Good evening from Penang! It took us over 28 hours to get from Koh Tao to Penang in the end; a boat, a night train, many hours in immigration, another train, a bus, and a final boat. I actually really like nights trains, even though I never sleep properly, I just love watching the sky as the sun rises and the views are always so beautiful and varied. So that part was fine, but everything after the train was a bit of a faf and not really enjoyable.
We were absolutely knackered when we arrived yesterday; we just got some food and had a bit of a wander, but we didn’t start properly exploring until this morning. Malaysia is such a vast change in culture from anywhere we’ve been so far on our travels. All of the countries we’ve been in so far have been predominantly Buddhist, but this is our first Islamic country and it’s so astronomically different. We’re surrounded by mosques instead of buddhist temples, the people are so different and so is the food. And, we’re not allowed to hold hands in public!
Before leaving Thailand I was starting to feel very tired of exploring and travelling around, but now we’re here it’s so exciting all over again as if everything is brand new. I think we were just very ready for a change of culture, something completely different, and Malaysia is exactly that. The buildings here look very Indian and the mosques are immense and beautiful. In some ways it’s the most modern and futuristic country we’ve been to; the “commuter train” from the border looked like a brand new tube, and everything is very efficient. On the other hand, it’s by far the least liberal and most oppressive culture we’ve experienced, which doesn’t make it feel particularly modern.
This morning we had breakfast at our hostel; we’re in a dorm, but with a double bed… very bizarre. Then we had to go shopping to get me a long dress that goes down to my knees and covers my shoulders. We had a burger (not very Malaysian but delicious), and wandered the beautiful streets. We were desperate to sample the street food here (called “Hawker” stalls here), so we ambled along one of the busy foody streets this evening and found one that took our fancy. Unfortunately it’s never clear how or what to order at these places so we just pointed to something that looked nice and they were very accommodating (they must see endless clueless westerners). We then found ice cream, and we’re now sitting outside a lovely little bar with wine! It’s a hard life being a traveller.
Overall, we’re having a wonderful time already; Malaysia is glorious and I feel like we’ve got our “new traveller excitement” back all over again.
Today I feel lucky to be travelling with such an incredible human. Elliot wouldn’t tell me where we were going, but said I’d like it. We walked around George Town, up some lovely streets until we came to a run down bus depot… I thought we might be getting a bus somewhere, but no. Inside was a free urban area for artists and all kinds of creatives; concrete walls with beautiful murals and gardens with fascinating statues. A real quirky gem of a space. We wandered around, took some photos and had a sublime flat white, which was probably the nicest coffee I’ve had since the egg coffees in Hanoi.
After we left the bus depot, we headed for a foody spot popular for its extensive variety of Hawker stalls, and had some stir fried noodle dishes there.
I’m thoroughly enjoying Penang, it’s a lot more funky than I was expecting it to be and such an interesting place. We only have one more full day before heading off to the Cameron Highlands, so we’re spending our last day up at the National Park.
I’m quite gutted to be leaving Penang today, I feel like we’ve only just arrived. We got the bus to the national park yesterday; the busses here are called “rapid Penang”, and it’s like the drivers think they have to live up to that name by driving as fast as possible on the windy coastal road.
Within the National Park, we trekked to Turtle Beach, where there is a turtle sanctuary and a meromonic lake with both salt and fresh water which don’t merge. I did start to have flash backs to our eventful trek on Koh Rong island in Cambodia, but this one was really fun and much less dangerous than that. Although we were marginally more prepared for a trek than we were in Koh Rong, neither of us had considered what we might eat all day until we were sitting on the bus, by which time we’d missed the opportunity to compose a decent packed lunch in George Town. Fortunately there was a small shop near the entrance to the National Park, where we were able to pick up some red bean bread and nuts, so that pretty much covered all necessary nutritional bases.
My primary concern, rather than being the actual trek, was raised after looking at the “wildlife to look out for” board in the visitor centre at the entrance, on which there was a tiger! So I was a little on edge for the entire duration of the trek. I actually really enjoy jungle treks, I feel as if I’m at one with nature. Luckily it’s usually a couple of degrees cooler within the jungle, and I entertain myself by finding funky insects and frogs, which Elliot tells me off for touching. There was quite a bit of climbing and scrambling involved, but I was only aware of my extreme unfitness for about the first half hour (when I thought my lungs might explode). We got a taxi boat back from Turtle Beach as we didn’t fancy doing the entire trek again backwards, but we saw a couple of huge eagles sitting on a rock so that was definitely worth it.
I will remember Penang for its incredible variety of street food. We’ve had bits of street food in a lot of other places, but here the Hawker stalls are definitely more of a traditional, widespread thing, providing full meals to the locals. People sit around on little metal tables and order from one of the many family-run stalls. And the food they produce is incredible; a couple of my favourites have been “Fried Mee”, which was an egg fried chorizo and prawn noodle dish, and another fried dry curry noodle dish which I can’t remember the name of, but that was divine.
The buildings are also so different here, compared to the rest of the Asia that we’ve seen; there is a huge Chinese and Indian influence, evident by both the architecture and the food. Overall it’s been a fascinating change in culture, and I’m so excited to see what else Malaysia has to offer!