Penang (14th to 17th March)

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Where I stayed

Flag of Malaysia  ,
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The ferry from Langkawi was fast and efficient an we saw some great seascapes sailing thrugh the Andaman Sea. A three night stay in Georgetown, the largest city on the island of Penang and the second largest city in Malaysia, but once again, we find much of the town closed for our time here (we are beginning to take this personally!).  We never did find out why, other than perhaps it was due to the school holidays.   

We decided to explore Georgetown on foot, setting off on the Heritage Food Trail, through the old town, expecting to stop and eat at various places on the way that are marked on the map as specialties of Penang.   Not one of the food venues on the 2 hour walk was open. Next, we decided to walk the Heritage Trades Trail, also estimated at 2 hours, guiding walkers around the traditional specialist trades such as beaded slipper makers, joss stick makers, fortune tellers, rattan weavers etc, but again, not one of these was open.  With worn out feet, we jumped in a taxi out to the much raved about food stalls on Gurney Drive to have dinner,  only to walk a few kilometers back into town as we didn't much like what we found when we got there!   

There are many temples and mosques in Georgetown, but two of the temples are particularly worthy of a mention:

Tien Kong Than, is an old chinese temple, built in 1801.  Bizarre in a number of ways   -a) the massive pink joss sticks outside b)  a slightly manic madman who wanted to be in all our photos  (and managed it! ) and kept telling us that the temple was 208 years old and asking us "where you come from?" without realising that he had already gone through this routine not 5 minutes previously,  c)  the signs inside the shrine telling you to BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS  (the only place in Malaysia that actually hints there might be crime around).  

Cheah Kongsi, another Chinese temple, is built in the typical Penang style, which apparently means that it is a hybrid between a chinese temple and a colonial bungalow  (and it really was!).   The building had all the residential rooms you would expect -  kitchen, bedroom, lounge, games rooms (complete with mahjong set up) and then in the centre of the building upstairs a huge temple space.    Lovely, if not a little odd. 

Gurney Drive is a long, long  road which runs along the water front and is one of many examples of Penang "mixing it up".  As you start at one end, the area is a bit like Bournemouth with waterfront apartments for the older generation, these give way to Victoria Beckham style shops, which in turn are next to the famed food stalls  (think fairground style!) which were in front of tall 1960s apartment blocks in the style of Luton, and then right at the end of the cape, were cul de sac houses in the style of Solihull (for any non British reader none of these are famous for their brilliant architecture!) .   

Despite how this entry reads, we did have some great meals in Penang, especially the local specialty of Penang Noodles,   (Penang does not seem to be full of imagination when it some to naming restaurants,  for example we ate at a restaurant called "Ribs"  -   where we ate ribs.  Although some other restaurants sounded far less appetizing  -   "Greasy Fatty Chicken Restaurant"  and "Economy Rice".  Food tends to be either Chinese or Indian (much like the places of worship and the general population).   

Alcohol is three times the price here than in Langkawi and the reason we now know is that the duty free status previously enjoyed in Penang was switched to Langkawi in the 1970s.

After calling ahead on our new Malaysian mobile, we managed to get booked in to the highest rated guest house on the internet, but only on the basis of a shared bathroom.  However,  Hutton Lodge exceeded all expectations  (perhaps our recent experience in Langkawi lowered expectations somewhat).   The building is a renovated heritage building and has been done extremely well.  The place is clean and friendly and in a good part of town.  If it were not for the shared bathroom, it would be more like a good "boutique" hotel than a hostel and is somewhere we would heartily recommend.  There were 3 showers and 3 loos on our floor with no separation for male/female and were very clean and mostly empty (although Clive found it a little disconcerting to be surrounded by women whilst shaving one morning!) 

As it turned out a great place to stay..  

Our next planned stop is Kuala Lumpur.  
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