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Published: August 9th 2015
Had a week to fill in before we head to the gorgeous Gili Islands, and we were curious about Penang. Malaysia is not one of our favourite destinations, too expensive for the budget traveler and better places in Asia to visit, but the fares were cheap.
Penang Island is joined to the mainland by a bridge, so a favourite destination of the locals for weekend getaways, and as it is the last week of Ramadan, it is a public holiday long weekend. The tradition (according to google) is for the Muslims to visit the temples and cemeteries on Friday and then friends and family on the Saturday to celebrate and feast. Batu Ferringhi
We head to the most popular beach on Penang Island, Batu Ferringhi, it’s not the high season, although we get fine weather for our stay. Some rain has stirred the ocean to a brown colour but the sand is golden and clean, I can imagine the seas glistening blue with better weather. Huge smooth boulders decorated the beaches, set into the coast line.
As we are driven into Batu Ferringhi, 40 minutes from the Penang airport, we notice it consists of one
road behind the beach with shops, restaurants and resorts. The road was pretty drab, the only interesting sight was a butcher on the pavement, see pic. The restaurants were too expensive for our budget and not very inviting, every night at 7pm to midnight the footpath would be lined with stalls, selling souvenirs, the same all over Asia, imported from China I bet, nothing is locally made anymore. The beach had plenty of water sports but no beach dining. There was one restaurant that had some chairs on the beach that we visited every evening, but the best seat in a cabana on the beach had unused chairs all stacked in front of it blocking the view! I did not mind the beach, it was clean, but in the high season the reviewers say the rubbish washes up.
We stayed in a building of what used to be shops and businesses but now lots of guest houses, the escalators broken, the landlord no longer investing. The area had deserted shops, but a very busy McDonalds and KFC! The highlight of Batu Ferringi was the open air night food court with heaps of numbered tables circled by food stalls. You
would go around order the cheap food from multiple stalls, give them your table number, and they would deliver your food to your table and collect the cash.
Carl was kept happy with Malaysia KFC's amazing desserts, portifilos, chocolate mousse, tirasumi and in Asia McDonalds actually use real chocolate to thickly coat your soft cone ice cream in - delicious. We also found a great fresh juice restaurant, we have been having these every day of our holiday, fresh fruit stalls everywhere we have been and its only a couple of bucks. It made me feel very healthy, but I read up on all the health benefits to pick the fruit with the least sugar content as I had avoided fruit since reducing my sugar intake. Then one day I watched them make it and saw them pouring in a clear liquid. "What's that stuff?". "syrup". "not sugar syrup?". "yes". So all this time I have been taking my fresh fruit juice with a couple of teaspoons of sugar! So now its "fruit juice, no sugar!" Anyway from my research watermelon and papaya are the ones with best health benefits and least sugar content.
If you ask Carl
what he thinks of Batu Ferringi, he would say “it’s a s**t hole!” We could not wait to get out, I would be very disappointed if I picked this destination for my two week vacation, no matter how flash the hotel.
We took the local bus into George Town one day as there was nothing else to do and we were standing next to this Malaysian guy who noticed my bag with Philippines on it, he started a conversation and to our surprise he was from Auckland! What are the chances? His next stop was to the Nepalese mountains to feed the eagles and hawks from his arm!
On the Friday we hopped on the local bus, to move into George Town with our packs and literally hundreds of people all heading out to celebrate the end of Ramadan, many dressed in their long white robes and hats. The bus was packed, I mean no standing room, and we had to squeeze in, standing in the aisle by the door, and try and maneuver our packs and ourselves on the rattling bus for 40 minutes, as hordes of people piled onto the bus squeezing past us. Crowds of
people were waiting at every bus stop, and when he was full he would stop further down from the bus stop and just open the back door to let someone out, the crowds of people would come running down the road banging on the door to be let in. But other than that and George Town being grid locked with traffic on the Friday, that was all we saw that indicated it was the end of Ramadan, even the Mosque in George Town was quiet. We stayed in: Batu Ferringhi - Roomies Suites - Agoda - NZ$60
In a big old uncared for building but the rooms were new, clean and modern and staff really friendly. Lovely rain shower, only minus is our room had no windows and you could hear the neighbours. They served breakfast in your room. Close to the beach. Recommend accommodation. http://roomiespenang.com/ George Town
Now, George Town, we liked. It was busy with local tourists visiting for the long weekend. It has a world heritage site which consists of streets of historic Chinese houses, now renovated into guest houses, cafes, restaurants, shops and backs onto some piers which you can walk to
the end to view the ocean and mainland. The piers are lined with shops and private residences and crowds walking up and down the old wooden jetty. There were tourists riding around the streets on tandem bicycles, colourful tricycle carts and rickshaws. On nearly every corner was an open air food court, sometimes just one or two cooking stands sometimes up to 15.
It had an India town which we just loved as it took us back to India with the smells lingering in the air; a mix of incense, spice and deep fried food being tossed in woks. Indian music playing out onto the streets which are lined with sari shops. What I adored the most about George Town ancient city area were the sketches and paintings on the side of the buildings, some with props - see pics. My favourite is the one of the two boys on the bike, it’s the most popular. Everyday there was a long queue to get your picture taken next to it, so a long line aside the wall picture and a crowd in front. As their mates turn arrived, they would snap a pic and then quickly run and swap
places, and snap another. We wanted a picture without anyone in it, that was a challenge, the next people moved in so quick there was no chance. A young boy next to me was getting frustrated, “I don’t want those people in my picture”. So I asked the next people coming into the frame to wait and then all at once, for a split second about 50 people, foot forward, arms up, camera poised and snap, all at the same time! It was quite a funny moment, but I guess you had to be there.
We paid to visit a clan house, we have seen these in Malacca, old Chinese houses open for view, we have seen some very cool ones, but this was just informational and a waste of money, some good wall sketching inside but that was it. Khoo Kongsi it was called. We stayed in: George Town - Heliconia - Agoda - NZ$55
New, small but clean and light room with TV (only Al Jazeera news in English) 15 minute walk to bus station and historic town, around corner from a couple of good restaurant and food market. Recommend but if you dont like
the walk you can stay in historic town. http://heliconiahotelpenang.com/
Well that's about it for Penang, now we are off to the Gili Islands for a month, crystal clear water and golden beaches await!
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