By plane. There are numerous flights daily between Kuala Lumpur and Pulau Penang. One way fare starts at RM60. From the airport to the city centre, it costs about RM45 for a taxi (book a taxi through the taxi counter at the airport); about RM25 for Uber.
There are many accommodations in Georgetown, but we chose to stay in Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel. A dorm bed costs RM30 to RM50 depending on the type of room (plus local government tax of RM1/bed/night); private rooms for two persons start at RM 118 (plus local government tax of RM2/room/night). We booked beds in the Loft Room (RM50/bed), which has its own toilet and shower; other dorm rooms have a shared toilet and shower. Room rates already include breakfast of noodles, eggs, sausages, mashed potatoes, paratha, coffee, tea.
One of the things we look forward to whenever we are in Malaysia is the food! Here are the places we ate at (and recommend) in Georgetown (see red pins on map below):
Red Garden Food Paradise - Indeed a food paradise (hawker centre) that will make you go crazy with the plethora of choices.
Esplanade Park Food Court - Another hawker centre with a lot of food choices.
Gurney Drive Hawker Centre - And another hawker centre...but this is a bit far from the city center. To go to Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, one has to take a taxi or Uber (cheaper than a taxi) or the Rapid Penang Bus 304 (cheaper than Uber).
Restoran Nasi Padang Minang - A self-service eatery that offers a wide array of food that I don't know the names of but are absolutely mouthwatering.
Left to right: Red Garden Food Paradise, Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, and the overwhelming spread at Restoran Nasi Padang Minang
Wan Tan Mee - Try their wan tan mee (wanton noodle soup).
Passion Heart - Try their lemon poppyseed cake a la mode.
China House - Try all their cakes! (And check out the art space on the second floor, too!)
Left to right: Char siu at Wai Kei Cafe, lemon poppy seed cake a la mode from Passion Heart, and the cake spread at China House
Teochew Chendul Stall - A famous roadside stall selling cendol or chendol or chendul, however you want to spell it. What is cendol? Cendol is to Malaysia as halo-halo is to the Philippines.
Lok lok Stall - Pick any of the skewered stuff on display, place it in the boiling pot to cook, and once cooked, put some sauce on it (you will be given a saucer so no worries about double dipping) and enjoy. Don't throw away the sticks, the stall owner will let you know your total bill by counting the sticks (the sticks are color coded; price is from RM0.60 to RM1.80 per stick). This Lok lok stall is across the street from Wan Tan Mee.
Cendol from Teochew Chendul Stall (left) and the Lok lok Stall (right)
I noticed that most of the eateries in Georgetown do not allow you to bring drinks from outside (not even water), thus you have two choices: take a drink after you leave the eatery or hawker centre, or buy from the drink sellers (except for the cafes, drink sellers are usually separate from the food sellers).
Go on a treasure hunt for street art and wrought-iron caricatures by walking or by biking (rent a bike for about RM20/day) around Georgetown. Don't just snap photos of the 52 wrought-iron installations scattered around the city, read it. The installations have anecdotes about the street they are installed in. You can download the Street Art Map from the Tourism Penang website or download the Penang Street Art app (thanks for the tip Mariane!) or do it the old school way—get a Penang Street Art Map from your hotel/hostel.
Street art everywhere (Photo by CM Adlawan)
I don't know anything about architecture but I do know a pretty (and colorful) building when I see one.
Aside from admiring buildings from the outside, you can admire two from the inside (see blue pins on map below):
Cheong Fatt Tze (The Blue Mansion) - There are daily English guided tours at 11AM / 2PM / 330PM. Admission fee is RM17. Since the Blue Mansion is currently a hotel, the tour is limited to just the main house and does not include the two side wings. Nevertheless, I recommend joining this tour to hear the interesting story about the owner of the mansion.
Take a break from walking under the heat of the sun by cooling yourself inside these museums (see green pins on map below).
The Camera Museum - A treat for photography enthusiasts! I was most fascinated with the Pinhole Room and the Obscura Room. The Camera Museum is open daily from 930AM to 630PM. Admission fee is RM20. Guided tours are available every hour from 10AM to 6PM.
Upside Down Museum - Defy gravity! (And don't forget to bring your camera to record this milestone!) The Upside Down Museum is open daily from 845AM to 630PM (730PM on weekends). Admission fee is RM27.
Penang State Museum and Art Gallery - A museum that will give you a glimpse of the old Penang through artifacts, photographs, and paintings. The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery is open from 9AM to 5PM Saturday to Thursday. Admission fee is RM1 only.
Chocolate Museum - The Chocolate Museum is open from 9AM to 6PM daily. Admission is free. Of course! Because the museum, which is a little room that tells you how chocolate is made, will eventually lead you to the Chocolate Shop where you can taste almost all of the products for free and would be too tempted (or too embarrassed!) to leave without buying anything.
Left to right: Cameras on display at the Camera Museum, defying gravity at the Upside Down Museum, and a display in the Penang State Museum
There are many other places to see in Georgetown, but those listed above are what we could squeeze in (except for the Pinang Peranakan Mansion which we missed) in our leisurely three-day stay.
This article is also featured on GPSmyCity. If you find this article useful and plan to use it to explore Georgetown, for a minimal fee, you can download the GPSmyCity iOS app to view it offline and use the GPS-aided map.
We woke up before the crack of dawn and by the time we were ready and waiting by the shore for the pumpboat to show up, the sun was just slowly rising, quietly telling me it's going to be a good day.
It's going to be a good day
We sailed a little after six, but before heading to Balicasag Island we veered in the opposite direction to search for dolphins. We saw not just two, but a pod. They put up an awesome show for us, with one happily doing vertical spins as it moved farther and farther away. If they were happy to see us, we were ecstatic to see them.
After an hour of zigzagging across the sea to get a closer look at the dolphins showing off, we headed to Balicasag Island. There are three snorkeling areas around Balicasag Island: fish sanctuary, sea turtle sanctuary, and the giant clams area. I was dismayed to know that they charged Php 250 per person per sanctuary (too expensive!)...and that doesn't include the snorkel and mask rental (Php 150)! We decided to just check out the giant clams and the sea turtles.
We boarded a small paddle boat and the guide steered our little vessel toward the sea turtle sanctuary. When the guide spotted a pawikan (sea turtle), we all jumped in. I swam around looking for them. In the 30 minutes we were there, I saw about four sea turtles. Then, with difficulty, we hoisted ourselves on the little boat and rowed toward the giant clams area. There we paid little attention to the few giant clams and busied ourselves with the fish.
When the fish didn't want to be fed bread anymore, we again struggled to heave ourselves onto the paddle boat then rowed ashore to board our pumpboat to go to Virgin Island, a sandbar swarming with tourists. We allowed ourselves only a quarter of an hour to explore the sandbar for we had to head back soon to checkout of Dumaluan Beach Resort I.
Dolphin Watching, Balicasag Island, Virgin Island Tour
The moment I stepped on Dumaluan Beach's soft white shore and saw its clear blue waters, I immediately wanted to come back. Maybe the perfect weather added to its allure. Maybe—surely—the absence of crowds dispelled my not so fantastic impression of Panglao, particularly and mainly because of Alona Beach, the only beach I ignorantly knew of in the handful of times I have been to Panglao. So, I thank my friend for taking me to this postcard pretty part of Panglao Island.
I haven't left, but I already miss it. For my future and yours, I did not let the searing sun bother me as I happily let my feet sink in the sand and walked along the stretch of beach to take note of the resorts found along it:
A River Life Smoke Guy pranced around us carrying burning coconut husks, readying us as sacrifice to the river crocs. Just kidding. It was to ward away the evil...mosquitoes, before we get fed to the crocs.
After getting smoked, our assigned River Life Guide made us wear lifevests before giving a lightning quick lesson on how to use a paddle. A few strokes of the paddle through the air then we were ready.
We gingerly got on our tandem kayaks lest we get fed to the crocs unceremoniously. I was the boss that night and let the guide do all the talking and rowing while I lay back and tried to see the moon and the fireflies through the gloom (I have very poor night vision and all the while I wondered how the guide could see through the murk).
I expected to see fireflies everywhere but, the guide explained, fireflies only flock to specific types of trees. So the guide slowly rowed to the firefly–magnet trees dotting the river while he explained about the area and how fireflies are indicators of a healthy and clean environment.
My very poor night vision haha
It was a nice night for lazily floating about while looking at live little Christmas lights fluttering around trees (fireflies were the inspiration for Christmas lights, so my guide said). But then the hour was soon up and we had to go back to the dock. I rolled on the dock in one piece. No scratches, no croc bites, no mosquito bites. Just a little soaked on the butt and a memory of darkness and a thousand flickering lights.
Our 2.5-hour walking tour started at the Human Nature shop. Nothing significant here. Just that this is also where Dagohoy World Travel, the travel agency that came up with this heritage walking tour, is. We were given a straw hat and a short introduction about Tagbilaran, then off we went donning our straw hats.
Our first stop was outside the gate of Holy Spirit School. Through the grate we gazed at the white building that is said to have been built in 1929 and served as a dormitory. The building looked like a place ghosts would find very comfortable. Too bad we could only look at them through the grate, and them at us through the window.
Holy Spirit School
Next stop was an old house where the owner still resides (though we did not get to meet her). Only about a fourth of the house is still used as a residence, the rest had been converted into commercial/office space.
After the house visit, each of us was given a plastic of coins (amounting to Php 8) with a printout of three sentences in Visayan. I found it quite amusing and concluded right away that this walking tour was designed for foreigners.
For our mini group of four, we had to hail two tricycles. I noticed that tricycles in Tagbilaran are small and can only carry two passengers in the cab and one behind the driver. Another thing I noticed about tricycles in Tagbilaran is that each one had a Bible verse painted on the back of the tricycle. Without it, explained the guide, they would not be granted a permit to operate.
The tricycle driver dropped us off in front of St Joseph Cathedral. I thanked him and sheepishly grinned as I gave him my plastic of coins. We went to the side of the church where we lit a candle of our chosen color (each color has a meaning) and said a silent prayer. (The guide paid for the candles.)
St Joseph Cathedral
We then crossed the street to Rizal Park, disturbed the pigeons, then crossed another street on the other side of the park to snap a photo of the Bohol Provincial Capitol, which was under repair. Then on to the next building, the Bohol National Museum.
Bohol Provincial Capitol
A visit to the Bohol National Museum is not part of the tour but we told the guide we wanted to go inside. (It was sweltering hot and the air-conditioned interiors of the museum beckoned.) We were ready to pay Php 10 each for the entrance fee, but the guide said she'd pay for it (thank you!). We took our time in the small museum and, with our boiling brains, tried to learn a little bit about Bohol. There were some archaeological finds, a stuffed monkey, a stuffed tarsier, an explanation of how the chocolate hills formed, paintings of local heroes, and a section about ube (purple yam). Of all the things in the museum, what struck me the most was about the beliefs in planting ube. Maybe I was just hungry.
Skulls and paintings inside the National Museum
And just in time, for our next stop was Jojie's Painitang Bol-anon for some local delicacies (yehey! snacks are included in the tour!). We were given a cold bottle of calamansi juice and a plate of dinumugan, cuchinta, biko ube, balanghoy, and nilubid (cassava, ube, chocolate). I've had cuchinta and balanghoy before (and biko, but the regular kind), but the other three were new to me. I liked the biko ube and the nilubid.
After the snack break we moved on to the Carlos P Garcia Heritage House (and on the way, we passed some old houses). Carlos P Garcia was the Philippines' 8th President, succeeding Ramon Magsaysay when the latter died in a plane crash. Garcia was born in Talibon, Bohol to parents who were natives of Bangued, Abra. The house in Tagbilaran was built in 1953 and was where Garcia lived after his failed re-election bid.
Carlos P Garcia Heritage House
The final stop and the grand finale to this heritage walk was the Casa Rocha, a bahay na bato (stone house) built in 1831. What caught my eye upon entering the house was the domed ceiling of the living room. Other than that, it was the squeaky floor and the heavy wooden door. The wood planks used for flooring tells of how rich the owners were (the wider the plank, the richer the family). The roof was made of tiles. This house would have been a sight to see had it been well maintained.
For Php 700 per person was this walk worth it? I thought it was too expensive, the houses visited too few, and the scorching sun too torturous. But that's just me, my thrifty pocket, and my sunburned self.
This article is also featured on GPSmyCity. If you find this article useful and plan to use it to explore Tagbilaran, for a minimal fee, you can download the GPSmyCity iOS app to view it offline and use the GPS-aided map.
Meeting my officemate's father on the same day that I was to drive off in their car was kind of embarrassing. I expected her father to put me through a driving test before releasing me and their car to the roads of Bohol. But he didn't, and I drove off slowly until I was out of his field of vision. Once out of sight, I floored it. Just kidding. I was a careful driver on unfamiliar territory and we cruised along Bohol's concrete roads at a leisurely speed. From Carmen to Tagbilaran, we made stops at the usual Bohol tourist spots.
Chocolate Hills Complex
Entrance Fee Php 50
There are three viewing decks for Chocolate Hills that I know of: Sagbayan Peak in Sagbayan, Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP) in Carmen, and Chocolate Hills Complex, which is also in Carmen. Since Sagbayan town was out of the way, we went to Chocolate Hills Complex, the classic viewing area.
214 steps up the slope of one chocolate hill offered a view of the thousands of hills...had the viewdeck not been destroyed by the 2013 earthquake. Two years and five months after the quake, the viewdeck was still not fully repaired. The ongoing repair cut our sweeping 360-degree view to maybe 225 degrees. Nonetheless, the hills that dot the landscape as far as the eye could see was still a wonder to behold.
This is the best view I could get at the viewdeck
The view from the parking area
I have been along this route three times before and every time we drove through this area, it gave me a feeling of peace. But we never stopped to smell the mahogany trees. This time, being the driver, I drove slowly along the 2-kilometer winding road and, spotting a clearing, stepped on the brakes and had everyone spill out of the car for deep breaths and a few snaps.
From the entrance of the Tarsier Conservation Area, we quietly followed the concrete path and steps while opening our eyes as wide as a tarsier's in order to spot these tiny creatures. I opened my eyes as wide as I could, but I still found it difficult to spot these little balls of fur. I just went where there were three or four people gazing at the same point up a tree. As we stared at the tarsier, it stared back at us with its big round eyes.
The tarsier, as small as they are, are not to be underestimated:
Tarsiers require a lot of space. By a lot, I mean one hectare per tarsier.
The tarsier can leap a distance of up to 5 meters.
The tarsier can rotate its head almost 360 degrees.
There are three things to remember when visiting these tiny primates:
Tarsiers hate noise so shut your trap.
Tarsiers don't like being touched so keep your hands to yourself.
Tarsiers hate paparazzi so no flash photography.
All these give them stress and they don't take stress easily. When they can't take it anymore, they will commit suicide.
Entrance Fee Php 20
From Loboc we drove along the highway and made a right to find the hanging bridge in the town of Sevilla. We slowly and bouncily walked across the bridge and, on the other side of the river, found fresh buko peeled by the Buko King himself (peeled with his teeth!), cabcab (cassava crackers, Php 25 per pack), bananacue, and souvenirs being sold.
Baclayon Church and Museum
Museum Entrance Fee Php 60
Before reaching Tagbilaran City, we made a stop at the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, also known as Baclayon Church. Made up of coral stones "glued" together with egg whites, the church was completed in 1727. This centuries-old church, unfortunately, crumbled during the 2013 earthquake. During our visit (February 2016), the church was still undergoing repairs. We didn't go in the museum, but was told it houses religious items.
Blood Compact Site
The Sandugo or Blood Compact Site is just along the highway but I missed this spot and had to drive back a hundred or so meters. The Sandugo commemorates the blood compact (a custom at that time to draw a few drops of blood from each party and mix it with wine, and each would drink from the cup) performed by the Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi and the chieftain of Bohol Rajah Sikatuna to seal their friendship. The sculpture depicting this March 16, 1565 event is by the Boholano Napoleon Abueva, a Philippine National Artist.