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May 15th 2010
Published: May 15th 2010
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Ko Phaangan - Penang

Our trip into Malaysia started with a 5:30 am alarm going off, getting up and realizing that not only was it still dark out, but the clubs on the beach were still going strong. Packed up the last bits of our “home” (we’ve started referring to our backpacks as home) This meant we would be early for our 6am pickup from our hotels reception, as usual though our taxi was late by almost half an hour (the ferry was scheduled to leave at 7) and wound up calling to make sure they hadn’t forgotten us, sure enough after we rang the agency the taxi showed up. Had an interesting ride from Haad Rin to Thong Sala pier as the taxi was overloaded, me in the front, the back packed and Scott hanging on the back, the driver stopped and made almost everyone get out and walk up the hill before he could crawl up. Made it to the pier in time, found a comfy bit of ground and passed out using “Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a shoestring budget” as a pillow (and a comfy one at that). Woke up at 9:30 with the ferry docking and we were completely disorientated

Amazing to see these old colonial houses vacant
thinking we were on Ko Samui (we weren’t). An hour bus ride landed us in Surat Thani waiting at a bus station for our minibus to Hat Yai and onto Malaysia.

After waiting about an hour in Surat Thani we packed into our minibus with 9 other people and took off on the back roads of the city. Let me tell you though, unless you know people living in Surat Thani there is no real reason to be there, we saw nothing in the city but houses and Thai stores fixing bikes, computers, and selling food. The city really didn’t look that appealing as a tourist other than a pausing point while waiting for a ferry or bus. The trip to Hat Yai was about 4 hour’s long and included in-bus entertainment in the way of our driver washing his windows every 5 minutes. Once we got to Hat Yai our group split again, some going to the more dangerous southeast border, us going to the safer crossing at Sadar (about mid span between coasts). The crossing was fairly simple, check out of Thailand, hop back on the bus, check into Malaysia with a backpack scan and
Sir Francis LightSir Francis LightSir Francis Light

the man who founded Penang as a British colony
it was another 3 or so hours to Georgetown on the island of Penang. We were also lucky to witness a huge thunderstorm, rolling booms that lit up the sky brighter then the middle of the day.

We arrived in Georgetown around 9 at night, quickly found a nice guesthouse called “banana guesthouse” and wound up paying a bit more then we were thinking for a room as things were slowly closing down and most rooms were already full. It was 70 RM (ringgits, about $20 cnd) for an aircon room (first one since landing two months ago) with a private bathroom and a window (that costs more apparently).

Our first full day we woke up at what we thought was 11am; Scott went down to pay for another night and realized that Malaysia is an hour ahead of Thailand. It was actually noon (good thing we found this out before booking a tour and showing up an hour late).

Malaysia is primarily a Muslim country, although freedom of religion is encouraged and there are many Buddhists, Christians, and Hindu’s (these were the biggest followings that we noticed). Because of this
Snake templeSnake templeSnake temple

These snakes are sedated by an insence burning below.
I thought it would be better to start off right in the country and go by their rules of covering up a bit more than normal, shorts or a skirt down past the knees and shoulders covered up (most of what I own that fits that description is good for a summer back home in 25 Celsius with no humidity, not the best choice for heat that feels over 45 Celsius. Needles to say I was sweating so much that first day it felt like I was swimming through the city).

After wandering through the streets of Chinatown and over to the mall “Komtar” we realized that most of the shops are either closed, or close early on Saturdays, (and upon further reading found out the whole city pretty much closes shop on Sundays as well). So after some useless window shopping and some more sweating while strolling through the beautiful city we eventually wound up in Little India which was amazing!! It was so full of colour and Bhangra music, and everywhere smelled of the most amazing spices. It was a fantastic little spot in the city. We also managed to find some FANTASTIC Indian food (shocking I know, finding Indian food in Little India) I had the best butter chicken masala ever and Scott had some delicious chicken tandori (and the naan bread!! Can’t forget that).

After some Skype time talking to the folks back home and an episode of ‘House’ on the laptop it was to sleep in our ‘cooled to 29 Celsius’ room (believe me 29 felt cold)

As most places were closed on Sundays we decided to spend the day at the Botanical gardens near Penang hill (thankfully they were open). We took the public transport buses (which were very well set up surprisingly) to the gardens. There was a simple entrance with a few vendors outside selling refreshing drinks and fresh fruit as well as peanuts and some other snacks for the many people (mostly locals) visiting the area. We went in (no entrance fee) and found a trolley for RM2 each (about $1.17 cnd for both of us) and quickly realized it was a waste of time. It was about 15 minutes long, and slowly weaved its way along the main path back to the entrance. If there was a positive to the trolley it was that it orientated us with the gardens, showing us where some of the main things to see were. But for $1.17 you can’t really complain! We then bought some water and a bag of freshly cut apples to feed some of the cheeky monkeys we had seen while on the trolley and went in search of them.

There was a pack of Rhesus monkeys living in some bushes near the creek that cuts through the gardens, about 20 - 30 monkey (from what we could see) were lounging on some rocks and in the trees by the creek, playing in the water, or watching the tourists to the park watch them. They were amusing little fellows! After feeding some of the bigger monkeys my bits of apple (the smaller ones seemed to timid, either scared of people or scared of being beaten up by the bigger monkey) we wandered around the grounds for another hour or so, seeing some amazing flowers and cactus’s and finding a little hidden part of the stream completely enveloped into the wilderness.

A few hours spent at the botanical gardens, we decided to start heading back as we didn’t want to be caught far from our hotel in the dark in a new country, and hoped on the bus back the way we came. On some sudden inspiration after about 5 minutes on the bus Scott decided that he knew where we were on the map, and told me it would be about a half an hour walk, we would be back well before dark. So off we get and we started walking along the boardwalk along the water, on a street called ‘The Gurney’. I had a sneaking suspicion that we were nowhere near the place Scott said we were, and felt that it would be a much longer walk then half an hour.

We walked for about an hour and a half along the gurney, cutting slightly into the city. The main walk down the gurney we mostly saw locals out enjoying picnic dinners on the benches, and some huge very nice apartment buildings that sort of reminded us of back home (the west end of Vancouver). We also walked past a graveyard containing the remains of the founder of Penang Island. It was a protestant graveyard that was in use between the late 1700’s and the early/mid 1800s. It had a very eerie feel to it but was really cool to see as most of the graves were for people who were around when the island was first a British colony, some of the dates going back to 1794 (can you imagine). After finally making it back into Chinatown we stopped at a bar street for dinner before heading back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Our third day on the island we decided that we would try to get some or our errands done. We still had to mail off Scott’s medical insurance claim from the hospital visit on Ko Samui, and we both had some gifts to mail home. We found the address for a DHL very close to where we were staying and took the city bus over... only to discover is was a residential neighbourhood. No DHL in sight. After some frustrated wandering around the area we caught a cab to the southern part of the island (about 40 minutes) to the airport as we thought if there was going to be a shipping center anywhere on the island, what better place than an airport. Turns out we were wrong again, we got to the airport and asked customer service and were directed to a completely different area of the city (about a 10 min cab ride away). So off again in another cab, this time a very helpful man who spent time driving around trying to help us locate the DHL office, and talking to the locals for us to figure out where the heck it was. Finally we find it... only to learn that DHL doesn’t mail to post-boxes (which we only had for the insurance company). We wound up mailing it off to my dad to forward onto our insurance agency, and couldn’t mail the other items (which I can’t discuss here as I still have them and they are surprise gifts for back home).

Anyway, enough rambling about our poor luck for the day, it was now off to the snake temple! (My inner voice was yelling help at this point). We were dropped off in front of a very simple looking temple with some shops along the side leading up to it, it looked just like any other temple... until you walk in and realize there are about 10 different very venomous vipers lazing about on a stand right up beside the alter. The monks of the temple believe that the incense renders the snakes venom-less, and therefore harmless. Whether or not this is true they were pretty lazy looking snakes so I wasn’t all that worried (standing about 30 feet away).

To the right of the main temple is a hall, you wander in and there on a table in the middle are 3 massive pythons, and behind that a tree covered in venomous vipers. Here you can get your pictures taken with some of the snakes wrapped around your shoulders. Behind this there was a snake farm of sorts. Rm5 ($1.56 cnd each) got you in to see 100 different snakes (all in closed tanks) with information such as what they were called, where they came from, and how venomous they were. It was very informative as there was little “did you knows” in between the displays that told you different things like how to tell if a snake is venomous, what to do when bitten, etc. There was also a display with a huge albino python which the owner let us hold. It was a very interesting texture, not like what I thought it would be, it was smooth and cool, and the skin felt very tight. There was also a display with rabbits and chickens (dinner?) some large turtles wandering around freely, and in the very middle two cages the size of baby elephants that housed 2 absolutely, I can’t even describe the size, enormous pythons. These things could have eaten a Honda civic no problem. They were sleeping (a good thing), and all wrapped up into themselves like big knots, but you could feel the power they held behind their skin. The biggest part of the body on the biggest snake was probably as wide as my hips. It was frighteningly impressive!

After this we caved and had pictures taken with the pythons in the first room, Scott had three of them loaded onto his shoulders (they’re heavy suckers) and then the sneaky Malays running the operation stuck a non-venomous (so they said) viper on his head without a word and started clicking away. I got in for a picture as well, but only with one of the pythons (not getting close to something with teeth thank you very much, venomous or not).

After the excitement at the snake temple it was back onto a bus and back ‘home’ to Chinatown, a rickshaw ride from the bus station to our room and we hit the hay.

Our last planned day on Penang Island we rented a motorbike (yes mom, with helmets) for the day and farted around the northern part of the island a bit. Driving is very interesting in Malaysia, or any Asian country for that matter. Everyone is all over the place, seems like complete chaos, once you stop thinking so much about how wrong it is, you realize how orderly the chaos is. There is a method to the mayhem. After orientating ourselves on the bike we checked out a Burmese temple with a standing Buddha as tall as a three story house, and a Thai temple with a reclining Buddha as big as the standing one was tall. We then took off for the north-western part of the island to see the butterfly garden, which was really cool. There were thousands of butterflies all over the enclosure, a few different types of lizards and snakes, a scorpion pit, an insect exhibit, thousands of different types of plants and flowers (including carnivorous plants) and a huge pond in the middle of it all with massive cat fish (as big as a person if not bigger). We went and saw an insect show right away, the presenter had a greenery display with stick bugs and leaf bugs hidden inside (almost impossible to spot), as well as a few praying mantis’s and a bearded dragon, all of which we were able to hold. After that we spent about two hours just wandering around the grounds checking out the different displays.

After the butterfly garden we decided it was time for lunch and found this amazing little restaurant called Yam’s Italian Restaurant. We had a massive salad and a huge chicken pizza for under $10 cnd. We finished up our meal, paid and went to hop back on the bike. Just before Scott went to grab his helmet from the bike I noticed a cute little snake underneath of the bike right next to ours and pointed this out to Scott so he wouldn’t step on it (we’d seen a lot of snakes in the past couple days so my fear level had decreased quite a bit), he took one glance at it and hopped back. Apparently me being around snakes for the past couple days had de-sensitized me, but not educated me as it had Scott. This was a spitting king cobra. It was about a foot and a half long, all black on top, brown underneath with a white contour of an eye on the back of its head. We stood back and watched it slowly slither its way along the curb and behind a sign just as a local was pulling up on his bike, parking right next to the sign. Scott quickly warned the local, who jumped about a foot back as soon as he saw the snake, waited until it slithered further along the curb and went and grabbed more locals from inside the shop. So there was about 5 of us, standing there motionless watching this tiny deadly snake weave it’s way along the curb slowly going out into the street when... POP. A truck ran over the thing and it pretty much popped like a balloon. You would think snakes squish. I felt pretty bad for it but glad that we were out of harm’s way.

An exciting afternoon under our belts we thought we would wrap up the day by driving aimlessly around the city, taking in some of the amazing old architecture and local culture. We found the ‘postcard row’ of Penang got some shots of an old clock tower and then were stopped by a rainstorm (ahh monsoon season).

After an exciting 4 days on Penang in Georgetown it’s time to move on to cooler climates and tea plantations. Our next stop is the Cameron highlands for some mountain trekking, warm fresh tea and scones!!

Additional photos below
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17th May 2010

was für schöne Fotos von Pflanzen und Tieren. Und diese Farbenpracht. Sehr schön anzusehen. Lg.Dagmar

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