After lunch, we were off on the train from Bangkok to Butterworth in Malaysia where we would transfer to Penang. That meant a leisurely start to the day. After breakfast, Fran went to get her nails done and I went off to do some shopping.
The train journey was OK - if a bit long. We got on at 14:45 with it due in Butterworth at 11:55 next day. We were in 2nd class - no separate first class compartments on the train - which was OK apart from the lights were kept on all night and it was noisy - especially as we were at the end of the 3 carriages going all the way to Butterworth and the train got split up at 6:00 am.We got to the Thai/Malay border at 8:00 next morning where we had to get out of the train complete with luggage to go through immigration and customs. The process seemed to take for ever - in reality about an hour - as we had to have our photos taken as we left Thailand. We eventually arrived in Butterworth at 1:45 pm local time - a journey time of 22 hours.
From Butterworth, it was across on the ferry to Penang island. It was a beautiful day, clear blue sky and the ferry is certainly a picturesque way to arrive on the island. At the ferry terminal, it was the normal negotiation with cab drivers who don't know why they have meters and on to our hotel. We were in a heritage house (even on the tourist trail) but it was slightly run down. It was then out to explore the options for eating - choices were lots of Indian restaurants and local food which seems to be a blend of Indian and Chinese or the E&O (the posh hotel in Penang, built by the people who built Raffles in Singapore) - we choose the cheap Indian!
Next day, we had a quiet start to the day. First job was to find somewhere for breakfast - we were looking for something vaguely western but all there seemed to be were curry houses or noodles. After 45 minutes we found a Starbucks - OK but not the healthiest.
We had a walk round the various heritage sites - Chinese clan jetties where they all live in narrow alleyways by the sea, onto the fort (a bit touristy) and then round the back streets. At this point we came across Pinang Peranakan Mansion - a house built in the late 1890s by a wealthy Chinese business man. It was fascinating and stuffed full of things that the current owner had collected. There was even some old glassware made in Stourbridge (close to where I was brought up).We then had a walk round Little India and on to the Chinese area. There were lots of clan temples - some were good but just the same as ones we had seen in China - all a bit the same really. It had become very hot and humid and we went looking for somewhere to have a drink. Georgetown is a bit weird - all the cafes seem to close in the afternoon!
The next day we completed the sightseeing in Georgetown - there were yet more temples plus the house of Cheong Fatt - known as the JD Rockefeller of the East. He was a self made man - had 7 wives but his favourite wife and house was in Penang. The house itself was interesting but not as well furnished as the one we saw on a previous day. It had been converted to a relatively expensive guesthouse - certainly not worth 4 times the amount we are paying.
In the afternoon we decided to have an afternoon out of Georgetown. We caught the bus along the north coast to Teluk Bahang. We went through Batu Feringi - a place I remember as a beach with a couple of hotels - today it seems the coast is wall to wall concrete - a poor impression of Torremolinos. The bus took us on to the national park. The walk was pleasant - all the beaches were deserted - the highlight was seeing some large monitor lizards. We didn't walk too far- it was much too hot. We came back to a night food market on the coast - lots of different food.
Next day we went into the centre of the island. We hopped on a bus and ended up at Penang hill. We went up the hill - an ascent of about 1800 feet - by 2 funiculars. The top was a bit weird - lots of fantastic views- with a south Indian temple and a mosque as well as lots of leftovers from the days of British rule when the hill station was used as an administrative centre and also a favoured place to live. We were expecting to find some quaint place to have tea - or at least an iced drink - but no places like this existed other than a very expensive one that didn't do tea until tea time!
We then back to the Kek Lok Si temple - a 2km walk but it was very hot and no shade. The temple was on the side of a hill so it was another long climb - fortunately through a labyrinth of shops in the shade. The temple was vast - with bits still being added to it. Another very large Buddha was being built.