After an uneventful ten-hour bus journey with The Vengaboys’ album for company (as selected by the driver, not me I hasten to add) I arrived in Georgetown on the island/state of Penang. It was the first - and only - disappointment of my trip and I suppose it had to happen at some stage, although I was not expecting much from Malaysia’s second largest city in the first place.
One local, probably about seventy-years old if he was lucky, persuaded me to allow him to give me a guided tour of the place while I sat in a chair in front of his bicycle and he struggled to pedal in the stifling heat. I felt really sorry for him, but he seemed to manage the task without causing himself a heart attack.
I am also indebted to him, as his knowledge of the area was second-to-none and he explained it all in perfect English. He took me to Fort Cornwallis, the place where Captain Francis Light and his British fleet arrived on July 16th, 1786 to establish Britain’s first settlement in the Malay Peninsula. We also visited a Chinese temple and Little India, which aptly reflected Malaysia’s diverse population. All in all, my old friend redeemed my faith in Malaysia from what was a dubious first impression.
With the sky a clear blue and the sun shining down with no respite, I decided to explore what was further beyond Georgetown on this 285 square kilometre island, but only got as far as the beach at Batu Ferringhi. It was comforting to learn during this short bus journey that I hadn’t left the world of crazy driving behind in Thailand, with the driver taking the cliff-top turns as if he was Stirling Moss racing through the Alps.
Having been alcohol free for all of two days, my companions and I decided to go out for a few refreshments that evening. What we hadn’t discovered yet (apart from the one-hour time difference between Thailand and Malaysia - no, it took us a few more days to realise that one) was that the price of alcohol in Malaysia was extortionate due to the fact that in general, as a nation, the Malays do not drink due to their religion.
You can imagine our disgust then on being charged a small fortune to enter a nightclub and buy a round of drinks, only to discover that we were the only white people in the whole place and everyone was looking at us as if we had T-shirts on that said “Yes we are not from around here and yes, we don’t like Osama Bin Laden, but please just let us have a few beers”. We didn’t stay too long.
One of the funniest encounters I’ve had so far on this trip was when I got chatting to a fellow Scot in Penang, from Edinburgh as it happens. He was busy telling me how he had been in Georgetown for ten days and how good the nightlife was, and after my initial impression of the place I was wondering how anyone could spend that amount of time in such a shithole. I couldn’t help but think that maybe he had got on the wrong bus and believed he was somewhere else, especially after I had sampled the nightlife, which was categorically anything but good.
Anyway, I’m sitting there having breakfast at 7am in my hostel just before venturing on to the Cameron Highlands, when this very same strange boy passes in the street with two fellow archetypal travellers with the biggest bottle of beer you’ve ever seen in his hand. I could not believe my eyes; he was still here!
There must have been something or somewhere that existed in Penang that I never new about, or this guy had just found his perfect hideaway. I suppose that is how it happens; you just stumble on some obscure place that offers nothing extraordinary, but you manage to identify some hidden beauty that attaches your soul to it forever and you never want to leave. Well, either that or you’ve got too much time and money on your hands.
I just wanted to say that I liked Georgetown
I think it’s just a case of each to their own tbh…:D
If I go to hell, it will look like Penang.