Penang. It’s changed a lot in 11 years.

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March 4th 2019
Published: March 9th 2019
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Really nice pool at the Lone Pine Hotel
Our AirAsia flight supposedly landed 30 minutes early. Yay, said the flight attendant, surprisingly called Beyoncé! That cannot be true, the whole flight was only 20 minutes so unless we went supersonic it was never going to take that long! I got onto the free WiFi so I could order a Grab as soon as we landed. It connected upstairs but as soon as we’d got our bags it dropped and didn’t come up again. I was very reluctant to get an overpriced voucher from the taxi desk. The information counter was really unhelpful, just said it didn’t work downstairs, even though I was pointing at the free WiFi sign. Maybe it’s deliberate to make people use the airport taxis. i was not to be beaten so bought an overpriced bottle of coke from a cafe and got their password, Bingo! A Grab responded immediately and we found him outside. In the end the journey was quite long becaue the traffic in Georgetown was terrible, so it cost 50RM, 10 more than quoted. Again, he was disappointed that I had GrabPay. The official taxis are 120RM so we were much better off.

When we got to the Lone Pine Hotel we were pleasant surprised, bordering on delighted, as it was much nicer than expected and we got an upgraded full sea view and could have our room straight away. What a joy after the last place, and for the same price. The room is huge, recently refurbished and has, bizarrely, a bath on the balcony, sort of behind a screen but not so that you’d feel comfortable without a swimmining costume on. The pool is super nice and despite reviews complaining about people hogging the sunbeds with their towels, we could get some without any problem. Ordering coffee took a while and several attempts. The hotel is right next to the beach but as was the case when I was last here in 2008, the sea is really murky with jellyfish warnings, it was very peaceful. We got welcome fruit kebabs and a nasty fish ball as an poolside afternoon snack.

At 6 we walked along through the famous night market, which was just starting to set up. I was so so disappointed that all the bars and restaurants I remember have gone, all knocked down, and blue hoardings up. There was nowhere to sit and have a drink at all on the main road. I couldn’t believe it. We went past the Holiday Inn and found the road down to the beach where the hostels and local guest houses are, but apart from a few scruffy places, the nice beach bars are also all gone. We crossed Penang off the list for potential longer winter stay in the future. We ended up at the beach bar of the Golden Sands Resort next door. Extortionate even in happy hour. Then went to Andrew’s Kampung restaurant, relocated from a little roadside garden to the top floor of the Eden shopping block. The food and staff were great but the place is grim. I didn’t recognise Andrew. He used to be quite roly poly but now is super thin after apparently having an operation. I didn’t ask if it was a gastric band. He was busy so couldn’t talk much, but did say the lots from all the knocked down restaurants are going to be residential development.

The next day we hired a scooter, 50MR, obviously had seen a few spill sticks in its time, so I videoed it and we set off to explore the other side of the island, which I remember being much quieter and a lovely road through fruit plantations and forest. We stopped at the butterfly farm, which is now very swanky and called Entopia. 65MR to go in, but really nicely done with lots of information. It used to be one glorified greenhouse. Then we went on to the tropical fruit farm, although it isn’t really fruit season, being really dry. This is also much swankier now, with lunches on offer and a funny Malay gu6 who chatted with us and gave us stuff to try. We had a smoothy each and a plate of mixed fruit, with things both of us had never had before. My smoothy was soursop and delicious, although I had no idea what it looked like until he showed me. Green and knobbly. We kind of wished we’d done the guided tour, but it would have taken too long. The loo was quite hilarious, with an open view of the mountain.

We turned around and went back to the now very expensive batik factory, didn’t buy anything, and finally to the spice garden. It is so beautiful, next to the sea on the side of the mountain, full

Lizard took a swim in the pool
of mozzies (spray provided) and has upped its game with audio commentary on handsets and a tea station at the top where you help yourself. We didn’t listen to all the info, there was so much of it. Then we handed the scooter back and went to the pool for the day, having packed quite a lot in.

In the evening we decided to take the bus into Georgetown and get off at Gurney Drive. The buses are vastly upgraded from the clapped out old bangers with sign saying no spitting from years ago. 2MR each. I thought I’d remember where to get off but there was a lot of new stuff, a huge Tesco and apartment blocks, so it seemed to take ages to get there. Luckily I saw a roundabout which looked familiar, although the old McDonald’s is now Starbucks. We walked round to Gurney Drive through the street food stalls, which looked exactly the same, and then I thought we’d walk along next to the sea. But where had the sea gone??? Miles out, with the hugest reclamation area in progress. It looked like a vast flat plain of concrete dust. Apparently it’s going to be

Nasty free biscuits. Onion and green bean filling!
a park with no buildings on it. So we abandoned the walk and went into Gurney Plaza to the food court in the basement for Vietnamese food. After a look around we went back to the bus stop and waited over an hour for a bus. Eventually one came along and sailed past although there was plenty of space! Fecker! We chatted to a Philippino girl who’s a singer with her friends at the Park Royal, so we said we’d go the next day to hear them.

Lazy pool day next, picknicking on our stolen breakfast items and watching the birds. Off to the Park Royal in the evening after dinner in Helena’s Cafe nearby. I hadn‘t been in the Park Royal before and it was really nice but quite deserted. The girls were delighted to see us and it was happy hour until 9pm. The singing was a bit meh but we felt obliged to stay for a while as the huge lounge was practically, embarrassingly, deserted. A lot of the songs were dedicated to us. Okaaaaay........

On Thursday, after a lot of backwards and forwards considering all the options (Grab/normal taxi/driver/bus/scooter/ don’t go) we booked a driver for 35RM and he took us to Penang Hill and then to Kek Lok Si Temple. There were no queues as it wasn’t a holiday so we could get straight onto the funicular to the top. We then paid extra to have a golf buggy take us on a 4km trip around the top, to see all the big deserted British houses and gorgeous views. You could easily spend a day up there. There’s a walkway through the treetops which looked great but we didn’t have time for. Back down to find Umar, our driver and he took us to the top level of the temple. Amazing and worth visiting. He drove us down to the middle level where the Chinese New Year decorations were still up. We lit some incense for Gill’s brother Martin and Umar met us at the bottom. Back to the pool for a few hours. Then we packed and went to meet my old friend and her family at the Knife and Fork restaurant next door to Andrew’s in the Eden shopping centre. It’s run by his sister and the food is really good, but you need to book as there aren’t many tables.

Nice beach, shame about the sea!
She will put one out on the balcony if you prefer to be outside. Go there! It’s great. After going up to see my friend’s flat and having a good old catch up we walked down the hill and I fell into a storm drain, NOT alcohol-induced! It wasn’t dark and there’s was a huge deep trench in the path with no slabs covering it. It was such a shock, I skinned my hand and a young canoodling couple shot out of their car to assist, bless them! Back to the hotel to pick grit out with tweezers and douse with iodine (that stuff HURTS!).

Taxi to the airport at 6.30 as the receptionist said it was hard to get a Grab so early, 110RM. Scoot was on time and the planes have good leg room. We were at Singapore by 11.30 and checked into the early check in lounge behind desk 5 in T1, worth checking which airlines offer this as then you can go into the city if you have a long layover. Also dropped our cabin bags at baggage storage, 5SGD each. Then to Orchard Road for shopping. We mainly went to ION and it was fab, very high end, but the food court in the basement was reasonable. I had mixed beef noodle soup. A mistake unless you like tripe as one of the elements. And mild food poisoning afterwards. Also tried kacang for dessert, a pile of crushed ice with fruit, jelly and sauce. Need to give it another go, maybe.

So that’s it until 2020, unless I get somewhere exciting for work. Sadness......

Additional photos below
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Andrew’s relocated restaurant

Sticking chrysallises onto strips of paper

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