Thursday, September 12, 2013

Backpacking Itinerary: Planning the Trip to Penang

Allow me to pause for a minute getting all wrapped up writing stories and sorting photos from the three-week backpacking trip to Indonesia. We will make time for those later. For now, let me draft my plans to travel to a place many consider one of the most culturally rich cities of Southeast Asia: Penang, Malaysia.

Penang, Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia
By Marcus Tan | CC BY 2.0

Penang is a popular travel destination in Southeast Asia. Like Malacca and Singapore, Penang has always been one of the most important cities in the historic Malacca Strait. Suffice it to say, I have heard a lot about this island. As I see it, it has increasingly become an injustice to myself that I have not yet traveled to Penang.

So I am going on a short backpacking trip to Penang at the end of this month. Here are the things I plan to experience.

Food

Penang Laksa
Penang's version of the popular noodle soup dish Laksa
By Jonathan Lin | CC BY-SA 2.0

More than anything else, I am most curious about the food. As I learn to appreciate food more, the more "food quests" I go on, and as I obsess more about the rich and diverse culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, the more I come across travel stories about Penang. Thus, in my book, Penang has to be done. I am very curious about Penang cuisine. What are its flavors? Its main ingredients? How does it differ from the rest of Malaysia? From the rest of the Malacca Strait Settlements? Most importantly, however, and I say this in all seriousness, I am very excited to stuff my face silly with all that delicious Penang food.


History and Culture

Peranakan Mansion, Penang
Peranakan Mansion, Penang
By alcuin | CC BY-SA 2.0

One way to understand a region's food is to understand its history and culture. I have found that some of the most popular dishes of a country are really the products of their history and culture. Noodle soup laksa, for example, is the result of the coming together of the cooking traditions and ingredients of the people that have come to settle in the ports of the Malacca Strait. Penang was and continues to be a very important port city in this region. Its capital Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in fact. The Malays, Chinese, Indians, Portuguese, and the British were all here. It is one of the bastions of Peranakan culture, too. The Peranakans are the descendants of the Chinese immigrants who married the local Malays, thereby producing a distinct culture all their own. Who all these people are, where they come from, how they lived, and what they brought to Penang are the things I would like to learn more about.


Nature

monkeybeach
Quiet beaches in Penang. They exist!
© Rica Yulo of Rica's Rucksack (Used with Permission)

Now, nature is not usually associated with Penang. Understandably, many tourists only make it as far as Georgetown or resort central Batu Ferringhi on the northern coast. I cannot blame them, of course. With all the comforts of Georgetown's charming old quarter or Batu Ferrighi's seaside hotels, combined with some of the most delicious foods you can find in Southeast Asia, why would you want to venture out? But I will. I heard that there was some good trekking to be had in Penang National Park located close to the northwest coast of the island. The trek features a couple of quiet beaches at the end as a reward, too. To me, that sounds like a fantastic day trip.


As with any trip I plan, I am terribly excited about traveling to Penang. I am going with a few long-time friends from home, too, so that promises to be very interesting. That's in two weeks. For now, back to regular programming. More Indonesia coming up.


Have you traveled to Penang? Do you have any recommendations on food, tours, activities, daytrips? Spill.


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