Our day’s travel to Penang stretched to two as our taxi didn’t turn up to take us to the pier. Despite managing to get on the next ferry 15 minutes later we still missed our connection and spent a night in Suratthani. Although it was annoying its one of those things you come to expect from travel every now and again, especially in Thailand. We had nice accommodation whilst we waited out to try again the next day.
Another early start for round two of travel. We crossed the border and made for Penang, large island on the west coast of Malaysia, connected to the mainland by a 13km long bridge. The capital of Penang is Georgetown which is a very cosmopolitan town with large Indian and Chinese communities. Malaysia is our thirteenth country of the trip and uses Malaysian Ringgits, £1=5 ringgits.
Arriving relatively late in the day we went out to find food, which in Penang has a reputation for being delicious. The street stalls or hawkers congregate together on little side streets and we tried a few things that caught our eye. To this day I am still not entirely sure what they all were, but we had a delicious plate of Mee Goreng noodles. Immediately the place felt different to Thailand, a European/Asian fusion, almost like a suburb of London with its various foreign influences. The place is also teeming with history which we were looking forward to exploring.
Anticipating a day of sightseeing we caught the local bus to the base of Penang Hill. Locals buses is something we haven’t really done since Hong Kong as travel in south east Asia is usually either for tourists or locals. Malaysians have a very good grasp of English making it easy to use the city transport and integrate.
Penang Hill is in the centre of the island and we rode the funicular carriage up to 812 metres above sea level. The views out over the entire island and back to the mainland were stunning. Once at the top we visited the interestingly decorated temple and took a walk around the peak top. The natural beauty was a great contrast to the town.
We returned to Georgetown and visited the Penang Museum to read about the islands interesting history. The island was ruled by the Sultans of Kedah until they sought protection from the British against foreign invasion. The deal that resulted saw Penang become a British outpost in return for defence and taxation in 1786. Later Francis Light became superintendent of the island and Georgetown was named after King George III. The museum was an interesting look at the changes brought in by Light, (a Suffolk born man!)
We walked from here to Fort Cornwallis, Francis Lights landing point on the island. Whilst the island was under British protection the fort resided here, first made from bamboo and later the concrete structure which remains today complete with canons and fortified walls. The fort never withstood an attack and was used by the Japanese when they took control of Penang island during WW2. Penang is such a particular mix of cultures, architectures and it’s mixed up history. Outside the fort stands a 60ft bell tower , a tribute to Queen Victorias 60 year reign, now standing wonky due to WW2 bombing. The monuments standing side by side in the town centre is a great reminder of its jigsaw past.
Despite the hot morning we took a walk through Little India, a suburb if Georgetown which hosts the markets and shops of the Indians who live here. The place is colourful with vibrant flowers, loud with lively music and full of Indian delicacies. From one suburb to another we walked to the Chinese Jetties on the waterfront which is a suburb of the town. Here stilted houses for dock workers jut into the water and wooden boardwalks connect the houses. We visited two jetty communities which were pretty and held temples, shops and livelihoods. Where the water had gone out we could see a strange array of aquatic life in the boggy remains such as sea snakes and walking fish!
We returned to our hostel to catch the bus to the Cameron Highlands, picking up a selection of samosas and sweet cakes for the journey.
Next stop, Tamah Rata…