We had come from Langkawi- you can read about that here if you like.
Wandering around Georgetown hoping to get involved with Chinese New Year on CNY day is a bit like walking about on Christmas Day expecting to be invited in for a roast turkey and a cracker.
Lucky for us, though, we struck gold.
Busying ourselves with a map of street art, we decided to favour routes around Chinatown, just to give serendipity a chance, of course. Walking around seeing the most amazing creative pieces on walls- but I will talk more about that later.
We heard the firecrackers and smelt the smoke first, then we saw the truck with a bunch of people wearing trousers of elaborate dragon scales, we knew we had found an elusive Dragon dance! Score.
The boys were intimidated at first as the bangs of the crackers and drums were so loud- but this was helped when perfect strangers gave them firecrackers of their own and they became part of the noise.
The Dragon dance (see film below) finished and we were ushered into the temple for food and drink. We felt a bit like we were imposing on a family's festivities but not for very long. In fact we were repeatedly and quite enthusiastically asked to eat more! Drink! I felt like a visiting priest in Father Ted, powerless to resist Mrs Doyle's hospitality. We all ate a fishy-tasting biscuit gratefully and much more genuinely LOVED to the noodles and peanut butter balls.
We weren't in a temple, apparently but a 'Clanhouse' we learned. Back when the early Chinese settlers came, they set up these dwellings to take in people from the same village back home in China (or with the same surname 'Boey' in this case) to support them to find accommodation, employment and to in turn support new arrivals. The Clanhouses became prosperous and now still have the same function, sharing wealth and acting as a family for the immigrants who left theirs behind.
This made me like the place even more.
The children were squeezed and high-fived and one by one people came up to ask us about who we are- what we are doing and WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN'S EDUCATION?? I have some knowledge that education is very important to Chinese culture, so our 'world school with a smidge of formal' sounded like crazy talk to everyone there. They were fascinated though and so so kind, even if they did think we were crazy nuts.
The boys were given the little red envelopes and mandarins galore- we finally made our excuses and left the place with hearts swelling with gratitude. We were made to feel so completely welcome in an environment that was so alien- we had no idea about etiquette but that didn't seem to matter. What amazing hospitality to 4 total strangers- we were blown away to be welcomed in on such an auspicious day. Such loveliness brought tears to our eyes.
Walking around Georgetown, most shops and businesses were closed as the place has a high population of Chinese were spending time with their families. You could tell, though that it was a special time- red lanterns everywhere, firecrackers going off all over the place. That didn't matter so much though, as the main focus is the street art trail which took place all over the city.
The street art trail is not just graffiti as we all know it- the artists use everyday objects in the pieces to make the art interactive. It was mind blowing, to see such huge, beautiful, intricate and inspiring pieces of art- just on walls, everywhere for everyone to enjoy.
There was a festival atmosphere to the place- hundreds of people scouring the streets for hidden gems. Some were marked on a map- most were not, so it made the finds all the more special when you wandered down a back alley to see a life-size Bruce Lee mid-kick.
There were also 101 paintings of 'lost kittens' all around the city, to highlight the plight of abandoned animals. Bristol friends will remember the 'Gromit' or 'Shaun the Sheep' trails over the Summer- this was the same but permanent and they weren't on a map. It made wandering the streets so much more interesting, but I am yet to meet anyone who found all 101 cats!
After exhausting the art trail and Georgetown's delights, we moved on to Batu Ferringhi. Lots of Malaysian people we met sang it's praises, but to be honest it was not our cup of tea.
The sea was murky and full of jellyfish- (again!) and there wasn't much to do... Our apartment was nice though and had a pool- we busied ourselves with getting henna tattoos- the boys blagged a free fish spa which was hilarious and nibbly! Other than this, the local hotel resorts provided the entertainment which is not our usual place to hang out.. but still. The foam party was fun.
Next stop Kuala Lumpur!
Where we stayed:
Air Bnb- Times Square, Georgetown, 54 GBP per night (more expensive than usual due to CNY price inflation)
Air BnB- Bayu Emas Batu Ferringhi, apartment 31 GBP per night.
Where we ate:
In Georgetown we mainly ate in the Times Square Mall- as we were living directly above it. The Mall isn't as sanitised as it sounds, had a great variety on offer and was cheap! Also we could all have different food each night and everyone was happy! we were easily eating for under 10 GBP for us all
Little India came up a treat for us again, heading there for Masala Dosas and Idlis to start the day. What a joy, winding though those street with a festival of music, incense and colours. Breakfast was 5 GBP for us all.
Batu Ferringhi- we ate mainly at an Indian Restaurant called 'Enca' on the main road by our apartment. It served the most amazing food- their Vindaloo was heaven, not too spicy as Westerners think it is- even the eldest ate some. Our bill came in at 7 GBP in total so you an see why we returned each day.
What we did:
Georgetown street art- FREE Map available to download here:
Penang Peranikan Mansion- a treasure trove of oriental opulence. 3.66 GBP per adult. Children free.
Penang State Museum- an archive on the history of Penang and the people who make up the population. admission: 18 pence per adult.
Hard Rock Hotel Ultimate Foam Party, Batu Ferringhi first Saturday of the month, Kids party at 5pm 3.66 GBP per child.
Adventure Zone, Shangri-la Hotel, Batu Ferringhi. open to non- residents @ 4.39 GBP per child for a 2 session.
How we got around
Walking! There was so much to see and this was the only way to see it.
Uber was cheap and easily available for getting around after a day of walking when our legs would no longer work in the heat.
Langkawi to Georgetown ferry cost 12.80 GBP per adult, 9.37 GBP per child
Georgetown to Kuala Lumpur bus fare: Approx 15 GBP for us all. Be aware though, the route was a windy one and took more like 7 hours instead of the 4 they say it will. Take snacks.