After an almost unbarably rocky 3 hour boat journey through the Straits of Melaka, we thankfully arrived in Georgetown on the island of Penang. It was late when we arrived feeling seasick and broken to be greeted by a ravenous pack of taxi drivers ready to pounce on new arrivals. We accepted the 15RM fare (£3.00) to Chinatown and were dropped off at the infamous backpacker haunt of Love Lane. After checking out a couple of guesthouses we were drawn into the Owl Cafe by the owner Reggae Ken.
Ken is Chinese by origin with long black hair, hippy dress sense and an odd glazed sort of stare. He clearly drinks too much but he is a lovely, harmless man - honest, helpful and friendly. He would forever call out "Happy Happy" and "Ken Can!" as if to prove his unfailing helpfulness. The room was basic but clean and with air con it was steal at only 26RM a night.
Our first full day in Georgetown was spent sight seeing and walking - a lot! We explored the Little India and Chinatown areas, as well as the colonial districts with their european and British architechture. Along our journey we met a kind old Indian man from Bengal who stood to talk to us and offered us a free drink from his cart. He was selling a cold drink made from Soya beans that was odd in taste at first but very refreshing.
For dinner, Ken pointed us in the direction of a nearby food court called The Red Dragon. It's a fantastic concept seen all over South East Asia and very popular with people in Malaysia. Here you can sample as much Thai, Malay, Chinese, Indian and even Western food as you can handle, without spending more than £5.00! It seems almost everyone in Chinatown hangs out here and it's easy to see why; the food is fantastic and there is a great sense of community. Our stand out dish was the Curry Bread; simply a loaf of fresh baked bread with a chicken and potato curry dish inside! Fantastic!
Here we met an elderly, but young at heart couple called David and Jessie. They listened to us talk about our travels and they told us of their own trips to europe and even the UK. David gave plenty of advice on places in Malaysia. They were very generous and kind; taking us on a tour of Georgetown by night in their car or giving us a bag of Mangosteen fruit as a gift. I had previously eaten these but they were new to Lisa.
Our second day in Penang took us to Penang Hill, a British Colonial Hill Station located in the cooler air, 820m above sea level. We enjoyed the view from David Brown's Restaurant and Tea Terraces, sipping Malaysian Tea. The journey to the top is reached by a very slow and very old train which takes about 20 minutes to reach the summit. The jounrey back down seemed even longer!
The next day we took the 101 bus to Batu Ferringhi on the north of the island. We had no idea how long the journey would take or even when we had arrived - the bus driver stopped in the centre of the town and told us it was our stop. We stopped for an overpriced coffee and decided on our next move. We followed the advice of our lonely planet guide and followed the road some distance in the heat, with our heavy bags. We walked past a number of huge resorts that blocked the beach from view, all the way to the far end of the beach and down a little side road where all the budget guesthouses were clustered together in an almost self contained hippy quarter on a less enticing stretch of beach.
We found our way to a small family run guesthouse called Shalinin's Guest House. It was certainly homely having to walk through the family kitchen and dining room to get to our bedroom upstairs. The building itself was wooden and creaky with paper thin walls but it was pretty quiet aside from the regular calls to prayer from the nearby mosque. I have to admit I quite like the calls to prayer. They remind me that I am in somewhere new and surrounded by a culture that deserves as much attention as the Thai culture I know so well.
By night, Batu Ferringhi livens up with a fantastic night market stretching the whole length of the beach. Although it mainly sells souvenirs, DVD's, paintings, etc. it was still fun to explore. We managed to pick up a copy of "24 - Season 7" which will keep us entertained when we get home and have no money!
Whilst Batu Ferringhi doesn't have the same desirable beaches as those on other islands like Langkawi, it is still an interesting and relaxing place to visit for a few days away from hectic Georgetown.