Hunting for Hawker Food!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
Where I stayed

Flag of Malaysia  , Pinang,
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

So it was time to say goodbye to Thailand and enter Malaysia, as the adverts say ... "Malaysia, truly Asia!" What better place to start our "Real Asian" experience than Penang where all of the Malaysian cultures (major ones being Malay, Chinese and Indian along with others) have lived together peacefully for decades making it the place it is today, as all the guide books describe it " A cultural fusion". I preferred my description of a "cultural Mulch" but Katy thought that may be offensive so we'll stick with a cultural fusion. However before this education in multicultural diversity and harmony could begin we had to actually get to Penang which was a long long long journey. 

It started with an overnight Ferry from Koh Phangan to Suratthani, not knowing what to expect we turned up at the night pier, and were shown to our boat. It was a very old, rickety looking thing with a long line of mats along the top floor each with a pillow. It was great, we had a fan so it wasn't too hot, a power point so we could charge our Ipods and we actually got some sleep as well. The journey was about 7 hours and we arrived into Suratthani at 5.30am awaiting pick-up from our VIP bus which was to take us to Penang. Now I've seen a lot of pictures of these VIP buses, and seen some of them in Bangkok. They are modern, double-decker coaches with reclining seats and air-conditioning... we waited patiently at the random little side street cafe and one of these buses drove by, we thought it must be ours and went to grab our bags but sadly what was just behind it, and what met us, was without doubt a minibus! That is not a VIP bus in any way so ideas of being able to sleep comfortably on the journey quickly disappeared... we have already experienced a few minibus drives so knew what we could expect. The minibus journeys in South East Asia involve very bumpy roads, extra bouncy suspension, very fast driving, a lot of scary over-taking on blind corners and a slightly insane driver with a death wish. We were annoyed we had been mis-sold but what can you do other than get on with the 10 hour journey to Penang. It was a very bumpy ride as expected and so we couldn't really sleep although we weren't complaining because at least we didn't have a pile of rucksacks leaning against us for the whole journey like a couple at the back. There just wasn't enough space... what we really could have done with was a VIP bus! 

 As usual we weren't told anything regarding what was happening and kept making random stops to swap buses or pick up the driver's mates (in our already overly full bus). Sadly on one of these stops we were conned out of some money by a women who was sorting out our tickets and supposedly ensuring our crossing into Malaysia. It was only after we left that we realised we had been conned so there was nothing we could do to get our money back. Such a shame to leave Thailand with a sour taste in your mouth as everyone else we have met has been very trustworthy and helpful. 

Despite now being in a bit of a bad mood over the morning's events, we crossed the border into Malaysia with no problems and settled back down in the bumpy minibus trying to sleep. It had just started to rain heavily (as it does here, no drizzling in Malaysia) and just 15 minutes later the engine cut out and we rolled across 3 lanes of traffic to a lay-by at the side of the road where about 20 school kids were waiting for their bus. The driver didn't seem to know what to do, he tried to start the van again and again but to no avail and then just put his head down in his hands on the steering wheel as if he had no idea what the problem was. We all assumed we would be there for ages and have to wait for another van to come, maybe it would have to come from Thailand... who knows. A Scottish girl next to us was getting more and more annoyed because she had to get to Kuala Lumpur which was still hours away and we were already running late. She started grumbling under her breath... "Maybe you should ring someone? Sitting there's not going to help!" 

The driver reluctantly got out into the pouring rain and disappeared for ages returning with a big barrel... mystery solved, he had run out of petrol. Maybe it's just me but I'd have thought one of the first things to check before a 10 hour drive is whether you have petrol. Anyway we were then treated (along with the 20 confused school kids) to a brilliant show as the minibus driver tried to pour petrol from a big barrel into the van whilst a monk was doing his best to help by holding a cut water bottle to be used as a funnel. Fortunately it worked and we were on our way again... well on the way to a petrol station anyway. 

As soon as you cross the border it is very noticeable that you're in a different country. Malaysia feels more wealthy than Thailand, it's very clean, well-kept and feels marginally more orderly, a very beautiful Country. So we bounced on towards Penang and after about 19 hours of travel ling we crossed the very long Penang bridge (I'm pretty sure I read it was about 13-14 km's long!) before being dropped off in the Chinatown region of Georgetown, Penang, where we checked in. 

We hadn't had a proper meal since leaving Koh Phangan (over 19 hours ago) so couldn't wait to go and get some dinner. Penang is considered a food haven and all the tour books tell you about the incredible Hawker food you can have in Penang taking flavours from the multitude of cultures. It all sounds so great, snack foods taking influence from Chinese, Indian and traditional Malay cuisine, so we were anxious to find somewhere to eat and try this hawker food that everyone was raving about. We set off from our guesthouse with a map and searched and searched for ages! We walked through Chinatown, little India, around to the newer part of Georgetown, looked for specific restaurants recommended by Lonely planet and everything was shut. Apparently Tuesday's are like Sundays in the UK and everything shuts... so I'm ashamed to say we let hunger get the better of us and went to the very Malaysian......... Pizza Hut! In my defense I had a Malaysian Chicken side order so I did start my Malaysian culinary education. It's shameful but true!

The next day we took ourselves on a walking tour of Georgetown to see the sights. It was interesting to see the churches of all of these religions lined up on the same street. It's quite a rickety old town with lots of little alleyways and the smell of burning incense. Again we found that a large number of shops and cafes were shut during the day and couldn't find anywhere to have a Malaysian lunch. We found some names of restaurants in the Lonely planet and walked to find them only to find them shut with a sign stating their opening hours which indicated that they should be open. It was so frustrating and in the heat we started to lose our temper with it. It seems that miraculously at night all these places open, presumably because it's cooler. Perhaps they have adopted a new culture (an addition to the fusion) and  take an all day siesta?

Fortunately, seeing the sights was easy enough and we could walk everywhere, the only problem being the heat so once we had seen some of the city we decided to go to the Penang museum, partly because we thought it would be interesting and partly because it was an air-conditioned building. The museum again highlights this cultural mulch (fusion) explaining how each of the major groups of people arrived in Malaysia and how they live, get married, have parties etc. It was really interesting and the highlight was being taught a traditional Malaysian game by one of the guides in the museum. It was called Congkak (the game not the guide) and consisted of moving marbles around a wooden board with the aim of ensuring that you have more marbles in your bank than your opponent... I won't try to explain it all now because it took me ages to understand, haha! 

That evening we set off absolutely adamant and determined that we were not going to leave Penang without trying Hawker food and this time we were in luck. We had seen signs for an evening market during our day of exploring so headed there and this turned out to be a great decision as there was entertainment and all the food we had been promised. It seemed to be sponsored by Carlsberg, which for a Muslim country where alcohol is really expensive and supposed to be difficult to get hold of, surprised me. It was a really cool place, and the majority of the people there were Malaysian enjoying the dancing and singing on stage whilst drinking a lot of expensive Carlsberg. 

We had read about a dessert called Chendol which when it arrived looked a lot less appetising than it sounded. It was described as "Garishly coloured green strands (made from sweetened pea flour) layered with crushed ice, coconut milk and brown-sugar syrup" sounded interesting and like it would be tasty ... what arrived was slimy green worm-looking things with some cold kidney beans on ice. It was actually quite nice and it was sweet, but very strange and the green strands alongside brown kidney beans (usually a chilli ingredient rather than a dessert ingredient) were a bit off-putting! So we did eventually get to try the food, perhaps there will be more to come. 

Another day, another minibus journey. This time we were picked up at 5am outside our hotel and it was a very stormy morning so we were excited to be heading across the width of Malaysia from the west coast to the east coast to catch a ferry to the Perhentian islands and the sun. The minibus ride was fairly standard and we got to see more of Malaysia which was great, that's what I like about over-land travel even if it is a bit longer and more bumpy you can see a lot more of the country. Plus as an added bonus along one of the windy roads we stopped suddenly because there was a mother and baby elephant at the side of the road, seemingly wanting to cross. This was the first time we had seen a proper wild one up close so it was brilliant! Unfortunately our driver wasn't as excited as we were and sped off before we could even get the camera out the bag. 

Anyway, the Perhentian islands are supposed to be pretty amazing for some snorkel ling, turtle watching, sharks and more beach time! Can't wait!
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


Berry and Trev on

That driver was simply scared of the wild Elephant!!

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: