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Malaysia: Penang

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On our last morning we discovered that the sky-walk that had been closed while we were in Langkawi for maintenance had actually been open for a few days as they'd finished their work a little early but just decided not to tell anyone. So we could have spent our last day absorbing panoramic views of the island and beyond from a cable-car and cloud-touching 2300ft high bridge. Instead we spent the day walking looking for better beaches that apparently don't exist. Oh well, it obviously wasn't meant to be.

We had a touching morning chatting with and saying goodbye to Elleaty who we'd really connected with before we head over to Kuah pier to catch our ferry to Penang. The ferry terminal was actually very modern and well-organised, despite lots of construction work. The ferry itself was pretty good and it was showing Bollywood movies that kept us entertained for the 3hr journey.
On arrival at Sweetenham pier in Penang we got in the first cab that touted in which the driver fancied himself as a bit of a tour guide and gave us a mini-history of all the sights and streets that we passed. We were dropped at Time Capsule Hotel and we were giddy at being handed a bag each with slippers, headphones and a towel in them - it felt like Christmas. We were shown to our 'pods' and I took the top and Lauren the bottom. The capsules were quite roomy with different mood lighting, a funky circular beauty mirror (with lights), an inbuilt LED smart-TV (that we couldn't get working), a safe and of course a mattress. It even had two pillows; one hard and one soft.
Now a normal person may not get excited by the idea of sleeping in a hi-tech cocoon but I have always been well into it. Since watching 2001: A Space Odyssey as a child I've wanted to be encased in my very own sleep-bubble. Perhaps I have some sort of subconscious longing to go back into the womb. Or maybe I was a vampire in a past life. But, it being my birthday I thought it was a good excuse to give it a go - and thankfully I have a laid back girlfriend.
I regularly flouted the no nudity rule by walking from the bathroom to my pod in my towel 'cos I'm a fuckin' anarchist.

For dinner we found a little place called Yeap noodles that was well-priced and had lots of tasty options. We were really impressed with the choice of noodles; plain, turmeric, spinach, oat, charcoal, carrot and even peppermint. I also tried a cup of barley 'juice' (because it was the cheapest on the menu) which came as a cloudy, icy liquid that was very sweet but rather refreshing.

I should really give you an image of Penang for your mind's eye. George Town is the capital and 'main bit' of the island and was under British rule for 75 years (until 1957). So as you'd expect, it is laden with English relics and architecture like clock towers, red post-boxes, Anglican and Catholic churches and century-old townhouses.
As well, Penang, like Hồ Chí Minh and and others before it, doesn't have any pavements or pedestrian walkways at all. This means you're constantly stepping up and down, on and off curbs and shop fronts and over gulleys and breeze blocks and parked motorcycles. It makes for quite a decent cardiovascular workout.
George Town just vibrates diversity; there's Little India, Chinatown, legions of unique independent coffee shops and cafés as well as galleries, art spaces, music, boutiques and surprising gardens. And then there's the street art; fun, interactive, introspective and all over the town.
It is diversity personified; in it's history, multiculturalism, multi-faith and blending of the contemporary and the antiquated.

On our first night in Penang we stepped out onto Lebuh Chulia; the street we were staying on and the place where most backpackers and cool-folks hang out. We naughtily chowed down on a hot dog (me) and some crinkle fries from a fast food stall called 'Old Trafford Burgers'. We then bought ourselves two cans to sip on; a beer and a cheapo Guinness. Sometimes it's nice to be in a city.

On our second day we embarked on a self-guided street art walking tour. Amazingly the tour was quite easy to follow and we didn't get lost. Along the way we stopped in an intriguing looking coffee shop called Easy Brew that appeared to be semi-burnt down. A lovely young girl called Rene gave us a free demo of how different coffee beans are roasted and then showed us around the deceptively palatial grounds of the shop which beyond the café/restaurant itself stretched into a large and beautiful garden with old artefacts and twee wrought-iron tables and chairs. A gorgeous place for a party or wedding I thought. They'd even converted the old outhouse toilet into a cute little fountain and plant display. We were told that the building had suffered a lot of fire damage only a few months before but that the owner had decided to keep everything as it was; black charring and all.

After our coffee experience we walked to Chew jetty; one of the six clan jetties in George Town. They are wonderful floating communities with loads of character. We even interrupted a wedding photo-shoot overlooking the straits of Malacca.

For lunch we stopped at a vegan Japanese restaurant called Sushi Kitchen. We actually didn't get sushi but massive noodle soup bowls with delicious light flavours and tofu.
In keeping with our nutritious afternoon we then found a pharmacy/health-food shop where we found some much sought-after chia seeds. Sourcing these little bastards made me feel very accomplished - which give you a good idea of how pitiful my life is.
After an enjoyable wander around Little India, salivating at the various fried yummies on offer we retired to our pods to watch the John Waters' classic Female Trouble.

On our third day we ticked off some menial chores including printing our by-proxy voting forms at an internet cafe and putting our laundry into the shop opposite. These are the essential but unexciting little tasks along with booking and keeping track of hostels, flights, buses and tours etc. that sometimes take up hours and hours of time and often make us want to rip our own, or each other's', hair out.

Trusting some information we'd found online we walked to a nearby bus stop that was supposed to be on the 'Hop-on-hop-off' tour route. After 20 minutes standing in the blazing sun I suggested we walk around the corner where it looked busier to see if there was another bus stop. Of course as we walked away, a bus drove past us. Lauren's internal thermometer/angermeter rose a few degrees but she managed to stay calm-ish as we walked back to our original stop. After another 15 minutes of waiting a suave looking gentleman in a pink polo-shirt and aviators came over. He asked us how long we'd been waiting and told us he knew of another bus stop around the corner that was frequented more regularly by buses. We somewhat reluctantly followed him back to the place we'd just been clinging onto the hope that he knew what he was talking about. Once again, we couldn't find a bus stop and guess what, we watched in horror as ANOTHER bus drove by, completely ignoring our frantic arm flailing. By now Lauren's face had turned a nice shade of crimson and smoke was bellowing out of her ears. She stomped back round to our original point AGAIN and I sheepishly followed, waving off the man's embarrassed apologies. Never trust an American.
Eventually we jumped on a free shuttle bus in order to get to the city's main bus terminal where we were more confident the Hop-on-hop-off would stop. After some fumbling around asking uninterested people for help we finally got on the tour bus.

We rode a long way listening to the crap computer-generated commentary and got off at Penang's Botanical Gardens. By now it was pretty damn hot so we were glad to get under the shade of some trees. The gardens are HUGE with loads of different sections. Surrounded by massive limestone rocks and mountains and impossibly tall jungle trees it really is a sight to behold. Apparently a lot of locals come to the gardens for their daily jogs and what a beautiful motivation it must be.
We walked around for an hour taking as much as we could in. We were lucky enough to see plenty of wildlife too including long-tailed macaques, cranes and a large monitor lizard.

We waited at the garden's bus stop for a good half an hour directly under the afternoon sun, watching the monkeys begging at cars for food and listening to the loud scary gun shots that sounded too close for comfort. Back on the bus we sat for a long while peering out at the city and all within it. We got off at Penang Hill and jumped aboard the famous colonial leftover that is the funicular railway. Apparently the steepest one in the world at an incline of 29°.
Even though it was low season and Malaysia's Labour Day wasn't for 2 days, there were plenty of tourists about, although we were the only white ones. The ascension was quite fun and when you looked back down at the tracks it really was quite scary.
At the top we enjoyed the panoramic views of Penang while munching on a some delicious Chana Masala from an Indian stall. On the way back down we met some adorable Indian children who politely jumped up to let me sit down.

Back on the tour bus and coming to the end of the day we got off at a stop near 'home' - Chowrasta market and picked some street food for tea where we also enjoyed a PINT of sweet sweet masala chai. After a quick freshen up we walked to Prangin mall where we foolishly bought some promotional Frappuccinos from Starbucks (at my request) which were pretty horrid. Lauren's 'summer berries panna cotta' one was like drinking a cheap trifle through a straw. We then finished our evening by visiting the manky cinema and watching the new Jungle Book which was actually very good.

The day after (a Saturday) was my 28th birthday. Woe is me. As a treat to myself I woke up early and did a high intensity cardio workout in the communal area. I'm fucking weird I know. As we had a few hours left on our Hop-on-hop-off tickets we thought it would be resourceful to use them up and so we sat on the bus for 2 hours as it did a loop of both the city and the beach-heavy outskirts of the island. Penang really does have it all; interesting and accessible urban and rural spaces. We unfortunately didn't have enough time to have a look round the National Park which is apparently wonderful. Here's some of our windy experience;

We eventually got off at Komtar to go to Hin Bus Depot art space where there was a great exhibition showing the artwork of learning-disabled people in the community. The space was great and included a large open garden covered in contemporary art. There were also free tea and biscuits.
We found our way to the main bus station and managed to get on a bus heading to the celebrated Gurney hawker centre; home to all the street food you could ever wish for.
Loz found a veggie Chinese stall and had a bowl of some nondescript soup and I had some Po Piah that I'd been desperate to try since I set foot in Langkawi. It's basically a very thin skinned spring roll but full of fresh vegetables and a delicious chilli sauce. We then found an amazing milkshake stall which made me a birthday-special peanut butter and Toblerone shake. I was knock knock knockin' on Heaven's doors.

Our post-binge high didn't last long however as we could not for the life of us find the bus stop heading back to George Town. It's not as simple as crossing over to the opposite side of the road that you got off at. No, what you have to do is walk for 45 minutes in the dark around the back of a huge mall and down some dodgy streets to join a small group of people and hope they too are waiting for a bus and not just congregating with the intention of mugging you.
Thankfully, we did get on a bus in the end and only had to endure a few drug-addled weirdos (ahhh nostalgic). As we approached our hotel we remembered that we were an hour late for collecting our laundry. I've never seen Lauren run so fast and amazingly she made it to the shop just as she was locking the doors. The next day was a bank holiday and the day after that we were leaving early in the morning so we would've had no chance at getting our clothes back.

Our last day in Penang was boringly spent planning for what was to come next. We of course intermittently broke the boredom by eating.
Penang has been my favourite city overall so far and the perfect place to spend my birthday. It's actually the first place we've been that I could realistically see myself living in. But we'll give Bristol a go first eh...

Posted by advensha 21:09 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia adventure penang backpacking ferry langkawi travelling colonial southeast_asia time_capsule_hotel yeap_noodles

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More grandure writting's here Aisha!! Really great, i like the foody descriptions and the torment of missing the bus, i'm only half way down but i really feel like im 'there' with you guys...even Loz'd crimson face-which ive never seen before but i can really syphmophize with these first world frustrations as i constantly have them myself :) and nothing pitiful about your life...;) will keep reading..you should right a book!!!

by lil

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