Catherine Zeta Jones grabbed my lonely planet guide. "I'm sick of those budget hotels. We're staying at the Eastern and Oriental this time". "But what if Michael finds out..............." This travelling lark was getting to me, so much that the inflight movies were blending in with my subconscious. Well I had spent the first two days (minus the time differences) either flying, trapped in airport lounges or in transit by another vehicle. I left my house at 6.30 am on Monday Morning and arrived at the guest house at 10 pm Tuesday evening. Spare a thought though for the ozzy soldier I had shared a taxi with from Penang airport. He was just returning from one weeks leave having been home to surprise his wife on their 22nd Wedding Anniversary. She then promptly through him out. Not your typical inflight romcom!
What the ozzy needed was a couple of beers at the baracks. Arriving at the guest house was what sufficed for me. It is a beatifully restored, gleaming white former colonial building, graced with two huge pillars at the entrane way. This interia is spotless and the staff faultless. The room is a bit small and cell like, although not a bad place to be incarcerated. It is a bit quiet also although there people to chat to, as well as the staff there are a couple of middle aged sisters from Northern Ireland, a chap from Macau, and the ubiquitous ozzy backpacker.
Food and not not chatting was on my initial agenda. No sooner had I planted my battered and bruised ruck sack in my room, had I decided to nip across the road for something to eat, negotiatiating a stampede of traffic* It was typical of hundreds of restaurants around the city. The price and the deco were basic but the quality very good. I have been eating non stop, mainly just trying the odd thing from a street hawker. For example buying three round ball things for 40p and not knowing exactly what they were. Covered in a golden mixture (could be breadcrumbs, could be icing). Could be sweet, could be savory. Could be crunchy, could be soft. Could be vegitable, could be animal. Could be beef, could be balls. I have also been sampling the fruit, like jackfruit (yellow flesh - a bit like mango in taste) or dragon fruit (like watermellon but denser and more flavourful). I have developed a penchant also for drinks like crythantumum tea and sour plumb cordial.
The mosquitos and all their tiny critter cousins have developed a penchant for fine vintage A+ from the terrace streets of Stockport. I have the bite marks to show it. At least the mossies though are not venomous, unlike the pit viper, curled up in a branch above my table as I sipped my fruit juice, boots travel size anti venom at hand. My reptile mate was happy to be in the shade while I admired the view from Penang hill. 850 meters up after a 30 minute finicular ride. It was pouring down at first but then the clouds started to shift to reveal a very modern city with a few near sykscrapers. Beyond that were the forrests, home to many thigs that go bite in the night. Today I visited a former World war one defence post that had been turned into a POW camp once the invading Japenese had laid claim to the place. In amongst the fascinating genuine trences and firing squads were signs readings "beware of bats, snakes, scorpions etc".
Deadly bite free, I have been staying in Georgetown, the capital of Penang for 3 nights. Like Singapore it has the same components of commercial district, colonial district, little china and little India. The people are a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Martian. With such a cultural blend as you can imagine there are plenty of mosques, churches, temples (hindu & Bhudist) to visit. These included Kok Lok Si Temple, the biggest and probably most specatular temple in Malaysia, complete with a giant Bhuda statue and koi pools.
To explore all this history and culture I have just been walking my feet off over the passed few days. I walked around the aformentioned Georgetown districts and also I walked from Penang Hill to and around the botanical gardens. Today it was time then to take my feet in for a full service. I took them to a blind massuer who spent 45 minutes removing every last sensation of tension. By the time I had finished my muscles were so relaxed that I had forgotten how to walk. A great experience and a well run service set up as a charity. I politely delclined the offer of a shave though.
The people are polite and always seem to relish in providing good service. There has been plenty to do, although I did waste a bit of time today visiting a fairly non discript so called fishing village. Well at least it had the war museum and a damn fine restaurant. Pushing the boat out today - the meal came to 5 quid. The weather has not been as oppresive as I expected it to be. The humidity is broken by frequent brief but welcome downpours that really cool the air. I have had a taste of Penang and tomorrow I will mixing my noodles with my tartan by visiting the hills of the Cameron Highlands, a hill station and tea plantation set up by Scottish Colonialists. An AC, apparently very comfortably mini bus will be picking me up from my guest house and whisking me away to my next hotel. Travel around this country is easy. Famous last words. Watch this space.
- I did find very obliging pedestrian crossings that give you the time in seconds before the lights go green for you to cross and the time you have to cross.