Rolling the balls in the lion’s mouths

Last month I was lucky enough to spend some time exploring the absurdly photogenic island of Penang and came home with two full cameras, lots of ideas and an overflowing Instagram account…

Just off the west coast of Malaysia this small island is home to a lush national park and beautiful white sand beaches, which made a marvellous start to my little adventure. The geek in me is resisting an urge to reel off facts about the rare meromictic lake, the tropical spice garden (did you know cinnamon trees really do smell of cinnamon?), not to mention the turtle sanctuary and monkey beach. It was all quite lovely and tranquil, especially in contrast to bustling George Town, next on my itinerary. The city centre is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and with it’s beautiful mix of historic tumbledown architecture spanning British colonial, Malay, Chinese and Indian communities, it’s kind of like a noisy Asian Venice. Once I got used to the lack of pavements, I found myself spending days wandering the city, snapping as I went and, of course, taking plenty of stops to eat from the city’s famed hawker stalls and linger over tall glasses of watermelon juice in shaded cafes. Intricate clan houses, temples and restored mansions offered lots of opportunity to cool off and learn a bit about the history and culture of the city. My personal highlights were the curious signs; ‘walk slowly’ superstitiously written across the foot of a staircase, a clan house sign warning visitors not to ‘roll the balls in the lion’s mouths’ …which is a surprisingly satisfying phrase to say, I think it might be my new ‘cellar door.’

After a few sweaty days around the city, I made a little pilgrimage inland to Kek Lok Si, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. All wonderfully kitsch and a bit worn around the edges, I felt right at home. And as a final treat I took a jaunt in a funicular to the top of Penang Hill, 800-ish metres above sea level, with amazing views across the island to the mainland.

I wonder where I’ll end up next…

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