Dang, Penang!

Penang is awesome! Let’s just start there.  We made our way across the bridge as we travelled by bus from Ipoh. We could immediately tell this would be a cool spot!  Surrounded by palm trees, mountains, and beautiful water, Penang is much smaller than KL.  It feels much more relaxed than a big city but with more amenities than Ipoh. We were anticipating this city like no other in Malaysia.  When we were in KL and asked by locals about our plans, they all responded with what an amazing place Penang is and I’d say we all agree. 

We stayed at 218 Tropicana, a condominium with three bedrooms (luxurious!) and a separate living space (we were living like kings!). Our standards are much lower after this trip and we’re always excited to have more than one bedroom. Even better, James is elated when he wakes up and can make coffee without waking anyone else up (he’s been confined to the bathroom floor on some occasions).

The colonial architecture is stunningly beautiful, which we enjoyed as we ventured out on our first full day in Penang.  I declared it to be the “Charleston of the far east,” since both are known for their beauty, tropical charm, and good food.  Culturally, it felt much more diverse than Kuala Lumpur (primarily Muslim) and Ipoh (primarily Chinese) as Penang is a melting pot of religions and cultures. 

Early in the week, we took a Grab to Penang Hill where we took a funicular rail to the top of the mountain and saw the beauty of Georgetown from above.  It was immediately ten degrees cooler on the mountain, and we spent the day walking the trails and exploring the mosque and temple at the top.  After leaving Penang Hill, Goose chose the Red Garden Food Court for dinner that evening.  There are numerous food courts in Southeast Asia, all boasting cheap, delicious food.  Penang’s were no exception and had something for everyone.

After one week in Penang with our kids, all of our favorite was the numerous food centers.  We even made it to Red Garden food center twice!

Manji and Bingo pick out their dinner

On Sunday, we found Wesley Methodist church nearby and attended a service for the first time since Christmas.  The church members greeted us warmly and it was nice to have a familiar routine.  We had a delicious bakery in our building so we indulged in some pastries after church. 

The boys after church

We then met up with friends from the KL pop-up hub at the Hin Bus Depot.  This place was a gathering for artists, vendors, and entertainers and it was a nice area for people to visit on a Sunday afternoon. 

After being exhausted from the heat and seeking aircon, we left to head back to the condo but then stopped to get the kids a haircut.  Goose said goodbye to his mullet and Manji went from surfer bro to buzzed head.  Bingo even got a trim too, her first time at a hair salon.  Successful haircuts all around and it was especially nice to see Manji’s eyes once again.

Post-haircut bliss!

That evening, James and I had the luxury of a date since one of the teenagers from the pop-up agreed to babysit.  We headed out to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel and started with a drink along the waterfront.  The  hotel is a beautiful colonial hotel on the water and we put on our nicest t-shirts for the occasion.  Afterwards, we enjoyed dinner at the Blue Mansion. It is one of the original clan houses in Penang and was built as a meeting place for recent Chinese immigrants.  The food was spectacular with James having lamb and me a steak. The whole evening was such a treat!

Monday was a big day with Manji getting his cast removed! He, James, and Goose went to the private hospital and had Manji’s arm x-rayed, cast removed and met with the orthopedist all for a whopping $82!!! While at the hospital, Bingo and I received mani/pedis and then met the boys for celebratory sushi after.  That afternoon, we split up and James and Manji left for a one-on-one adventure.  They started with a visit to the dinosaur park, followed by Italian food at Otto’s Pizza, and then a stay at the DoubleTree Penang.  Goose, Bingo, and I perused the mall, and each got a replacement piece of clothing and ordered pizza. 

Celebratory sushi lunch after Manji’s cast removal!

After Manji received the signoff from the orthopedic, we decided to visit Escape Adventure Park two days later.  Fun fact – Escape is actually owned by a public company, Sim Leisure Group. The founder’s goal was to recreate a place that had elements of the adventures of his youth in Malaysia. And the celebrated part of his youth was when kids spent so much time outdoors.  It was unique in many respects and he nailed the essence of childhood outdoors. 

We ziplined, climbed trees, “skied,” and enjoyed lots of water slides. 

One week in Penang with kids isn't complete without a visit to Escape outdoor theme park

First time skiing for Bingo

The park even boasts the record for the longest water slide in the world! Goose was so brave that day as he participated in two challenges—the high dive and the banana peel.  The high dive is 10 meters above the pool. And the banana peel is a water slide that shoots you out like a rocket.  His courage was unbelievable! We concluded the evening at Frandy Beach Bar with dinner on the beach.

Goose and me on the zipline at Escape

When we booked our trip to Penang, we knew nothing about Thaipusam. It is a Hindu festival that was held on January 25th this year, our last full day in Penang.  Thaipusum celebrates the victory of Hindu god Murugan over a demon.  Before attending the festival, we spent the morning watching a few YouTube videos to learn more about the festivities.  The sound of drums and the smell of incense burning overwhelmed us as we arrived.  Across from one of the Hindu temples, celebrants were preparing their kavitis. After completing their preparation, they left and walked barefoot to the waterfall temple, 6.6km away. 

As we arrived, we saw a man preparing to pull a float down the street.  This wasn’t just any float though because he had many hooks attached to his back, with long strings running from the hooks to the float.  As we walked closer, we could see the leaders preparing him by attaching all of the lines from the hooks, while the drums beat louder. After completing the attachment to the float, a leader pierced his cheek with a long needle that emerged out of his other cheek.  To cap it all off, they pierced his tongue in an outward position, where it would stay throughout his walk.  

The drummers formed a pathway for him to begin, surrounded by what looked like his family and friends.  We walked along behind the procession and saw his family dumping bottles of water on his feet, to cool the hot pavement.  They were also shouting and clearing the path as shockingly, the streets remain open during Thaipusam.  After arriving at the water Temple, they apparently continue with celebrations throughout the evening.

We were so lucky to see the rituals of Thaipusam during our one week in Penang with kids

Thaipusam festival

It was incredible seeing the sacrifice that the Hindus endure during such a festival. What an inspiration to see the dedication the participants showed during such a sacred moment. 

For the past several days, we all have continued to talk about the experience at the festival. And, I know it will live on as one of the most unforgettable moments of our travel this year.   

Check out our Blog for the latest on our adventures