That's not a snake...this is a snake!

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
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27
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Trip End Feb 13, 2011


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Where I stayed
Banana New Guesthouse

Flag of Malaysia  , Pinang,
Monday, September 6, 2010

Fresh from a relaxing 5 nights in the Cameron Highlands, we set of early in the morning for Penang. Fortunately, the bus ride to Penang didn't involve the twisty, car-sick inducing roads of our voyage to the Highlands from KL - it was serene for the most part, taking us through Ipoh (a town everyone advises not to go to as there is nothing to do) and even including a stop to get breakfast!


As we crossed the bridge that spans the gap between Penang island and Butterworth on the mainland, we could gaze out from either side of the bus and see nothing but sea until the horizon. It was also looking like it was going to be a fantastically hot day, something that came as a shock to the system after almost a week living in the Highlands distinctly British weather. First impressions of Georgetown as we drove along one of the main streets, Jalan Chulia, was that it seemed somewhere in between KL and Melaka - both in terms of atmosphere and architecture. It was somehow both frantic and laid-back, modern and historical. It was a bit strange, but we were looking forward to having a look round and to tasting some of the excellent culinary specialties associated with the area.

First, however, we headed to our hostel to dump our bags. We were staying at a place called Love Lane Inn to start with. It was on, strangely enough, Love Lane (so called, because in the olden days it was the road were the rich gents kept their mistresses) and was a nice place to start our stay - the staff were (mostly) super friendly and helped us out by scrawling over a map of the town to show us where everything was. We also discovered an awesome little cafe that did amazing sweet and sour crispy chicken, amongst many other dishes, called Angel Cafe just up the road from our hostel, and another fantastic hawker centre a few minutes walk away.


We started out by visiting Fort Cornwallis and the adjacent Lighthouse. It was a nice area to wander round, but nothing to exciting. The Fort was well preserved and had some interesting historical stories - made even more interesting by the English translations which had clearly been translated by someone who has never spoken English before! It is also home to the Seri Rambai, a famous cannon that (allegedly) rose by itself from the sea and is able to cure a number of health issues. The lack of intelligible English was worth it, however, for the view from the top of the lighthouse. It was a bit of an effort climbing to the top - including the last section, which was a straight out ladder - but you could see across the entire of Georgetown, the sea, and across the channel to the mainland. Plus the breeze at that height almost negated the heat! Having climbed back down we had a quick look at the Clock tower - built to commemorate Queen Victoria's 1897 Jubilee - before heading for a drink.


Next up was a trip to the 'legendary' Snake Temple. It really is exactly what it says on the tin - a temple where snakes roam free around the shrines. Although they struggle to roam too much, given the drugged stupor most of them appear to be in. The attached snake park was a different story. I think we were both expecting a standard walk around looking at snakes in glass cages experience - so it came as a bit of a shock to walk in and see a man kissing a King Cobra but three metres in front of us. And even more shocking was turning round to find ourselves standing in the doorway of an open cage with a python by our feet! It was the kind of place that would make Health and Safety faint - meaning it was fantastic fun. One of the park managers came over and walked us round each of the animals giving us a little talk, and letting us hold each of the non-venomous ones. We were allowed to climb in with the 8 metre Python, and, as Annie refused to even get in the cage, it was left to me to hold it's tail for some photos. And let me tell you, that bad boy was heavy. The manager reassuringly told me the story of how it almost killed a man when it was caught near a school. It had wrapped up one of the capture group, fortunately someone had brought alcohol which when poured over the nose of the Python made it release it's grip on the guy - the moral of the story obviously being that alcohol saves lives!


After sorting out our Thai visas, which was remarkably pain free and far easier than was made out, we took a trip to two of Georgetown's best known temples - Wat Chayamangkalaram, a Buddhist temple, and Dhammikarama Burmese Temple. Chayamangkalaram contains a massive reclining Buddha that takes up the majority of the temples area, and the walls are surrounded by shrines for each of the Chinese years (as well as for good fortune, etc) as well as memorials for people who have passed away and (presumably) donated money to the temple. As with most of the Buddhist temples we've seen so far, it was ornately decorated with statues and carvings outside and throughout the temple itself. Dhammikarama had a different feel to it; probably from the Burmese influence. It was the first Buddhist temple built on Penang and has been wonderfully maintained. As we walked through the grounds, we followed the story of Prince Siddhartha's journey to becoming Buddha in the form of pictures. It was definitely different. The temple also had a pond into which you could throw money. Nothing special you may say, but this pool had a difference; you had to aim your money for little jugs mounted on what is best described as a carousel. Each pot represented a different type of well-being - Annie went for the 'Good Marriage' pot whereas I went for the 'Financial Well Being' pot. We both missed, maybe we should start worrying...oh no, I donated money at Chayamangkalaram, so I guess we're back at all square.


We also paid a visit to the Penang War Museum. It was a bit more expensive than other tourist attraction on the island (although still nothing by Western standards) but was well worth it. It's basically a big, outdoors museum based around the defense complex built by the Brits before the start of WW2. It was great fun; we got to scramble around the old battlements, pose with remaining anti-aircraft guns, and walk through the underground storage areas and tunnels. Some of the tunnels were pretty creepy - we were handed a flashlight by the attendant and off we went, into a pitch-black tunnel about 5ft by 2ft. As I said, great fun! As well as getting to see around the renovated complex, there was also plenty of history to suck up - a lot of which was pretty graphic. Especially the stuff about the Japanese treatment of the local population and remaining PoWs after they took control of Penang from the Brits. I think the most traumatizing event of the visit to the museum was having to chat with a local guy whilst waiting for the bus - he seemed set on discussing why we had no children, and I think was blowing kisses at me. Very strange, I'm all for being friendly, but that might be a little too much friendliness!


After a fantastic time in Georgetown, and Penang as a whole, it was time for us to be on our way again. We had out tickets in hand for the sleeper train to Bangkok. So we grabbed the ferry to the mainland heading for the train station and Thailand.
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