Penang is also known as “The Pearl of The Orient”. It is a small island in the Straits of Malacca, west of Peninsula Malaysia. The island is full of surprises, with lush tropical forests, rolling hills, sandy beaches, a rich culture of a true multiracial society with international residences, prewar buildings in the heart of George Town dating back to the eighteenth century, modern high rise condominiums, and a diversity of food culture and culinary scenes. It is an island with many different languages. English is widely spoken by Penang people, or most fondly known as “Penangites”.
On my recent trip to Penang, I further explore the fascinating food scenes and building architectures in old part George Town, and went on a ferry ride to a tiny island off the east coast of Penang island, called Pulau Jerejak. “Pulau” is a Malay word for island.
The Straits Collection is probably one of the most exciting private, boutique accommodation in the heart of heritage George Town. A sign of many great changes to come in the old part of George Town, with passionate investors bringing their ideas and creativity to give the city a fresh new look of world class standard and comfort, and experiences of the colonial past.
The Straits Collection is part of the business Brand Bon Ton, owned and operated by an Australian woman, Narella McMurtrie, who has lived in Malaysia for over 20 years and married to a Malaysian man. Their other Bon Ton’s boutique accommodation is in Langawi Island, called the Temple Tree. It is definitely on my to-visit and stay list in Langkawi.
I am certainly impressed with the changes that are happening in the old part of George Town. There is a boutique art studio directly across The Straits Collection Armenian Street, which is worth a visit. I decided to take an afternoon tea at the hotel’s cafe, Kopi Cine, which was really charming. I had a pot of Earl Grey tea with a palm sugar layered ice cream.
Before I head off on my heritage exploration trail, I browsed the coffee shop. The renovation was tastefully done with most of the old part of the building untouched, and some rustic old furnishing.
Not too far from The Straits Collection, there are other western cafes, such as Amelie and Edelweiss.
Let me move to a different part of Penang; where it is more modern, more commercialised and industralised and at the same time more green and more blue. That is the east and south-east coast of Penang island. There is a private jetty with daily ferry ride between Penang island and Jerejak island. Jerejak island is tiny and densely covered with lush tropical rainforest, with a small hotel/resort, Jerejak Rainforest Resort.
The ferry ride cost only MYR$25 return or MYR$35 return with an Asian buffet lunch at the hotel’s restaurant. It is a short 10 minutes ride, with picturesque view towards Penang island with rolling hills, Penang bridge and part of mainland in the other direction, and the greens of Jerejak island. I felt like I have been transported away from the hustle and bustle of the busy part of Penang island, to a quiet paradise island on Jerejak.
Most Penangites have never step foot on Jerejak, just like me. Why? Lots of stories were told about the island. Like, it was haunted with unrest spirits or it was infested with venomous snakes. I told myself, I will never find out if I don’t set foot on the island. Thus, my little exploration to the tiny island. Has that changed my mind? The answer is Yes. It is a lovely getaway from busy Penang island. And, it is safe. I came across some native wildlife – like, giant monitor lizards and long tailed macaque monkeys, and fortunately no mangrove snakes!
Jerejak island has a long history. The island was also known locally as The Alcatraz of Malaysia. It used to house inmates in a high security prison between 1969 and 1993. Before Jerejak was a prison island, it was used as a quarantine and health inspection centre by the British in the early 1900. The centre is used to screen immigrants planning to settle in Penang island. The centre was further used to house in-patients with leprosy and tuberculosis during an outbreak in 1930.
It was rumoured that the German used the island as a naval base during WWII for their submarine, which sank a Russian naval vessel. There is a Russian cemetery on the east side of Jerejak island. I was told part of the damaged sunken Russian vessel is still there. Fascinating, isn’t it?