Journeys through History in Georgetown
Another day jam-packed with exotic adventures awaited guests aboard Silversea’s elegant Silver Shadow today, as she arrived at her second port of call on this 12-day journey through the heart of Southeast Asia.
As I ate breakfast in my suite, the coastline of Georgetown, Malaysia came into view. Situated on the northeastern coast of Penang, its shoreline looks remarkably like that of Honolulu, Hawaii. With its tall, whitewashed skyscrapers, azure-blue seas and gently rising mountains that frame the city, Georgetown could double as Waikiki in a film.
Penang Island itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and to make the most of my time here, I chose to participate in one of the five shore excursions that Silversea offers: the 7.5-hour long Penang Highlights (PEN-B). At $159 per person, it is the most expensive tour that Silversea offers here, but also the most comprehensive.
Other available excursions:
- Penang Island Overview (PEN-A). 4.5 hours, $49 per person
- Georgetown Trishaw & Tea (PEN-C). 4.5 hours, $89 per person.
- Penang Hill & Temple (PEN-D). 4 hours, $79 per person.
- Penang Spice Trail (PEN-E). 4 hours, $89 per person.
Here’s why I try to do as many shore excursions as my budget allows on cruises like this where the majority of the ports of call are new to me: it provides you with an excellent overview of the local culture and history while, in most cases, taking you to places and sights that you otherwise wouldn’t know about. When I return to a port of call I’ve been to, I feel more comfortable doing the independent thing. On a first visit, however, I like locals to show me around.
I also appreciate how Silversea structures its excursions. You’re never crammed into a coach that’s filled to capacity. In fact, our coach this morning had so many empty seats that most couples chose to sit separately, each occupying one window. Guides speak excellent English (which may, naturally, be accented), and the transportation that is arranged is always the best available.
I always feel like Silversea’s excursions are a good value. Today was a perfect example of that: for $159, we were able to visit half a dozen different attractions spread throughout Georgetown and outside the city, along with an authentic Malaysian lunch at a local resort. If you break it down into hours, the entire tour only costs $20 per hour. That, to me, is a great deal.
Our guide today was an absolutely incredible man named Yap. Yap had a penchant for telling stories, belting out lines from musicals, and poking good-natured fun at guests and our Silversea escorts from the ship. Even my allergy to nuts became a topic of conversation. “Aaron has…no nuts!”, he said as he rattled off a list of guests’ dietary requirements before breaking out into uncontrollable laughter at the linguistic faux pas he’d just committed. “I’m sorry, Aaron” he said, “My English language just runs away from me!”
If Yap was the entertainment between stops, the places we visited were equally as memorable. There was the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, showcasing over 1,000 antiques in a location that combines local Malaysian, Chinese and British influences. Numerous movies have been filmed here (so I have been told).
From there, we set out to the Tropical Spice Garden in nearby Teluk Bahang. This has some pretty uneven surfaces with very decent inclines that isn’t listed in the description on the Silversea website, and a few folks from our ship had a tough time negotiating the final climb to enjoy some refreshing tea in a gazebo nestled in the jungle. However, everyone did make it. Despite the jaw-dropping heat, I really enjoyed hearing about the medicinal properties of many of the plants at the spice gardens. Most spices weren’t used to flavour foods; they were used much in the same way as prescription drugs nowadays, designed to cure a variety of ailments and maladies.
Lunch was at a local resort overlooking the Batu Ferringhi Beach, and included numerous local specialties along with complimentary beer, wine or soft drinks. Those with dietary restrictions were accommodated remarkably well. In our group, we had allergies or intolerances to nuts, gluten, pepper, and a preference for no pork. The restaurant managed to come up with a set menu that would satisfy all of us – and it was delicious.
Our final stops were two Buddhist temples: one Thai, one Burmese. At Wat Chayamangkalaram – or Temple of the Reclining Buddha, for short – you can see the massive Reclining Buddha that was built in 1958 to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of Buddha.
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