Kuala Lumpur was quite a contrast to what we had all seen and experienced in Singapore, and after experiencing such extreme cities, I had no idea what to expect of Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia. We flew here on Friday morning, and naturally our first idea was to wander around the hotel area to find some food. Actually it may be significant to note that there were many differences in our hotels. One of the striking and uncomfortable things about the hotel in KL was the warnings in our hotel rooms. There were warnings about cockroaches, guests who have been drugged and had their valuables stolen, and purse snatching. Despite these things that were shocking for just a small time, I’d say we all agree that the hotel there was much better than our hotel in Georgetown. The people there were so hospitable and friendly, we all spent a decent amount of time studying in the lobby and chatting with the employees there. Here, in Georgetown, the hotel staff were a little less helpful. The facilities are nice and there are no warnings about crime or critters. I’m not sure whether that is because these issues don’t exist here (or aren’t frequent enough to warn guests about) or if the hotel chooses to hide those issues. We know that Georgetown is a more “touristy” city, but there are some other differences worth noting.
– Though there were many in KL, it seems there are more women here in full niqab outfits in Georgetown. This country is primarily Islamic, so this should come as no surprise, but it seems more extreme here. Specifically, when we were waiting for a taxi outside of the Beach Bayview hotel today for around 40 minutes, we noted that every single female (besides one Chinese woman) who arrived at the hotel was in a full niqab. Some were garnished with sparkling cuffs or subtle designs, and one even chose to have her eyes covered.
– Walking Georgetown is just a little bit simpler. There are still rare crosswalks and insane drivers, but it seems that people drive slower here and that allows us more time to cross the street. There is a strange lack of sidewalks though. To make up for this, many streets are fashioned with buildings that have 5 foot walkways. This would be effective, but since many of the buildings are older and not in the best condition, you will notice many walkways blocked off. Some blocks have whole five foot walkway corridors that are separated between businesses which essentially defeats the purpose of these walkways completely.
– People here are much friendlier, in my opinion. With the exception of the hotel staff at the Dorsett Regency, I never really felt welcome in Kuala Lumpur. People stared often, restaurants weren’t as inviting, and it seemed that people had a real disinterest in having visitors. Within the first hour or so of being in Penang, we had already been welcomed by an old man loading up his scooter on the street. The local people were interested in asking where we were from and were always so surprised and excited when we said The United States. At Batu Feringghi today, the people who lived in the surrounding islands and on the beach we’re quick to have conversations with us and tell us the best places to see before we leave. This may be because Georgetown is more accustomed to visitors.
– Chinatown here is totally different than any other Chinatown I’ve seen! Finally! A Chinatown with genuine shops owned by older Chinese residents who live and work in their shop buildings. People who have pride in their work and don’t sell knock off Gucci bags to cheap tourists. It was refreshing to walk through this quiet and calm neighborhood.
– The scenery and energy in Georgetown is a hundred times more positive here. The place contains so much history and beauty, it is impossible not to love it here. The huge commercial malls and condo buildings haven’t yet taken over the skyline and it is easy to find incredible views of the Malacca Strait. There are plenty activities here and just an overall pleasant attitude that can’t be found in Kuala Lumpur.
– Finally, it’s quieter here. A lot of the shopping areas and market streets close in the early evening, around 6:00pm or so. On the other hand, many of the food and dinner hawker centers don’t even begin to open until 6pm. It’s best to be prepared for a late dinner in this town.