There is no better way to discover a destination than to rub shoulders with the locals and get some retail therapy under your belt in the same way that they do – at their local markets. Like many places in southeast Asia, Malaysia boasts markets aplenty, selling everything from fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and fish, to ready prepared local meals, household goods, clothes, shoes, CDs, DVDs and more! What’s more these markets are often also fantastic places to pick up snacks or meals and provide nourishment for more shopping too of course!
Penang is no exception, and while it may also be famous as a UNESCO world heritage listed city for its architecture and colonial buildings, it’s markets are not to be missed and as much part of the attraction as anything else. Here are a few suggestions for market initiation in the island’s capital of Georgetown.
Just like anywhere, Georgetown’s Chinatown offers an experience of its own, and shopping is an integral part of that. Retail spills onto the bustling streets and the vendors here have everything you could want to buy – and some you probably won’t – like jade stones, traditional costumes, crystals, herbs, traditional Chinese medicines and even some genuine antiques. Chinese ‘kopitiam’ coffee shops also dot the area and are worth popping into to soak up the local atmosphere; elsewhere you will find traditional temples, antique shops and a real taste of the culture and history of the original Chinese settlers to the Georgetown area, whose pre-war shophouses remain largely intact and as they were. Delve a little deeper and you will find old tradesmen still at work, uninfluenced by modernisation – think traditional lantern makers, shoe makers, joss stick makers and signage engravers. Seeing them at work is somewhat of a step into Georgetown’s more ancient past.
Well known Chowrasta market, which runs along Jalan Penang road, is your destination of choice if you are looking for good, fresh food. Not only are the prices lower than most places in Penang, this market stocks a great selection of true local tastes – from Ghee Hiang biscuits to fresh nutmeg and preserved fruits. A second-hand bookseller is at work upstairs and worth a visit for a browse through his collections.
If you want to shock your senses with a sudden array of colour, head to Little India, a place that’s not too far off the mark of bazaars in India itself. On a number of roads around the Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling road, expect Indian spices, jewellery, saris and more in every shade imaginable. You will certainly get a different kind of shopping experience in the area, and the chance to discover more about the Indian settlers who declared the area home when Penang became a trading post years ago.
Local crafts are shown off at their best at the Little Penang Street Market on Upper Penang Road – but you will have to time it right, since the market only takes place once a month, on the last Sunday. Jewellery, spices, wood carvings, traditional costumes and a whole host of other novelties are all catered for here. The vendors at this market are carefully vetted so you will know you are getting the real deal, something that has been made by hand by a genuine craftsman. Alongside the market stalls themselves you will also find art galleries, live performances, book readings, exhibitions and activities for children like finger painting and learning to make paper bags from recycled items, all in what becomes rather like a carnival atmosphere.
The whole concept for the Little Penang Street Market was born out of the desire of a group of friends to bring art and ethnic crafts onto the streets and back into the hands of the people, not just limited to the elite who could afford them – and it seems to have worked.
Penang is only a few hours by bus or car from Kuala Lumpur. There’s also a train line and excellent flight connections for those really in a hurry.
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