To Penang, and meeting up with a friend (delayed entry)

Penang Travel Blog

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So down I go to Betong right? Not quite. I was told to get off the bus at one of the last major cities, Hat Yai. This was at around 2 PM and probably still a good few hundred kilometeres away from the Thai-Malay border. Well, not quite as advertised and I end up having to pay for a second bus to take me the rest of the way to my destination, Georgetown, Penang. I tell you, sometimes, we're really at the mercy of the local officials and companies.

Penang is actually a small island off the west coast of Malaysia connected by a large bridge and Georgetown is the capitol and main hub there. I was relatively impressed with the skyscrapers and development there as we drove in and the night view was nice. But speaking about that night view... we finally got dropped off on the main backpacker street, Chulia Street, around 9 PM. What I had expected to be about a 8-10 hour trip stretched to almost 16. And when I walked around to look for a place to stay, most of the hostels nearby had no vacancies. So I started getting a little anxious after about the 5th place. But I did find a place... and man... was it a dump. They said 20 ringit (which is around $6) and I'm like, "ok, that's REAL cheap... so can I see a room?" The room was fan only with the walls breaking apart and the linoleum flooring literally folding up on itself. The bedsheets and pillowcases had stains on them, but at least they looked like old stains and weren't fresh. There was even a sink by the head of the bed, but it had crumpled up newspaper in the drain. I don't know why we had one when there was no toilet in the room. Whatever, I just wanted a place to put my stuff down and just settle in for a night. At least it didn't look like there were any bugs in the room. I wanted to use the shared bathroom afterwards too, but what I didn't realize was that there was only one for the entire floor. And someone was taking a shower in it. So I had to go pee in a ditch outside. Yeah, real ghetto. I guess to top things off for the night, I tried to find an ATM so I could actually get the local ringit currency, but there were literally none nearby. I walked for over a half hour before I finally found something. Definitely a tiring day. But you know what, I slept really well on that bed in the end, better than maybe 3/4 of the places I've stayed at. Some things money can't buy I guess.

The next day, I had specific plans prepped. The reason I wanted to go to Penang is that I actually have an online acquaintance I knew of here and he agreed to show me around when I mentioned I would be in Southeast Asia. So on the 17th, I got to meet Darren, age 24 who goes by A-F on a forum I frequent. He's of Chinese descent and can speak a variety of local dialects as well as Mandarin and English. So after getting a hold of him through Skype, he drove to my location to pick me up. We had lunch at a popular Indian place and from there, we proceeded to various sights. There was the Goddess of Mercy temple which had a huge stack of large incense sticks burning at the entrance and more inside. It was probably the smokiest temple I've ever been to but it was very neat and we made our donations. We also passed by a smaller Temple of Warriors where you make prayers to Guan Yu and other notable warriors of the past as Darren explained to me. We proceeded to see City Hall, the pier, and then Fort Cornwallis which was actually more of a lookout point than a fort because the place had never seen battle. We saw old rusted cannons and remnant buildings including jail cells, ammunition storage rooms, and a church. And there was a fake musket and old British cap that we got to pose in free of charge.

From there, I was graciously invited to Darren's house. He's currently staying with his parents who are retired. I got to talk with his mom and it was nice enough as we went over various topics and she treated me to homemade treats given by their relatives for Chinese New Years. And for those of you readers who also know of A-F, I got to see his sketchbook so be JEALOUS!!! Darren also does marathon training every day so while he went out, I was allowed to relax at their home. Afterwards, since he treated me to lunch, I treated him to a nice Japanese dinner. The place was called Gurney Mall and it's a really nice developed mall with several stories worth of shops and what not. Darren kept telling me that Malaysia is a 3rd world country, but if you only showed me this mall, I wouldn't have believed it. From there, we got to wander around a bit, drink a little and then eventually settled down at an Internet cafe where we spent time chatting with people on the forums and iRC and laughing how two people originally from the United States and Malaysia were sitting side by side and sharing the same IP address. Real life meetups are always fun. By the time we left, it was already 2 AM or so and because I had checked out of my previous dump of a hotel and hadn't gotten a new one, I was allowed to crash at his house for one night. So we made it back to his house where I slept in a guest room. More to come with Darren later.
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photo by: Aurora78