Penang - Bye bye beach

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Trip End Jun 27, 2009


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Penang I feel like a traveller again. Thailand was a holiday within a holiday and after a month, I craved days filled with sightseeing and mornings without hangovers. We're staying at Banana Guesthouse on Jalan Chulia and it reminds me of South Africa no end. For one, it's a proper hostel, with a packed bar downstairs and featureless rooms and shared bathrooms upstairs. Secondly, Penang itself, much like Long Street in Cape Town is full of colonial influence. The shuttered windows and covered pavements really remind me of Cape Town, and that's a very good thing, trust me.

The comparisons with places already travelled don't end there. Penang is massively influenced by China, much like Vietnam. Most striking of all is the size of Chinatown (where we're staying), it's huge. The streets are busy and the sound of whiny chinese music seeps through the windows of the houses and shops. Penang is possibly the most culturally diverse place i've ever been. Next to Chinatown there's Little India; although a little smaller, its character is larger than life. A short stroll brings your tastebuds face to face with tempting pakoras and you're ears assaulted by the bolly music blasted from every second shop. Malay, Chinese and Indian make up 90% of the population.

Our first fix of sightseeing took us to Fort Cornwallis, built by Captain Francis Light after taking possesion of the island in 1786, the entry is cheap and to look around is interesting enough. Commonwealth influence is very noticable around Penang with place names like Georgetown and Scotland Road. Later that day we stopped by the Eastern and Oriental hotel, although we knew we wouldn't be let in as we were wearing shorts and flip flops. Essentially it's a big posh hotel built by the same guy who built Raffles in Singapore where people enjoy tea and tiffin on the lawn (jolly good show!). Finally we took a trip to the top of the Komtar Tower which gives amazing views of Penang and the mainland.

The next day we took the bus (public transport in Malaysia is flawless) to Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam, it's the biggest buddhist temple in Malaysia. Luckily that day there was very few people around and this gave the place a really eerie, peaceful feeling. The architecture and artwork is beautiful, it must have taken years of patient work to complete. The huge, golden reclining buddhas are always impressive and there are many images of goblins (or something like that) being crushed by the feet of the gods(I didn't ask what it meant). We nearly took the cablecar up to the huge statue of Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy at the top of the hill but thought against it, it's still baking hot and the whole thing is still under construction anyway.

Later we took a taxi to the botanical gardens where we saw scores of long-tailed Macaques play with and torment each other (there's a ridiculously high fine for anyone fearless enough to feed them) and we had a stroll through the well-kept gardens. Another taxi later we were at the foot of Penang Hill with the clouds creeping toward us with intent. After packing about 40 people into a carriage made for 20 we made our ascent to the top. Penang Hill actually comprises a group of six peaks and the highest point is 833 metres above sea level. By the time we made it to the top, the cloud was well upon us but we managed to get a couple of decent shots of the stunning view before we were beaten and sulked down the path toward the funicular.

Penang has revitalised me, next stop Kuala Lumpur.
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Where I stayed
Banana Guesthouse

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