Georgetown, Malaysia

Georgetown, Malaysia…A World Heritage Site

And you thought Georgetown was a chic district in Washington, D.C.!  Named after King George III, the Malaysian version was founded as a trading post for the British East India Company in 1786.  It is now the capital of the state of Penang in Malaysia and is considered the most livable city in that country.  Located on Penang Island just off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia, it is easily accessible by ferry and is a worthwhile stop on your journey up the Malay Peninsula from Singapore to Bangkok.  Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique cultural and architectural features, Georgetown offers visitors a kaleidoscope of Islamic, British Colonial and Malay treasures.

Evening Street Scene, Georgetown, Malaysia

Evening Street Scene, Georgetown, Malaysia

St. George's Church, Georgetown, Malaysia

St. George’s Church, Georgetown, Malaysia

Easily Walkable

Anyone in reasonably good physical condition should be able to easily walk to the major sights in Georgetown.  I began my walking tour at the Hotel Sentral, a great place to stay which will be featured in our next Awesome Accommodations article.  My first stop was the nearby Komtar shopping complex, which also houses the main bus terminal, located at the center of the city.  The 65 story Komtar tower is the largest building in Penang and has four floors dedicated to a shopping mall with two department stores and many shops…a great place to look for some unique gifts and souvenirs.  Some of the most popular items sought by tourists are Batik, a handcrafted fabric with elegant designs highly prized by fashionistas, ceramic pottery, beaded shoes for women and capal, the traditional Malay sandals for men.

School Boys in Penang, Malaysia

School Boys in Penang, Malaysia

Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown, Malaysia

Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown, Malaysia

Many Historic Sites

Heading east toward the waterfront you will come to the Ferry Terminal on the coastal road known as Weld Quay where you can catch a boat to Butterworth on the mainland.  In this area you will find a conglomeration of architecture, including modern high-rises, Chinese temples and shops and historic European trading houses.  The nearby Malayan Railway Building with its clock tower is a classic example of the heritage buildings that dot Georgetown.  A little farther along is the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower and the remnants of Fort Cornwallis.  The fort served as a British military and administrative conclave as far back as the 1700s.  Heading west along the waterfront you will come to the Esplanade, a large grassy park often filled with boys flying kites.  Looking across the green you will see the City Hall and Town Hall, both historic buildings dating back to the 1800s which help make Georgetown a world heritage site.  Interspersed along your walking tour you will see many other historic treasures, including St. George’s Church built in 1818, the old colonial Court House Building, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Kapitan Kling Mosque.  If time permits, you’ll want to visit the Penang Islamic Museum and the Penang Museum and Art Gallery.  As you can see, Georgetown on Penang Island off the coast of Malaysia is a cornucopia of culture that you will not want to miss during your visit to this beautiful country.

Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock Tower, Georgetown

Queen Victoria Jubilee Clock Tower, Georgetown

Colonial Building in Historic Center, Georgetown

Colonial Building in Historic Center, Georgetown

Hotel Capitol, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A Great Location

Just a short walk from Pudu Sentral, the main bus terminal in Kuala Lumpur, I found a wonderful hotel where an elegant room was waiting just for me without even having a reservation.  Hotel Capitol is located on Jalan Bukit Bintang, one of the major roads in KL, lying in the Bukit Bintang district which is known for its restaurants, shopping and entertainment.  One could easily walk to most of the major sights in KL from the hotel, including the Petronas Twin Towers, the KL Tower, the National Mosque and the old KL Railway Station, not to mention the many museums, shopping plazas and markets dotting the city.  In addition, the hotel is only a 30 minute ride from the ultra modern Kuala Lumpur International Airport on the high speed rail line.

Hotel Capitol Entrance, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hotel Capitol Entrance, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hotel Capitol, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hotel Capitol, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Elegant Decor 

The large, beautifully appointed room was fresh and clean and had a spectacular view of the city through large floor to ceiling windows.  To my surprise, after getting into bed for the night I looked out the window and saw the Petronas Twin Towers all lit up in a sparkling display…a truly stunning sight!  The room had one queen bed, a large, modern bathroom, a desk and a mini bar with free coffee and tea service.  Wi-Fi access was free and for a small fee, wired high speed internet was available in the room.  After a frenetic walking tour of the city, it was nice to return to my quiet, relaxing, comfortable room.

Room at the Hotel Capitol, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Room at the Hotel Capitol, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Bathroom at the Hotel Capitol, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Bathroom at the Hotel Capitol, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Reasonably Priced 

All of this came for the price of $82, and while this did not include breakfast, there were two dining options available within the facility.  Another nice amenity for those traveling by car…parking is free.  This excellent value for such an elegant hotel qualifies it for inclusion on our list of Awesome Accommodations on Blue Orb Travel.  The Hotel Capitol in Kuala Lumpur met all of the standards I look for in lodging.  It was safe, clean and comfortable.  The location was ideal and the staff could not have been more welcoming, friendly and helpful.  I can highly recommend the Hotel Capitol for your next visit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

Night View of Petronas Twin Towers from Hotel Capitol Room

Night View of Petronas Twin Towers from Hotel Capitol Room

Day View of Petronas Twin Towers from Hotel Capitol Room

Day View of Petronas Twin Towers from Hotel Capitol Room

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A Moderate Islamic Country

Just a pleasant six hour bus ride north of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur is both an interesting and a beautiful city that should be on the itinerary for any visit to Southeast Asia.  Perhaps best known for its spectacular Petronas Twin Towers, KL, as it is affectionately known, is also a wonderful example of a welcoming capital city in a moderate Islamic country.  After checking into my hotel and purchasing my bus ticket to Georgetown for the next day I took a walking tour of the city with a fellow from Germany who I’d met on the bus.  Marten had been to KL before and was a great travel guide.

The KL Tower and Petronas Twin Towers Dominate the Skyline

The KL Tower and Petronas Twin Towers Dominate the Skyline

Bridge over Muddy Water, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Bridge over Muddy Water, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Petronas Twin Towers

We started out with the number one attraction, the Petronas Twin Towers, which were completed in 1998.  At a height of 1,483 feet and 88 floors, the towers were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004 when they were surpassed by Taipei 101 in Taiwan.  The towers are connected by a skybridge at the 41st and 42nd floors which is not actually fastened to the main tower structures.  Instead, it is designed to slide in and out of the towers when they sway during high winds to prevent the bridge from breaking.  It is truly a dazzling spectacle when all the lights are shining from the towers at night!

Petronas Twin Towers with Connecting Skybridge, Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Twin Towers with Connecting Skybridge, Kuala Lumpur

John in the Lobby of the Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur

John in the Lobby of the Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur

The National Mosque

The city was founded in 1857 where the muddy waters of the Klang and Gombak Rivers come together, and in Malay the term Kuala Lumpur means ‘muddy confluence’.  We walked past the KL Tower, another landmark pinnacle in the city, and across the river to visit the National Mosque.  This modern structure built in 1965 features a 239 feet high minaret and an umbrella shaped roof and it can accommodate 15,000 people!  Visitors can enjoy the reflecting pools and fountains outside the Mosque and are welcome to visit the interior after donning the appropriate apparel.

The National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Minaret and Reflecting Pools at National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur

Minaret and Reflecting Pools at National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur

The Old KL Railway Station

Only a short walk from the mosque is the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, completed in 1911 and now replaced by the newer KL Sentral Station nearby.  Commuter trains still stop at the old station, but the last real train rolled through in 2001.  The distinctive Mughal architecture (the Mughal style of India) is definitely worth a peek.  Several museums, such as the National Museum and the Islamic Arts Museum, are located nearby rounding out the important tourist attractions in this section of the city.

The Old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

The Old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

Old KL Railway Station Displaying Mughal Architecture

Old KL Railway Station Displaying Mughal Architecture

The Markets of Kuala Lumpur

Among the most fun and interesting aspects of Kuala Lumpur are the markets, the most notable of which is the Central Market.  This two story and thankfully now air conditioned structure was built in 1936 and has become a cultural center featuring many artists and craftsmen.  There are many other street markets and night markets throughout the city, which I found to be a lot more interesting than the modern malls.  Be sure to return for my next posting where I’ll provide a full report and review of an Awesome Accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, the Hotel Capitol.

Street Market, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Street Market, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Night Market, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Night Market, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Exploring the Malay Peninsula

From Singapore to Bangkok

An Excellent Network of Ground Transportation 

The two Southeast Asia gateway cities of Singapore and Bangkok, which lie at either end of the Malay Peninsula, are connected by an efficient, inexpensive, safe and comfortable network of ground transportation.  I had been wanting to check out this route for a number of years and finally had the opportunity to go by bus and train from Singapore in the south to Bangkok in the north, with overnight stays in the Malaysian cities of Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown/Penang.  I met a number of other travelers, including solos, groups and families, following the same trail and it turned out to be a great way to experience the culture and history of this interesting region.  As per my usual routine, I had made no reservations for transportation or lodging ahead of time, but had no difficulty in securing either along the way.

Bus Leaving from Golden Mile Complex, Singapore

Bus Leaving from Golden Mile Complex, Singapore

Logistics 

While travelers could just as easily start at the huge, but visitor friendly train station up in Bangkok and head south, I began my journey down in Singapore going north.  The trip only took me three days, but of course it would have been nice to have had more time to explore some of the sights along the way, such as Melaka and the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia or Phuket on the Southern Peninsula of Thailand.  After carefully researching all the alternatives I chose to take the bus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and then from there to Georgetown.  I then took the overnight train from Penang to Bangkok.  A good starting point for planning your trip is a visit to the website, The Man in Seat 61, one of our featured links, which has all the details on ground transportation in Southeast Asia and throughout the world for that matter.  I found that the detailed information described on this website was factually correct, reliable and up to date…spot on, as they say…and I used it as a guide during my entire trip through Southeast Asia.

Inside Bus from Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown, Malaysia

Inside Bus from Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown, Malaysia

Booking Your Tickets

When visiting Southeast Asia, I recommend that you fly in and out with an ‘open jaw’ ticket, arriving in Singapore, as I did, and flying home from Bangkok, or vice versa.  This precludes the need for backtracking, saving both time and money.  While I was exploring Singapore, I stopped at the Golden Mile Complex on Beach Road, a shopping mall where there are many bus companies standing by to book your seat on a coach heading north.  For $32 I reserved a seat on a bus with Five Stars Tours (Update: Five Stars Tours abruptly closed all operations in January 2014) leaving the next morning for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The six hour ride took us across the Straits of Johor and on through some beautiful country.  Arriving in Kuala Lumpur around 3 PM gave me plenty of time to explore this city and get my bus ticket for the next day heading on to Georgetown/Penang.  On that leg of the trip the five hour bus ride was comfortable and included rest stops along the way, including a stop at Ipoh near the Cameron Highlands.  The train is an equally good alternative for traveling between Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown.

Ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown, Malaysia

Ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown, Malaysia

A Town Called Butterworth in Malaysia?

Confused about Penang vs. Georgetown vs. Butterworth?  Well, here’s the low-down.  Penang is a state on the northwest coast of Malaysia which consists of an island, known as Penang Island, and a portion which is situated on the mainland.  Butterworth (love that name!) is a city on the mainland part of the state of Penang, which has a bus and train station and a ferry landing all within walking distance of one another. Georgetown is a city on the Penang Island part of the state of Penang and it has a bus station and ferry landing, but no train service.  The most popular way in and out of Georgetown on Penang Island is through Butterworth on the mainland.  The 20 minute ferry crossing costs about 40 cents for pedestrians going from Butterworth to Georgetown and is free going the other way.  Ferries leave every 10 to 20 minutes from about 6 AM to 1 AM.

Inside the Night Train to Bangkok, Thailand

Inside the Night Train to Bangkok, Thailand

Night Train to Bangkok

In my case I arrived in Butterworth from Kuala Lumpur by bus.  I walked to the nearby train station to purchase my ticket on the night train to Bangkok for the following day.  Then I took the ferry across to Georgetown for the rest of the day and overnight.  The following day, I took the ferry back across to Butterworth to catch the train.  The ticket for a sleeper on the train cost $34 and the train left at 2:20 PM, arriving at the Hua Lamphong Railway Station (the main station in Bangkok) at 12:20 PM the next day.  So, what was it like spending almost 24 hours on a train traveling up the Southern Peninsula of Thailand?  It was actually quite pleasant and relaxing with some spectacular scenery along the way.  I enjoyed meeting a number of other travelers and had a good night’s sleep before arriving in Bangkok the next morning.  It was also my first introduction to the sometimes painfully slow speed of the trains in Southeast Asia, compared to the express trains of Europe or the bullet train in Japan.  While the departure and arrival times were reliable, there were times that the train seemed to be just pooping along.  In the end this ate into some of my allotted time, which I eventually had to make up for by taking several unplanned in-region flights.

Scenery Along Train Route to Bangkok, Thailand

Scenery Along Train Route to Bangkok, Thailand

Coming Next:  Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown with reviews of two Awesome Accommodations.