Penang/Georgetown (Jan 8-11): A Topsy-Turvy Museum, a Thief, and Tons of Turtles

Ben and I had bought bus tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Penang late on Monday night. The tickets only cost 38 ringgit each ($12.41AUD) so it was a pretty good deal for a 5-hour ride! We got up at 8 so that we could check out of the hostel by 8:45 and make our way to the bus station. By the time we bought metro tickets and figured out HOW to get to the bus station, we realised we were cutting it close so we decided to just book a Grab in order to make it to the bus station by 9:30. The bus arrived late (which seems to be normal in Asia) and with all of the extremely long stops on the way, we arrived about an hour later than expected. However, the time went by fast so it wasn’t a huge deal. Georgetown is the main part of Penang – it’s a UNESCO historic site and I had heard nothing but great things about it. Maybe my expectations were too high but to be honest, I didn’t see what the big deal was about this city, and most travellers who I’ve met afterwards completely agreed. Ben only had one night in Georgetown before he had to go back to Kuala Lumpur the next afternoon to catch his flight back to Sydney, so we tried to fit as much in as we could. We checked into Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel, which cost $10 per night, and then we walked around to look at all of the “attractions.” We walked to Chinatown and Little India, and then it started to rain. We decided to keep walking, despite neither of us having a rain jacket or umbrella, and walked past town hall, along the pier, and looked at the clock tower (sorry, but I didn’t take any pictures because of the rain). Maybe it was the time that we came, but the town seemed almost eerily quiet. After walking around for a couple of hours, we went to a food court near our hostel called Red Garden Food Paradise & Night Market. It was kind of like an outdoor, covered area with multiple food stalls around the outside, a stage in the middle, and tons of tables everywhere else. We decided to order from Kimpo Famous Roasted Crispy Duck, Chicken & Pork, where I got roast duck with rice for 7 ringgit ($2.37) and a watermelon juice for 3.30 ringgit ($1.12).

We didn’t realise that you had to find a table first and then go up to the stall to order food, so Ben had to run to find a table so that he could give them a table number. Then, we sat at the table and paid them as soon as the food arrived. It’s quite difficult getting used to how ordering and paying works in each place! After eating dinner, we decided to treat ourselves to dessert. Ben decided on a waffle with peanut butter and bananas, and I decided on an Oreo ice cream sandwich.

Both of them were so good! By that time, the entertainment had started so we had a couple of beers and watched the singers perform before heading back to the hostel.

The next morning (Wednesday), we got up and had breakfast at the hostel (which was one of the better hostel breakfasts), which had not only toast but naan and curry, boiled eggs, mashed potatoes with gravy (interesting breakfast choice?), and hotdogs. Ben had to catch his bus at 2 so we started the day off by going to the upside-down museum. It cost 25 ringgit each with a hostel discount ($8.16). The museum is basically a house but everything is glued to the ceiling, which was pretty cool! However, we got through the entire museum in ten minutes because the staff completely rushed everyone through. We walked into the kitchen and one staff member would say, “Sir, you pose like this” and the other would say, “Miss, you pose like this.” We’d pose, they’d snap a picture, and then they’d push us into the next room. At the end, we asked if we could walk through again backwards just so we could actually look at everything, so they let us.

After that, we decided to go to the funicular, as it’s supposed to be the longest cable car in Asia. I requested a Grab to take us to the cable car for 12 ringgit ($3.92), which would take about a half hour. On the way there, I went on the website and saw that they were closing the funicular from January 7-12 to do their bi-annual safety check. I broke the news to Ben but since we were already halfway there, we decided to keep going to see if there’d be anything else in the area. Then by some happy coincidence, the Grab driver actually ended up taking us to a completely different cable car because I chose the wrong destination (oops.. I didn’t know there’d be more than one cable car in Penang). He dropped us off at the top of a beautiful temple called Kek Lok Si Temple. I didn’t bring my sarong that day but luckily, this temple wasn’t strict about covering up. On the top level, there was a giant statue, the Quan Yin Statue, which was undergoing renovations, as well as a beautiful view of the city.

We took a cable car down to the next level (there were four levels total), where we got to walk through the actual temple. It was much different from all of the other temples we went to, as it seemed like something you’d normally find in China.

We decided to walk the rest of the way down, where we found a Tortoise Pond on the next level.

We watched them for quite awhile and then walked down to the next level, where there was the Air Itam food market. I looked up the best places to eat and the top pick was Penang Air Itam Laksa, which was a street food vendor whose tables were completely full. Two ladies waved us over to their table so we joined them and found out they were from Singapore. The restaurant only serves one dish (laksa) so we decided to give it a try since it’s one of the main dishes in Malaysia. However, the broth was very fishy tasting and there was a lot of mint added to it, which just seemed like too much. After trying it for awhile, Ben and I both agreed to find another place. Luckily, we didn’t lose much money as it was only 9 ringgit for the two of us ($3.05)! The two ladies at our table suggested that we go to Sister’s Curry Mee, which is another street food vendor with only one dish (a kind of curry noodle soup), which would be closing at 1 so we only had 20 minutes to get there and eat.

The food was alright, however with every bite, it got spicier and spicier. It got to the point where I tried adding soy sauce just to make it a little less spicy. When neither of us could eat anymore, we took a Grab back to our hostel so that Ben could get his stuff, and then we took another Grab to the bus station. We got there with ten minutes to spare, the shuttle van arrived late (of course), and then we had to wait for the bus driver to fix the lightbulb in the waiting room before everyone could board the bus, which was quite comical considering they were already late to begin with. Finally, everyone was able to get on the bus so Ben and I said our goodbyes, and once again, I was a lone traveller. I’ve found that I travel in patterns.. I’ll meet people who I really get along with in one place, we’ll say goodbye, and then I’ll be completely antisocial in the next place because I’ll be too sad to try to make friends. Then I’ll try to make friends again in the place after that. It’s a vicious cycle! Anyway, since the bus station was at the bottom of a shopping mall, I decided to check out some of the stores and then walk towards my hostel. There’s a Mexican restaurant next to the hostel called Holy Guacamole (one of my main phrases) so I just HAD to try it out. It was happy hour so I got a margarita and some tortilla chips with salsa for 19 ringgit ($6.20). My plan was to go to the beach to watch the sunset and check out the night market, so I went to the hostel to change. However, as soon as I got back, it started pouring rain for the next few hours. When the rain finally slowed down, I went back to the Red Garden Night Market to get some dinner. This time, I got a Vietnamese vermicelli noodle bowl with spring rolls and a watermelon shake for 15.50 ringgit ($5.06). It was really good!

I got back to the hostel and went to grab my bag off of my bed so that I could get ready for bed. However, I noticed that all of my makeup was on top, which I was confused about since I haven’t used my makeup during my entire trip. Then I noticed that my medication was in the bag, but I usually keep it in one of my packing cubes which is normally kept on the shelf beside my bed. When I looked at my shelf, everything had been cleared off of it. It was then that everything started going in slow motion, when I came to realise that someone had gone through my stuff. I had that exact feeling when I realised that I had my money stolen in London three years ago. Someone had taken the shaving kit packing cube, emptied everything inside of it into the bag on my bed, and literally just took the packing cube. I sat there for the longest time, totally confused, and tried to figure out if there was anything of value that the person may have taken, but I couldn’t think of anything. My universal adaptor was still there, my memory cards were still there, my glasses, medications (thank goodness), everything was still there. I only realised later that the person didn’t empty the inside pocket, which had tweezers, nail clippers, band-aids, and possibly other things that I can’t remember. There had only been one other person in our room, so I’m thinking that he must have went through everything before he left (luckily I had my main bag with everything else securely locked in a locker). Why does he need a packing cube so badly? We’ll never know..

On Thursday morning, I went down for breakfast and there were four people from the Kuala Lumpur hostel there, and one of them was Mike! I sat with them and we exchanged info so that we could meet up for dinner later that day. I decided to go to the National Park so I walked to the bus stop, paid 4 ringgit ($1.31), and took the hour-long bus ride to the park. By the time I got there, it was noon so I decided to get lunch since I didn’t know how long I’d be hiking for. I stopped at a restaurant right outside the park entrance and got a noodle dish with my first Penang iced white coffee (which was so good!) and a coke for 13.50 ringgit ($4.51).

By the way, I realise that I’m drinking a lot of coke on this trip.. I don’t normally drink it but in weather like this, nothing is more satisfying than having a cold coke. It literally loses its cold within 1 or 2 minutes after being taken out of the fridge, which is why I can’t get the same satisfaction from the always-warm water that I carry around with me. Anyway, after lunch I made my way to the national park. There are two trails that you can do – one is more hilly and goes to Turtle Beach, and one goes along the coast and goes to Monkey Beach. I had already decided that I was going to do the Monkey Beach trail, but soon found out that you could only do half of it (to a lighthouse) and the rest was closed because of a mudslide. However, there was a stall outside of the park that was offering boat rides to monkey beach from the lighthouse or from turtle beach. I asked how much it would cost to take a boat and the prices varied from 100-300 ringgit ($30-90)! I politely declined and decided I’d just do the turtle beach hike. It’s free to get into the national park but you still have to sign up at the front, say where you’re going, and give contact information in case you get lost (which I’m not sure how this would help as there wasn’t any service for the majority of the hike). Then, they gave you a permit to enter the park. Within the first ten minutes, I already encountered my first set of monkeys and I quickly realised that I’ve developed a fear of them because of my last monkey attack. I calmly talked to them to say that I didn’t have any food (I know better now) as they watched me put my mosquito repellent on.

They soon lost interest and left me alone. The information wasn’t wrong when it said that the turtle beach path was hilly – I was constantly sweating during the duration of the hike.

I’m hoping that I’m losing weight just by sweating out my body weight in water everyday. The hike was still so nice – it’s amazing being completely alone in the middle of the forest and being able to hear all of the sounds around you. You realise that you’re actually not so alone. I got to turtle beach in just over an hour, but I think I enjoyed the scenery of the actual hike over the endpoint. It was a beach that you weren’t allowed to swim in, and then there was also a turtle sanctuary that just had some turtles in big plastic containers of water.

Apparently they give free tours, but no one was around so I didn’t spend much time there. I made my way back and got back in about 45 minutes.

I waited for the bus and decided to stop at Ferringhi Beach on the way back to Georgetown. I treated myself to McDonald’s and got some fries, a sundae, and tried a taro pie (which was delicious!) for 10.85 ringgit ($3.54). I walked down to the beach but I kept getting approached by people asking if I wanted to JetSki or do watersports. The beach wasn’t that nice so I just walked back to the bus stop and waited for the next bus. I got off at the mall, bought myself everything that had been stolen since it would be the last time I’d be in a city for awhile (a new bag, tweezers and nail clippers), and went back to the hostel where I ran into everyone else. The five of us went to Red Garden Night Market again and this time, I got some pork and chive dumplings for 9 ringgit ($2.94). After listening to the performers for awhile, I headed back to the hostel to get my bag packed and go to bed to leave for Langkawi the next morning. And that’s Penang! Love always

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