Category: Penang Street Food

Gurney Drive

From sunrise to sunset, Gurney Drive is still Penang’s most popular esplanade.

As the sun slowly creeps over the horizon, the sounds of gentle surf are gradually drowned out by the shuffling of feet against the sidewalk. Its early morning and the elderly have come for their morning walks and exercises at Gurney Drive – Penang’s most popular esplanade.

For many of them, it’s a daily ritual, a routine passed down from one generation to another —”Something dad use to do when he retired.”

It’s not all surprising to sometimes see them dragging their blurry-eyed grand children along. You do find a handful of youngsters blazing the sidewalk in their nikes, but the morning at Gurney Drive truly belongs to the older generation.

After a good work out, it’s good to stroll across the road for bah kut teh (herbal pork rib soup) and a hearty dose of Chinese tea. There are a couple of coffee shops along the promenade famous for this breakfast treat. A steaming hot breakfast in the cool morning air is even more enjoyable when you have a charming view of the sea. While enjoying the scenery, you can’t help but wonder what this 2 km long esplanade was like in the old days.

Back then, it was known as Penang’s northern beachfront. The area was lined with tall casuarinas, coconut trees and beautiful holiday bungalows. The older generation will remember Sunday picnics on the beach with the family. The water was clean enough for a swim and the view of the surroundings was even more breathtaking then it is today. And instead of hawker stalls there were adorable tea gardens for a “cuppa” tea and snack.

When the North Coastal Road was created, the northern beachfront became even more popular especially with the first generation of driving enthusiasts. On New Year’s Eve, young motorists would drive along the stretch honking their horns at the stroke of midnight – a tradition that lives on till this day. The North Coastal Road was renamed Gurney Drive in honour of Sir Henry Gurney. The Governor of Penang, who was ambushed and assassinated by the communists during the Emergency.

Over the years, Gurney Drive has seen numerous changes to its surroundings. Today, it’s still a prime beachfront property but many of the old bungalows that once graced the area have been demolished to make way for high-rise condominiums. Those bungalows that survived have been converted into restaurants or cafes. Luxury hotels and entertainment outlets now ply the western end of the esplanade. The eastern end is dominated by a huge newly
built shopping complex. Next to it is a municipal hawker centre, popular amongst tourists and locals. The esplanade has become a thriving commercial centre and no longer a place for idyllic Sunday picnics.

Commercialization has its drawbacks and one of them is traffic congestion. Gurney Drive is renowned for its weekend evening gridlocks, which unfortunately, get worse during festive seasons.

When evening comes, the younger crowd is drawn to Gurney Drive like a moth to a flame. The municipal hawker centre and coffee shops come alive with crowds of locals and tourists hungry for a taste of Penang famous ‘cheap & good’ cuisine. Young families can be seen taking after-dinner strolls along the promenade. The casuarinas, cool night air and stars in the sky also exude a romantic atmosphere. lt’s not surprising that the esplanade is a popular haunt for young Chinese couples as well.

The crowd during festive seasons is even greater, especially on New Year’s Eve. Just before midnight, thousands o young celebrants throng the eastern end for a street party and fireworks display.

Hence, despite its urbanisation, Gurney Drive is still a crowd-puller and will be so for a long, long time to come.

[Text courtesy of Penang Tourist Newspaper, May 2011’s edition.]

Category: Penang Street Food