A view of the mainland from Penang

The D&O Diary’s Asia Pacific tour concluded earlier this week with a stop on the Malaysian island of Penang, which is located just off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. The island’s rich cultural heritage and legendary food made Penang a particularly enjoyable place to visit as my last stop before heading home.

The primary purpose of my visit to Penang was to meet with the attorney JJ Chan and his colleagues at the Chan Ban Eng & Co law firm. I have been working on some collaborative projects with JJ over the last several years and this visit was a chance for the two of us to catch up and to put together some further plans. I enjoyed the chance to meet with JJ and his colleagues again, all of whom were very welcoming and very generous with their time. Throughout my visit, I was treated as a very special guest, for which I am very grateful.

Here’s a picture taken with JJ at the restaurant at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, where I stayed during my visit. (The picture at the top of the post was taken from the balcony of my room at the hotel.) This picture actually recreates a picture that JJ and I took the first time that I visited Penang. We also enjoyed great meal at the restaurant, which was accompanied by the first-rate wines that JJ brought to the dinner, part of the many gifts and other gestures of generosity JJ made during my visit.

The coastal areas of Penang are very densely populated, and there is a great deal of recent, modern development. But the most attractive feature of Penang is its preserved cultural area in the capital city of George Town, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historic area contains a treasure trove of well-preserved colonial-era architecture, with a mix of British, Chinese, Indian, and Malay influences.

This is Love Lane, in the preserved heritage district in George Town. I asked Phoebe Ng, one of JJ’s law partners and one of my hosts during my visit, why it is called Love Lane. Phoebe, who is a very modest person, laughed and covered her eyes. OK, it was a dumb question.
Among many other things, the heritage district in George Town is known for its characteristic street art. It is very interesting just to stroll around the preserved area.

As great as the rich architectural and cultural heritage in George Town’s central district is, the best reason to go to Penang is the food. The food in Penang is amazing and I was fortunate to be able to sample a broad range of Penang’s offerings.

Here is a picture with Phoebe, taken in front of the Restoran Hameediyah, a renowned restaurant in the Lebuh Campbell district. The restaurant was honored recently in a visit by the King and Queen.
The restaurant is famous for its nasi kandar offerings (dishes served with rice and a variety of side dishes). The restaurant is also famous for its murtabah, which is a pan-fried stuffed pastry. (The murtabah are pictured in the upper right of this picture). The food was absolutely fantastic. I should add that this pictures depicts lunch for three.
After the amazing lunch, we went to Toh Soon Cafe, just a few steps up the street. The cafe is known for its charcoal grilled toast, which is served with a soft-boiled (“Half boiled”) egg. You dip the toast in egg, and wash it all down with a beverage that is a mix of coffee and tea. The combination is quite tasty.
For lunch the next day, we went to New Lane Beef Koay Teow Soup, which is famous for its beef noodles. Here, Jocelyn Lim and Pheobe Ng are enjoying the various offerings. When Phoebe placed the seafood noodle dish on the table (the darker colored dish furthest to the right), she said “This will change your life.” Quite a prognostication, but not too much of an exaggeration. The food was fabulous. 
After the beef noodles, we went to the shop next door, where Phoebe convinced me to taste some durian. For those of you who have never encountered durian, it has a very strong, pungent, off-putting odor. I frankly could never have imagined myself eating durian. It is a measure of how much I trust Phoebe that she convinced me to try it. As this picture shows, I did in fact eat some of the durian. You can tell how much I am enjoying the experience.
After the durian, we took a long drive to the far side of the island to the community of Balik Pulau, where we had a second lunch of laksa. We tried two kinds of laksa, the classic Penang laksa (known as asam laksa), and a Thai variant served with coconut milk and curry. Absolutely fantastic.
As great as it was to experience Penang’s culture and food, the best part of the visit to Penang was just to see JJ again and to meet with him. As a special treat the first morning of the visit, JJ picked me up in his new car, an Aston Martin. He offered to let me drive it, but I didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to try to right-hand drive.
Here’s a picture taken with JJ at an informal Italian restaurant on the final night of my visit. It was great seeing JJ again.

The next morning I was off to make the journey home. It was a long trip and I was away from home for long time. I had some great experiences and it was particularly great to see old friends and to make new friends as well. Just the same, by the end, it was time to go home. I enjoyed my time in Asia and I look forward to returning again soon.