Following a few highly spirited nights in Koh Samui we boarded a Firefly propeller plane bound for an island destination in the bordering country of Malaysia. The flight to Penang was a comfortable and uneventful 2 hour and 30 minute trip. Just enough time for me to snack and read the inflight magazine before the plane commenced its descent.
New to Penang
We were met at the airport by a driver organised through our hotel. The driver chatted to us the whole way into town, happily revealing all the new changes since my last visit in 2008. For starters there is a modern and spacious airport. George Town since 2008 has been inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage list, ensuring the precious history will never be erased. Sitting in the back seat of the taxi I noticed the urban sprawl on the outskirts of town but also that the streets were greener. We talked about the Malaysian made cars, the Proton and the Perodua. Two large bridges connect Penang to the mainland and are considered a national icon to the community. The 2nd bridge was officially opened in March 2014 and spans 24km, some believe it will only add to the congestion already growing on the island. For travellers there is a free CAT shuttle bus running through the streets of George Town.
The car starts to slow as we approach traffic, a sign we have reached the George Town area. Pengkalan Weld road runs adjacent and the taxi turns onto Chulia Street, by far one of the busiest streets in the area and also the location of our hotel.
Welcome to The Yeng Keng Hotel
Yeng Keng Hotel
We pull up to The Yeng Keng Hotel, its large Chinese Gate shields the property from the hecticness that is Chulia Street. As we check into the hotel we were given two ice cold drinks. Complimentary tea, coffee, cold drinks and fruit are provided all day long for guests in the lobby.
The 20 room hotel is a beautifully restored 19th century Anglo Indian Bungalow mansion. Our small Mansion double room (room 108) was located on the ground floor behind reception and it gave us all the modern conveniences of a television, internet, air conditioning, security safe and renovated bathroom. All rooms open to carefully laid out communal areas for guests to sit and enjoy the surroundings. I was drawn to the communal areas discovering the internet signal was stronger. George Town can be humid and hot but the hotel we found was cool including our room. Not surprisingly really as the mansion would have been built to cope with the weather before electricity was a main stream commodity. In addition to the adjustable air conditioning there was also a ceiling fan in the room.
The Banyan Tree in the courtyard of The Yeng Keng Hotel
It isn’t until you stay overnight at the Yeng Keng Hotel that you fully appreciate the diligent restoration that has taken place. From the original Banyan tree that remains in the courtyard area to the wood carve work and the timber shutters showing an interesting perspective of Penang’s rooftops that could perhaps rival the Paris rooftops! Antique furniture and framed pictures of the past can be found peppered all around the hotel.
Instantly we felt at home at The Yeng Keng and I loved that we were staying right in the crux of Penang’s food, cultural and historical trail on Chulia Street.
Chulia Street and Little India
We decided to spend our first night in Penang scoping the area on foot. Walking on the street requires a little adjustment particularly if you come from a footpath city, we found ourselves weaving up the straight street. Food stalls and diners share the street with motorists and the peddling trishaws. In the humid evening many more food stalls appear on the street along with lines of diners. In Perth, mobile food stalls are run by trendy entrepreneurs, in Penang weathered cooks have spent over decades in the area.
We walked a few metres around the corner to Little India (Lubuh Chulia, Lebuh Queen and Jalan Pasar). The last time I was in Little India I had a beautiful sari tailor-made by one of the local vendors. I was also circled by two motorists whom I was convinced were trying to bag snatch us. We browsed a few stalls and I purchased a set of bangles for RM20 receiving a discount at the counter. No bartering needed this time around.
Pit Stop Cafe
The next morning around the corner from the hotel we stumbled across The Pit Stop Café, like most of the cafes in the area a quick glance and you would probably not even notice its existence. Penang I was told by my Malaysian friend has a growing coffee scene. We sat in the corner on comfortable armchairs making the most of the ice cold air conditioning as well as the Sunday brunch atmosphere. Our best coffee in Malaysia was at this café and credit to the talented barista especially with the latte art. It really made our day!
Pit Stop Café
Coffees from The Pit Stop, George Town (3 coffees – Cappuccino RM8, Espresso RM6, Hazelnut latte RM10)
Penang Street Artwork
Since the UNESCO World Heritage List honour, George Town has sprung into a positively charged cultural transformation. We spent the better half of the day with a map discovering the street art trail in central George Town. A separate post on the street artwork and wrought iron caricatures can be found here.
A cluster of century old wood houses sit on a jetty in the Penang harbour. This particular jetty was named after the Chew clan, a family who migrated from China. Today some of the houses are residences, a few are marked private and dislike photographers and tourists. We respected these few and did not disturb the locals. Several others have been converted into tourist shops. There are other ‘waterworlds’ nearby to Chew Jetty, all named after the various immigrant clans who lived life above the tide in stilt houses. They are all free to wander through and there is a donation box at the entrance to drop a few ringett in appreciation.
By midday we were dripping in sweat, Dk more so than me. Standing on Pengkalan Weld I was keen to find a taxi to take us back to the Hotel but in the middle of peak hour traffic there was no taxi in sight. The next best thing – a 3 wheeled rickety trishaw and that was all too easy to locate. I gladly handed over RM15 to the old man who peddled and weaved in between cars for a few hundred metres. Once we returned to the hotel we ordered a taxi to take us to a shopping mall, we were starving and more than happy to retreat to a place of air-conditioning for the rest of the day. The 3km taxi trip was RM18.
Gurney Plaza is located next door to the Gurney drive hawker night markets, somewhat of a touristy spot. The shopping mall draws in a mix of Penangites and tourists, it has 7 floors of retail stores and prices are about the same as the Kuala Lumpur city malls.
Lunch found us in a crowded food court at a stand called Little Wok. Food in Penang is cheap, for under RM20 we shared a fried kway teow and beef rice.
Fried Kway Teow RM9.50 & Beef Rice RM6.30
The Yeng Keng Café Bar
24 hours in a city, sometimes it is just convenient to eat at the hotel. Not an ordinary hotel restaurant The Yeng Keng serves traditional Hainanese dishes as well as a special 8 course menu. There are also international dishes on the menu. The café has a 1930’s theme of red velvet, deep blue and a lovely atrium bar for a round of impromptu drinks.
Our drinks were the first to arrive as we chatted away in the full restaurant. Fresh passion fruit with honey (RM10). Passionfruit is $2.00 a pop at home and I was excited to be drinking a passion fruit juice!
The Mee Mamak (RM12.50) was the first dish to arrive on the table. It is an Indian muslim styled fried noodle with chicken, seafood and vegetables, I think the dish is the Indian version of Mee Goreng. The Rice Hainanese topped with chilli was a light fried rice. The Inchi Kabin was the last to arrive, the deep-fried chicken flavoursome. The food was delicious.
The George Town Experience & Review of Yeng Keng Hotel
Overnighting in George Town offers a contrasting experience to that of the resort side of the island along Batu Ferranghi. George Town is hectic and busy but in all the good ways.
For anyone interested in history, culture and food a few nights at this great little place will ensure you experience it all in Penang. It was good to see and experience the local culture accessible right outside the Yeng Keng hotel and yet also the relaxed feeling within the confines of the hotel. The Yeng Keng may not be a resort style hotel however it does offer a small pool for guests to cool off. Our one night stay was simply not enough time to truly explore the trail of food and history but no doubt we will return again. Siti and Yeoh were a delight to deal with, always helpful and providing a unprentious 5 star service. The doorman, I didn’t catch his name was another great staff member. Our stay in the little 20 room hotel in George Town was like staying at a close friends house but with the facilities of a hotel. It made our stay a memorable one and that is what a good hotel is all about!
More Information – Do what I did!
Yeng Keng Hotel
362 & 366 Chulia Street
10200 George Town
604 263 3177
61 Market street, 10200 Penang
12 Chulia Lane, 10200, Georgetown
10250 Penang, Malaysia.
G Fresh Fourt Court (tenant G) Location 170-B1-05
Pinterest Penang Travel Page
Penang Street Food Map