Friday, 30 March 2012

Penang, Malaysia 28th March 2012

Looking Back
Penang, Malaysia..

Approaching midday and thoughts turn to the subject of food and something to drink, but what? There isn't any, no water for sale, no sandwiches or snacks, not even locals getting on at the stops trying to sell such goods. It's the same throughout the train, although 1 person had the foresight to bring supplies, sadly not enough to feed everyone. I can smell coffee, yes, the attendant is taking some to the carriage behind, and that sets the scene for the next 30 minutes or so as he runs back and forth with coffee for everyone else too, and not bad either for 20 baht, 44p.

It's a long journey through some dense vegetation at times. Rubber tree plantations with the catching cups attached, and I did spot colourful and exotic birds occasionally. The IPod also comes in handy with these downloaded audio files (CBSRMT), helping to pass the time.

Butterworth, the end of the line and the start of another culture, another town and another adventure in a different country - 4 weeks around Malaysia starting from now! The train pulls into the station, next to the Eastern Oriental Express, the same train I saw at an obscure station on the way the River Kwai a few weeks ago. The station here is being rebuilt, so a temporary portacabin houses the ticket counters and money changing facilities, but no ATM. I was able to exchange the remaining Thai currency I had into Ringits, essential for onward travel to Penang. The nearest bank or ATM was some distance away into Butterworth town according to a taxi driver. Money in hand, off to find the ferry terminal for boats to Penang Island.

First sight of Georgetown, Penang
The train station is next to the bus station, which is next to the ferry terminal. It's about a 10 minute walk, taking into account confusion about where exactly where to go. Thankfully, a few other tourists are clutching their Lonely Planet guides, and seem to have a good sense of direction. Up the steps onto the dock, and there it is, Penang Island, closer than I had imagined it to be though. It's a nice photo, with mountains providing a dramatic  backdrop to the highrise and harbours that is Georgetown, Penang's Capital and a world heritage site. Access onto the ferry is through a turnstile costing 1.4 RM, 29p, well used despite their being a road bridge further down towards the southern part of Butterworth. The crossing is about 15 minutes, a cool breeze giving some relief from the heat. 3pm, stepping off the ferry and into Penang, some 24 hours and 10 minutes since leaving Bangkok. It's a long journey, but a good one and not at all tiresome with plenty of room to stretch out - just remember to stock up on supplies and bring an IPod!

Penang Ferry
A bus station and a tourist information kiosk located just a short jaunt from the ferry has all the bus information on how to get to Chulia street. That's the street backpackers make for, it's where to find some good and cheap accommodation according to Websites and travel blogs. Bus 201 stops by the 7 eleven, about 1/2 way up this long road and costs 1.4 Rm, takes about 6 minutes - could have walked it quite easily. The bus stop is conveniently located immediately at the front door of a guest house, The Banana New Guest House. They have a room, with a fan for 18 RM, £3.71 per night. It's adequate, short on floor space, but clean and shower facilities just along the corridor. Good enough for the short time here, and it's well located so, it's a deal!

Food, water and orientation, in that order! Food, spoilt for choice here, everything Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern. I settle on a Chicken Korma from a Southern Indian inspired cafe. Exquisite, not too spicy and only 94p. Good value here, with lots of other choices all of Indian origin of course, no western gunk insight! Next a quick orientation exercise with the help of a free tourist map. 10 minutes further along from the cafe it's the waterfront. Some sizable hotels are prominent around here, but there is a driveway with public access to the sea wall. Looking across, it's quite hazy, but there are islands to the South and Penang coastline to the North. A few locals fishing but not catching anything that I can see anyway. North a bit, then left towards KOMTAR, a Penang landmark that can be seen for miles around - a 36 storey tower central to giant shopping mall and bus station. Surprisingly, I haven't seen an ATM yet, or a bank even. 20 minutes of street pounding, still no ATM, but I don't need it today so not to worry too much, yet! KOMTAR suddenly appears, a gigantic complex, with about 3 different malls and all the trappings that go with them, including ATMs. A quick nose around and there are some bargains, but nothing like Bangkok, more exploration on this later might reveal a different story, but for now it's an orientation exercise that's going badly wrong! Why, because the KOMTAR place is so big, leaving via another exit is enough to disorientate any newbie in town, with a less than adequate map. Getting back to base, in the dark in a strange town - easier said than done!

At last, something I recognise from earlier. The 7 eleven store on Chulia street, good. New Banana  has wifi, so for an hour it's a catch up on 24 hours of missed messages. About 2 real messages and 10 of these stupid game requests that keep getting sent to me. 11 pm, could do with a snack. The Indian place is still open, 20p for a plate of rice and a mildly spiced sauce. Back to base, shower and bed. Tomorrow could be a beach day.


  1. Hi Paul. Will all the places you visit take American Dollars. Just wondering what happens if you arrive in a different country middle of nowhere with no local currency.

  2. No, with the exception of Cambodia. Cambodia use their own Riel and also US Dollars, in a combination of the two. So, you can pay in either/or and get change back likewise. 4000 R = 1 USD.Cambodian ATMs only dispense USD.

    Everywhere else is local currency. There will be money changers at border points.