Many gems in Pearl of the Orient


  • Education
  • Sunday, 02 Nov 2003

BY S. INDRAMALAR

IF you have yet to explore the “Pearl of the Orient”, be sure to do it this holiday. And if you live in Penang and think you have seen all there is to see, we have things for you as well. In a nutshell, Penang is an amalgam of the old and new – alongside monuments from its historical past are skyscrapers that reflect the rapid development that has taken place over the last 10 to 15 years on the island. 

For out-of-state visitors, especially city dwellers, don’t hop on a bus or taxi to go around the island. Get on a trishaw. The riders may look frail but, trust me, they will get you to where you want to go safely, even through the bustling heart of the city.  

 

SCENIC: The country's first hill stop, Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera, is accessible via rail or, for the fit, on foot!.

Penang Heritage Trails 

The American Express-Penang Heritage Trails is an effort by the Penang Heritage Trust to promote the conservation and preservation of the state's cultural, historical and architectural heritage. One of the activities of the trust is organising tours, site visits, heritage trails, talks and educational programmes on Penang’s heritage. 

The trails, in particular, are extensive and offer an insight into the history of the island. There are two trails, each best done on foot and about 90 minutes to three hours each, depending on how often you stop at the sites and how long you spend at each stop. Everyone is welcome to go on the trails – the maps for both trails are available on the Internet at www.pht.org.my; the only requirement is that you wear good walking shoes and come prepared with a bottle of water and perhaps an umbrella or cap. 

The first trail will take you from Fort Cornwalis to City Hall, Town Hall and the Court Buildings, then onto the Penang State Museum, which has the statue of Sir Francis Light in front. Next up, the Yap Kongsi temple or the base of the Straits Chinese secret society (Tua Pek Kong) and Dr Sun Yut Sen’s Penang base at No. 120, Lebuh Armenian. Further on, the trail takes you to the Syed Alatas Mansion, Arheen Street Mosque and the Khoo and Cheah Kongsi (clan houses) respectively. 

The second trail goes from the Penang Museum to Church of the Assumption at Lebuh Farquhar and then to the Hainanese Mariner’s Lodge, which is now the office of the Penang Heritage Trust. There is an interesting gift shop and resource library for you to browse through. 

PALATIAL PAGODE: Penang's Kek Lok Si looks wonderful at night when it's all it up. The view of the temple and from it during the day is also spectacular and is a must-see even if you've been there before.

Next stop is the Carpenter’s Guild or Loo Pun Hong, which is dedicated to the patron deity of carpenters and other building artisans. Many of Penang’s heritage buildings were constructed by members of this guild. 

Other interesting stops include the Hainan Temple, the Benggali Mosque and the residence of Ku Din Ku Meh, who though born in Kedah and became the High Commisioner of Setul (Thailand), married a Penangite and had several trade offices in Penang. 

For more information, log onto www.pht.org.my 

 

Bookworm’s haunt 

To some, spending a day or two scouring though hundreds or thousands of second-hand books is nothing to shout about. But for bookworms, Penang’s Chowrasta Market is truly a treasure trove. Though Chowrasta is essentially a wet market, tucked in a corner of the market’s top floor is a haven for avid readers as there is a small line of second-hand book stores with racks and racks of books, wall-to-wall and floor to ceiling. 

From trashy romance books to backdated copies of the National Geographic to comics and popular fiction, history annals and books on religion and new world beliefs, these small and often cramped shops are very good. 

Often, titles you cannot normally find anywhere else, you can find in these shops – and at cheap (well, relatively cheap) prices that a child’s allowance can afford. Remember, bookmark this spot! 

 

SNAKES ALIVE!: If uou dare, visit Penang's famous snake temple where you will find the reptiles coiled around beams and pots.

Kek Lok Si 

Situated on a hill in Ayer Hitam, Kek Lok Si is reputed to be one of the most attractive temple complexes in South-East Asia. Built in tiers, the temple is best known for its beautifully crafted “Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas” or also known as the “Pagoda of Rama IV” because its foundation stone was laid by King Rama IV of Thailand himself. The pagoda is just over 30m high and is the largest of its kind in Malaysia. The architecture of this pagoda combines Chinese, Thai and Burmese styles, reflecting the temple’s embrace of both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. 

Apart from the splendour of the temple and pagoda though, the view from the temple is lovely and the grounds showcase beautiful gardens and ponds that are nice to wander about. There are also neat souvenirs and temple paraphernalia you can get. 

 

Bukit Bendera 

At 830m above sea level, Bukit Bendera or Penang Hill is the country’s first hill station. Accessible by train or foot (a nice three to four hour hike that will get your heart rate going), Bukit Bendera is a good place for a day-visit or, if you prefer, a night stopover. The climate is cooler and the air a little fresher. There are bungalows for rent and even a hotel. The rail service begins at 6.30am and ends at 9.30pm, and the fare is a mere RM4 for adults and RM2 for children. 

 

Snake Temple 

If snakes don’t terrify you, you may want to venture into the famous Penang Snake Temple, a sanctuary for pit vipers. You don’t have to look for these creatures as they are conspicuously coiled around pillars, beams, pots, you name it! Nevertheless, if free admission is not enough to draw you in, rest assured that the snakes are said to be free of their poison from exposure to the burning incense. Or so they say. 

BOOK GALORE: Check out the rows of second-hand bookstores at Penang Chowrasta market.

 

Beaches 

Of course, it would be remiss if you are in Penang and do not make it to its famed beaches at Batu Feringghi, Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang. Though not as alluring as the East Coast, Penang’s beaches remain a hotspot with tourists and locals alike. There are expansive stretches as well as more private beaches like Teluk Duyung, Monkey Beach and Pantai Keracut that are accessible via trails in the Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve in Teluk Bahang. And, the roadside of the Batu Ferringhi beach hotels transforms into a lively bazaar every night – sort of like a beach front night-market selling a variety of foodstuff and goods, from batik to watches to cameras. 

 

Outdoor junkies 

If you enjoy being in the outdoors and don’t mind roughing it our for a few days – sacrificing your comfortable bed and Astro and Starbucks lattes – you may want to check out Sri Impian Holidays and Recreation Sdn Bhd’s recreational and camping trip. 

The holiday packages are short – three days, two nights – but are packed with activities, including wall-climbing, jungle-trekking, kayaking, lake-crossing and a commando obstacle course, as well as some self-motivation sessions. 

The package costs about RM55. For more information, call 04-582 5858, 013-435 1520 or 012-488 3620, log on to www.homestayrelau.cjb.net or e-mail: homestayrelau@yahoo.com 

 

Digital photography and video holiday 

If making movies is your dream, you may want to enrol in a five-day camp to explore the use of digital still and video cameras to create movies, complete with sound and transitions. Organised by CG MediaWorks, you will learn editing through trial and error – trying out photos and video clips and experimenting in directing with the Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production programmes. The camps run from Nov 10 to 14, 17 to 21 and Dec 1 to 5, respectively, and are for children aged between seven and 12. Fees for a full day session (tea break and lunch included) costs RM600, while a half-day session costs RM320. For enquiries, call 04-228 5278. 

 

Student tours 

Malaysia Travel Business, under the Malaysia Tourism Centre, has in the last three years been organising special tour packages for students to cultivate awareness on local culture, histories and traditions among schoolchildren, as well as teachers and the public. 

The packages also aim to teach students how to travel smart (maximise travel with minimal cost) and how to plan their travel. 

The travel packages are divided according to areas and sectors, and cover agro tourism, rainforest programmes, eco tourism, and lake and island programmes. Although the packages are available nationwide, there are options for Penangites who would rather not travel out of state. One option is the three days, two nights Night Kampung Relau Homestay, an agro tourism visit to a mineral water factory, jungl- trekking, wall-climbing, etc.  

For more information log on to www.tourism.gov.my

student/ or call 03-2693 7111 

 

Fun camps 

Sri Pelita School will be conducting several learning and adventure camps for youth. The “Learning Camps” promise to be a blast with creative and fun learning by way of mini projects, field trips, arts and craft. activities, songs, dances, games, cooking classes and many more.  

The Adventure Camps will take participants on outdoor activities, like team-building games, canoeing, hikes and overnight camps at Muka Head or Monkey Beach.  

There are separate camps for primary and secondary students. Each camp will last five days and will be held between Nov 10 and Nov 19. 

For more information, call 04-226 9277/ 227 1277 or e-mail pelita7@streamyx.com

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