Asia · Malaysia

Penang

On Tuesday afternoon we caught our first glimpse of Penang as we crossed over the bridge from the mainland. Unfortunately it was overcast and started to rain heavily as we crossed the bridge (seems like a pattern forming here) so we couldn’t see too much. It was easy enough to make our way to our hotel in Batu Feringghi, which is located in the north of the island and luckily it was sunny there. As we drove through we realised how built up the island was, including Tesco’s! Penang is known as ‘The Pearl of the Orient’ and has a population of just over 1 million.

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We checked in at about 2pm and were hungry so we decided to have a late lunch in the restaurant by the pool. The hotel was gorgeous with a big pool and located right on the beach and once again we were upgraded so our room was lovely. After lunch we sat and read by the pool for an hour or so and went for a swim. We then went for a walk along the beach, which is pretty but not particularly clean. For dinner we walked along the main road and found a tucked away restaurant that looked empty from the outside but was really busy inside, and had a fish dinner for a very reasonable price. On the walk back to the hotel, mama had a foot massage and then we went back and sat in the lobby (only place we can get wifi) and listened to ‘Melody Sensation’, or as we like to call them ‘Melody Massacre’.

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On Wednesday, we woke up relatively early and went for our first morning of exploration around the island. We drove through the outskirts of Georgetown – the administrative and commercial hub named after King George III – to make our way to see the state mosque and Kek Lok Si Temple. We passed the mosque but it was on a busy one-way street and peering at it from the road, it was extremely plain, especially compared to the Jamek Mosque in KL, so we didn’t stop. Reading about it after, we would not have been allowed to enter without permission from the State Religious Department anyway. We then went on to the temple, passing through a bustling local market on the way. The temple is very high up and looks out over Penang so we spotted it from quite a distance. It was beautiful. Completed in 1890 after twenty years of building, it is reputed to be the most beautiful Buddhist temple in SE-Asia, something me and mum would attest to.

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We parked our car and made our way up a lot of steps. Firstly we came to ‘Liberation Pond’, home to well over a hundred turtles of all shapes and sizes from tiny babies to huge adults. We then carried on walking up and up, witnessing exquisite buildings and various prayer rooms. The only thing we didn’t like was walking through all the souvenir shops. While we understood that they need to make money to maintain the amazing structures, it took something away from the spirituality of the place. We then got a mini funicular railway up to the most amazing statue I have ever seen in my life… It was huge! Me and mum were in awe of this gigantic, bronze statue of a female god and couldn’t even begin to understand how it had been built. The garden surrounding the statue was equally as beautiful and very peaceful. There were some prayer rooms and statues of symbols of Chinese astronomy eg snake (me), pig etc as well as a colourful mini pagoda and a small waterfall. We also had a spectacular view over Penang, but unfortunately it was quite cloudy so we didn’t take any photos, we just enjoyed it.

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We then slowly made our way down the mountain back to the car and drove through the village again. Even though it was only 11am we were both hungry so we stopped at a local eating area and had some chicken and rice for under Β£1 (my kinda eating!). I was nervous because it wasn’t particularly hot but our stomachs survived it fine. While we were eating there was a man next to us playing a flute-looking instrument. He decided to take a break and have a cigarette but we couldn’t believe it when he flicked the ash into his full cup of coffee and then drank it, gross!

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We were going to go up to a large funicular railway on Penang Hill but we decided it was too cloudy and we had already seen an amazing view from the top of the temple. On the way back to the hotel, we got a little bit lost and ended up having a detour through Georgetown. We decided to stop at Tesco’s to pick up a few snacks… unfortunately mama didn’t have her Clubcard with her. In the afternoon, we chilled by pool swimming, sunbathing and reading – it always seems to be sunny in Batu Feringghi. In the evening we got ready and decided to try second time lucky at the Hard Rock Cafe, Penang. No power cut this time and we enjoyed an amazing but ridiculously oversized meal (we still managed to eat all of it) as well as an incredible chocolate brownie that was demolished in a matter of minutes.

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Thursday morning was more exploring but this time we went up into the highlands just to the west of Batu Feringghi. It was a lovely drive up through the lush, green vegetation. At one point mum braked hard again because there was an animal in the road. ‘MONKEY!’ she cried as a I quickly reached for the camera… But as we got a little bit closer we realised it was a dog.

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The roads were extremely windy but mama practised her Grand Prix racing and we were up viewing the Titi Kerawang waterfall in no time. It wasn’t very well signposted but we managed to find it and climbed up some steps, over a rickety bridge and on some slippery rocks to get various views of the waterfall. It wasn’t spectacular but it was pretty and peaceful with the sound of the water rushing down and the trees acting as a canopy.

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We then made our way to the Tropical Fruit Farm that we had seen (there was also a Durian Farm, because I really wanted to try durian, but it didn’t appear open). I wanted to try durian here but the man informed me that it was out of season (June, July, August), maybe that was why the durian farm didn’t look that active. Here we both had a smoothie with the seasonal fruits on offer. I had pineapple and acerola (a new fruit for me), which are just a bit bigger than red berries but tasted really good and the sour taste went well with the pineapple. Mama had mango and papaya. The man also showed us how they find nutmeg and mace: it lives in what looks like a hard, round shell the size of an apricot and this is sliced open to reveal a red waxy coating (mace) and then a big brown nut-looking seed (nutmeg). Nothing is wasted and they use the outer case to make jam and/or pickle. We then enjoyed the view and our smoothies. Next we drove back to a small local village that we had passed through and got out to view a tiny fish ‘market’ (basically a small room) and the amazing fresh fish that was being brought in (biggest prawns ever). In the afternoon we read, swam, sunbathed and napped.

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In the evening we went to an amazing fish restaurant next to our hotel where all the fish are alive and you chose what you would like to eat and they cook it for you. We had huge prawns to start with and then a big sea bass, which was cooked in a gorgeous sauce and veggies. The fish was so fresh and tasted amazing. We had also ordered rice but that didn’t come with the rest of the meal and so we ordered honey chicken to come with the rice, which was tasty but strange because it was deep fried. It was lovely because the restaurant is right on the beach and so we got a mini booth made out of bamboo. We watched the sunset and it was also the perfect place for people watching.

The beach was really active and there were jet skis, banana boats, horse rides and people watching the sunset. There was also paragliding and I saw a sight I never thought I would see: two women did a tandem paraglide in full burkas! They screamed on the way up, which initially caught our attention and then screamed again on the way down as they landed (unfortunately very ungracefully) in the water. This was the first and only paraglide we saw that did so (everyone else landed on the sand) and because there were two people they got caught up in their ropes in the water. After they’d been released, the women just sat in the ocean. I imagine this is something they are unable to do usually because of the restrictions of the burka so it all worked out well in the end. Me and mama couldn’t help but giggle because it was a very unusual sight. We then sat in the lobby for a while and had the pleasure of listening to ‘Melody Massacre’ attempt various musical styles.

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Yesterday morning we made our way into Georgetown proper for some sightseeing. Firstly we walked passed the Clock Tower, which was presented to Penang by a local millionaire in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (how relevant to this year). We then visited Fort Cornwallis. The history of modern Penang is traced back to 1786 when Francis Light (born in Suffolk) managed to persuade the Sultan of Kedah to cede Pulau Pinang (Penang) to the British East India Company. The fort was built on the site of Light’s landing and was originally wood but replaced by concrete in 1804. It is home to the first Anglican church on the island, which Light built and is where his mother later married. A tiny lighthouse is situated in the north west corner of the fort (not in use today). Me and mum thought how low the walls seemed and that it wouldn’t have taken much for enemies to climb over, but I suppose the surroundings have changed a lot since 1786.

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We then walked into ‘Speakers Square’ (Fort Cornwallis marks one of the sides). Opposite Fort Cornwallis are the Town Hall and the City Hall (built 1880s), absolutely stunning examples of Victorian-style colonial architecture. We wondered around the town looking for a Post Office and found the town to be a mish mash of various influences – Chinese, Indian, Malay – and this is reflected amongst the examples of colonialism. Eventually we found the PO, got some water and made our way to the car.

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On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Wat Chatamangkalaram, which is a Thai Buddhist temple hidden down a side street but huge when you go inside. It is home to a 33-metre gold plated reclining Buddha, said to be the third largest reclining Buddha in the world. It also has the urns containing the ashes of devotees with photos and some information about each person. It was very impressive. We then stopped at Tesco and got a great lunch (noodles) and a smoothie from the food court and then picked up a few snacks. The afternoon was once again spent reading, listening to music, napping, swimming and sunbathing.

In the evening we found another restaurant on the beach. I had a gorgeous chickpea curry and rice and mum had a really tasty chicken curry. After our meal, we sat at our beach-front table watching the sunset and all the activities on the beach, seriously the best people-watching spot ever! We then wondered through the night-market that was beginning to open up. We had read that the night market in Batu Feringghi was ‘bustling’… we didn’t realise that this was the same market that runs along the street our hotel is on as we have never seen more than a handful of people, and they all seems to be walking through to get to restaurants rather than browsing the various goods on sale.

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Mum decided to have another foot massage and I had the fish foot spa thing as I’d never had it before. It was so weird. There was a Canadian traveller who was also doing it at the same time and he must have thought I was crazy at first because I kept pulling my feet out, it just felt so strange. Anyway after half an hour of fish nibbling at my feet, my feet did feel quite smooth but I’m still not sure if I enjoyed it, I’m just glad I tried it. After that we walked back through the night-market to the hotel and sat in the lobby for a while. ‘Melody Massacre’ didn’t ruin every song they sang, which was a nice change.

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Today we had a very chilled day. After breakfast, we went down to the pool and spent the morning reading and swimming. Just before lunch, we went and got a JET SKI! I drove and mum sat behind, clinging on for dear life! The soundtrack to our time on the jet ski was’S**TTTTTTTT!’ and other similar profanities… Mum definitely didn’t like it when I went fast. We only had 20 minutes on the jet ski but after 15 minutes mum wanted to get off so I spent the last 5 minutes racing around the sea by myself. I’ve always wanted to go on a jet ski and it was just as fun as I hoped it would be. I would definitely go on one again.

We had some lunch and spent the afternoon reading, listening to music, swimming and napping (plus a cheeky smoothie of course). In the evening, we went out for our final dinner in Penang. We have really enjoyed every meal we’ve had here and have been to a different restaurant every night. Tonight, unfortunately, we had quite a tasteless dinner. We had chicken satay to start, which was good, but our main meal (noodles) didn’t really taste of much. We couldn’t complain too much because the total bill came to Β£7. To make up for it, mum got a foot massage and I had a chocolate Cornetto!

We have definitely enjoyed our time in Penang. The island is more built up than I thought it would be and there are many more buildings under construction, inferring that just like in KL there is still lots of development here. There’s lots to see and do and the island is full of history. It’s been a very interesting and relaxing five days. Hopefully it will be more of the same when we move on to Lankawi tomorrow, which is another island to the north of Penang.

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