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All I want for Xmas is.... a scooter and a picnic in Penang

Merry Christmans Everyone

sunny 32 °C
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As it it is Christmas day we decided to spend a bit more money than usual and do something fun. We woke up and santa had been! We both bought secret presents worth 5 Ringitt (£1) but it turns out we bought each other the same thing. haha. We bought each other a pair of chop sticks (maybe because it was the only thing we could find within budget). After our usual breakfast of toast and porridge and our usual application of factor 50 we were out early (for us) at 10am, and went to enquire about renting amotorbike, from the many rental places on the main backpacker stretch here in George Town.

We rented a automatic scooter that cost us £7. We also needed to put £30 deposit down,which is RM150, we don't carry this much cash so we didnt have it. The guy at the scooter rental let Liam go off on the scooter to the ATM to get the deposit. The man tried to describe where the nearest ATM was, but the directions were useless, mainly because when he said left his arm went right and vice versa. Having never rode a motorbike or scooter before Liam was glad to get a little practice in before Chelsea hopped on the back. As he thought, he could not find the ATM the man had hopelessly described so he went to a bank a little further a field. The man looked worried and fired questions at Chelsea...'has he ever ridden a scooter'....'he does have a licence doent he'.... 'he will be able to handle it wont he'. Once Liam was used to the accelaration of the scooter it was easy enough to ride, the only problem really being the traffic throughout George Town.

Once the deposit was paid we set off, our plan was to circum navigate the island and see the rest that we had not seen. It seemed like a really fun idea to rent the bike but until we were used to it, it was totally terrifying. First hurdle was fuel, the scooter had none in it and we had no idea where the nearest petrol station was having not seen one for the whole time here. We asked directions of another man who had the same issue as the first with is left and right. We assumed that is gesture was correct and he just used the wrong word. We managed to find the petrol station and then came to our second hurdle. Where is the petrol cap? After searching Liam spotted a key hole on the side of the scooter that opened the seat, there it was. It was not the saftest petrol tank we have seen, the cap was directly attached to the tank so you put the fuel nossle into the tank and stop adding fuel just before it over filled and covered the entire bike. On the plus side fuel over here is ridiculously cheap, the full tank costing RM7, about £1.40. Admittedly it is a very small tank but still.

So we set off. We knew our way out of George Town and along the north coast road because the bus we have been catching follows the same route. Getting used the bike we got out of town and onto the coastal road which was much more fun as there were less cars. For our Christmas dinner we decided to have a picnic on the beach somewhere, whilst out we spotted a Tesco so we zipped in and bought what we needed. Tesco is very different to England, it is more like a wholesalers here, with large quantities of rice and loads of fruit and veg.

From there we carried on along the coastal road past the resorts and beaches of Batu Ferringi where we spent the day on the beach and towards the north west corner of the island where we visited the national park. We remembered that at the beginning of the national park is the beach with pinic tables so we headed there to eat our picinic. It was very nice, we found a secluded spot about 4 feet from the sea, looking out at a jetty and the coast of the national park. We spent some time there, eating our picnic and relaxing before going back to the bike. There were these tiny crabs that kept coming out of little holes on the beach that Liam was scared of. In our Christmas picnic we had a loaf of bread, some meat, some cheese slices, some crisps, some chocolate fingers and a bun. It wasn't a turkey roast but we really enjoyed it :)

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We then followed the road down the west coast of the island, where it goes more inland, we passed a large lake and dam and then started to climb up into the hills. We passed a tropical fruit farm and lots of shanty huts selling different foods. Near the top we pulled over to admire the view which was all the way back down to the sea. The same road led all the way to the south coast, occasionally going up and down another hill. We passed a few working villages, but we are guessing that not many tourists come to this part of the island as there were no cafes or shops, just the odd restuarant. At one point we pulled over to stretch our legs and check the map and a very nice man in a car pulled over to offer us directions and show us where we were on our map. We have found that there are some really nice people in Malaysia and whenever we have been lost or needed help people have always been really friendly and helpful.

We drove all the way along the south coast and back up the east coast towards George Town again. We decided to call for a drink before taking the bike back so we went into a area called Queensbay. It is an area with a large mall with a few top end hotels just south of George Town, we havn't heard of it before but saw it sign posted. Everything was overpriced so we just settled for a couple of bottles of water and sat on a veranda of a cafe cooling off.

We took the bike back after that, just followed the coast road north into George Town, it was fairly straight forward apart from a 5 lane highway that we had to navigate, but luckily there are that many people on bikes that they have their own lane. We gave the bike back along with two very sweaty helmets and went back to the guesthouse to cool off and get a shower.

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For our christmas evening meal we headed out to the curry place we visited yesterday, Chelsea said she had been too ill to truely appreciate it yesterday and as she was feeling better today would like to go back. We didn't have the exact same thing because they do different things day to day it would seem, but we shared a spicy curried chicken, curried potaotes, rice and a couple of chipati's.

Back at the guesthouse we sat outside for a Christmas drink before coming in and skyping the family. We were very happy to see everyone and wish them a Merry Christmas. We leave Penang tomorrow and head to Langkawi on a ferry that departs at 8:30am. We have really enjoyed Penang, and George Town, one of the best places we have visited so far. We are looking forward to Langkawi and a (hopefully) relaxing week and maybe a beach party to bring in the new year.

Posted by Chelsandliam 07:04 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia penang Comments (2)

Day five on Penang

semi-overcast 30 °C
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Last nights sleep was a bit off and on as Chelsea kept having painful stomach cramps and kept waking up which carried on all day today. We got up and had breakfast and the pains got worse so we went back to the room and relaxed for a few hours. This afternoon we decided to go to Kek Lok Si temple, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.

We got on the local bus again which took us to the bottom of the hill the temple is on. To get to the temple you have to walk up some steps which wind through an indoor market area. People were selling clothes, Buddha souvieners and lots of turtle gifts and even real turtle shells which alarmed us as they looked like Snaggle (our pet turtle). When we got to the top we realised why, there was a big pool with a bridge and pagoda in the middle with hundreds of turles swimming around. We felt a little sorry for them all as there were hundreds and the pool wasn't that big and was really dirty. The were climbing all over one another trying to get to the sides where people were throwing in food for them.

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As you carry on climbing the steps you then come to the temple. It is really large and beautifully decorated and landcaped and when you first enter there is a pagoda with a big model Buddha. There are several different areas and in the walkways there were quite a lot of people begging. In the first one we went into the wallks were lined with hundreds of Buddhas and inside there was a huge golden sitting Buddha. In the main temple area there are several huge urns where people put the insence sticks they have used to worship and behind it was a table filled with different sized glass vases with candles you can burn and light. Also you could buy these brightly coloured wish ribbons that had messages on them and they tie them to a pole outside the main temple. The pole was bursting with them. The whole building is beautiful, all the walls, ceiling and even the floor tiles are ornately decorated. To go inside any of the worshiping areas you are asked to take your shoes off.

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We then went to see the really tall 7 storey handcrafted pagoda which you can go up for 2 Ringitt. Around this area it is a lot calmer, the temple has soft music playing and there were less people. The area is landcaped with grass, plants and flowers and all around the pagoda there are small turtle sculptures. We went up to the top of the pagoda and the views of the temple from the top are lovely, you can see all the way back to George Town, but inside the pagoda itself it in not as ornate.

We then went to view the final area which is a 30m bronze Kuan Yin statue. To get to this they have built an inclined lift which you can take for 2 Ringitt. It is the only way to get to it from the temple, otherwise you have to walk all the way back down from the temple and follow the road back up. It is extremely tall and sits under a stone carved pagoda. Around the statue there were hundreds of lanterns.

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The whole temple is very impresive and extremely beautiful and as it is up on a hillside the views frrom the top are great. However the temple was a lot more touristy than some of the other temples we have visited and there were a lot of gift shops and a lot of people being diresepctful within the temple, smoking and climbing on statues etc which we didn't like.

We then walked back down the the small town at the bottom of the hill and waited for the bus. It came straight away and we put our arm out but the bus carried on while the driver pointed. We folllowed the bus and ran after it and it had kindly waiting for us. Apparently we weren't at a bus stop, we were just at the side of the road and he can only stop at the designated stops. We have no idea how people know where to wait as there are no bus stop signs or any indication at all where the bus stops, we just thought people were getting off a random points whenever they wanted.

As soon as we arrived home we had a surpise call from Chelsea's parents which was nice and showered ready to go back out. Chelsea accidentially left her shampoo in the bathroom and to her horror its been stolen.

For tea we decided to go for Indian food as Chelsea wanted something plain like rice or bread for her poorly tummy. We walked round to Little India and went into the first place that looked busy. The menu wasn't in english and the waiter didn't want to explain to us what they were selling so he just took us to the counter and we pointed to the things we wanted. Chelsea had rice with a potato curry and a chapati and Liam had some spicy chicken curry with rice and a chapati. They both came with sauces but we have no idea what was in them. Liam said it was the best Indian food he had ever had. On our way out a random Indian customer wished us Merry Christmas which made us smile.

We then sauntered back to the guest house and sat outside with a drink (beer for Liam, tea for Chelsea). Tomorrow is Christmas and for Christmas dinner we plan to have a picnic.... we could really eat some turkey, roast potatoes and gravy though. Anyone fancy posting us some?

Posted by Chelsandliam 06:41 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia penang Comments (3)

Relaxing in Penang

sunny 32 °C
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After the eventful day we had yesterday, the only plan for today was to relax. We woke late and lounged around the guesthouse eating breakfast and drinking coffee until we had the motivation to leave. We threw on our beach clothes and hoped on the same bus we got yesterday.

On the north of the island there are dozens of large hotels and resorts in an area named Batu Ferringi. We had drove through yesterday on the way to the national park. There is a large beach across most of the coast and there are also little coves every so often but most are hard to get to. There is plenty of choice as to where to get off the bus and onto the beach, we chose the area we had seen people going to yesterday behind Golden Sands hotel.

Once off the bus, we walked by the hotel through a narrow row of shanty huts selling all sorts of beach wear, tshirts and drinks onto the beach. Some hotels over look the beach and have pools and private seating, and we walked along the hot sand until we came to some free chairs and an umbrella. The beach was quieter than we expected, the weather was great if a little too hot but there was not many people, so we got a large section pratically to ourselves.

The beach is fun, there are water sports including jet skies, para sailing, and wind surfing. There was also a volleyball court where people were playing and several shaded areas providing massages. However we been on a strict budget lavished £4 for the sun beds and admired the rest from a distance.

We stayed on the beach for a few hours, we rotated between sun and shade when we could not take the equatorial sun anymore, as well as going for a walk along the beach and going for a swim in the sea. The sea was warm but due to the watersports we had to stay in a particular area. The rest of the time we just lounged and read, recovering from yesterday. When we finally could not take the heat anymore we left, and jumped on the bus back to George Town.

Tonight has been equally relaxing, we took a small stroll to a foodcourt, Chelsea had a plate of rice and roast chicken, Liam had another Penang dish of Hokkien Prawn Mee, a dish of yellow noodles in a thick spicy broth, served with prawns, pork and a spoonful of chilli paste. We then made our way back to the guesthouse calling in a little cafe on the way and sat on the veranda with a drink until we were ready to come back to our room.

It has been quite uneventful today and very relaxing, and apart from some slight sunburn ( mostly due to bad cream applying) we are full recharged for our last two days on Penang.

Posted by Chelsandliam 16:00 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia penang Comments (3)

Jungle trekking and Hindu dancing in Penang

sunny 32 °C
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Today we got up a bit earlier as we wanted to leave Georgetown and see some of the island. We had our toast and porridge for breakfast with a most needed cup of coffee and after layering on sun lotion and insect repellent in equal quantities we set off. The bus comes just around the corner of our guest house and we only had to wait five minutes for the bus we wanted. We got on the 101 bus to Penang's national park, a protected area of land with jungle and beeches of great natural beauty. The bus took a long time and we were glad to get off as the air conditioning was really cold. A word of advice for anyone catching the bus in Penang, they don't give change so you need to board with the exact amount.

Once there we signed in and got a terrible photocopy of a map of all the trails and places of interest. We decided to go on the canopy walk and then carry on to Pentai Keracut beach which has a turtle sanctuary on it. We arrived at the park at ten past twelve and the canopy walk closed for lunch at 1pm so we decided to go straight there and set off on a speed walk. The path at this point was leisurely and paved and there were monkeys walking around. The path initially bordered the coast and the views were gorgeous, all white sand and blue sea with big rocks and trees. Along the way there were picnic areas on jetties that you could sit at and overlook the beach. We had to go inland for the canopy walk and the path soon became a jungle trail. We arrived at the canopy walk in time but we were totally knackered and boiling, walking at speed up and down a jungle trail at mid day is hard work.

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The canopy walk is a suspended walkway from the trees attached by ropes with a plank running through the centre to walk on. When we arrived and bought our tickets it looked exciting but once we up there it was really fun but quite scary. We were the only two people up there and there were four walks of varying lengths through the trees. It was really high and when you walked the whole bridge moved and bounced up and down with your steps.

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After the tree top walk we set off on route to the beach. It looked about the same distance as we had walked to the canopy walk on our map so we thought it would be easy but the trail was narrow and muddy with tree roots surfacing and wet leaves on it. After about ten minutes walking and after all the jeering yesterday when Chelsea left her umbrella at the restuarant Liam realised he had left his sunglasses. Half way accros the canopy walk we stopped for a photo and he hooked his glasses to one of the ropes up in the trees. We had to walk back and Liam had a lengthy conversation with the canopy walk employee while he was on his lunch as he wouldn't let him back accross. After Liam said will you please go and get them for me then the man let him go back accross. Liam (who is scared of heights) had to do the walk twice haha.

We then set off again to the beach. After an hour or so we thought it was quite a long way and we must be close but it took more than two hours to get there. The walk was really hard, through narrow slippy paths up and down hills. We just had to follow the path and we couldn't see where it was leading us as it was through dense jungle. On more than one occasion we thought we were lost and the map was zero help. We just had to carry on. On route we met a group of people in the same predicament who also didn't know where they were but we all followed the path and eventually we got there but we were totally done in.

We had totally underestimated the national park and we had drank all our water back at the canopy walk and this made the Indiana Jones style two hour trek through the hot humid jungle real difficult. When we got to the end we went straight to the sea for a paddle. The beach was lovely. We have since read that it is the national parks most remote beach. The sea water was really warm and the sand was white but was really corse like sea salt. It was hard to walk on and your feet sank when you walked. The turtle sanctuary however was not worth the work, there was a guarded area of beach where eggs were waiting to hatch but the actual sanctuary was tiny with several turtle skeletons and two small turtles swimming into the wall of a childrens paddle pool.

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There was no way without the water, or Bear Grylls, that we were going to make it back through the Jungle. Luckily a boat makes laps of the national parks coast line. We waited on the Jetty at the beach until one arrived, when one finally turned up our joy was quickly extinguished when the boat man said it would be RM80 back. We were not going to pay that. To our relief the group we had met earlier also did not fancy the walk back and wanted to catch the boat, meaning we could split the RM80 between eight of us rather than just us. The boat trip turned out to be a good idea, it was real fun seeing the rest of the park from the sea and the breeze was a welcome relief from the heat. By the time we got back we were desperate for a drink, so we bought some water and cans of pop from a small shop before getting the bus back to George Town,

It is fair to say that our trek pretty much killed us off for the day. In hindsight we enjoyed it but at the time it was really hard work. We came back to the guesthouse to rest and take much needed showers. We were quite late going out for tea as we were so worn out. By the time we did go out we were starving having not eaten since breakfast. We decided we wanted curry and tried another Penang 'must eat. Nasi Kandar. Bascilly you have rice, with your chosen curry but you also get the sauce of every other curry they sell mixed in. It was mega and we had a mutton and vegitable curry and the obligatory freshly baked naan bread.

On our way back we strolled through Little India and noticed that everyone was walking around in Saris and traditional Hindu dress. The women were dressed in fancy embelished, colourful saris and they had fresh flowers in there hair, it was beautiful. We thought it could just be for Saturday night until we saw a large Hindu street parade working our way towards us. It was dedicated to Hari Krishna, there were three large ornate floats decorated with shrines and flowers. The first led by two huge well dressed cows, the others pulled along by dozens of people. Each one played loudly its own Hari Krishan chant while more people danced, played drums and crashed cymbals. It was amazing to see. We stood at the sidelines watching and taking photos before a older man came to speak to us to explain what was going off and telling us to join in. Before we knew it we each had a rope pulling a float along the streets in between the dancing and the music. We followed for a couple of streets, totally transfixed by it.

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Everyone was extremely friendly, asking us to join in with the dancing, chatting to us and handing out sugar coated nuts. At the end of the parade there is a massive free vegertarian feast but it was quite a way away and it had taken nearly an hour to move two streets due to the roads still being open to other traffic, plus we couldn't take anymore walking and it was raining, so we stood and watched it carry on before returning to the guesthouse.

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Today has been quite unexpected, but we have enjoyed it. The national park was great to explore even if it did almost kill us, and the Hindu parade made our day, it was brilliant. Tomorrow we are going to take it easy and recover though and plan to spend it ligged out on a beach on the north of the island.

Posted by Chelsandliam 16:00 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia penang Comments (4)

Doomsday in George Town, Penang

sunny 31 °C
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As today was supposed to be the end of the world we decided to see all the main sights and temples of Georgetown in one day by going on a self navigated heritge walk.

We woke late as our room has no windows so is pitch black giving you no idea to the time or whether it is the middle of the night or indeed the morning. Apart from that we had the best night sleep we have had in a while. We made the most of the breakfast provided my the guesthouse, we ate our own body weight in toast and porridge to keep us going until we went out for dinner in the evening.

First port of call was Penang Heritage Trust, who provide maps for walks around the city to see the main attractions. Unfortunately when we arrived they had sold out of maps, so we had to make do with a photocopy that they fished out of the backroom with no key on it. Out of the three walks on the map we decided on the one that took us to all the major temples through Georgetown.

Just walking the streets here is exciting. The shops and houses are old and small but the town is really busy with people, cars and motorbikes. There are signs everwhere and stalls set up selling quick meals, snacks, desserts and drinks. Also every so often whilst walking you come accross some street art, it is dotted all over the town. There are all kinds. There are metalwork sculpures set against the wall that look like pen drawings from afar and beautiful lifelike paintings of everyday people that often fill a whole wall. There are also ones that use a mixture of sculture and painting, there was one where real bike was set into a wall with two children painted on the wall as if they were riding it. We love them and its really exciting when you come accross one.

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The culture walk however did not start very well, the first stop was Penang State Musuem, which upon arrival we found out is closed on Fridays. Next was St George Church, the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia. It was an impressive building from the outside, solid white in grass grounds, and it is a good job because it was closed until 2pm. Next on the 'tour' was the 'Goddess of Mercy' Buuddist temple and in keeping with the first two sights was currently under major renovation and covered in scaffolding, apart from a make-shift room that people still used for worship.

As things couldn't get any worse we carried on to our next temple, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is the oldest Hindu Temple in Georgetown. We have seen more lavish Hindu temples before but at least it was open and not covered in scaffolding. From there we made our way to another Buddist Temple, Teochew Temple which was very ornate, decorated with dragons, Chinese text, lanterns and Chinese Art. In the rear hall was a huge room used for 'ancestral worship', where the worshipers have hundreds of tablets decroted with the names of their ancestors. It has gone through major renovation work and has being fully restored and throughout the temple they have before and after pictures, and explain the different parts of the temple, on wall plaques which is very interesting as we often don't understand the Chineese temples and what each room and shrine is for.

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The next few temples included Kapitan Keling Mosque, the largest Mosque in Georgetown and two more Buddist Temples. By this point we were all templed out and the heat was becoming unbearable. After a drink stop at a cafe we walked through the streets on a different walk on the map that took us through an old part of town where all the fronts of the houses had been restored. The old house fronts are beautiful, pastel coloured with shutter doors on the windows. Lots of the buildings have been made into galleries and nice shops in this area and we called into a couple. They had lovely paintings, prints and photographs of the streets and sigts of Penang and we browsed the shops for a while. We then visited the Chew Clan Jetty. The clan jetties are family communites built on stilts over the sea, each jetty is inhabited by one particular family and all the houses and shops are joined by wooden walkways that lead out to sea. Boats are moored up to the walkways and people have set up little stalls outside there houses for tourists to but souveneers.

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Once we couldnt stand the heat anymore we came back to the guesthouse to cool down before going back out again to go shopping as we have decided to by each other a small Christmas gift with a budget of RM5 each (£1). It took a while but we both found something and have secretly hidden them until Christmas day.

By this time we had to go collect our Thai Visa that we had applied for yesterday, thankfully there were no problems and in less than 2 minutes we were on our way back to the guesthouse with our Visa to get ready to go out for dinner. Tonight we tried Char Kway Teow, a spicy fried noodle dish with prawns and cockles that is one of many of the must-try foods of Penang, we can both see why, it was delicous. We had it with a coffee but the coffee tasted like stale fags so we ate our noodles and left the coffees as we weren't sure if the drinks man had burnt it or dropped his tab end in the pot and we didnt want to risk finding it in the bttom of one of our cups. We then went for a walk but had to turn around after 15 minutes as Chelsea had left her umbrella at the restuarant. We marched back at super speed and the nice drinks man had saved it us (maybe he felt bad for the cigarette flavoured coffee). By the time we had walked back to collect the brolly we were both done in, and decided to call it a day and go back to the guesthouse for a drink.

Posted by Chelsandliam 16:00 Archived in Malaysia Tagged town malaysia penang george Comments (2)

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