Penang, some final thoughts

When we stayed in Sorrento, the advice was ‘don’t even think about driving the coastal road let alone rent a scooter’. Thankfully, we disregared that advice and riding scooters and bicycles along the amalfi coast road was a highlight of the trip.

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Chasing Tracy and Alistair

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At times it was so tight, cars and trucks couldn’t pass each other. Scooters always had options

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I’m not sure Italy was ready for the Bandidos and “does my head looks small in this helmet”?

The same can’t be said for Penang. I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we would use a guide and his mini bus. Smart move. The roads are as narrow as italy but also have massive drains running alongside them. The drivers and scooters don’t seem to have the same healthy respect for each other as they do in Italy. Do-able certainly but not a risk I felt needed to be taken.

Enter Norman. He’s our guide and he came equipped with local knowledge and a mini-bus. A much safer option for all. He’s malyasian of malay and portugese descent and extremely proud of his island. Penang is one of 13 Malyasian states. 11 of these states have their own king who reigns as the primary monarch for 5 years. As he explained it, “it’s a race to see how much money they can spend during their reign”.

The island of Penang isn’t that big although approx 70% of it is covered by steep hills thick with tropical jungle. The majority of the population leave around the coastline which is rock strewn, sandy beaches and shallow mud-flats just offshore. Unfortunately, this results in murky water containing stinging jelly fish. For those who have been up around Port Douglas, the weather and beaches are very similar. The temperature was in the high 30’s and the humidity around 95%. You didn’t do anything quickly lest you drown in your own perspiration.

Norm took us to a number of places. First stop was a batik factory run by the wives of local fisherman. They explained the process which Denise was fascinated by.

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Getting the low down at the batik factory.

Needless to say, we didn’t get out of there without a sample… or two.

Next stop was fruit stand in the hills. It was a local trader who had set up amidst the durian trees that grow prevalently in the area. So much so that where a tree on a bend in the road, nets were erected to catch any falling durian. For those not familiar with this unique tropical fruit, picture a really spiky pineapple, similar too in size, hanging from a tree like an apple, and when split open reveals an odour that you would expect to find on the bottom of your shoe. These things smell so bad, there are signs in most public buildings forbidding you to bring them in. We ban aerosols, guns, knives etc on our flights. In malaysia, they also ban durian.

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You are so lucky this blog doesn’t have ‘odour-rama’. Seriously, if this fell on your head it would kill you.

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The selection of tropical fruits was amazing. We came home with the best mangos and bananas

From here we travelled to the snake temple. Story goes that in this location, not far from the current airport, was a grove that was teaming with snakes. The local area was inhabited mostly by chinese rice farmers and they believed that the snakes were good luck. Overtime, they pulled together some money and built a very ornate temple in which many sticks were placed. The snakes curled up in the sticks and inhabited the temple. They are fed eggs and small, obnoxious tourists. Needless to say, I didn’t stay long. Next door was a snake zoo containing, you guessed it, snakes. Also a collection of tortoises, lizards, monkeys and strangely, guinea pigs and rabbits. The owners insisted that the snakes ate chickens. I didn’t see any chickens!

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The snake temple. The sign on the left reads ‘don’t touch’. As if we needed any prompting.

We were then dragged from one ‘tour’ to the next. A diamond workshop, jade workshop, coffee grower etc. Most of these places welcomed us and gave the 5 sec mini tour before asking if you wanted to purchase anything. We tired of this after a while and sensing our fatigue, Norman asked if we were hungry. Silly question. We had mentioned that we like indian food and Norman decided we should sample the local cuisine. Off we went into the narrow, dusty back streets of Georgetown. A typical Penang cafe consists of an open space covered in a tarp. A wok burner, fridge, fish tank and laminex tables complete the package. Despite the minimal setup, you could see that the place was as clean as they could make it. Brief flashes of myself doubled up with stomach cramps are pushed from my mind as we order a couple of curries, dahl and special ‘fisherman’s net’ roti. True to his word, Norman had delivered an outstanding culinary experience with great company to boot. With a couple of Tiger beers to go, we were off to the hotel for a soak in the pool to recover. Life’s tough!!

That night we followed our normal routine. Swim until totally shriveled. Shower, dry, sweat immediately as we threaded our way through the night market than ran for a couple of kilometres past our hotel. Half way along the market, there is a gap where the long beach food court lives. It is an open air hawkers area. This is where the locals come to eat and it is always packed. All manner of food styles are represented in the small, individual ‘kitchens’. The food traffic controllers are the drink waiters. They will help you find a table, point to the number and suggest to you what drink they think you’ll like. Usually, they were quite accurate. With your number memorised, walk around until something takes your fancy. Order, give your table number and when the food is ready, someone will bring it to your table where you pay. Simple, effective and the food was fantastic. The whole place had a great vibe and made meal time something to look forward to.

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It is at this point that I have a confession to make. Other than our island tour and another excursion into Georgetown, it was a steady diet of gym, breakfast, pool, food and night market. I read heaps and dare I say it
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Speaking of relaxing, one other thing that we did was visit the fish spa. Initially I pictured lots of happy little koi, with mini towels around their scaly little waists, kicking back and enjoying an air bath or something. Turns out that there were fished involved but they weren’t relaxing. They were working real hard. We entered a building with a very large tank only a foot deep. In the middle was a bench island. After removing your shoes and washing your feet, you take a seat on the island and dangle your feet in. Within a small period of time, a small school of fish began to circulate our feet and then begin nibbling at the skin. The sensation is a cross between someone tickling your feet and pricking it with a blunt pin. Not unpleasant but very squirmy. We laughed and giggled so much, our stomachs hurt. By the time we were done, my skepticism had been dealt a fatal blow as my crusty old pegs were definitely smoother and more delectable.

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By the end of the week, I was definitely over the whole hotel thing although it was relaxing allowing the heat, food, water and tiger beers do their thing. My last memory of penang was dragging my water logged butt out of the pool, showering and driving straight to the airport. My hair dried on the plane. Now that’s a holiday.

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