Penang again

Post date: Aug 22, 2012 9:41:44 AM

We returned to Penang as we promised ourselves we would, not having enough time to explore it last time we were here. It is easy to walk around and the public bus transport system is excellent.

The two things that strike you, (apart from the decaying architecture, although much of that is being restored, thanks to the UNESCO World heritage classification,) is the food and the number of places of worship here – there are literally hundreds of them – Chinese, Burmese and Thai Buddhist temples, Indian Hindu temples, mosques and Christian churches. They are everywhere, around street corners, in little laneways, on jetties and dominating whole mountaintops. The call to prayer can be heard 5 times daily from around the city and the smell of incence smoke is on the air.

small Chinese family temple on the end of a clan jetty The large mosque in the centre of Town (Kapitan Keling)

Kek Lok Si temple on the side of a mountain

Dragon sticks (incense) being burnt outside Goddess of Mercy Temple in the city.

Some of them are very busy and surprisingly noisy (Chinese opera in the courtyard) the devoted praying and giving offerings to their deities, burning incence, and “money”, . . .while others are quiet, peaceful havens which exude tranquillity. We have visited many of them.

Penang is one of the food capitals of the world. It's hawker stalls are even more exciting and vibrant than Singapore; Singaporeans are even coming here for holidays to sample the food.

There is a huge range of cuisines to choose from and for every wallet size. It is not hard to fill ones stomach for less than RM40 for 2 including drinks. The Chinese and Indian hawker stalls are open from early morning, but as we were here in the holy month of Ramadan, it was only after sunset that Malay stalls and bazaars opened. There are upmarket restaurants here too which serve a wide variety of food from around the world.

We started our days with roti chanai or, if it is a bit later, wonton mee soup, both light and very cheap, roti for less than RM1 and the soup RM2.50 and an ice cold drink of lime juice or iced lemon tea. For dinner the choice is almost limitless. Many shops specialise in just a few dishes – but the way to find out which are the best places is to see where there are lots of locals enjoying their food.

While here we have took the public transport to Batu Feringhi, one of the beachside areas of the island but it was rainy and windy there so we did not get to see it at its best, another time perhaps.

Another trip took us to the hills to visit Kek Lok Si Temple, one of the largest Buddhist temple complex in South East Asia, according to the brochure. It is an evolving and growing complex with the “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddahs” which is 7 storeys high and then there is the bronze, 30 metre high Godess Kuan Yin (Godess of Mercy) statue which is very impressive, built in 2002. There are a number of steps to climb to get there and there are small stalls selling all sorts of things on the way up. There are several smaller temples and shrines in the complex as well, along with stalls selling prayer accessories, (incence sticks, candles, prayer ribbons) statues of Buddah and other souvenirs and trinkets. We spent several hours there exploring the place.

The Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin

Then it was off to Penang Hill to travel on the funicular railway to the top. It is 830m above sea level and pleasantly cool up there. On a clear day the view would be stunning but it has been hazy here ever since we arrived and this day, fortunately, was not quite as hazy. We could actually see Lupari 2 in the harbour and across to Butterworth on the other side of the channel.The rail car is on a very steep angle and seems to defy gravity as it ascends the hill, stopping once halfway to let out residents. At the top of the hill there is a Hindu temple and a Mosque. There are walking trails and several touts all vying to take you for a ride around the summit in a golf cart. The going down was even more impressive!!!

Butterworth is a large port facility and transport hub with large bus and train terminals close to the ferry terminal. The ferries run every 20 minutes or so and start at about 5:30 in the morning and finish after midnight. There are no fewer than 3 ferries running at any one time.

We travelled on one of the ferries to Butterworth across the channel to see what was on the other side. We were there for no more than half an hour when it started to spit with rain – a quick dash back to the ferry terminal to get back – we had left the hatches open and I was told that if the bed gets wet I (Sue) will sleep on the wet patch as it was my decisision not to close them. We just missed one ferry and while we were waiting for the next one we had a downpour. Fortunately downpours here are very localised and when we arrived back on Penang Island there was no sign of rain (Phew).

Wandering around the streets of Penang is a true delight – in the “core area” which is the key area of restoration and preservation, we stroll along the streets which are narrow and the shop houses are used for an amazing variety of purposes. It is great to peer inside the many small businesses and see what is happening in there – it could be anything! Many of the narrower streets are one way. Buses, cars, motorbikes, trishaws and bicycles as well as pedestrians use the roadway. In many places there is only the road to walk on. The 5 foot way in front of the shop houses are blocked by parked motor bikes and restaurant tables.

Surrounding the core area is a buffer zone where the buildings have a different level of preservation order but outside that there are abandoned and falling down buildings alongside demolished buildings and new ones being built.

A trip on the bus took us to Balik Pulau, (The other side of the island) is what it means,via the southern end of the island. It is an area on the western side of the backbone of Penang Island (Penang Hill)and was originally a place where refugees from other parts of Asia came and started market gardens, small spice farms and rice fields. It is a very productive part of the island. We looked around, had lunch, and then caught the bus back over the hill to town. It is good going to other parts of the island to see how other people live. We did this in Langkawi too.

We spent 3 weeks enjoying the food, exploring and catching up with some old friends in Penang as well as getting our visas for Thailand, our next destination, after painting the deck at Langkawi.

Out of the Blue #1

One morning, just as we were getting up, a bumboat with a passenger was heading for our boat. It was Steve, a friend we had met at Iluka in the Clarence River, during the Brisbane floods in January 2011. He was visiting Penang and while walking along the Clan jetties he saw a yacht he recognised, so he came out to say hello. He had been to Penang several times before so he was our tour guide for a few days. It was good to see him and enjoyed his company as he showed us around.

Out of the Blue #2

A small yacht pulled into the Junk Anchorage and the occupant disappeared into town. The next day he motored past in his yacht. “Hi” he said “Remember me?” It was Mark from the moorings in Brisbane, who had sailed his catamaran to Singapore and was living there and had bought this new yacht in Langkawi and was sailing it back. We spent a couple of evenings chewing the fat and catching up before he left to head south and we headed north.

Who would have thought it - two chance meetings of Australian friends in just a couple of weeks (the world is getting smaller)