George Town, Penang Island
The train ride took ~ 22 hours [from station to station] from Bangkok, Thailand to Buttersworth, Malaysia. The air conditioning was turned on high with no switch off. I was comfortable wearing my trackpants, sweater and winter hat laying out on the upper-level sleeper. It was a smooth ride compared to any of the trains I took in Myanmar – time passed quickly as I slept most of the journey.
After leaving Thailand and entering into Malaysia through customs I walked and immediately took a large boat ferry over to Penang Island. I arrived in George Town and walked to Love Lane street.
Walking down Love Lane there was plenty of accommodation available. I walked down to the street and chose the cheapest option for 18 Ringgit/ night [dorm room] (~$6 CAD). The guesthouse was named ‘54 Love Lane Inn’, appropriately that is also where it is located.
Paul is the owner who spent almost twenty years travelling. Sitting on Love Lane at night with a load of beer in the fridge chatting with friends. Listening to different perspectives while exchanging stories about life and travelling. It was good fun.
In the guesthouse dormatory room there was no airconditioning and the fan was not effective. I woke up a few times in an uncomfortable sweat from the heat.
Luckily to have travelled to the city at this time as the George Town Festival is under way [Jul 29 – Aug 28]. It is a massive arts festival held in many areas around the city celebrating local artists and artwork. With lots to see and do I spent many days in George Town roaming around the city checking out the different festivals, exhibitions and my favourite local street art [spray painted walls & more].
Statues and pieces of art were built with wire, props and objects, they were placed in different areas of the city. Historical reflections of the city presented through the artwork. A few examples:
100 Yellow Chairs stated. “Sit on me, move me, arrange me with others. Do what you like with me, just keep me in the George Town World Heritage Site.”
A hundred yellow freestanding chairs painted by members of the community with the invitation to be moved throughout George Town. It was a social experiment and fun to move them around, especially after a few beer.
Reading Art. This exhibit asked visitors to first view the poems or text based on the art, prior to viewing the artwork itself. Artwork by Ch’ng Kiah Kiean.
Burning. Cloakwork’s piece provides a visualization of the pollution of smoking. Using graffiti and props, the art almost jumps out onto the street.
Panicrama. Edited photos to skew them sideways and modify them in different ways. Some of the photos were pretty twisted.
I met many local and foreigners at a couchsurfing meetup just off Love Lane. We shared many stories, laughs and beers. I hiked through Penang National Park the following day to some beautiful beaches.
The ocean water on Penang Island appears blue but when closer examined it has a tinge of brown/ black from the dirty run off from the land and jungle. I didn’t swim one time during my whole time on Penang because of this which was slightly disappointing.
Georgetown is renound for its amazing tasting foods. The Chinese and Indian influence is easily seen after spending only a few hours in the city. The diverse cultural mix from Malay, Chinese and Indian blend to make some great cusines.
Cheap alcohol!! Sitting relaxing, playing music, kareoke
I met some great people and I ended up staying in George Town for eight nights. There was an International Express down the street from 54 Love Lane that sold duty free beer for $2/big can of heineken. Spending nights relaxing, playing music and singing kareoke at the reggae bar, it was a blast.
I have heard great things about the Perhentian Islands on the east coast of Malaysia so I bought a ticket for the overnight bus for 53 RM (ringgit) and a return ferry ticket to the island for 60 RM (~$20 CAD).
I went with some friends I made Charlie, Roy and Sophie. At the bus station we were taking our things out of the car and Roy thought everyone had grabbed their things so he closed the trunk. “Ouchhh, fuck!” Charlie yelled as he was jumping around the side walk. Roy had accidentally slammed the trunk right on his hand. Thankfully he got some ice and nothing was broken.
The overnight bus was surprisingly spacious. We stopped frequently; every one to two hours for food, petrol, a cigarette break, toilet stops, I couldn’t explain the need for all of the stops. In combination with that that the driver had the aircondition working at the maximal level. Truely it would have taken a winter jacket and toque to feel comfortably warm on the bus. I was able to doze off a few times and awoke around 0500 am in Kuala Besut.
There is no ATM on Perhentian Kecil Island. A local man had offered to take Roy and I at 0530 am but said that the bank does not open until 0645 am. The first boat to go heads off at 0700 am. The man forgot and I reminded him at 0650 am if it was possible we could still go. He said, “yes, of course” and turned as we followed him to his motorbike. Roy and I are both tall broad shouldered guys and the local man was fairly small. He was having a hard time controling the motorbike with both of us on the back, we swerved on the gravel road and almost crashed a few times on the short ride to the ATM.
“What you name?! Where you from?!” The local man was incoherently yelling stories and questions over his motorbike [also telling us how he had just bought the bike yesterday]. It was scary sitting on the bike [I mentioned to him that I have a motorcycle in Canada and can drive the way back].
As we hopped off for the first time I took a closer look at the local man and his eyes were glazed over bloodshot red. He was definetely high on something, thankfully we made it there without any incident. He requested that I drive the three of us back to the jetty to catch the boat to the island. Without swerving and weaving on the road we made it back safely.
We chose to head to Perhentian Kecil [the smaller island] because it seems to be more backpacker friendly and has more affordable accommodation. We went to Coral Bay on a whim because it sounded good. Looking out onto the glassy blue ocean, the sun was rising and breaking into the sky as the boat ferry made it’s way over to the island.