Penang, Malaysia

Another country down! It's quite scary how quickly I'm getting through them now. Time definitely seems to be passing a lot faster than before. I'm sure before i know it I'll be back home seeing all the friends and family I've been missing. Once again I had no plan in mind for Malaysia, other than visiting Kuala Lumpur (affectionately known as KL).

While in Bangkok I had briefly searched for recommended places to visit in Malaysia. Penang was mentioned in almost every link, and is right in the north of the country, ideal for travelling to by sleeper train from neighbouring Thailand. I had found my next destination, but so far this constituted my whole plan for the country.

By this point I was also quite far behind in my blog updates. Actually I always seem to be behind by a couple of places at least... often the problem is finding the time to sit down and actually get writing. During the day I'm usually out and about seeing things, or if I'm feeling lazy and like I need a rest, I then don't feel like making my brain work to write my next blog! Buses or trains could be a good call, but I quite like looking out the window then and watching the country pass by. It's nice to see the views as you travel through, however briefly it may be. Penang, therefore, was dedicated to blogging initially - and photo editing and uploading which actually takes considerably more time than the text itself. I also planned out the rest of the time in Malaysia, with the places I'd most like to visit.

On the day I did actually venture out to explore, it didn't get off to the best of starts. I wanted to get to Penang Hill, which is a 2411 foot high peak in the centre of the island that gives great views of the area, and across Georgetown, the capital. Being unable to walk there, due to the distance, I googled and discovered I could supposedly get a few different buses to one place, then I should be able to get to Penang Hill from there. However, after waiting for around half an hour at the bus stop, none of those buses had arrived. I boarded the next one, and asked the driver which bus I needed in order to get to Penang Hill... number 204, he said. Thanks Mr. bus driver! I continued waiting... for around 45 minutes. No sign of 204. I boarded another bus and asked the same question, receiving the same response. I continued to wait for another 15-20 minutes before realising it definitely wasn't coming. I googled to find a place I could get to near Penang Hill, and waited for around 30 minutes before a bus to get to that destination finally came. The driver kindly explained to me that bus 204 didn't actually drive down that road, but he would give me a free lift to where it did..... Yes, I was at the bus stop for around 2 hours. Yes, I was waiting in completely the wrong place. No, I have no idea why the previous two drivers had neglected to inform me that I was in fact waiting in entirely the wrong place for the 204. Maybe it's a sick game they play with tourists to see how many times they can laugh at the same person waiting as they complete a round trip of their route?

Having finally arrived at Penang Hill, you could see just how steep the train to the top was. It reminded me of the train to get to the top of the peak in Hong Kong, but this train was far more modern. There's much less of a sense you could plummet to your death on this one! A short ride later, the summit was reached, and the views over Georgetown, the capital of Penang, and elsewhere on the island were very good:

Unexpectedly, at the top they also have various attractions. None of them were particularly interesting, an owl museum which I really regretted paying to enter, a play area for kids (I'm a little too old) and some restaurants. A short walk around the side of the hill and I also discovered a "Monkeycup Garden". These are carnivorous plants which grow a large cup that produces a liquid that drowns stupid insects that get stuck there. It then eats them. Delicious. Surprisingly there was also the opportunity to get up close and personal with some creepy crawlies. Yes, I was a little more hesitant with the scorpion!

The monkeys there would go rummaging through the bins searching for tasty food that tourists had discarded. I didn't actually see them steal food from anyone, but I'm sure they do. There was a woman who got stupidly close to the one I photographed eating from the cup, to take a picture. I was poised with the camera to snap away as it jumped at her throat, but sadly it never happened.

On the train down from penang-malaysia I had met a German guy called Louis. As we were headed to the same place, we took the ferry across to Penang island together and searched for a cheap guesthouse. We found one called "Love Lane Inn" with a twin room for a reasonable price, so decided to share. Despite the romantic name, and the private room, nothing happened.

I managed to convince him to buy a bike to travel on for the rest of his journey. Actually he didn't take much convincing, I just mentioned I'd done the same in Vietnam, loved it... and that was all he needed to hear! He already knew how to ride from home, but unfortunately he wasn't in the best position to buy a bike. Vietnam is crawling with "proper" bikes, (clutch, gears etc). Presumably because so many people do what I did there, and some of the mountain roads really require that type of machine. Penang, however, was full of scooters and very little else. Even a trip over to the mainland and a search in the main town there, Butterworth, was unsuccessful. They had manual bikes, but not within budget. When I left he was still searching!

Georgetown (the capital) is very multi cultural. Indians, Malaysians and Chinese combine to make a very diverse population. This mix also means the food in Penang is amazing, with plenty of good places to eat wherever you go. The best places are street stalls and night markets/food courts where you will get the authentic food as it should be eaten. Red Garden food court is a great place, with hundreds of plastic tables and (red) chairs in the middle of a large food court, surrounded by a large number of kitchens serving different cuisines, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Thai... each of them has pictures of their food on large signs at their counters, with set prices. Just go up, and place an order with your table number. When they bring it to your table you pay. There is the added extra of live entertainment while you eat. A stage in one corner of the court is surrounded by the tables, and every night a musician (or musicians) play music and sing for your pleasure. Most of them don't have the best voice, admittedly... but there were occasionally some attractive girls to make up for the not so great singing...

There was also a fantastic Chinese "restaurant" - open front, metal tables and plastic chairs - called Tek Sen which served fantastic food for very reasonable prices. Louis and I both agreed it was the best we ate at. Expect dishes like sweet and sour chicken, double roasted pork, deep fried chicken in shrimp paste, sichuan ribs, soy fried fish... I could go on, but my mouth is watering all over my iPhone.

As I can no longer type due to a saliva related incident, I will wrap this up and return with my next update from the Cameron Highlands, and a village called Tanah Rata.