Pottering around Penang
Penang Travel Blog› entry 17 of 20 › view all entries
We took the luxurious NICE coach to Penang - extra comfy reclining seats, buns, coffee, hot towels on the 5 hour motorway trip. The road was in excellent condition, the services clean, and the bags of tropical fruit sold there for RM2 each (40p) were very welcome.
Most traffic now reaches Penang over the 13km bridge, though the old ferries still shuttle from Butterworth on the mainland to Georgetown, the island capital. Like KL, Penang is a fascinating mix. Georgetown, the original Brit settlement, named after George III , is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The old Fort Cornwallis, the Victoria Jubilee Clock, the grand city hall, the shophouse streets of Chinatown and Little India, and the jetty houses on the shore, all blend in an attractive mix. But with the new malls built elsewhere on the island, a lot of the shops are now shut up, and there seems a real risk the old town will lose its character. For the moment though, the money changers, (dozens of them), laundries, small hotels, kopi (coffee) shops, hardware stores, cheap clothing stores, travel agents, hawker stalls, cheap restaurants and quite a few jewellers and pawnbrokers make a lively mix. And in Chinatown, there are the trad medicine shops, and in Little India the sari and Bollywood dvd shops.
From our hotel window, on the 9th floor, you look out over the roofs of Georgetown, many still of corrugated iron, but then a few hundred yards further on you see the skyscrapers - several dozen of then around North Bay, maybe 30/35 stories high. And inland under Penang Hill, you see the huge 20 storey blocks of flats. It's clear on our bus trips around the island (and unlike other SE Asian countries we visited, there are buses, and they are new, clean, regular, cheap and efficient) that most locals live in multi storey blocks and shop in the malls as often as in the streets and markets. There's some really luxurious housing developments being built, with names like Plenitude, Harmony, Moolight Bay, some gated, some advertising all sorts of private sports facilities. We wonder who's buying. Is it evidence of the Malaysian economic miracle, or is it speculation? And what's it like out in the small country towns still?
So, with observing life and visiting various sights - the War Museum, the Kek Lok Si Temple (the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, with a 120ft high statue of the Goddess of Mercy, and a funicular ride up to see it), the Botanic Gardens, the National Museum, the old Fort, the Khoo Kongsi clan house, and spending a lazy day on lovely Batu Ferrenghi beach, we have spent a relaxing few days in hot Penang. And each evening, the Georgetown Night Market gave us a new Malaysian culinary delight - and fun with the good food too, even if a beer was 3 times the price of most of the dishes. At 9.00pm one evening, the stetson hatted keyboard player, with girl soloist, gave renditions of Chinese and western numbers. The latter were largely 50s standards, and included Moon River and the Banana Boat Song. A group of 8/10 Malaysians got up to dance waltzes and quicksteps in strict ballroom fashion. Behind us, a group of young men celebrated a birthday with copious beer and sticky cake eaten with chopsticks, asked us to be photographed with them, then the soloist gave a rendition of Happy Birthday at their table. Meanwhile, there was a tropical downpour, but the drinks boys had put up extra awnings to cope, so no problem. Most in the Night Market were Malaysian, and they and we few westerners had a great (if somehow surreal) evening.
Will it be as lively in Singapore?