Trip Report by Lynne J 21 August to 3 September 2002
Bet you thought I'd forgotten, disappeared off into the wide brown yonder of my desk, never to return... well that could have happened, but I managed to struggle through the pile of paperwork that awaited me, plus the additional stuff that just happened to be "just down my street", and here I am.... trying desperately to remember all the wonderful things I experienced just 4 weeks ago.... is it really only that long ago... it seems like forever.
Anyway... Got your coffee? Good, I'll start....... Start at the beginning... Fab flight to KL, flew with Malaysian Airlines and well worth the trip too. Very nice airline food, free drinks, Spiderman on the screen in front, and a very nice little Australian guy to chat to en-route (when my other half was asleep) . After getting lost in KL airport (I know, who can get lost there?), and just making the connecting flight after walking in and out of the building a couple of times, we had barely settled down in our seats before we landed, which was quite nice because it was possibly the most turbulent flight we'd ever been on. It had been absolutely pouring down (thunder and stuff) in KL (and we heard that it had been doing that for quite a while) so we weren't expecting to walk into what felt like a tandoori oven when we arrived in Penang but we did. (Very happily if a little shakily).
A swift walk through the airport, grab the bags, and Oooooh... there's someone standing there with our names on a card and we were in a taxi heading off to Batu Ferringhi. Our driver (a lovely lady driver from the Acme Mayflower Co. who's name escapes me after four weeks) told us about everything we passed which was good because it was very dark, and we couldn't see anything. I dutifully asked lots of questions about everything I'd learned, and even answered some questions from another couple as though I was a Penang Regular.
They were very impressed by my insider knowledge, but I had to eventually admit to being a novice, and that the PenangTalk.com posse taught me everything I knew. The driver knew about PenangTalk.com too. (Fame at last).
We passed Ferringhi Beach Hotel which looked very nice, but I am sure glad I had changed my booking to the Casaurina. FBH was so far out to the main strip, we would have probably found it a bit of a bind to have to taxi every night. Our room at the Casaurina was absolutely wonderful. Top floor but one, right in the centre of the hotel overlooking the pool and the beach with no trees to spoil the view, and the most gigantic bed in the middle of a very spacious room just added to the excitement (!). I'm not sure if we were just lucky, or what because we met another couple (as you do) who had moved rooms four times (and that was the first time chatting to them). I think they had moved a lot more by the end of the holiday, and had run ins with the management about all sorts of things but by that time I'd lost the will to live. (Perhaps they were just very unlucky and not the other way round). Anyway, we had no complaints about the hotel, and thought it was very very nice. Very down to earth, casual, comfortable and the staff couldn't do enough to help us. Even when my other half dropped our room key five floors down the lift shaft. They just patted our heads, lead us to the hotel bar, and duly delivered the key back to us five minutes later. (I doubt that would have happened over here somehow).
My only complaint, which I am sure would be the same of any hotel or bar in Penang for that matter, would be the cost of alcohol. I was truly amazed at the prices of wine for instance. I drank beer throughout the holiday, which took a bit of forcing down eventually, but the price of one glass of wine on its own was far more difficult to swallow.
Our days were spent alternating between sleeping on the beach, swimming in the pool etc., to sightseeing naturally. The weather was a mix of rain and wonderful sunshine. Whilst looking at the tourism board in the hotel, we were ambushed by the Chief Door Man and discovered (over a chat that lasted about an hour) the delights of renting our own driver for the day. I am ashamed to say though, that after he spent so long telling us about it, for the cracking price of $R25 per hour, we promptly went out of the hotel doors, turned left and walked straight into Ocean Jupiter and organised everything with Suhada for $R20 per hour instead. We had heard about her from the site, and she was absolutely wonderful. She was funny, knowledgeable, did great deals, and always did a better rate for exchanging cheques. We had a couple of days in a taxi with our driver Eswara, a really nice young guy who patiently took us where we wanted to go on the first trip, and took over the second trip and took us to where he wanted to go - which was fair enough.
Our first trip consisted of Penang Hill followed by the Kek Lok Si Temple... followed by everywhere else. We had a list as long as our arm. We were determined to do everything that day. Eswara just smiled and drove. We got to Penang Hill, and the weather was ok. We got half way up Penang Hill and it was raining. We got to the top of Penang Hill and we couldn't see each other. The little train journey up to Penang Hill has to be worthy of a mention. Only us and another couple sitting on the train, so we think good, should wizz up this hill then. Oh No... with two seconds to go, a Chinese Church Group of what seemed like a hundred members descended on the first carriage and began to pour themselves in. When they'd started overflowing from the first carriage they shuffled down and did the same again. By the time the third carriage was bursting, some of them decided they wanted to swap carriages. But thankfully eventually the little train started a very slow ascent of the hill. Squashed up against the window and a pole by the door I noticed a little sign that said "Strictly only 20 people" I thought it best not to mention it to my other half who had gone purple and had that mad eye movement going on.
So, what seemed like forever seemed to take forever and we eventually got to a very foggy hill top, and managed to fine a very fine little Hindu temple which was beautiful and well worth the horror of the last half an hour. But as we left the temple and decided to wander around the bird garden of the hotel, the heavens opened and we were treated to an hours worth of thunder and rain. So we stood under a little bamboo and leaf shelter which didn't shelter much, and then decided to run to the hotel, had a cold cup of coffee because the generator had packed in, and then took our lives in our hands and ran back to the train station at the top. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill again damp, cold and looking rather tired, our driver had done three return trips to Langkawi. on foot.
Kek Lok Si was our next destination, and this was worth everything we had gone through in the hours before. What a stunning temple and an interesting walk up through the shops as a preamble. The temple was awesome... a never ending feast of eye watering delights (get my drift). We walked right to the top of the temple and were rewarded with our first panoramic view of Georgetown. Back down and half way we stopped to feed the turtles and raise the alarm when one of them got stuck on his back. A shop keeper came over to see what was going on, smiled said no problem, and then went and got his wife to climb over the fence and turn the snapping turtle back over .
Ok... where now ... errr.... shall we go back to the hotel for a sleep and do everything another day? Mmmmm good idea, there's plenty of time isn't there. That sorted, it was back to the restaurants and night markets of BF with a vengeance. My other half turned into a "Label Queen". I lost him to the delights of the Quicksilver Shirts and Sunglasses nearly every night. Which was fine because I was quite happy sorting out the CD's and DVD's at the road side, when they'd keep still long enough, that is. They run quite fast don't they? 15 CD's and 11 DVD's later.
We made our very first (and not last) visit to the Hawker Restaurant at the end of the BF Strip. Oh wow, was that an experience. I loved it - running up and down the stalls like a kid in a sweet shop. My favourite? Has to be Chappati Corner without a doubt, and a fresh coconut to wash it down. Followed by those lovely sweet Nonya (?) pudding type things... oh yum. What can I say, we ate everywhere, everything and anything within reason. If it was there we tried it. If it was meat, I didn't but my other half did, and he enjoyed everything that was put in front of him. We loved Jasmines (I think we went there three times to be honest - their Kashmiri Biriani was mouthwatering, and the lentil dip which comes with their popadoms was gorgeous - if not a little repetitive the next morning (you get my drift). If a meal came with noodles I was a happy bunny, if it came with rice, he was. If it came with both (If you smiled nicely when ordering) it was handbags at dawn. I have honestly never enjoyed the food side so much as I did in Penang. You'd have thought I'd know this having read everything there was to know but I just didn't expect it to be so good.
Actually to be honest, there was one thing that neither of us enjoyed. Our fated day trip to Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si culminated in sharing a table of Chinese Vegetarian delights half way down the shops at Kek Lok Si with a lovely American couple we met whilst sheltering from the rain. I am a Vegetarian, and proud of it, but my other half bless is a carnivore and even more proud. But ok, if thats what you want to do poppet, thats what we'll do. I think when he saw that they did Sweet & Sour Chicken, that all was saved. But this was a "Chinese Vegetarian" Restaurant... exactly what is says on the tin. It might had said chicken on the menu, but it was the Chinese vegetarian version of chicken, just like the Chinese vegetarian version of the beef, and the prawn... if we can't serve it, we'll make it look like it. It won't taste like it, but there, you can't have everything. Probably not a culinary experience we will be experiencing again I think. Each to his own.
We shopped til we dropped - or rather he shopped, I dropped. There wasn't a shopping centre that didn't get the bloke treatment. I must have seen the inside of every single sports shop there was and then back to the first one again - how different can a pair of squash trainers be? Just buy them Man!. I thought it was a woman thing to shop like this? I think our favourite was the Gurney Plaza. We liked Komtar, but felt most at home with the Plaza, we liked the "Looking Good" one too, this was a little unusual but still good. And of course it was the Shopping Festival, so it would have been rude not to spend any money. Has anyone noticed that strange shopping sensation though... you walk into an empty shop, no one but you and the air conditioning, and you stand in front of something and reach out to it and before you can get it, it is picked up by a shop assistant who seems to have come from nowhere, although come to think of it you were aware of a strange shuffling behind you as you neared the display, who immediately begins THE SELL. They've missed their vocation - they should be on the shopping channel - how many ways can they explain the wonders and delights of owning this.......... flip flop in a snow globe?
We walked along Burma Road to the Reclining Buddah. We fed the monkeys outside the Botanical Gardens and I cried over the old one with the paralised legs that dragged itself over the busy road to beg for some of my peanuts (of course he got the lions share, but then again he probably always does). We walked around the butterfly farm with butterflys sitting on our heads, we swam with baby sharks, we jet ski-ed, we had a go in a rik-shaw with a lovely old driver who didn't look strong enough to pull me, never mind me, the bloke and his pile of squash trainers. We met the lovely old man called "lucky man" who tried to sell us buddahs every night which he had made by hand on Monkey Island (evidently) and then spent an evening trying to search him out to buy one from him just because it was a good story. We watched monkeys walking the phone lines, and the gecko in our bathroom, and the scorpion by the pool (Just Joking here), we ventured into the toilets at the Reggae Bar and never did it again.
We met countless nice couples from England and Ex-pats from Australia - most of whom were teachers for some reason, and mostly we met the most lovely people, the Penang people themselves. Without exception a happy, helpful, friendly, smiling nation. My favourite moments.....on our last day, with Eswara, our driver we had the much desired Roti Chanai and a cup of stretched tea for breakfast. Well actually, I had two Roti Chanai's and two cups of stretched tea. What bliss. Well worth the wait. And the sunsets at the end of each and every day. So there you go....my holiday... not exactly in a nut shell but a Trip Report nevertheless. I never said it was going to be short - did I?.