Running through a sketchy looking housing estate with everything I own on my back, all 11kg of it. It’s 90% humidity and 28 degree heat. Sweat dripping from my face, heart racing at the thought of missing my night bus which is due to leave in 5 minutes. Not a clue where I am, relying on strangers to point the way. Hungry, thirsty but no time to spare. Panic creeps in, everything becomes a blur and all of a sudden I’m there. On the bus, shoes off and aircon blasting on to my wet hair. And there it is, a perfect example of backpacking and you know what? There’s not a single part I haven’t missed.
16 hours later and I am still on the bus, albeit the fifth bus of the journey, which was meant to take just eight hours. By now I’m pretty tired, hungry, bored and severely dehydrated after stopping just once for a break. I could think of better things to be doing than to waste my one of two days in Penang sitting on a bus but hey, that’s what travelling is all about – it’s an adventure.
I’m also super excited to be in Malaysia as I’ve already seen two stray dogs, a parrot on a man’s shoulder, re-familiarised myself with the bum gun and witnessed a near head-on collision on the road. Ahhh, how I’ve missed the real Asia (real compared with Singapore although I did just spot a KFC and Nandos – doh!)
I left Singapore a day early in the search of adventure in Northern Malaysia, a small island called Penang. After hearing about my plans, Melanie (a girl I had met in Bangkok back in February) decided to join me as she was now working in Singapore and happened to have the week off. The bus dropped us at the station on the island (as opposed to Butterworth on mainland which would have been less costly and time consuming) and we got a taxi to Love Lane in the main backpacker district. Public Wifi is near impossible to find, so we went for a delicious coffee at bike-themed Wheelers Café so we could look at hostels using their internet and since returned numerous times as it one of those cafés you could happily spend the day in. We made an excellent choice in where to stay as The 80’s Guesthouse became one of my favourite hostels on this trip, with others being Mojo Inn and Khammany Inn.
Penang is a foodies paradise which is obviously why I decided to visit and I spent the next few days eating my way around Georgetown which is in my eyes, the best part of the island. The day was almost over by the time we’d got ourselves settled, thanks to the 16 hour bus journey from Singapore, but we managed a good walk round admiring the street art and the many black metal illustrations, such quirkiness I haven’t seen since Berlin.
The good thing about Georgetown and most other large towns/cities across the world is that there’s a Little India and Chinatown meaning you can get a wide variety of foods. I loved stopping in Little India for some roti and dill and a masala tea which like the majority of drinks in Asia contains heaps of condensed milk.
Just like Lup D in Bangkok (funnily enough where Mel and I met) 80’s Guesthouse had roadside seating out front, where I enjoyed a glass of wine from the steak house across the road every night. There’s a fair bit of night life in Penang with Reggae Mansion being the main backpacker bar, Soho good for a local game of pool and the smaller Reggae Bar which offers free drinks for ladies before 9pm, even if they were slightly watered down.
It’s worth taking a trip to the Three Sixty Bar at the Bayview Hotel to enjoy views over the city and take advantage of their Happy Hour drinks. The only ATM close to the backpacker district is at the foot of this building too and Red Garden is just around the corner.
I absolutely love Red Garden which is an outdoor food and drink market with nightly performances from ladyboys, young bands and dance acts. It’s such a great place to come with a group of friends for beer and food and I was lucky enough to meet Claire from the US and Natalia from Germany at the hostel who joined Mel and I most nights.
I particularly enjoyed a trip to the National Park which is around a 45 minute bus journey from Georgetown. It’s free to enter and we walked the 3km trail to Monkey Beach which was nice but as Asian beaches go, was a bit of a disappointment.
The walk was far more interesting as there were lots of monkey’s blocking our path which was a laugh trying to get through. We rounded up a few people at the beach and hired a boat back to the entrance for 40 ringgits, which is around £8. That evening we picked up one of the many traditional foods on the street including Nasi Lemak, Curry Mee and Popiah.
I had planned to go to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday as I had a flight to Sydney on Monday, but I was enjoying spending time with my new friends in Penang so much I decided to stay another night. My final day was spent relaxing in one of the many quirky coffee shops, most of which are hidden in back alleys and serve great tasting western coffee and cakes.
Mel, Natalia and I went for sushi and then indulged in a food reflexology massage by the blind at Asiatika Venture on Jalan Penang which was so good, I had another straight after! However, the blind woman who did my back massage was far stronger than the man who had done my foot reflexology, so I emerged with my neck in tatters, but for £6 it was so worth it.
One last crazy night out with my friends and it was time to hop on my last Asian bus for a while, which I’m sure will mean a new story to tell!
Penang was a great introduction to Malaysia, a country I’ve yet to fully explore and am planning to return to when the weather cools down in Australia. But like always, it was the people that made my stay so great and I believe that wherever you are in the world, it’s the people you’re with that matter the most. What fun we had in Penang.
Living life, loving travel,