Tourists in Penang, Malaysia
Next morning the fast train delivers us to Butterworth then the ferry delivers us to Penang. Finally this ferry looks like what I expect a ferry to look like: people and cars on a big boat chugging across the bay. *Aside* Tom and I are both floored when we look across the bay and realize Penang is a BIG CITY with tall buildings! I’m not sure why, but both of us had the impression that Penang was a sleepy little town. *History Lesson* Well actually it was in the 70’s. Then the government allowed developers to “reclaim” land from the sea for new buildings. This opened the door to all kinds of high-rise buildings (not more than 32 floors, please) to “spring” up. This also brought factories and industry which turned Penang into a thriving city. The center of Georgetown, Penang still retains many restored colonial structures left from the British occupation in the 1800’s but there are tall buildings all around the older structures making for interesting juxtaposition.
Our next home away from home: Hotel Sentral Seaview. It’s awesome. We have a balcony with a view of the water and can hear the waves INSIDE our room. *Aside* No double paned glass here. The room has a king sized bed and a twin bed, along with an easy chair, a desk with a padded chair and interesting places around the room to stash our stuff. *Aside* You’ll never guess who got the king sized bed. Me! Wait - I heard you say “Rebecca!” How did you know? We unpack, then look for a place to eat, finding it right next door to the hotel: The New Dragon Gate Restaurant. Tom had delicious spicy clams which were so spicy they left his lips tingling, but he declared they tasted “clean and fresh.” *Aside* Tom, who grew up on the coast in Connecticut, says you can notice the freshness immediately in clams where in other seafood it might not be so obvious. I had perfectly cooked whole fresh snapper steamed “Baba” style with a delicious sauce. We shared black and white tofu which they make fresh on the premises (black beans make the tofu black) with fried onions on top. Again it was delicious. We really enjoyed our meal - so much that we went back and ate there again before we left Penang. *Aside* The food at Borneo Dive resort was okay, but it sure wasn’t delicious like this!
Day One in Penang: we rent a driver with a taxi for sixty dollars to give us a six hour tour. First stop: the Tropical Spice Garden. Beautifully planted with over 500 varieties of plants, this garden would take hours tour if you saw it all. The pathways are charming and inviting. We hit the highlights including The Tsunami Memorial Garden and the serve-it-yourself tea from a huge pot simmering at the top of the garden. We pass a huge array of spices for sale at the end of the tour but we’re not cooking, just eating.
Next stop: Monkey Beach in the Penang National Park. Monkey beach was a bit of a bust. We didn’t see any monkeys and my knee wouldn’t tolerate the 45 minute walk up to the lookout on the top of the mountain. However on the way to the island we did see the fish farms where they raise a lot of fish for export which protects some of the fishes that live in the surrounding waters.
Next stop: The Tropical Fruit Farm. Here admission gives you a tour of the specimen garden and samples of the fruit. We saw several different kinds of passion fruit vines, the succulents that grow the dragon fruit, Jackfruit trees, papaya trees, pineapple plants, starfruit trees, water apple tree, nutmeg tree, custard apple tree, and many more I can’t remember now. This fruit farm does not use pesticides so there are insect strips and in-but-no-out bottles with nectar hanging from the trees and structures for the vines. They also put plastic bags around the nearly ripe fruit so the bugs can’t reach it. Then we got to taste fresh fruit, including: honeydew, watermelon, yellow watermelon, pineapple, guava, starfruit, Malaysian oranges (which have green skins like limes), papaya, mango, Brazilian cherries, water apple, pomelo, red and white dragon fruit, and jack fruit. We bought a bottle of their specially processed coconut oil. Can’t wait to open it! *Aside* I use extra virgin coconut oil as moisturizer, sun screen and insect repellant. In the past I have been plagued with mosquito bites, but this trip with the coconut oil, they are leaving me alone. I’m also not wearing perfume, so maybe that has something to do with it as well?
Last stop: The Batik Factory. We watched the process of hand painting the batik fabrics including the beautiful landscapes meant for framing. Early on we resolved to not buy any souvenirs, but neither Tom nor I could resist the amazing silk batiks. Tom chose a black silk shirt and I chose a green silk shawl. They were not cheap, but they were far cheaper than we could ever buy in the US.
Day Two in Penang: we rent a driver with a taxi for $20 to give us a three hour tour. First stop: Penang Hill. At Penang Hill we ride a narrow gage train to the top of the hill to see the view. We choose the express line as there are a lot of people already in line and its only 9:30 in the morning. There are about three or four holidays being celebrated this weekend so everyone seems to be taking advantage of the last day off work. The views are stunning even if a little hazy, but there is also a whole assemblage of things to do, see and spend money on; including a Mosque next to a Church next to a Temple.
We mostly just watch people and wander a bit. It’s crowded so we don’t stay long and even with our express passes we wait through three rotations to get the train back down the hill. Back on the street, traffic was bumper to bumper so we opted to call it a day.
We go to the mall for some lunch at Sakae Sushi which has a sushi train winding its way through the tables, I-pad ordering system and a hot water tap for making tea right at your table. Day three in Penang: We rent a driver with a taxi for $40 for a six hour tour. *Aside* Yes this is cheaper than our first six hour tour, but then we do get smarter as we go along. First we visit the Penang Coffee and Chocolate factory. Penang grows coffee in the hills of Penang and roasts coffee in several different styles. They also have a plethora of flavored coffees. We succumb to a bag of decaf coffee but with strong will resist the chocolate. Next door is the Penang Tea and Honey Company. We also resisted taking home either one.
Next stop: The Reclining Buddha Temple, Wat Chaiyamangalaram. *Aside* This is also known as the sleeping Buddha, but it’s eyes are obviously open so I choose to call it the Reclining Buddha. The Reclining Buddha in this temple is reported to be the third largest in the world: 33 meters =108 feet. The temple is amazing with seemly acres of brightly colored mirrored mosaics. The back walls are lined with urns containing the ashes of devotees. *Aside* So how devoted do you have to be to get your ashes stored here? I’m guessing it has to do with how devoted your pocketbook is to the idea.
Right across the street is the Dhammikarma Burmese Temple also full of Buddhas including one
Next we cross bridge number one to Butterworth and then return via bridge number two which is twenty seven kilometers long (over 16 miles) - fourth longest bridge in the world according to our guide. *Aside* Bridge number two looks a lot like bridge number one, but longer and with curves presumably to extend the length to get to number four in the world.
Our final stop is the Snake Temple. *Aside* I read about the Snake temple in my research and wanted to go, but then a couple of the things we did were so “touristy” I thought this would probably be the same. However our route took us right by it, so we decided to stop to see the snakes. The primary
exhibit in the temple is pit vipers. They are hanging in bare-branched trees in front of an alter with no cages or protective enclosure. There are some shed snake skins hanging in the branches just for effect. The snakes are so obviously fake - i.e. not moving and stuffed-looking- that it’s ludicrous. Then our guide touches one of them and it moves. Everything changed in an instant. We suddenly are aware of snakes all around us, even hanging over our heads! We take pictures while our guide pokes the snakes making them move. He tells us we can touch them. “Yeah, no.” He tells us that inside the temple they are docile and safe but not outside the temple. We proceed on through into the snake zoo. Here the attendants offer to put a pit viper on my head for a picture. *Aside* Tom and I do the risk/benefit analysis: benefit - we could have a picture of me with a pit viper on my head; risk - we could spend the rest of the day in a hospital trying to recover from a venomous snake bit. “Yeah, no.” We do see some beautiful pythons, including two albinos (actually yellow but called albino) which we touch but don’t handle as it was preparing to shed its skin. We also decline the picture with the cobra. It was a very snaky end to our time in Penang! Really - doesn't it look fake?