The chance to visit and experience some beautiful spicy food, stunning beaches and luxury accommodation was very exciting and I am always so grateful to receive all expenses paid travel. We flew Singapore Airlines from Perth to Singapore and then a smaller Silk Air flight into Penang.
We stayed in the stunning Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Georgetown. The original wing of the hotel was built during the English Colonial period by the Sarkie Brothers and opened in 1885. Famous people who have stayed there include Rudyard Kipling, Douglas Fairbanks, Sir Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham. It has impressively high ceilings, huge rooms and is beautifully decorated. Our room was in the newer wing and has been constructed to keep the 1885 feel. The huge marble bathroom included a claw foot bath. The breakfast buffet is a mind boggling selection of cuisine from just about every planet in the galaxy – so much breakfast!!!
There are a number of colonial style mansions in Georgetown which have been converted into restaurants and event spaces. We walked about 200 metres from the Eastern & Oriental to Thirty Two at the Mansion for a cocktail party on our first night there. The organisers had secured fancy costumes in the style of colonial times which we could dress up in and have our photographs taken. The dresses are huge hoop skirt styles just like from the movie The King and I, which interestingly, was filmed on Penang and not Siam at all! My man does not do dressing up, so – no photo’s for me (hashtag sad face). The food at Thirty Two was a lovely introduction to the flavours we would be enjoying for the next five days. Spicy noodles, spicy prawns, spicy sate – SPICY everything!
The tour we had booked was to travel on the funicular up to Penang Hill but flooding from typhoon Damrey, which had swept past the island a few weeks prior to our arrival had damaged infrastructure so Penang Hill was closed. Our replacement tour was a visit to the famous Spice Farm and we added Entopia Butterfly Garden and the Tropical Fruit Farm to our itinerary for the day. We travelled by coach and enjoyed colourful explanations from our guide about how the island was acquired by Captain Light on behalf of the English in a dodgy transaction including and unfulfilled promise of protection. A little bit of history – Captain Light married the Siamese Princess Martina, had four children and one of these children founded Adelaide in South Australia.
Tropical Fruit Farm
The Tropical Fruit Farm is a model orchard with many varieties of tropical fruit trees and passionfruit vines which are all grown using organic farming practices. It was fascinating to listen to the guide who took us around the terraced orchard. Jeff and I used to own a fruit and vegetable shop back in the day so the exotic fruit were familiar to us and it was so lovely to see them growing in their own habitat. A couple of the people on the tour are passionate about growing organic vegetables and fruit and their questions added huge value because of the additional information the guide told us. Here is a list of all the different plants and trees which are grown on the fruit farm . At the end of our guided tour, we were taken to an open air cafe and served our choice of tropical juice and exotic fruit which had been grown on the orchard. I chose a tropical mix because I couldn’t decide and Jeff had a delicious blend of pineapple and cinnamon.
Our next stop was Entopia the Butterfly Garden which I strongly suspected would be something more suitable for kids. This is a massive enclosure with mezzanine levels and a man made garden of waterfalls, fallen logs, caves, ponds and rocks which are home to multiple species of tropical plants. Entopia harbours over 15,000 butterfly’s which flutter around you as you walk through the enclosure. There are also many species of reptiles and insects on display. The learning centre inside the main building gives kids the opportunity for some hands on learning about the life of insects – we lost one of our guys in there because – distracted by ants nests.
The Spice Farm was the highlight of the days’ tour for me. I am a herb geek and really interested in the healing and medicinal properties of herbs and spices. The Farm covers 8 acres and includes rain forest, children’s play areas and even a Reflexology Path. Smooth river rocks have been fixed into the pathway so that your feet get a work out as you walk along it. Before our guide led us through the gardens, we enjoyed a very relaxed and delicious meal in the restaurant which overlooked the ocean.
There are a number of beautiful, fine dining restaurants in George Town. We did our best to dine at as many as we could during our stay – you know, in the interest of good research. The options include Indigo at the Blue Mansion, Farquhar Mansion, 1885, McAlister Mansion, Chin’s and many more. Lots of different cuisine’s are available including Asian, French, Italian, European and Contemporary.
We enjoyed a traditional High Tea at 1885, the restaurant is in the original section of the Eastern & Oriental, named obviously because of it’s date of establishment. Farquhar Mansion, with it’s contemporary French and Italian cuisine, was our choice for dinner. We had a table of 12 in the upstairs private dining room – so stunning. The walls and ceiling of our dining room were covered with a quirky mix of art. Other dining rooms were decorated in completely different styles, from minimalist white to chandelier lit. Each room has it’s own unique character and atmosphere.
Here are my 5 suggestions for the best things to do in Penang (especially if you are a food lover!):
- Book in with Pearly Kee for a Nyonya Cooking experience. This is her website . We paid a $10US deposit to book via paypal and the balance on the day. We also bought her two books on the day.
- Visit the Spice Farm and enjoy lunch at the Restaurant there. It’s worth getting a guided tour because you can learn so much about the history of the island and how to use the spices.
- Book into one of the Mansions for dinner. We heard lovely reports about McAlister, Indigo and we completely savoured every mouthful at Farquhar Mansion.
- Do High Tea. We loved the old world High Tea at 1885 and most of the Mansions have their own versions.
- Get some Reflexology Massage. We went on word of mouth recommendation from a few people we spoke to at the E&O and there were several great reports. After 90 minutes of foot massage we floated out.