Published: May 4th 2012April 30th 2012
Aoife and I arrived in Penang island, connected to mainland Malaysia by bridge, on the evening of January 12th by ferry from Langkawi. Upon arrival, the taxi drivers swarmed the area putting pressure on people arriving. We planned to get a free shuttle bus as it was our understanding that the guesthouse was less than ten minutes away. The taxi drivers told us that the shuttle was not running at this time of year which turned out to be untrue. Then another taxi driver hounded us asking where we were going. He was adamant that our guesthouse was 20 minutes away and we agreed a fixed price. Turned out it was just over 5 minutes around the corner. I questioned his earlier lie and he just got angry with us. "Keep your f##king money" he said and drove off. Entering our guesthouse, the guy behind the desk warned us that it was not a taxi, just some guy with a car. All taxis are red in Penang!
That night we went to a really tasty Indian restaurant on Penang road called Kashmir. The food was top notch!! Food and drink in Penang is more expensive than Langkawi but still relatively
cheap. Drink is quite expensive, perhaps owing to the Muslim influence. For example a small can of beer the supermarket there is around $3.
The guesthouse was a great spot, located right in the heart of Georgetown, the capital of Penang and a UNESCO heritage town since 2008. It was founded by a British trader named Francis Light who took formal possession of Penang in 1786 for the British King George III and the British East India Trading Company. Penang was renamed "Prince of Wales Island" but the name never stuck. However, it has retained many of the colonial street names. Interestingly Francis Light later died of Malaria in 1794. Damn Mosquitos!!
We walked around Georgetown for the morning and saw all the well known British colonial buildings such as St George's Church, the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. Some of the other buildings included the City Hall, the Town Hall, the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, the Old Court House, Suffolk House and Fort Cornwallis built to defend the island. The colonial buildings really add character to Penang but the greatest lasting legacy of British colonial rule in Penang and Malaysia has to surely be the education
and legal systems, the use of the English language which is well spoke by Malaysians as well as the transportation networks left behind.
There was a nice vibe as we walked around Georgetown. However it cannot go unmentioned that as we neared the end of our sight-seeing, a pigeon took a s##t on Aoife. It was very funny!!!
That afternoon, we went to the Buddist Snake Temple in Sungai Kluang where the temple is filled with the smoke of burning incense and a variety of pit vipers. Apparently, "the snakes are rendered harmless by the smoke". The story goes that the temple was built around 1850 by a buddist monk in memory of Chor Soo Kong, a healer that gave shelter to snakes of the jungle. Those who come to pray at the temple on Chor Soo Kong's birthday believe "the snakes cames of their own accord". They were all over the temple, camouflaged in the trees and on the back of picture frames on the walls.I love animals but snakes are a creature I have no time for. I can see why St. Patrick kicked them out of Ireland!
At night we went to a food
market with about 20 different food stalls and the food was really cheap. The hardest part was deciding what to have as it all looked really good. The BBQ was quality. Penang is well known for their good food. One of my favourites was Fried Kueh Teow dish. It was very tasty but very hot!!!
The following day, we got a bus to the National Park on the other side of Penang island, over an hour drive. This was a highlight of our time in Penang. We trekked through the jungle for about an hour and a half before reaching an amazing beach at the other side. It was empty with less than ten people on the beach. The sand was like grains of sugar. We chilled out on the beach for a while before trekking back. I was loving the trekking but Aoife was struggling a bit on the way back. "I'm not built for hills, I’m from Kildare" she was shouting after me as I trekked ahead. Funny! On our way back, there was a really big tortoise along the trail, which was amazing so we stopped to watch him and take photos before moving on.
On our last day, we went to a restaurant called Kopitan and ate more of the local dishes. The spicy sambal is worth trying! We went back and watched the Liverpool game which was fairly boring and ended up having a few beers with the manager of the guesthouse. He had a few stories about guests walking in to their rooms to find staff in there robbing them.
After another Indian lunch, we headed to the station to catch the bus to Kuala Lumpar. One common thing we noticed in the Indian restaurants in Malaysia was people eating with their hands, no cutlery. It is fairly off putting when you are trying to eat and some lad is beside you scooping up the curry sauce and rice with his hand. And his hand is covered in sauce and rice! I had to find out why so I asked one of the owners. Apparently, it is a religious thing, they don't believe in using forks & knives because they do not consider them clean. 'Their own hand is best to accept the food that their god has given them'. Fair enough!
Our time in Penang was
brilliant and really enjoyable. The vibe in Malaysia was great, and it was one of the easiest Asian countries to get around in. The fact that the majority of people can speak a decent amount of English definitely helps. Also, the many different ethnicities that make up Malaysia, often broken into groups Chinese, Malays and Indians, make it an interesting place.
The only downside for me was the mosquitos eating me alive!! (Ironically, I only heard about Dengue Fever for the first time from the guesthouse manager in Penang, as it also quite common there. To be honest I didn't even pay much attention to him when he was telling me about it. I would later learn all about it! :)
All in all, Penang is definitely worth a visit!
There are more photos below