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Feeling the monotony of working life, I decide to take a short break. It has to be by land and cheap. What other place but Malaysia. Because of the recent Tsunami disaster, I am skipping the islands. Penang looks like a ideal place to visit this time. To me, the old shophouses and colonial buildings are the main attractions.
My last visit to Penang was three years ago. Despite the three years absence, I notice there is little change in Georgetown – the chaotic and jammed-packed bus terminal in KOMTAR is still what it was three years ago. The stench of choked drains, the ubiquitous street hawkers….
Since my family members cannot join me, I am alone on this trip. I also enjoy the independence of being alone though it gets a little lonely at times, especially eating in a restaurant.
Being alone, it is very easy to plan my trip. Actually, the only thing I pre-arrange are the return coach tickets. In retrospect, it is not necessary. This is not a peak period. I discover there is a service by Grassland Agency (located at B11-18, Ground Floor, KOMTAR) which provide direct transport from Penang to Singapore at RM45.00 leaving at 9.30am.
As usual, I book my coach tickets from Konsortium Bus Express at Beach Road. My two-way tickets are S$65.00. If you buy one way ticket, it is at S$36.00. My coach departs at 11pm. The 24 seater super VIP bus is only filled by 5 passengers! It is a smooth and cold ride all the way reaching Penang the next morning at about 8.30am.
My plan is to stay in YMCA along MacAlister Road. To my dismay, it is located very far away from KOMTAR, the hub of transportation in Georgetown. As such, I switch my plan and walking along Penang Road hoping to find decent and cheap place to stay. About 10 minutes walk, I see Oriental Hotel – not too run down and decide to check it out. At RM69.00 per night, I book it.
I roam about the streets in Georgetown for many hours that I get blisters on my feet. I just love to wander around the old and quaint streets. Some of the buildings are so old that it seems like falling apart at anytime.
I notice there are plenty of budget guest houses especially along Chulia Street. One of these budget places I like to mention here is E & A Budget Hotel. By chance, I discover this place and decide to take a closer look. I find it quiet, clean and pleasant. The second day I check into this place at RM38.00 with attached bathroom and air-conditioner. It is a nice place. Sometimes like they say, unplanned thing can turn out to be the best moment of the situation.
It is nice to roam the streets if the weather is cooler. Unfortunately, the heat is unbearably hot and humid while I am there. Do not forget your sunglass and hat. It’s just too hot !
Generally, I find the people here are friendly and helpful. Most of them speak Hokkien. The Hokkien spoken here is slightly different from Singapore. In Penang, Chinese is the predominant race here.
Three years ago when I was in Penang, we chanced upon a stall selling the famous chendol ( a kind of sweet dessert of red beans and green jelly with coconut milk toppled with shaved ice). It is still there. I like it so much that I take two bowls of it. It is located at Lebuh Kwee Hwee. At RM1.30 a bowl, it’s worth a try.
If you like dim sum, go to Da De Tong at Lebuh Cintra. I know this place through internet research. If Chinese food is not your liking, then you may want to try the kerbau nan (barbequed chicken) at Kapitan Cafe along Jalan Kapitan Klein. I want to try the tandoori set (recommended from internet research) but only sold from 4pm onwards.
Places of Interest
Fort Cornwallis is located near the jetty. With its cannons pointing towards the sea, it was once used as the defencing post, I suppose. Entry fee is RM3.00. You probably do not need half an hour to tour around this place. By the way, you can take the free shuttle service bus from KOMTAR to reach here – when you see a big Tower Clock, need to alight.
Not too far away from Chinatown is the Goddess of Mercy Temple with its prominent red roof, snarling dragons and lions. The smoke of the burning joss sticks is so thick that I have to exit very quickly.
Another place I visit is the Kek Lok Si temple, Southeast Asia largest Buddhist temple. Take bus number 1 or 130 to Air Itam. No charge for entrance. The temple is located at the top of hill – need some leg power to climb. Along the slope are many small stalls selling souvenirs and fake branded t-shirts. I only look but do not invest on such stuffs.
I also pay a visit to Teluk Bahang, a sleepy fishing village, by taking bus number 93 via Batu Ferringhi which you can find many upmarket hotels along the coastal area. The bus fare is RM1.70 for air-conditioned bus. When I return, I have to pay RM2.00 for old and non air-conditioned bus ! I am just too new and confused to the fare system here.
After the trip
I am now back. I am glad I have seen and walked around the many streets of Georgetown. Probably if my family is with me, I may not have the chance to do it. They will think it is crazy – walking under the hot sun for so many hours ! Perhaps they will find it too boring. Well, that’s me and I just do it. This is a backpacking trip and I begin to like this kind of adventures. I reckon I will be embarking on such travels more in the future…