George Town is unlike anywhere else. When you think about it, it’s not often that you can find colonial architecture, floating markets and grungy street art all within the same city – yet somehow, in this small and sleepy Malaysian island town, it works. For me, George Town’s diversity gives it a distinct culture that couldn’t be found elsewhere – whether in Asia or in the rest of the world – and it manages to feel both refined and edgy, both laid-back and energetic at the same time.
More traditional Far-Eastern architecture can be found in the Kapitan Keling Mosque, which is right in the centre of the city, and just north of the tourist hub of Armenian Street. What makes this mosque stand out are its somewhat ordinary surroundings, which consist of low, colourful houses and shops. Sitting just outside this phenomenal building, you can catch a sense of the everyday life in the town.
The most famous and unique aspect of George Town, however, is the creative street art which can be found dotted all over the city – although concentrates itself into Armenian Street. If you buy any map of George Town, it is sure to include almost a treasure-map of all the main street art pieces, and where to find them. Following the trail means also that you are bound to come across many of the main sights in the town. What makes this art so different from any other street art is that it uses real-life objects (like this bike, or a set of swings) to bring it to life.
If you follow Armenian Street all the way along to the coast, you are dropped straight out onto Chew Jetty – a collection of market stalls, houses and even cafes and restaurants, that are built out into the water. Aside from the picturesque views of the bay, wandering through this market gives you the chance to buy souvenirs, art pieces and also chat to some of the locals who live there.
Little India is an area of George Town that encompasses the Indian community of the place. If you take a walk through this area, you will find traditional and local shops, market stalls and restaurants. Even this area, so close to the tourist attractions of Armenian Street and Chew Jetty, has a totally different atmosphere, architecture and sense of culture.
For lunch, I would recommend the Black Kettle cafe and restaurant on Beach Street. Although slightly pricey compared to the relatively low prices of food in George Town, it has a beautifully decorated interior, and a large menu serving both traditional Asian meals and more westernized snacks.
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