Great Penang

Adrian Cheah loves Penang. He brings you interesting insights into the UNESCO heritage city of George Town where he calls home.

Great Penang © Adrian Cheah


More than just fresh oysters at a Penang oyster farm

Penang oyster farm © Adrian Cheah

My early childhood days were filled with family weekends to the beach. We would swim, dig for lala and on occasions, arm ourselves with a screwdriver and hammer to chisel out oysters from rock surfaces. Some days we would also bag a few belangkas (horseshoe crabs) and hai ciau (axe clams). Those were the good old days when the shores of Penang were teeming with life and the waters, pristine.

Continue Reading

Penang Hill – an uplifting experience!

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

A must-see in Penang is the Penang Hill Railway, Keretapi Bukit Bendera, a fascinating little cable train service that lifts you out of the heat and humidity of the coastal plain and up to a fabulous view and cool breezes. OK!, if you are not quick on your feet you can miss a seat, but the majority of passengers stand. Anyway, you see more and have the added fun of travelling upwards at 45 degrees to the landscape.

Continue Reading

Batu Ferringhi – a beach for lovers and dreamers

Batu Ferringgi © Adrian Cheah

I came to Penang for the first time only last July after spending time over the years in Hong Kong, China and India, but mostly in Indonesia. Being a lover of beaches I headed for Batu Feringgi on the north coast and settled at the Parkroyal Hotel. In Indonesia, the beaches at Kuta on Bali and Paragtritis on Java have been ones I have always returned to.

Continue Reading

Stop and smell the spices at Tropical Spice Garden

Tropical Spice Garden © Adrian Cheah

One of Penang's popular attractions is the Tropical Spice Garden which is located in Teluk Bahang, a few minutes drive from Batu Feringgi. For those seeking peace, tranquility and to immerse one's self in the splendour of Mother Nature, this veritable secret garden is the place to be.

Continue Reading

Penang's very own Arcadia in the clouds – Penang Hill

Penang Hill © Adrian Cheah

Penang Hill is the state's foremost hill resort. Although it was originally called Flagstaff Hill, the locals have always affectionately referred to it as Penang Hill or Bukit Bendera. At about 830 metres (2,750 feet) from sea level, the temperature on the hilltop is considerably cooler than the nether lands. On regular weekdays, the hill is pretty quiet and can serve as a recuperative getaway, far from the madding crowd and city heat.

Continue Reading

Kuala Muda fishing village and whispering market

Where fisher folk keep alive a most quaint and unusual tradition of bidding

Kuala Muda whispering market © Adrian Cheah

The political boundary between the states of Penang and Kedah is partly defined by a majestic age-old gift of nature. This is the magnificent Sungai Muda river which meanders quietly but imposingly from the Ulu Muda rainforests deep in the interior of peninsular Malaysia towards the Straits of Malacca.

Continue Reading

Jungles that hide Penang’s forgotten colonial dams

 forgotten colonial dams © Adrian Cheah

The dams of Cherok To’ Kun and Bukit Seraya continue to stand amid encroaching forests in secret testimony to the dedication of their builders and operators from a bygone era.

Continue Reading

KTM Swing Bridge in Prai – a rare engineering novelty in Asia

KTM Swing Bridge © Adrian Cheah

A marvel of engineering, this “swing bridge” is built over the Prai River specifically to allow trains to cross over, connecting the Butterworth Railway Terminal on the northern side to other rail destinations further south in Malaysia. The bridge also opens up occasionally for large barges, ships and ferries that need to pass through along the river. It is operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), the national railway company.

Continue Reading

The surreal vistas of Bukit Katak (Frog Hill)

Frog Hill © Adrian Cheah

Jim Richardson once noted that if you want to be a better photographer, "you should stand in front of more interesting stuff". Richardson is a renowned photographer for the National Geographic Magazine. Many would agree with Richardson and with the advent of social media, it is easy to turn an unknown location like Bukit Katak (Frog Hill) into one of Penang's much sought after Instagrammable hotspots.

Continue Reading

Penang Bird Park – a living sanctuary that houses and protects more than 300 species of birds

Penang Bird Park © Adrian Cheah

When it opened in 1988, the Penang Bird Park was the first man-made bird sanctuary of its kind in Malaysia. Comfortably nestled in a sheltered corner in urban Seberang Jaya, it features some 3,000 birds, consisting of more than 300 local and foreign species.

Continue Reading

Penang Bridge – connecting the island to the mainland

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

Before 1985, transportation between the island and the mainland was solely dependent on the state-owned Penang Ferry Service that plies between Butterworth and George Town. For using the ferry services in Penang, motorists need to pay toll fare while heading to the island. There is no charge for leaving the island.

Continue Reading

Penang ferry service

The famous heritage ride across the Penang Channel

Penang ferry © Adrian Cheah

Probably the most cherished and well-known icon of Penang, this ferry service which carries motor vehicles and foot passengers became operational in 1925, linking Butterworth on the mainland to George Town on the island. Prior to that, the ferries in the form of large boats were meant for goods and people only.

Continue Reading

Bedak sejuk, a trusted beauty secret of our grandmothers

bedak sejuk © Adrian Cheah

At dusk, when women with white sceptre-like masks ventured out of their homes to purchase a snack or visit neighbours, children would gawk while adults would shrug their shoulders in indifference.

Continue Reading

The upside-down tree – Penang's very own Baobab

Penang's Baobab tree © Adrian Cheah

According to African legend, the Baobab wanted to become the most beautiful tree of all. When it realised that this was not possible, it put its head into the ground, so only the roots pointed heavenward. Another legend holds that when the Baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it from moving.

Continue Reading

The legend of the ferocious beast called Nian

Nian © Adrian Cheah

"Nian"' in Mandarin means "year". However, legend has it that Nian was not merely a symbolic representation of the passing year; rather, it was a mythical monster that instilled fear among humans during the New Year. This formidable creature posed such a grave threat that it loomed over the prospect of annihilating the entire human race.

At a loss about what to do, the Emperor sought the counsel of his advisors to devise a strategy for averting this impending calamity. Having devised an infallible plan, the advisors approached Nian and challenged this all-powerful beast to prove of its invincible strength by destroying all other monsters on earth rather than to erase the humans who were obviously no match for it.

Continue Reading

Ang Pow, a packet of good tidings

Ang pow © Adrian Cheah

A monetary gift, straightforward and convenient, garners universal appreciation. The Chinese community worldwide traditionally exchanges red envelopes, known as ang pows, containing money as a gesture of goodwill during significant events like Chinese New Year, birthdays, and weddings. Although this humble offering dates back thousands of years, this modest tradition is still prevalent to this very day.

Continue Reading

History of Little India

Little India, Penang © Adrian Cheah

This meticulously regimented network was among the earliest parts of George Town planned under the administration of Sir Francis Light, the English founder of Penang. The area is hence now referred to as the "Francis Light Grid" – a rectangular network bordered by Leith Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).

Continue Reading

The Sari: Queen of garments

sari © Adrian Cheah

The amazingly versatile sari (or saree) transcends mere fabric – it embodies the rich heritage of traditional South Asia women (and a few men) in countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. It is also a garment that covers all, yet is revealing, enchanting yet unassuming, serene yet sensuous. The sari, with its six yards or more of artistry, is a masterpiece of contradictions, seamlessly transitioning from workwear to leisure attire to a symbol of opulence, all within its elegant drapes.

Continue Reading

The elegant Nyonya kebaya – wearable art that knows no seasons

kebays © Adrian Cheah

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is an oft-quoted maxim about the importance of adapting oneself. Whether or not this bit of wisdom was known to the early Chinese immigrants to Malaysia, some of them eventually married the local folk and adopted Malay customs while remaining quintessentially Chinese in belief and philosophy. The result of this union was the Chinese Peranakan (more commonly known as Babas and Nyonyas), a unique cultural hybrid with a cosmopolitan persona that flourished for centuries throughout Malaysia.

Continue Reading

Bansan – a fresh take on board games and its relevance today

Bansan board game © Adrian Cheah

Board games have a long and fascinating history, dating back thousands of years to ancient civilisations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to the British Museum (britishmuseum.org), the Royal Game of Ur is the oldest playable board game in the world, originating around 4,600 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Although they were once reserved for the elite, over time, board games evolved and spread across different cultures, becoming more accessible and popular among people from all walks of life.

Continue Reading

Penang's Cina Wayang (Chinese opera) – for gods and ghosts

Chinese opera © Adrian Cheah

Growing up in Ayer Itam in the 1970s was so much fun. Living near the wet market was even better, as you could buy food easily at any time of the day. Back then, we would bring our own tiffin carriers and even supply our own eggs to the char koay kak lady or Pak Dollah, the mee goreng uncle. Ah Heng, the rojak man, parked his cart in front of my house. He would string halved green mangoes on a lidi (coconut leaf) stick and top them with rojak sauce and crushed peanuts. Another favourite of mine was the sliced bangkwang (turnip), also topped with rojak sauce and crushed peanuts. Ah Heng eventually gave up the rojak business and sold koay teow th'ng. Everybody knew everybody back then. News even travelled faster than a speeding bullet. Before I could reach home, my mum would have known what I was up to. 

Continue Reading