Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
331Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
SD Guest House
As I said, it was in Georgetown that we got our first real taste of Malaysia: the city is a beautiful amalgamation of Indian, Chinese, Malay, and... tourist (though, truthfully, there really weren't that many of the latter). The Indian population is huge, and we spent a whole afternoon exploring the stores and alleyways of Little India, enjoying extremely cheap and authentic Indian food. We also spent quite a bit of time ambling around Chinatown, which is where our hotel was located. Chinese temples dotted the city's streets, mixed amongst their Hindu, Christian, and Muslim counterparts. Every time we delved into one of these subsections, we found ourselves transported to India or China - these little enclaves truly were slices of their native countries. In Little India, the smell of Nag Champa tugged at our olfactory heartstrings, while Bollywood hits blasted from huge speakers lining the streets. In Chinatown, we once again found ourselves in the midst of Mandarin characters and Buddhist iconography. In short, it was fabulous.
I'd read a recommendation online for a guesthouse - the location that was noted was a bit vague, so we planned to do our best to see if we could locate it. Luck was on our side, and after a short walk from the ferry, we found ourselves at SD Guesthouse. It's my understanding that many of the hotels in Georgetown, particularly in Chinatown, can be, to be frank, shitholes. If that is the case, then we surely lucked out with SD. We spent the first night on the ground floor, and moved upstairs on the following day. The second room we occupied was the better of the two: gorgeous dark hardwood floors and beautiful old Chinese shutters providing all kinds of natural light, as well as fabulous views of the spectacular sunsets
Apart from wandering around the city, we also spent time visiting a few of the island's sights. The first of these was Fort Cornwallis, the spot where Sir Francis Light first landed on Penang. It was here that he constructed a defensive fort, made entirely of palm trees, in 1786. In 1793, Light employed prison laborers to rebuild the fort using brick, a slightly more durable material, and probably the reason the place exists today. The fort isn't a terribly exciting place, but it is a very quiet and peaceful spot to sit on the grass (or astride a cannon, of which many still dot the perimeter) and enjoy the views of the sea.
From Fort Cornwallis, we sped over to the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, where we hoped to tag along on one of the afternoon tours. The entrance fee (12 ringgit) was a bit steep, but we'd heard it was an amazing tour, so we decided to splurge. We were a few minutes late, but were allowed to join the group, and it didn't appear we'd missed much. The mansion is the old house of Cheong Fatt Tze, a Chinese merchant/shipping magnate. A true rags-to-riches story, at age sixteen, Cheong Fatt Tze immigrated to Malaysia from Guandong in China with nothing more to his name than the clothes on his back. Beginning with nothing, he eventually became an extremely wealthy man, the owner of houses in multiple countries, the husband of many (seven, I believe) wives (also in multiple countries), and the father of many children
We spent our last two days on the island taking in the sights from a rented motorbike. First we hit Penang Hill, the home of a Swiss funicular railway. We paid our ringgit and enjoyed the ride up to the top of the 2,700 foot hill. The hill offers fantastic views of both the city and the mainland, which we spent a bit of time enjoying and kodaking. While atop Penang Hill, we acquainted ourselves with the Hindu temple, Muslim mosque, and Christian church, all of which can be found at its summit. By 2:00, we'd had our fill and took the train back down. We hopped on the bike and drove a little further to Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia
Again we rented a motorbike on our final day in Georgetown. This time we left the city and cycled around the island, stopping for lunch at a local roadside food stand and hiking through the Forest Recreation Park. Our final stop of the afternoon was the beach on the island's northern coast, where we sipped some outstanding freshly squeezed orange juice. We switched spots, and I had an opportunity to do some driving - my first time doing so in a country where the driving is on the left-hand side - before we returned the bike and set about packing up our belongings. We had already purchased bus tickets to the Cameron Highlands for the next morning, so, despite our desire to while away all our days on Penang, we knew we'd be moving on shortly.