Day 9 – Penang

My final stay in Malaysia was on the island state of Penang, in the north of the mainland. This meant taking a 5 hour coach ride again, but seeing as the one I had booked turned out to be equivalent to a first class air ticket, I wasn’t too bothered. The views outside were similarly premium in their appearance. Rolling hills evolve into  bulbous mountains, each looking homoegenously green from a distance, but up close were a teething mat of interlocking species of different flora.

Disappointingly, I occasionally saw huge tears in this vegetative carpet, mining scars of orange and brown, remind me that, although much of the country is incredibly unspoilt in its appearence, it is still one of the largest economies in Asia.

Four and a lot hours later, I was flying over the fourth-longest road bridge in Southeast Asia. Penang Bridge connects Penang with the mainland, almost 14km away. The seas around us were quite choppy, as a tropical storm was about to wage water war on the people below.

A helpful man on the bus pointed me to Chulia Street – the tourist district of Georgetown on the island of Penang, and even offered to pay my bus fare. When I got to Chulia Street, I picked the closest hostel I could find, which turned out to pretty nice (apart from a single cockroach crawling across the pillows). Penang is famous for its food, and restaurants and food stalls are ubiquitous in the city. I met up with 2 people from the hostel – a travel writer and a student – and they took me to their favourite place around the corner. After we had a look around the historic section of Georgetown. Not much seemed to be going on. With such focus on food, the town seemed to have forgotten what one is supposed to do afterwards.

The next morning I caught a bus to Penang National Park. I met four native English speakers – the most I had talked to so far on my travels. It was nice because, although its great talking to people of different cultures, conversations usually degrade into a mire of platitudes and politeness as a lack of commonalities keeps you conversationally separated. Within 10 minutes of meeting these people, we were talking about The Poddington Peas and Fireman Sam – definitely not your normal travel conversation.

We treked for an hour and a half though mud, streams and fallen trees to a beach on the northern coast of the island. The beach is named for its association with a large breeding population of Green turtles. There was a turtle center there, where two men had been collecting eggs, hatching them and raising the baby turtles to be released back into the sea. Dozens were in a polystyrene tank, each about 2 inches long and surprisingly black, not green, and very cute. Some were flying speedily through the tank only to come to a confusing halt as they hit the unseen walls of polysterene. Others were lazing peacefully in the warm water.

The view from the beach was lovely – my first taste of tropical islandness. The sand was as course as granulated sugar, and the colour of demerara.  Along the dark blue sea, a water taxi buzzed up to the less-than-safe looking wooden pier. We boarded the boat, headed for another animal themed place – Monkey Beach. Like the Batu caves of KL, dozens of monkeys have made it their home. Here, they seem more agressive than at the caves, grabbing at anything resembling food from the passing tourists. One technologically minded primate apparently grabbed an iPad the day before, and left it up a tall palm tree. They were still cute, especially the young ones, running around in large packs through the leaf litter.

We got another boat back to the park entrance. On the way back we saw circling eagles overhead, flying fish attempting and failing to do the same and monitor lizards sleeping on the wet rocks.

We had lunch in another of the amazing curry houses of Penang. For pudding, we went across the road to a chocolate shop and gorged ourselves on the free samples, before running out like the sneaky monkeys of Monkey Beach.

That night I met up with one of the travellers. We went to the more industrial, modern parts of the city, going to an arcade. The range of confusing Japanaese video games was staggering. My favourite was playing as a cartoon Taiko drum, while cute animated macaroni figures shouted instructions while throwing digital confetti. I still dont know what the rules were, but I think I won. We also found an indoor archery range. At that moment I also learnt that indoor archery ranges existed. My friend was so bad, he kept hitting my target, so we didn’t stay too long, but it was a good distraction.

We went home that night. The bus stopped off outside the old colonial buildings which now house the town hall and other administrative buildings. They were all lit up with spotlights and fairylights, which  made a nice romantic back drop for the dozens of couples walking nearby, and so a slightly awkward one for me.

More tomorrow.