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Published: March 15th 2018
Palm oil transport
Day 31, 9 March - we left Bukit Lawang the way we arrived, by shared taxi, same route out as in, through rough one-street villages that still turn out immaculatly uniformed school children. Past locals, 90% of whom seem to be sat doing nothing other than staring at their phones, the 10% being women listlessly sweeping dirt and leaves from their property only for it to be immediately blown back onto by the heavy truck transport and dozens of mopeds. Past smokers, so many smokers, all men. It seems most of the men smoke, constantly, but we cannot recall seeing any women with a ciggy. Worryingly for the country though we also saw lots of schoolboys smoking too.
Just as much palm oil traffic as before. Forest clearance around here is supposedly banned yet 22,000 ha have been cleared from Jan 2015 to April 2017. Indonesia is the world's largest producer and consumer of palm oil and supplies half the world's supply. 6m hectares of palm plantations - 2 Belgiums worth!
Some time recently whilst reading an article on a lightweight backpacking site Paul had come across a comment that went something like "But when faced with the 7kg
Kapitan Keling Mosque
scales at the Air Asia check-in desk.....". Our flight from Indonesia to Penang was with Air Asia. And although we had checked in online we hadn't got printed boarding passes - we haven't taken the leap of faith to downloaded boarding passes to phone yet - so would need to go via the desk.
And, surprisingly, on all our lightweight travels so far we have never had our luggage weighed. Dimensions checked in the size framework, yes, but not weight.
So, before going to the desk we went elsewhere in the terminal to rearrange ourselves. Paul added his zip off trouser bottoms, put his fleecy around waist, and put the heavy stuff in his capacious trouser pockets - wallet, currency, tablet, (not working) phone, power brick, camera, binoculars, 2 books. Pip likewise added some overclothing. We rocked up to check in, and our bags were duly weighed - Paul 6.8kg, Pip 6.6kg!
Our next flight is Air Asia too, to Tokyo, but we expect to have printed boarding passes for that one so, hopefully, will avoid a weigh scale inquisition (though they do have scales at boarding gates too).
Georgetown, on Penang Island, off the NW
Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a Baba house
coast of Malaysia, is named after George III, and was the first english colony in SE Asia, dating back to 1790s. The old city - Queen Liz granted it city status just before Malaysia went independent - is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We reached our hostel, about which the least said the better. Let's just say that we booked somewhere else that evening for the remainder of our stay in G't and moved the following afternoon.
We started the day with a lovely local coffee and pastry. Then on to the Kapitan Keling Mosque where we had an excellent tour, though only around the outside, with a local Muslim lady who spoke not just about the building but about the Quran and Islamic rituals too.
Malaysia is a total melting pot of races and cultures - Malay, Indian, Chinese, Colonial English - it was an English language radio station playing in the taxi.
We next went to the Kuan Yin Temple (Goddess of Mercy Temple), a Taoist temple built 1728 on land provided by the East India Company.
Then on to Penang Peranakan Mansion, a typical home of an affluent 'Baba' family a century
ago. Babas were a community of affluent Chinese who settled along the British Straits settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore. They adopted local Malay ways and the British Colonial lifestyle. Many became VERY rich, as reflected in this mansion. Floor tiles from Stoke-on-Trent, English glassware, Scottish ironwork, antiques, paintings, furniture, silks, jewels, jade....... from around the world.
A bit of street food in the evening. We are finding Malay street food somewhat more difficult to cope with than Thai, Cambodia and Vietnam, mostly because there is hardly any explanation of what a dish contains. And we are not Internet enabled as we walk the streets to be able to look stuff up. We checked out one evening's dishes when we got back to our room to find that Pip's dish is usually based on a clam broth. Pip is allergic to shellfish!! which possibly explains her dicky tummy.
Pip really needs to get more sleep - and a life! Waking up several times overnight to check a Wolves football score is not a good idea, especially when they lost 4-1, to Villa of all teams. They were 12 points clear at the top of the league, now only
Opulent table setting
3. But, Pip adds, still 10 clear of the play off zone!
Our new hotel does a wonderful breakfast, spanning the cultures again. Also last evening Paul booked our route through Malaysia. We have given up on getting to Perhentian islands off the NE as buses don't seem to be going there by day at the moment. So our new route will be G't, Langkawi Island, Cameron Highlands, Melacca, Kuala Lumpur.
Sunday morning we walked to a small pop-up craft market in an arts enclave, which reminded us of Simon's/Wraptious early market trading days. Young people with artisan goods - jewellery, cards, prints, bags, teas and foods. Pip bought local, a cute necklace of 2 bright green leaves and a ladybird.
We then took a taxi to the Colonial Penang Museum. Expecting a focus on local English history, it was, instead, a slightly run down mansion with somebody's collection of random up-market bric-a-brac. The William Morris paintings on glass, and Carrara marble statues were impressive, and the student who showed us around spoke excellent English, but in reality our time, and money, would have been better spent elsewhere.
In the evening we found ourselves near by
Opium smoker's bench
the Queen Vic memorial - a 60 foot clock tower - and Fort Cornwallis.
Next to was some sort of festival. We engaged an Indian man in conversation. He was Hindu, proud of his 'British' roots - his father was a chef for the British government during colonial rule. The festival was to celebrate 10 years of the local government, which is well liked, especially its care of the elderly and disabled.
The area in front of the government buildings was lined with stalls giving away food by the bucketful. It looked wonderful, but that was reflected in the length of the queues, regrettably.
On Monday we went to Taman Negara National Park, Penang, about 30km away in the NW corner, by local bus which had a stop practically outside our hotel.
It describes itself as the world's smallest NP. We had a pleasant few hours there, walking the coastal path. The nearest it came to 'busy' was with the monitor lizards we saw, along with ospreys, egrets, heron, giant brown toad and ant trails.
In the evening we went to another hawker street food market. Paul had a tasty Asam Laska, whilst Pip had
Opium smoking equipment
Chicken McNuggets and fries in the next door international shopping precinct ☺
Sad news of Sir Ken Dodd dying. We saw him 4 or 5 times since moving to Devon. He did a gig at Torquay every September. That was a month of our lives spent in merriment!
Tuesday we caught another local bus west to Kek Lok Si temple at Air Itam. The largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, opened in 1905 it holds an impressive hill side site. Two standout features are its 7 storey pagoda, and its 36m bronze statue of Gruan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
The buildings were lovely but the whole complex is riddled with 'gift' shops at every turn, which you can no more avoid than you can not walk through duty free at an airport. And it wasn't even just religious or general tourist tat - electric fruit dehumidifier anyone?!
In the evening we wandered to the Clan Jetties, a stretch of 8 or so live-on, over water jetties built by different Chinese immigrant clans over 100 years ago.
And so yesterday we arrived by high speed bullet ferry onto Langkawi Island for 4 days r and r
Ant and termite deterrent
by the sea and a pool.
Sad new about Stephen Hawking, though we still got 50 years more of his brilliance than was expected.
We thought we were doing a good job of avoiding school holiday spots, but we seem to have not lucked out this morning. The pool has been invaded by a party of 3 or 4 families each with lots of kids, and adults acting like kids. It's like being in the middle of a primary school playground. 😕
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