Colonial Heritage Town

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

Flag of Malaysia  , Pinang,
Sunday, July 1, 2012

One Month in Penang - June 28 to July 25 

Georgetown on Penang Island in northern Malaysia was 'founded' in 1786 on behalf of the British East India Company by British trader Francis Light. Its colonial roots are now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We had heard that Georgetown on Penang is one of the most livable cities in Malaysia. The Polish cycling couple who had put it on our radar stayed for three months! But it is on Penang Island and it is almost July. It just might be too warm for us. Would we stay just a few days like most travelers? Nope, we fell into a nice routine and stayed for a month!

6/28 - Tanah Rata to Georgetown
250 KM - 8:00AM to12:00 

Red Heritage Inn 67.5 Ringgit ($21) 

We had reserved space in the Kang Tours & Travel shuttle van run by our guesthouse so that we would get door-to-door service. We awoke before light but our driver had overslept which meant a 30 minute later start for us. The sun was up by the time we departed and the drive took us past gorgeous jungle and mountain scenery and, after the city of Ipoh, mostly flat stretches covered with palm oil plantations. Not until we crossed the 13.5 km long Penang Bridge did we get an occasional glimpse of Georgetown between openings in the road barriers. There are many apartment high-rises with killer views over the marina and Butterworth on the mainland but none taller than about 60 stories. The driver zigzagged along the narrow streets of Georgetown and dropped us off at the doorstep of our Red Inn Heritage on 15 Love Lane, in the Heritage zone. The Red Inn is one of four affiliated Red Inns in town. It has a wide variety of room choices and we had reserved an air-con room with ensuite. We were led past spacious TV viewing and breakfast area to room 104, a small room with a compact all-in-one type attached bathroom. It is not fancy but spotlessly clean.

Intro to the Food Scene in Georgetown
After our dismal food experiences in Tanah Rata, we were ready for some of the famed Penang food. We dropped our pack in our room and went out to find a place for lunch. A line of people were waiting for seating at the restaurant below the Sky Hotel. The menu is a glass-fronted cart hung with succulent roasted pork, chicken, duck and sausage. It is served with rice, au jus, vegetables and soup. This quickly became a regular lunch stop.

1st Week, 6/29-7/04 in Georgetown, Penang
The food choices here are mind boggling and street food is taken to a whole new level; fried oysters, Penang Laksa (which ranked 7th in CNN's "50 most delicious foods" of 2011), wan tan mee, a noodle dish which comes with pork or shrimp dumplings, just to name a few. It’s going to be a pleasure to explore the food scene.

We wandered through the streets with old colonial houses dating back well over a hundred years. It reminded us a bit of New Orleans, minus the ornate wrought iron balconies but with many wooden shutters, covered arched pedestrian walkways.

We ventured out on foot every day to find hidden gems waiting to be discovered. A market, a temple, or cozy little restaurant....we never know what we'll find around the next corner. We cooled down for a bit in an air-conditioned malls and often enjoyed somewhat of a splurge kaiten (conveyer-belt) sushi. In addition to the sushi passing by on the conveyer belt, each table had iPAD touch screen to order direct from the kitchen. It was authentic right down to the genmai green tea, potent wasabi and pickled ginger, a treat for sure.

Surprisingly, the hotter temperature is bearable. Most afternoons, a brief downpour freshened things up a bit. This month, the Georgetown festival is taking place with a full schedule of various arts and cultural events. One evening, we stumbled across a religious parade of gaudy neon floats pulled by small tractors or tow trucks.

7/1 Evening of Qawali Music
We decided to attend a Qawwali musical performance. We assumed that it was a casual open air performance but when we arrived and noticed many of the men in colorful, and I may add, flawlessly pressed long sleeved silk shirts and the woman in the most gorgeous hijab (long open coat) and chador (headscarf) some with plenty bling making for extremely colorful audience. We were already entertained before the performance started. We were welcomed in the Muslim tradition we had experienced before, by a lovely lady pretending not to notice our shabby appearance said "please be our guest" refusing to let us buy a ticket. The nice lady ushered us to the VIP seats where we shrank into the cushions hoping to be less noticeable among the better dressed brown faced audience. A bit later, she came by and introduced us to the President of the Qawalli Association no less.

The vocals and instrumentals held us spellbound. While some of the pieces reminded us of Bollywood musical scenes minus the dance. Others had mystical and bewitching qualities. The range of the vocals combined with percussion, strings and keyboard were hauntingly beautiful.

Week Two - 7/05-7/09
Moved to Guest Inn Muntri (70 ringgit double with AC)  to make room for performers who pre-booked the entire Red Inn Heritage

GEORGETOWN WORLD HERITAGE CELEBRATION - A month long festival filled with events such as open house at historical sites and homes, arts and crafts showcases, dance and music performances and food bazaars.
Follow walking routes, we visited the many historical ethnic neighborhoods each with their own sights and smells. There is Armenian street and Little India all with open houses and Chinese and Hindu temples and the Mosque. Dance, theater and music performances outside and in the streets. There was enough happening to keep us fascinated and entertained.

We returned one morning to view the Indian Muslim Mosque more closely. I was handed a hijab and we were escorted by friendly young man who guided us around and "enlightened" us about some Muslim traditions. For instance, the reason for facing Mecca during prayer is to show unity. Also he pointed out that we in the west misunderstood why woman wear hijab, and to bring home a point he asked, "When I have two pieces of cake, one is covered and one is not. The one that is not covered has flies on it, the one that is covered is clean and pure. Which one would you choose?" "Oh, I see", I said "In other words you compare the men to flies?" I looked at him in his cool short sleeved shirt while this covered piece of cake was sweating bullets in the full length hijab and left it at that. That is, apparently, the only way Muslim women can feel "safe".
We just missed the martial arts performance but no despair, the snake charmer followed. We sampled fantastic food. The huge pans with such variety of Indian dishes enticed me to try a plate as the guy serving me assured me, with a jiggle of the head, that it was NOT spicy. Chicken, lamb, and potato dishes were all pretty tasty.
Every day we ventured out on foot and soak in the vibe. We watched a Chinese opera on stage at lovely little temple. Another street was blocked off where lion dancers were performing. We watched performers apply their make-up, an art in itself.

Week Three - 7/10-7/24
Moved back to Red Inn Heritage at 15 Love Lane
Our room at the Muntri Guest Inn was newer and larger but the Red Inn is cozier overall. We were happy to be back ‘home’ at Red Inn. Our same room was ready for us, even had top sheet on bed. For some reason Malaysian and other areas in Asia, budget and mid-range hotels often lack top sheets. Here, I noticed that they do send the thin blankets covering the beds out to be cleaned daily, but many places don't. Part of our "things to check" before we check into a hotel are:first impression clean?  Sheets clean? Is there a top sheet? If the pillow is flimsy, get extra one. Wifi? Is there a place to sit and relax? Firm mattress?

We are getting in nice routine here in Georgetown. It does feel like home. We've gotten to know Rick from Santa Cruz California with whom we have some stimulating and thought provoking conversations. He is, in his own words, obnoxious, intolerant, and a bit ornery. But he has a great sense of humor. He has traveled a lot but has no desire to visit third world countries, has little tolerance for people who eat with their hands or minority peoples, as he puts it. He is looking forward to spending a year here learning French, taking Philosophy classes and getting his teeth fixed before settling down in Provence France for good. Trading currencies is his thing and he expects to make a killing "when" the € tanks.

Then there is Maria, a fortyish lanky androgynous looking German woman who has been traveling for a year and hopes to be teaching Math and physics here for a while. She just needs to get her work permit approved to make it final. 
And Catherine, a petite fifty something solo traveler from France. She is a bit of a loner but once we broke the ice is downright delightful. She is preparing herself for a Vipassana meditation retreat where she'll have to adhere to some extremely stringent rules, silence, no speaking AT ALL, and no smoking. The later she thinks will be the hardest. Vipassana means " seeing things as they really are”  Sounds all very intense!.

Motorcycling the Circumference of Penang Island
We rented a motorcycle for a day and headed clockwise around Penang Island. The first 14 km till turn-off to the bridge to Butterworth was on 8 lane freeway with heavy traffic. Not until the military museum did the road narrow to 2 lanes. By the airport, we darted into small fishing villages lining the coast with meter-wide paved roads snaking past the more traditional wooden homes on stilts. We stopped at a busy small beach front restaurant filled with locals and had a delicious meal. Fishermen sat along the shore repairing their nets. We continued on through Muslim neighborhoods where the school yards were filled with colorfully veiled girls and boys in matching tops and caps. We stopped to take pictures at interesting cemeteries. The beaches were far from pristine and often littered with trash. 

The entire circumference of the island is about 70 km. Half way we started climbing into jungle covered mountains which afforded some amazing views over the western coast we had passed earlier. We stopped to check out a small waterfall. Several Muslim families shared the fruit they had with us. The woman cooling off in the river in full hijab and chador while the men wear cool shorts!
We descended to the north side of the island and passed much nicer beaches. In Batu Feringgi, a popular tourist destination with its 5-star resorts and even private beaches, we checked out a Lebanese restaurant. We'll have to come back for dinner sometimes. We stopped at small fishing cove for view of the floating mosque before heading home.

At the hotel we are regular fixtures on the comfortable couch in front of strategically pointed fans during the hottest part of the day. We're often joined by Rick and Maria.

Catherine left for her retreat and our thoughts are with her. She promised to send us an update after she finishes the 10 days. We can't wait to hear.

On opening day, Rick and Dave went to see "Dark Knight Rises". The next day we heard the disturbing news about the shooting at the movie’s premiere at the Aurora Colorado theater. The news seems to be filled with appalling incidences like that. What is happening with our world? Are more people going off the deep end with sole goal to take as many innocent people with them? Next thing we have to go through the same security routine at theaters, supermarkets, libraries, malls and the likes, as we go through at airports.

Ramadan started and street stalls in India town are filled with neatly piled fried delicacies and trays of brightly colored sweet and savory treats. Who can resist the urge to try them all? I bought a cranberry colored Jell-O like block with nuts and chickpeas and a bright orange semolina diamond. It was colorful but disappointing. Murtabak, a crepe esque dish filled with egg and minced onions is another dish sold from carts in Little India. Some of the treats are special for the holiday and some are year-round items.

Malaysia, Thailand, India, Egypt, Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania….
We’ve spent much of our time here combing through our guidebook, internet info and talking to fellow travelers about India. As far as we can tell, Bangkok is the best place to get an Indian visa for those that didn’t get one at home. And, we subsequently discovered, Bangkok has cheaper flights to northern India. It is bloody hot in most of India now so we hold off a bit before flying to the highlands in the north and working our way south as the weather becomes more pleasant.

We will spend one more month here on peninsular Malaysia before flying to Bangkok (Aug 23rd) for our visa then to Leh via Delhi on September 6 & 7th! We bought our air tickets. We also reserved a Pushkar hotel, months in advance, for the Camel Fair in late November. The nine weeks between those dates is open and we will fill that in as we go.; Leh > Kargil > Srinagar> Jammu > Pathankot> Chamba >Dharamsala >Amritsar > Punjab, India. After the camel fair, we will work our way to Darjeeling before going to the far south and Kerala and back up to Goa!

Flying out of Mumbai, and hope to  layover for a few weeks in Egypt on the way to Holland.(March 2013). From Holland, we will prep for our cycling on the Danube 2800 kilometer cycle trip from the Black Forest (Germany) to the Black Sea (Romania) with Junko and Hiro!

Moving on from Georgetown
With the big rocks established in our plan for the coming 13 months, we are set to finish up our Malaysia travels. We bought van/boat combo tickets for door-to-door service from The Red Inn in Georgetown to Mira Chalet on Palau Perhentian Island. It should take about 7 hours but we need to depart at 5:00 in the morning! Ouch!

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