Monday, 5 September 2016

Week 20 - George Town, Penang

On arrival at Krabi airport we made our way to the check in desk and handed over our passports, we were shocked to hear, “Oh very special flight for you today”. But didn’t think anything of it until we reached customs and the two guys checking our passports started laughing and saying, “Oh, just you two”. Turns out that we were about to board the flight and fly solo! We were escorted by a lovely lady to our own bus, which in turn took us to our private plane. The plane itself was one of those little ones with the propellers outside, not covered, I shit myself a little bit when I saw it, I thought we’d got away with not travelling on these. The lady gave us a brief security run, let us choose our own seats and gave us a complimentary stuffed aeroplane, named Skyle…fitting I thought. 

The next hour and 10 minutes passed quickly, we spent the time seat hopping and Kyle has now added to his facial injuries by doing the slug. (for those that don’t know he basically just slides along the floor with his bum on the air). It was one of the best flights I’ve ever been on, and the staff though awkward at first, it was the first time that this had happened to them too, were brilliant. Stepping off the plane in Penang the ground staff all started laughing at us too, and another lady escorted us to immigration, where again they laughed and asked us about our solo flight. Feeling like VIP’s, I was shocked that someone didn’t collect our two lonely bags off the carousel for us. Kyle’s going to need some luck now that I’ve had a taste of the good life.

In the journey from the airport to George Town I was reminded a little of Beijing, China, with the highways going off in multiple directions, many high rises, tiny huts and little temples in between. Driving up to our new home, Just Inn, that opinion changed when we started to notice the older buildings and many wonderful pieces of street art. Penang already had a great feel.

After a huge introduction to Penang from the hostel we were feeling peckish and ready to explore. First stop, cash machine, which was located in the shopping mall. As we’d only eaten toast all day, which was at 9am, we were hangry by 7pm and ‘accidentally’ fell into Pizza Hut. We’re now so mad at ourselves but we just couldn’t face the walk from the shops to the side streets on empty stomachs…what a waste of an opportunity.

Feeling full and a little sick we began our walk round George Town. Awash with colonial buildings, temples, churches, mosques and brightly coloured houses, this town is beautiful. The streets aren’t crowded and it’s easy to get lost, which we did, but it was brilliant discovering all the street art and food carts. We stumbled upon Little India with it’s food stores, silk and spice shops…it looked and smelt amazing. We found the Goddess of Mercy Temple, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple and The Queen Victoria Memorial Tower, which made us truly appreciate how many cultures, religions and ethnic groups can live so happily in one small town. 

The only strange thing about our walk was the Pokemon Pokestops. Randomly placed next to street art and cafes, there had to be at least 60 people at each stop with their heads down catching Pokemon! It was crazy but I reckon that it will be 10x worse in Japan! 

I’d taken for granted the private hotel rooms of Asia, and the standard of accommodation low season had allowed. Malaysia is a lot more expensive than the likes of Cambodia and Thailand, so we are back in a hostel albeit with a private room. Shame the walls are so thin and instead of windows there’s shutters, I got no fucking sleep thanks to the non stop traffic and the weirdos taking showers at 3am and 4am! Safe to say the ear plugs will be coming out of hibernation.

Named after King George III, George Town has many British ties after being an important trading port and settlement area, this can be seen in the buildings surrounding the town. Walking round on the second day, we were still overwhelmed by the beauty of this town and the laid back atmosphere of the locals. There’s a slow pace to the way of life here, and sitting back with a coffee, people watching is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Being in George Town is like being court side at a tennis match, your head is constantly moving from side to side trying to take it all in, and you can’t decide which street to take for fear of missing the next site in the complex maze of streets that makes up this town. We were fortunate enough to see some locals playing games and practicing their English in the park, they started with What time is it Mr. Wolf, which seemed to be a firm favourite amongst the group, and the little bench under the trees was the perfect way for us to escape the heat!

The afternoon was difficult, I’d had about 2 hours sleep each night for the last 3 nights, combine that with the heat, the boat trip and the excitement of the flight to ourselves and I was feeling pretty tired. We relaxed for a few hours in the room, but as I’d tested the ice coffee on offer I couldn’t have 40 winks, damn this caffeine addiction. Not one to be defeated though, I picked myself up later that evening and headed into Little India. It’s actually amazing, filled with silk shops, jewellery counters, spice racks and restaurants, Little India is like a little slice of India right here in Malaysia. The sights are colourful, the smells are amazing, and the sounds are loud with people talking, music blasting and peds beeping! We found a little restaurant for tea and proceeded to order two curries, using pictures not the menu as everything is once again, like China, so different to that which you see at home. If only Little India used Little spice, my chicken dish was hot! Hot but good, and Kyle said his fish curry was the best Indian that he’d had in his life.

It was a short walk back to the hostel, we now know which little street takes us home, and we settled in for an easy night once we got back. Turns out everyone else had different plans for us. I forgot how rude people can be, shouting over each other, stomping about, even a sneeze pissed me off that night. But what got me, what really pused me over the edge, was the fucking bin men, again! Its 1am, 1am, why are you picking up rubbish now? You’ve had all bloody day, what a joke!! So night 4 left me with about 4 hours sleep, once Kyle had played with the air con for a further 3 hours after the departure of the bin men. Thanks guys!

We hired a bike the next morning, not just any bike a Chuckle brothers bike. You know the kind 2 bikes held together by a seat with a nice cover on to shield you from the sun and an annoying horn in the middle. We set off in search of more street art, I unfortunately couldn’t reach the peddles so that left all the handwork to Kyle whilst I navigated and took pictures, with my feet up. We found Old Motorcycle, Brother and Sister on a Swing and Boy on a Chair to name just a few. Next we headed to Love Lane and what used to be China Town, but now over 70% of Penang’s population are Chinese so they class most of George Town as China Town. It was like being transported back to Xi’an with all the Chinese stores, families eating together and the amazing smells of street food, just like the Muslim market. It was a boiling hot day and the wind was against us, so Kyle was glad when the hour was up and he could stop peddling us both around.

Lunch that day was a beef noodle soup from a little Chinese cafe, it was nice but not as good as Vietnam’s Pho, and I did question the little meat balls floating on the top! We enjoyed a refreshing drink in a cafe with umbrellas for a ceiling and got talking to the gentleman that owned it. Born and raised in Penang, he was in the navy before opening his cafe and enjoyed telling us his stories from all around the globe. He used to support Tottenham Hotspurs back in the day, and enjoyed his visits to England for fish and chips and apple pie. He’d visited London, Glasgow, Hull and Birmingham, but wished he’d had more time to enjoy the countryside and get out of the cities. 

Later that evening we went back to Little India for tea, Kyle can’t get enough of the curry, this time choosing a more local looking place with those famous plastic chairs and metal tables. This was more like it, your food was literally thrown on the plate so everything mixed together, there was no care for presentation on the little plastic trays, but the tastes were delicious and the naan bread was to die for. I’m not a huge fan of lamb or mutton, but after trying Kyle’s meal I cold be a convert!
Back at the hostel I once again settled in for a n early night, ensuring Kyle was a suitable temperature and swapping his pillow so he was comfier. Once I was happy that there would be no further interruptions from him I popped in some ear plugs. Now they were a little big for my ears but once I’d wedged my head against the pillow and rested my hand against my other ear there was no noise but the sound of my breathing getting through those bad boys. I finally had a wonderful nights sleep, about 10 hours in total…pure heaven, shame the same couldn’t be said for Kyle. 

After a lazy day of relaxing and slow strolls around the town we headed back to Little India to meet Kristy, a fellow volunteer from Kratie English school. We had another delicious meal, and Kyle was brave enough to try a Vindaloo which isn’t half as spicy as those that you get back home. It was great to catch up with Kristy over some drinks and hear her stories from Laos and volunteering at the animal shelter, I was beyond jealous of her time spent with the bears and donkeys, but her tales of spiders over beds and snakes in the bathroom left me feeling lucky that all we’d encountered were cockroaches the size of iPhones. It was a great evening, and Kyle and I are both looking forward to seeing her again in New Zealand.

We’ve arrived back a little too late to pack though, I don’t want to be one of those noisy hostel wankers, so it will be a mad rush in the morning before catching the mini bus to the Cameron Highlands. Wish me luck for the next 3 days, I’m gonna need it with all the treks Kyle has planned.


Love Carrie xxx