Friday, 11 November 2011

Penang, Malaysia

View from Penang Hill
After what turned out to be a 12 hour trip, Alec and I arrived in Penang at 11pm local time not having eaten and with no where to stay. We had been told we'd arrive at about 8pm but after a mix up with number I think, we'd had to wait an extra hour or so in Hat Yai and then the border crossing seemed to take forever. A guy I'd met on Phi Phi happened to be on one of the buses we got making his way down to KL and he had recommended a place to stay, so after being dropped off we set off to find Reggae guesthouse. I'd also been told about Old Penang but they were both on the same street; Love Lane. After taking the "scenic" route we eventually found the place. Sadly both hostels were full but sandwiched in between the two was Red Inn. For 28 RM (just less than £6) we got a dorm room which has hot showers, free wifi, breakfast included and all day tea/coffee/water. I was impressed! A Finnish guy we met on the bus decided to stay we us too.

I was pretty tired and ready for bed once we finally had a room that I didn't bother getting any food - also one of the people already staying in hostel said the breakfast was amazing so I decided to sleep and get up early for free food instead! The breakfast was pretty good I have to admit. That morning it was raining quite badly so just chilled out in the common area until just before midday when the rain subsided. I'd managed to pick up an albeit fake copy of the Lonely Planet to Malaysia on Phi Phi and it gave a map of Georgetown (where I was staying in Penang) and a walking tour. As neither of us really knew what there was to do around the area we decided to go for the tour! I was struck by how clean the area was in comparison to the places I have been previously; there were lots of impressive buildings along the way too. I was struck by how multi cultural and diverse the area was just by walking around. We stopped off at the Penang Art and History Museum as we were passing: it was interesting to see the different areas of the world that people have come from and settled in Malaysia. We passed the Cathedral, Fort Cornwallis, several temples, Victoria Memorial Tower and so much more. Just walking around was so interesting. Penang is mostly Chinese which is evident as you walk around. Lots of Chinese shops, food and writing everywhere and several different Chinese temples. There is, however, a little India. This was hands down my favourite part of Georgetown. As we walked down the streets, Indian music played loudly from various shops, the smell of Indian  spices filled the air, and there was just so much going on. By this time it was mid afternoon and we'd done a fair bit of walking, we spotted a samosa stall so decided to go for it. Quite easily the best samosa's I've ever had and  at only 50 Sen (10p) each you can't go wrong. We walked back to the hostel but on the way we met a local who had retired from the tourism industry and now sold drinks from a stall offering information for free to any tourists who wanted to know. We met him on Harmony street - so called because places of worship of all religions can be found along this street: mosque, Hindu temple, Chinese temple, Buddhist temple and a church.

When we made it back to Love Lane we ran into Timo - this Finnish guy who was in our dorm. and all decided to catch a local bus and go and visiting the floating mosque on the North coast. We caught the bus from down the road. At the time, we didn't realise school had just finished so it was a very busy bus! On the bus we were crammed in like sardines, however it was air-conditioned so not too bad. The journey should have taken about 10 minutes but the bus stopped every 10 metres almost so it took us a while. Sadly, due to the tide being out, the "Floating Mosque" wasn't as impressive as it could of been, but it still looked pretty cool.

3 day old turtles
The next morning we took the bus to the Penang National Park. There are several trails through the jungle that you can take. Initially we thought we'd walk to Turtle beach then try to get a boat to Monkey beach and then walk back, but after walking to Turtle beach we just walked back instead. The walk through the jungle was really nice - lots of different species of plants and animals could be seen and the sounds of the insects was overwhelming. At turtle beach, they keep the young turtle for 2 weeks once they have hatched before releasing them back into the wild. The ones we saw were only 3 days old!

That evening two of Alec's mate, Steve and Andy, who had arrived a day later than us came and met us. As we were sat chatting I spotted another Finnish guy from the dorm in Phi Phi, Aki, and he came and joined us. Later we all went out to try and get a good Indian meal - the previous night we'd failed to order correctly and got what was essentially fried rice. We found a place in Little Indian and ordered. I got a vegetable masala in a pancake (?) and a plain nan with sauces. It was actually really tasty but I was completely stuffed by the end of it! After eating we went back to the hostel and watched a film.

 I had planned to leave the following morning, but after chatting to Aki, we decided to go to Penang hill the next day. 4 of us left at about 10am to catch a bus to Penang hill. We were under the impression we could walk to the summit from there however when we arrived we found out that we should have taken the bus to Botanical Gardens for the trail. It was going to take a long time to get there by bus and too expensive by taxi, so we admitted defeat and took the Penang Hill Railway to the top. The views from the top were incredible; you can see the whole city and out to see. There were several school trips and I was approached by a large group of teenage girls who were desperate to take a photo with me: I was surrounded so I didn't really have much choice! After escaping  I rejoined Aki, Timo and Alec and we started to look around. After an hour or so we decided we'd find a walk down to the Botanical gardens. There was a 5km steep, winding, tarmac road that we took - initially we'd hoped to find some trails off to the side but we didn't manage to. We reached the gardens and had a look around. They weren't overly exciting, obviously lots of different species of plant but they were in grubby enclosures that we weren't able to go into so we couldn't really see much. Eventually we took the bus back into Georgetown. I have to say the Malaysian public transport is really impressive, organised and operates in a relatively timely manner.

Banana Leaf Curry
Following the success of the previous night's curry, Aki, Timo and I went in search of a Banana Leaf curry. As per usual I didn't really know what to expect, but I was impressed! I decided to have one more day in Georgetown to chill out and get up to date with things before heading to the Cameron Highlands, however when I went to book my bus I was told it was full. This meant another day. I booked the bus for Sunday morning in good time so as not to be disappointed again. For the majority of the two days I just stayed in the hostel - I found a second hand book shop and bought myself a new book to read. I also went for a walk and saw a bit more of the city. I visited the huge shopping mall because I hadn't been able to find a book shop at this point: I couldn't believe how big it was, mostly clothing but they did sell everything. I was amused by the number of movie shops; they all were showing different films of the screens outside their shop and each shop had a crowd gathered around it.I almost seemed that people went to their just to watch films - crazy! There was also a lot of western food chains: Macdonalds, KFC, Pizza hut and there was even a Starbucks. I was tempted to try to get a chai latte but managed to resist. Attached to Penang Mall is a 62 storey tower; I'd been told to go because you get great veiws of the whole city. Today Steve and I decided to try and check it out however, when we arrived we were told it was closed for maintenance. Instead we settled for a trip to the bakery then back to the hostel.

Tomorrow I leave Penang and get the bus to the Cameron Highlands. I have less than 10 days now until I fly to Australia so I can't afford to waste much time in places. Its a bit annoying that I'm having to stay an extra night here but I like the atmosphere and the hostel is really nice so its okay. My plan at the minute is to stay 2 nights in the Highlands, 3 in Kuala Lumpur and the rest of my time in Singapore before my flight. But if there's one thing I've learnt since travelling, it's that plans inevitably never stay the same...

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