Days 339-341 Monday-Wednesday March 24-26, 2008 – Penang, Malaysia
Coming into Monday I was really trying to figure out a plan for the next couple of days. For most of the past couple of weeks we have agreed that from Penang we would take a ferry to Langkawi which is another island that sits about two hours north. As the eventuality of leaving Penang came closer, Langkawi just didn’t look as appealing given its reputation as an over hyped tourist centric place with average beaches. After reading a bit more, we were leaning more towards staying on one of the beaches in Penang. Before any final decisions would be made though, we agreed to visit Penang Hill, which was the first thing on our itinerary for the day.
We didn’t get started on Monday morning until late. This really put us in a time crunch and we were eventually forced to cut Fort Cornwalis from the day’s itinerary. When we emerged from the hotel around 11am, the first order of business was to get some lunch. After accomplishing this task at a bakery down the road from our hotel, we set out to find the bus stop to catch a ride to Penang Hill. When we walked around asking people which bus to take, everyone gave us different route number. The one thing that everyone did agree on was that the bus wouldn’t bring us to all the way to the station and we would have a pretty long walk in an unfamiliar area. Taking all of this into account, we headed for a taxi stand and began to negotiate.
One of the things I have been keen with lately is negotiating with taxi drivers. Since these men make meager wages I don’t negotiate too hard, but usually find myself taking their second offer. This way we don’t get completely screwed and they make out as well. I had gone around earlier pricing out this trip and had been quoted 25RM and 20RM from two different drivers. When I went to the stand to actually get a cab I was told 20RM and I asked if he could do better and we agreed on 18. While I probably could have gotten him down to 15RM, I realize that it is not always important to get the absolute lowest price. When you are constantly surrounded by people who live on a few dollars a day, haggling and negotiating for a few pennies can feel a bit cruel at times.
Off of my soapbox and in the brisk cold air of the taxis’ air conditioner, it took around 25 minutes to reach the bottom station of the Penang Hill Railway. The Penang Hill Railway was built in 1923 and is one of the oldest funicular cable car systems in the world. The system is of a two tiered variety meaning passengers board one car at the bottom and switch to a second car halfway up for the rest of the journey. The entire process took about 30 minutes from bottom to top.
The trip to the top was very non descript other than the fact that we saw a monkey on the way up. It was also very hot and I was lucky to be standing by one of the open windows and was able to stick my head outside, but it didn’t matter. Whenever you stuff that many people into a small space without much ventilation it is going to be uncomfortable. While the trip did drag on a bit, when we reached the top two things were evident. The first was that the view was magnificent, while the other was the temperature was quite a bit cooler than down in Georgetown.
About a thousand people live on Penang Hill and use the cable car to get up and down from their homes. Admittedly though this is a tourist attraction and when we reached the top, the first thing we passed was a souvenir shop and then a food court. We weren’t interested in eating or shopping and didn’t really find anything else of interest, so we took a few pictures and sat down to enjoy the view. The only thing hampering the experience on this day was a thick haze over the city that was created by the humid air. After only thirty minutes on the hill, we went back to the train and began the journey down.
On the way down we were stopped for an extended period at the middle station after we had switched cars. After five minutes a curious monkey started walking around outside of the car. Shawn Reece and the other kids on boards really got a kick out of it and ran outside to get a closer look. Before they could get themselves in trouble though, our train began moving down towards Georgetown.
As I mentioned before the idea of going to Langkawi was losing favor rather quickly. With this in mind, I went to the internet on Monday night and scouted out some resorts on the north end of Penang, where all of the beaches are. Luckily, I found a couple within our price range and we agreed to wake up early on Tuesday to call around and book one. It seemed like the best plan.
On Tuesday morning we woke up and made a reservation at the Sandy Beach Resort on the north end of Penang. Around noon we flagged down a taxi and were brought to the hotel where we had a one bedroom suite with two balconies overlooking the ocean. It was a bit extravagant, but was nice and we got a good deal!
We didn’t do much other than rest and go swimming for the rest of Tuesday or Wednesday with the exception of heading to the Batu Ferrengi night market near the hotel on Tuesday night. This market is targeted towards tourists and has everything from cheap souvenirs to jewelry and a vast selection of pirated DVDs which look much more official than their counterparts in Guatemala. The highlight of the night market for us was the hawker center where we were able to eat wonderful Malaysian food for under $2USD a piece.
Although the ocean around Penang was not safe for swimming due to jellyfish, we did enjoy our beach holiday. The best part was having a large hotel room where we could spread out a bit. From Penang our plan was to head by train to Hat Yai in Thailand on Thursday. While the plan was tentatively set, a few things got in the way and not everything went smoothly. Of course you will have to come back to find out how that went.
We want to thank everyone for the comments and emails. Your support is truly appreciated and keeps us going.
The Coomer Family