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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Pulau Penang

27th October – 29th October

Penang is small island off the north west coast of Malaysia, the first settlement on the Malay peninsular by the British based East India company, a move intended to break the Dutch monopoly of the spice trade.

The New Banana Hostel was cheap and central. We spent the afternoon of our first day exploring Georgetown on foot – unfortunately everything was shut up as it was a public holiday again! This did little for the atmosphere of the place but at least we didn’t get any hassle as we made our way around the sights. We spent some time at an old fort and visited numerous temples and mosques, too many to mention – as if we could remember the names anyway! For dinner we followed the Lonely Planets recommendation and for once it turned out to be a good one! Chinese from a small place round the corner was delicious leaving us wanting more.

Renting a scooter for a trip around the island seemed like the best way to see it all in a day. We arranged the usual Honda Dream 100 from our hostel, and after an argument over petrol and ‘you think me try to cheat you’ conversation with the hostel, we were on our way!

Top Traveller Tip #1 – Always check the level of fuel in the tank when you hire a scooter or motorbike – don’t just rely on the gauge! The gauge often stays on full even when the tank is almost half empty, leaving you to pay for more fuel than you really used when you return the bike! (We’ll be adding more of these top tips from now on!)

First stop was the huge Tesco outside town. We had heard that they were all over south east asia but this was our first sighting since we left Clapham in March! Sam had her heart set on a Tesco Finest sandwich, but this was not to be and we left with some cheese spread, brown bread, and a packet of AAA batteries! Onwards to the Snake Temple, which was a little disappointing as there were only a couple of snakes. Riding for another hour took us round the southern part of the islands, over the hills and up the west coast to a tropical fruit plantation. Along this route we came across lots of new road construction where the lush forest was being bulldozed to make way for an elevated road to link the west coast with the (not so distant) airport. Tragic!

A butterfly farm and forestry recreation park followed on. We spent just a brief time at each, hoping to reach the beaches before the afternoon monsoon storms arrived. The idyllic resort of Batu Ferringhi wasn’t quite what we’re used to and we were relieved not to have chosen to stay here instead of Georgetown. The beaches felt distinctly European, with lots of milky white and bright red bodies accentuating beer bellies and bad tattoos! We found a spot further up the beach where the sand was finer and the bodies more beautiful! Returning back to Georgetown, we dropped in on a number of temples (see photos) and took a ride up Penang Hill in the evening to check out the view and admire the sunset.

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