Penang

DAY 1
Perched on the edge of a metal bench, full of anticipation, our ferry slowly moved towards Penang.  Looking ahead, we watched as the horizon of the island, lined with tall office buildings and apartment blocks, became clearer.  Expecting a small island with a quaint, small colonial town (Georgetown) at its centre, we were a little confused and asked one or two locals whether we were heading in the right direction.  With them confirming we were in fact just minutes away from arriving in Georgetown, we quickly realised that Penang was not going to be anything like what we had expected.

Butterworth to Penang by Ferry
Butterworth to Penang by Ferry
There are a number of ways one can get to Penang.  The most common and frequent mode of transport amongst backpackers is public and private buses (Transnational) that run daily from the main hubs of Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, Kuala Perlis (Langkawi), Kuala Terringhanu, and Kota Bharu (Perhentians).  Most buses will take you directly to the bus station in Butterworth, which is located next to the train station and the ferry terminal.  From here you can catch a ferry across to Penang.  The ferry from Butterworth to Penang costs RM1.20 per person, sails every 45 minutes approximately and takes about 15 minutes. Note: the return ferry trip to Butterworth is free.  Other modes of transport include plane, train and taxi.  The train to/from Kuala Lumpur goes via Butterworth on its way to/from Hat Yai and Bangkok (in Thailand).  The other, more costly alternative is flying directly to Penang Airport from various locations around Asia using an airline such as Air Asia.

Since we would be arriving from the island of Langkawi to the north, we were left with two suitable options: a ferry direct from Langkawi to Penang for RM60pp; or the more cost effective (but not much longer) route by bus back on the mainland.  Of course, you know which one we chose!  To get to the mainland, we took a ferry from Kuah Jetty, Langkawi to Kuala Perlis (RM36pp).  From Kuala Perlis ferry terminal we took a taxi to Kangar bus station, in the city (RM16).  There is a bus station a few minutes away from the ferry terminal, but after walking there we were told the only place to buy bus tickets to Butterworth was in Kangar, so off we went by taxi.  At Kangar, we bought Transnational tickets to Butterworth (RM15pp) departing just after lunch time.

Langkawi to Kuala Perlis by Ferry
Langkawi to Kuala Perlis by Ferry
Kuala Perlis to Kangar by Taxi
Kuala Perlis to Kangar by Taxi

After devouring some really delicious burgers from a burger stand opposite the bus station, and paying a quick visit to some really NASTY toilets at the bus station, we jumped onto the bus to Butterworth.  After a couple of hours on a relatively comfortable bus, we arrived in Butterworth.  A quick ferry across to George-city … I mean Georgetown, and we were finally on the island of Penang!

Just outside the ferry terminal in Penang, there is a Rapid bus terminal where you can catch a good range of buses that take you to different parts of the island for anywhere between MYR0.60-MYR2.60 roughly, dependent on the distance travelled.

However, our hostel, Red Inn Court, was “a short 10-minute stroll away”, said Lauren. So off we went, Lauren leading the way with the use of Google Maps.  After walking a fair distance Lauren began to look confused.  Fortunately, we bumped into a local Malay man who kindly pointed ahead and said, “Go left at the temple”.  In the next sentence he muttered the words “go right”.  So once again confused, we continued ahead.  Google maps and our local friend’s directions did not seem to match up.  Lauren and I began to get somewhat frustrated, with each other AND with Google maps!  A few minutes later, low and behold, the same Malay man, this time accompanied by a friend, drove up alongside us and then pulled over.  He seemed somewhat frustrated at the fact that we were unable to follow his simple directions and signaled for us to get in … before driving us in his super fancy Hilux double cab to the front door of our hostel, just five minutes in the opposite direction we had been walking.  Once again we were a little overwhelmed by the kindness of the Malays in comparison to the Thai people we had met.

Arriving at Red Inn Court tired and hungry, we were excited at the prospect of settling into a comfy room (MYR77).  We were sorely disappointed.  The room was entirely made out of wood which creaked, it stank and was literally the size of a WALK-IN WARDROBE!!  On top of that they put a gigantic cupboard inside the room that took up what little space there was between the two single beds.  Suffice to say, the next day we would be checking out!

Heading out to find something to eat, we happened upon Broadway Budget Hotel right next door which offered a double private room with en-suite bathroom for (MYR74).  We promptly booked a room there for the rest of our stay.
TIP: Always book at least the first night’s accommodation before arriving at a place.  It saves you a lot of stress and will often save you money.  Read up reviews on websites like Tripadvisor, HostelWorld, Bookings.com and Agoda.

Location-wise, we were very happy.  The accommodation was 10 minutes away from the ferry and bus terminal, two minutes from Little India, five minutes from Chulia Street (the most popular and central street in Georgetown), and in walking distance of many of Georgetown’s major attractions.

Chulia Street
Chulia Street

DAY 2
A little overwhelmed by the size of Penang and unsure where to even begin, we decided we would tackle some important chores before enjoying some retail therapy at a swanky new mall.

Little India
Little India

We took a short walk through Little India to get to the bus station (next to the ferry terminal) where we caught bus #102 to Gurney Paragon, a fancy shopping mall on the way to Batu Ferringhi.  Penang has a number of large shopping malls for those of you keen on doing a bit of shopping or, like us, escaping for a couple of hours to grab a bite to eat or watch a movie.

After dropping off a few important documents at DHL, just around the corner from the mall, we explored the different levels of the mall.  We had a quick look in Harvey Normans, an electronic store.  I casually strolled past the MacBooks and saw that there was a 13” MacBook Air on sale (for roughly R5000 cheaper than I could get it in South Africa).  So the wheedling with my wife began; you know how it goes.

After a clay pot lunch in the food court, watching the new X-Men movie with a large bucket of caramel popcorn and enjoying a complementary coffee at a rustic coffee shop it was decision time.  I think Lauren dragged me in and out of Harvey Normans about four or five times, agonising over the decision, before we finally came out with my “new toy”, and as she likes to call it, her “baby.”

After our little day trip, involving some rather expensive retail therapy, we hopped on a bus back to Georgetown, and headed to Love Lane just off Chulia Street for some delicious pizza and pasta at the Reggae Hostel Restaurant.

DAY 3
Today’s goal was to find an internet cafe where we could transfer photos onto our external harddrive, before exploring more of Penang.  Well, let’s just say we lost more from this day than we gained.

Walking down Chulia street we found a hostel with an internet cafe and asked the owner if we could briefly make use of a computer.  Obligingly, she pointed to the only one that seemed to be operating.  Unaware of what was about to happen, I asked my dutiful wife to begin deleting the photos off the camera that I had just uploaded.  The moment she had finished, the computer, with ALL of the photos from the past five places we had visited, suddenly froze.  Once rebooted, the computer was blank as though it had never received a single photo.  On top of that, the unsympathetic hostel owner had the nerve to then charge us for the use of internet we had not yet had the chance to make use of.

Frustrated and feeling a little defeated by some of the obstacles we had faced recently, we walked round the corner to a camera shop where a friendly shop assistant was able to recover about a third of our photos from the memory card for MYR40. The whole process took about six hours, so we went exploring while we waited for him to finish the job .

Making our way to Penang Hill, a supposed “must see”, we learnt that the area was closed for maintenance.  Instead we paid a visit to Kek Lok Si, the largest temple in Malaysia, at the bottom of the hill.  The temple is large and beautifully detailed, with smaller temple-like structures surrounding it.  Lauren and I struggled to explore all of it before our “hangry” (hungry+angry) moods set in.  We both agreed before leaving though, that we enjoy visiting religious places; however, we struggle to appreciate them as much when everywhere you turn there is someone waiting to sell you a selection of “souvenirs and trinkets.”  Maybe we have it wrong but we feel if a place is considered sacred then one’s actions must reflect this.  Putting that aside, we would recommend you pay a visit if you have the chance.

Kek Lok Si
Kek Lok Si
Kek Lok Si Temples
Kek Lok Si Temples

Hopping on another Rapid bus back to Chulia Street, we went in search of food, glorious food!  We stumbled across a quaint little cafe on a little street just off Chulia Street (one down from Love Lane), called Pit Stop Cafe #12.  They served the MOST DELICIOUS food and coffee at very reasonable prices.  If you find it, we highly recommend their bacon and cheese sandwich!  It is not your normal sandwich … just try it and you will see why we love it!  Apparently, there are a few more of these little gems (Pit Stop Cafes) scattered around Penang.

Pit Stop Cafe #12
Pit Stop Cafe #12
 DAY 4:

We woke up relatively early, excited for another delicious meal at our new favorite cafe, Pitstop.  After breakfast, we walked about fifteen minutes down the road to Penang Time Tunnel and 3D Mural Art Studio, before heading to Fort Cornwallis.  As mentioned earlier, most of Georgetown’s attractions are in walking distance of each other.

Penang Time Tunnel
Penang Time Tunnel
Some Interesting Displays
Some Interesting Displays

It costs MYR40pp to get into the Time Tunnel, which includes a visit to the Mural Art Studio upstairs.  Whilst we look back on it now and think it was a bit pricey, it was worth it.  The time tunnel was very interesting and incredibly informative about the history of Penang and its key role in making Malaysia what it is today.  They even give you a little quiz and small souvenir if completed correctly.  The wonderful 3D Art upstairs (and those dotted around the streets of Georgetown) is loads of fun!  It’s a bit difficult to explain so we’ll just let the photos tell the story.

Coffee Anyone?
Coffee Anyone?
Yum Yum!
Yum Yum!
Mwahaha
Mwahaha
Chores
Chores
Giant Octopus
Giant Octopus
This is the Life
This is the Life
Escalator Problems
Escalator Problems

Fort Cornwallis is located towards the end of the  promenade, near the wharf. The entrance fee is only MYR2, and although it is nothing exciting, it’s worth a quick visit if you’re in the area.  If you are not an history enthusiast then don’t go out of your way to see it.

Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis with Family
Fort Cornwallis
Mike & Emma
 Next we went to half-way round the island to Penang National Park, just five to ten minutes past Ferringhi Beach, by bus.  Entrance is free and there are a number of tracks you can walk, including one to a suspension bridge, which just so happened to be under construction.  So, although it was quite late in the afternoon we decided to attempt the 3.5km walk along the coast to Monkey Beach.  As the sun began to set, our pace quickened till we were literally running the track, diving under tree trunks and over roots in the hope that we could catch a boat back from Monkey Beach before they all left.  At the entrance to the park, boat companies charge MYR40pp to take you to any beach along the coast.  However, on our budget we were trying to avoid paying that.  Luckily, when we finally emerged from the jungle on Monkey Beach we met a group of backpackers also in need of a boat and shared the cost (MYR10pp).  As for Monkey Beach itself, it was beautiful, but nothing like the spectacular beaches you will see on the east side of Malaysia.
Walking Along the Coast to Monkey Beach
Walking Along the Coast to Monkey Beach
The Track
The Track
Monkey Beach
Monkey Beach

When we got back to the park entrance, there was no one in sight and all the offices were closed.  Earlier, they had asked us to sign a register for safety reasons – unable to sign out now, we couldn’t imagine how they would know if we had left or were still stuck in the park somewhere.  Not such a fantastic security measure really.

Having made some new friends back on the beach, we decided to all take a bus to Ferringi Beach to watch the sunset and have a couple drinks.  The sunset was spectacular.

Ferringhi Beach at Sunset
Ferringi Beach at Sunset
Ferringhi is a much nicer beach than those on Langkawi, also offering a range of water sports, but at much steeper prices.  For example, parasailing is MYR200, but only MYR50 on Langkawi.  However, if you’re looking for tropical, idyllic beaches, then visit the islands on the east side of Malaysia such as Tioman and the Perhentians (see our upcoming posts).
Catching the bus back to Chulia street, we bought take-away noodles from a famous noodle house called Year Noodles just before they shut at 9pm.  Year Noodles offers a crazy selection of noodles, such as mint or carrot noodles.

It was a fantastic day!  We finally felt like we accomplished something here on Penang and caught a glimpse of its true beauty.

Gear all packed, we put our heads down, feeling more than ready to embrace the cooler temperatures awaiting us in the Cameron Highlands!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see all that we wanted to in Penang. However, our family also recently visited Penang and recommend: the Botanical gardens to escape the hustle and bustle, the night markets along Batu Ferringhi, and the clan jetties situated along the waterfront next to the bus station; not to be missed are the Butterfly Farm and Tropical Fruit Farm which are about 5km and 8km (respectively) past Batu Ferringhi.
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