoes in its back area.
Using good quality leather and traditional shoemaking skills, they produce personalized shoes, besides carrying quality products from Hong Kong. People who are interested in the art of shoemaking are able to do so with the availability of 4-hour classes where participants can learn and produce their very own customised pair of leather shoes or slippers.
Penang Road Famous Teo Chew Chendul
We ventured on in search of the delicious 11. Penang Road Famous Teo Chew Chendul. Situated in Lebuh Keng Kwee, just off Penang Road, stands a small cart that is nearly invisible due to the crowd of locals and tourists blocking it. Cendol is a popular Malaysian cold dessert consisting of coconut milk, brown sugar, shaved ice, green jelly and corn. Tan Teik Fuang learned making and selling this refreshing delight in 1936.
Made in Penang: Interactive Museum
By 12.30pm, almost reaching the end of the tour, we went to our last stop which we knew we couldn’t miss, the 12. Made in Penang: Interactive Museum on Weld Quay. Recently opened in November 2013, this one of a kind museum creatively depicts everyday life in Penang in extremely lifelike forms, using a combination of modern technology and traditional crafts.
The Weld Quay exhibit on the ground floor is an impressive 10m long reincarnation of what it would have looked like in the early 1900s, scaled down to miniature form. It used to be a bustling port used by the English and Germans before, therefore there were traders, porters, fishermen and people watching as well as boats, the sea, and the colonial houses as a backdrop. Every tiny detail was meticulously handcrafted by a lone artist, down to the muscles of the stevedores on the dock and facial expressions of the children playing.
Other clay and plaster exhibits were also on display, depicting real life scenes in modern day and olden day Penang. Some examples show stalls selling nasi lemak, which is a popular coconut rice dish served with side dishes of cucumbers, fried anchovies (ikanbilis), peanuts, boiled egg and spicy chili sauce (sambal). Another one was designed to look like a typical mamak scene. Mamak is a food restaurant, usually open 24/7, that originated from Indian Muslims, known as ‘mamaks’. They typically sell local food and drinks like roti canai (Indian flatbread) and mee goreng (spicy fried noodles) and iced lemon tea at affordable prices. They are very popular among Malaysians.
There were also 32 giant 3D art pieces showcasing the culture and history of Penang. They were designed in an interactive way where visitors could pose with the paintings and once photographed, it appeared as if the subject were one with the painting. There were many exhibits highlighting Penang attractions with whimsical twists like the Durian, King of Fruits painting, Snake Temple and Spiderman at Queen Victoria Clock Tower, among others. Spending an afternoon here is definite fun for the whole family.
The entire bike tour took around 3.5hr and we covered a distance of 6.4km. With so much history and culture as a backdrop to wonderful food, people and sights, Penang’s George Town is always an excellent place to visit and explore. Take it all in while you cycle for a fresh new perspective to one of Malaysia’s oldest heritage sites.
Cycling Route - Heritage Cycling Tour
This cycling tour package is provided by: Metro Green Adventure Sdn Bhd
101, 10-02 Menara Perdana, Jalan Gurdwara, 10300 Gearge Town, Penang, Malaysia. Tel: +60 (4) 229-6434
- Tanjung City Marina
- Chew Jetty
- Street Art
- Steel Rod Sculptures
- Cheah Si Sek Tek Tong
- Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh
- Masjid Kapitan Keling
- Sree Maha Mariamman Temple
- Hong Kong Shoe Store
- Penang Road Famous Teo Chew Chendul
- Made in Penang: Interactive Museum