After leaving Indonesia, we headed to Malaysia for just over a week. We had originally intended to get a car in Kuala Lumpur and make our way north, through the Cameron Highlands and over to Penang Island.
However, weariness from travelling in Indonesia, and wariness of driving on the busy Malaysian roads led us to take the easier option. We had a couple of nights in KL before flying direct to Penang. It was time to take a holiday from travelling!
We only had one full day in KL and decided to spend it at the Bird Park. We were looking for an escape from the city and could have fun photographing the birds for a few hours. We managed to do both.
The peacocks are always my favourite (I like their colour scheme J ) but I also found these birds quite intriguing…
I think that was the extent of our excitement in KL – other than to enjoy some really good Indian food which made a nice change after Indonesian food for the last two months. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy good Indonesian food, but it was harder to come by once we got to Sulawesi.)
I had long been interested in checking out Penang, an island off the northern west coast of peninsular Malaysia, and in particular, the UNESCO heritage area of Georgetown. And I had heard that the food alone made it worth coming to Penang.
We arrived just in the time for the weekend –a bit of a mistake as Georgetown is overrun with local tourists who come to Penang for a short break. Not that I objected to them being there but they do make it bloody hard to photograph anything remotely interesting as they are always standing in front of your subject, always in cute poses. Like this…
Or like this….
I patiently wait for them to have their photo taken and move away so I can get my shot before someone else gets in the shot. Or just blatantly gets in my way, like this:
However, I digress….
Georgetown is a UNESCO site (as of 2008) and I imagined it to be something like Hoi An, in Vietnam. And it was to some extent, but just more eclectic and chaotic. These towns have a way of making the decrepit look charming.
There is a Chinatown area with the old Chinese shop houses and temples.
And just a street away is Little India, in all its colourful glory. Beautiful saris hang out in front of some shops, while others have chains of bright flowers strung up for sale. And of course there is the omnipresent sound of the Bollywood music being played at full volume. And I have to say, the Indians have beautifully ornate temples. Add a few old colonial buildings from the days of the British`colonisation mixed with a few more modern developments and you have Georgetown!
Unlike Hoi An which closes off it’s central streets to motorised traffic, Penang has a bad traffic problem and is not really designed for pedestrians. This made it hard for us to enjoy the sites as we had to focus on where we were walking: either on the narrow footpath, dodging parked motorbikes, tables, chairs, people, up and down curbs and stairs– or in the narrow roads where you took your life in your hands as you dodged cars, speeding buses, push bikes and trishaws.
Having said that, a highlight for me was the street art and wall murals. The murals were painted on old crumbling walls by a Lithuanian artist now living in Penang and are designed to depict street life. Some are life-size, while others are quite a bit bigger.
Others incorporate 3D objects into the painting.
I suspect that the artist is a cat-lover as cats seemed to feature in a significant number of paintings.
Whilst we had a map to help us find some of the paintings, it was like a treasure hunt as some were in fairly obscure locations, and there were a few that we never did find. Following the art trail kind of gave us a purpose for exploring the town, too. (See the slideshow at the end of this post for more examples – some of it is really quite good.)
To anyone else considering doing this, however, I’d suggest leaving it to a weekday when the local tourists are back at work. You’ll find it much easier to take photographs of the paintings, rather than of the locals standing in front of the paintings!
There was some other artwork scattered around the town – made of wrought iron, and depicting a bit of history along with humour.
To the beach!
After a few days in the heritage town, it was time to hit the beach – at Tanjung Bungah, on the northern coast of Penang.
As a beach, it was pretty disappointing – but maybe I’ve been spoiled with NZ beaches. The sand was nice enough but the water was pretty murky and uninviting. On top of that, the jet skis and motorboats made it a bit too busy for my liking. But the hotel had a really nice pool and that was good enough for me. When it wasn’t raining. Which wasn’t often over our last 2-3 days. But that’s OK – we were having a holiday from our backpacking travels and it didn’t stop us from swimming in the pool.
There was a significant number of burqa-clad women here which I found a bit surprising at a beach location. I couldn’t imagine anything worse that wearing a full-length black gown at the beach in this heat – but then I guess they’d look at me and think they couldn’t think of anything worse than running around in shorts and strappy tops. :-/ Either way, it didn’t seem to stop them from enjoying a frolic in the water and even jumping on the jet skis.
Our time here was relaxing but unexciting really: we checked out the new modern shopping mall that just opened, rode the cable car to the top of Penang Hill and enjoyed some really good hamburgers. Like this one – with a black bamboo charcoal bun.
Yes, it sounds weird, and looks even weirder, but no it didn’t taste like charcoal. It just tasted like good bread.
So, what is it? Well, according to what I could research via Wikipedia and other sites, bamboo charcoal is made from pieces of bamboo that is aged 5 years or more, and burn in an oven over 800°C . The charcoal is turned into a powder (takesumi) and this is what goes into the bread. It’s supposed to be rich in Vitamin C, Iron and Phosphorous, and helps ease the digestive system, and help to discharge impurities and unhealthy substances from the stomach.
I don’t know about any of that but it was one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long, long time, if not ever. (A nod to Hamburger, Inc for making some really good burgers!)
And speaking of weird, we came across a restaurant in a mall with ‘western” type dishes on offer. Or at least, it was there take on western dishes. I think they should focus on what they do best – Malaysian cooking and leave the western dishes to the Westerners. I don’t know many who would eat this:
And that is the end of our travel adventures together as Alan heads home and I start making plans for Myanmar/Burma.