Goddess of Mercy temple
Georgetown really grew on me in the five days or so I was there, and it was definitely the people that I met there that made it so special. After spending three weeks on the beaches of Malaysia and Thailand, the frantic pace of city life was a bit of a culture shock at first though I must admit. From my beach on Railay, Thailand (did I mention that this place completely ROCKS??) I took a longtail boat to the nearby pier, a bus to the town of Krabi, then a bus to Hat Yai, a city on the Southern Thailand border with Malaysia that I was told to avoid due to political unrest, what the heck it was fine.. An overnight pitstop in Hat Yai to clean up from the beach, catch up on internet and enjoy a little room service Blisssssss... then the next day a bus down to the unnecessarily time-consuming border formalities, into Malaysia and onwards to the island of Penang
via the car ferry.
Streets of Georgetown
Penang Island , also known by the nickname ‘Pearl of the Orient’ lies just off the North-West coast of peninsular Malaysia and has the highest population density of anywhere in Malaysia. The majority of the locals are ethnic Chinese, but there is a complete melting pot of different cultures here on display. Buddist & hindu temples, mosques, Anglican church, can all be found sitting happily alongside each other in the same street. The stunning, but often dilapidated, colonial architecture is an obvious footprint left by the Brits who previously colonised Penang, and much of Malaysia. Georgetown
, the capital of Penang was my base for five days and my first impression was poor thinking this was a pretty seedy place complete with being hassled lots on the street.
. Take me back to the beach NOW...... One of the many challenges I have set for myself during this adventure is to ‘Plan as Little as Possible’. Rather than being scary like i thought, I have actually been THRIVING on the freedom that comes with arriving into random unknown places with nowhere to stay and am loving the bartering for room rates and trying to get decent digs. You win some lose some but always works out somehow, Loving the adventure... This time though we lucked out on hostels. Spent an hour or so, me and an Italian lass I met on the bus, going into hostels to be told ‘sorry no room at the inn’. This was in 40 degree odd heat even the locals were complaining about, with all our luggage (my gradually shrinking luggage as I have been strategically dumping things in every port, last thing to be binned was the mossie net.
Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh Mosque
I way overpacked!)
Anyway, to cut a long story short we ended up staying in a bit of a smelly, bug infested, no windowed pit. Very glad to have brought the silk sleeping liner. Luggage dropped off, quick shower then rest of the night in the bar across the road to escape. Actually we had a pretty good night of it, we met a sweet Austrian guy who was on his first ever trip overseas and was travelling around Asia for 6 months on a pushbike and we had some big big beers on ice in a champagne bucket. I never drink beer at home, what is going on? No wine here though, too expensive and i think the heat makes beer a good idea and surprisingly I am enjoying it. I am a changed woman :) The slightly fuzzy beerhead the next morning did not help when i woke up to hear a lady wretching outside my door and speaking Chinese quite loudly.
THE BEST noodles I have ever experienced
Tentatively open my door to get to the bathroom and immediately that woman shouts out at me ‘LADY BE CAREFUL BE CAREFUL, this man, this MAAAAAAAAAN he shit on the floor, there’s some there, theres some there there there, be careful be careful where you walk’ Yikes!!!!!!! She was scrubbing this guys shit off the rank old carpet outside my room and wretching! That was enough for me, packed my things, left a note, and went for walkabout to find a new abode and found Jim!!!!
On Koh Lipe I met Katrin on a snorkelling trip who told me that I must look out for this guy Jim in Georgetown as he looked after her, got her to the hospital etc.. when she got sick from dengue fever. Jim owns a tiny guest house, come cafe, come laundrette come Visa arrangement place on Lebuh Chulia Street in the heart of old Georgetown.
Lunch with TBer Mark
Basically you need anything, you find Jim, he’s a bit of a legend. I find out that Jim is also a man-whore!! Yes he sells his body to lonely women (don’t worry, not one of those yet!!) Anyway, I looked for Jim’s place when I was trying to find a hostel after the shit incident but ended up instead at a reasonable place along that same street. I put in a bag of laundry to be told it would be delivered back to my room. Next day, knock on door, ‘hey here is your laundry’. Who is standing there holding a bag of my knickers IT’S JIM!!!! I recognise him from his website, there is no mistaking him. Crazy wild long hair with a feather, and the most piercing but friendly eyes. ‘Hi I’m Jim, nice place you have here’ YAY!!!! So we talk for quite a while about Katrin, about travelling, about England and I am nearly late to meet TBer Mark, who I had arranged to meet for lunch.
Police station at top of Penang Hill
Actually, we had arranged to meet at my next destination, Borneo, to see the orangutans but we happened to be in the same city so went for a nice lunch then an exhilarating trip by 4WD (the cable car was shut) to the top of Penang hill for fresh air and stunning views of Penang. Great fun and I really enjoyed the company.
As if the meeting Jim at my door wasn’t a bit if a coincidence, over dinner I got talking to some Aussie sailors who also knew Katrin!! Then, next morning went to Jim’s for breakfast and first person I meet there is from Ramsgate!! 20 minute drive from where I live in England and he worked at the same place as me! So bloody bizarre. Anyway, I found my little community there at Jim’s place as a great crowd kind of hung around there all day talking, playing cards, playing guitar.
With Jim at his place
It was great. Jim had definitely been around the block a bit and nearly managed to shock me (but not quite, that would be difficult eh ;-) I would hang around in this place talking to whoever then pop out to eat or go sightseeing. This is basically how I spent my time on Penang. I walked around the city on foot, (scary as there are not many footpaths but many open drains yikes!) admiring the buildings and ventured out one day to see the impressive Chinese hill temple of Kek Lok Si. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was a bit if hassle from men, ‘come on my motorbike, I take you round city’ ‘come with me I know best places’, ‘are you married?’ Yeah right OK..
Oh, do you think this entry is complete without a very special mention of the food? I think not.
kek Lok Si temple on the hill
I am having special feelings (yes yes yesssssssss) just thinking about the street hawker food that Penang is famous for. Its just purely MAGICAL! I cannot even begin to describe it well enough to do it justice. All the Malaysian favourites, Nasi Kandar, Roti Canai tasting a million times better being cooked fresh on the street in front of you. Little India for a melt in the mouth tandoori naan, OMG heaven. The best for me though, surprisingly for me, was from the Chinese hawker market. I was mesmerised by this elderly Chinese lady making noodles on the street in her wellys. The look of pure concentration and pride on her face, timing everything to perfection. It was a joy to watch and even more of a joy taste the food. Goodness knows what spices were used but these were the best noodles, best Chinese food, I have ever tasted.
kek Lok Si temple on the hill
Top this off with a random Chinese dessert (some kind of hot doughball covered in seseme seeds with a squidgy hot centre) and I am on a different level. Who needs sex.. Bet you wanna go here now?