Sparky Travels

September 22, 2009


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On the 18th of September we boarded the bus to Malaysia. After meeting some nice people (1 swede, 1 English and 1 Irish) on the first minibus from Krabi to Hat Yai we were split up and me and Helen were put on a minibus with some old boys from Thailand off on their holidays in Malaysia. We couldn’t understand much of their chatter but they were having a grand old time making fun of everything they saw on the way. They also helped out at the  ridiculously easy border crossing by pointing us in the right directions and telling us where to come back to to meet the bus. Pleasingly, we were given 90 day visas so we don’t feel under pressure to rush through the country for once.

A few hours later we were dropped off in the backpacker area of Georgetown and found ourselves the cheapest hostel we could, 75 Travellers Lodge.  It was a really scaffy joint but did the job and the staff were very helpful. Half the residents seemed to  be weird sex-pats but we left them to themselves and met up with the people we’d chatted to on the first minibus whenever our paths crossed.

One of the reviews of Georgetown that I read highlighted where the ferry port was because you’d want to leave the city quite soon after getting there. I dogmatically ignored this and kept my high hopes for this, the capital of the island of Penang.
As a first taste of Malaysia it was a solid choice. It has a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian populations much like the rest of the country. Due to it being a port town and once an important trade route, the ethnic diversity is even more complicated.
Though not the prettiest of cities, there is enough colonial-style architecture to leave a trace of charm and contrary to reports, there was lots to see, if not in Georgetown then in the surrounding area.
Unfortunately due to bus confusion, religious holidays and abject lazin ess, we didn’t accomplish quite as much sightseeing as we planned to.
The furnicular up Penang Hill took two attempts. One cooincided with the entire Indian population of the city trying to get up there at the same time so we headed to Lok Si Temple nearby (which was closed at the top) instead. The next time we went earlier and although we had to wait a while in the nondescript village of Air Hitam we got the views we were after.
The viewing platform at the KOMTAR building in the centre of Georgetown was a failure. Twice we tried to find it and twice we failed. That was probably a good thing since it turned out that it was a ripoff.
The botanic gardens were similarly badly excecuted. After an hour or so waiting for a non-existant bus we gave up. I was particularly disappointed with that since I miss public parks and gardens more than many things. The Penang Museum & Art Gallery on the other hand was a complete success. We went there on our first full day in the city and managed to spend 2.5 hours strolling round learning about the history of the island, ethnic groups and 19th century art. The museum closed the next day for refurbishment and the time spent in there was torrential rain so our timing, for once, was perfect.

The rest of the time in Georgetown was spent eating. After spending so much time on resort islands, the cheapness and variety of food was great. I had my first Indian meal in months on the first night which was a welcome change from the fare I’ve become used to. There was also a food market called Red Garden ( recommended by Chris and Amanda, cheers peeps) where there was a whole range of cuisine at various stalls, including satay chicken, dim sum, sushi, rice, noodles and the likes. Booze-wise it was a pretty quiet few days. It seems like this will be a recurring theme throughout Malaysia given the price of drinks. On a number of nights we spent the same amount on drinks as we did on food and accommodation and that was only 1 big beer each!

After 5 nights in Georgetown it was time to head on to the next stop, the Cameron Highlands.

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