Up and around Penang

We got up early on May (1) day to catch the train to Butterworth, a four hour ride north from KL. The train was modern, airco-ed with assigned seats and not too crowded even though it was a long holiday weekend. I suspect most people had already left on Saturday. While waiting at the KL central station we made friends with a palm oil marketing director whose daughter goes to school in Manchester NH. We wondered how she managed the cold, much as she probably wonders how we manage the hot and humid climate of the Malaysian west coast.

We were a bit disappointed in the food available on the train and noticed most people brought their own. They knew. For coffee there was only 3-in-1 or 2-in-1, both instant packages with sugar and milk powder or only sugar.

We had underestimated the schlepp (especially given the heat and humidity) from the train station to the ferry and from there to our hotel.  We vowed we’d take the road back on Tuesday once we discovered there is a bridge that connects Penang Island with the mainland.

The island looked like Manhattan, from the ferry – tall skyscrapers as far as the eye can see in both directions. This is not quite what we had expected. Luckily we are residing in the low part of town, the old Indian and Chinese quarters with their bustling commercial activities and mixtures of scents of curries and incense.

We were rewarded with a wonderful warm welcome by the innkeepers of the Ren-i-Tang Heritage Inn, a beautifully restored Chinese merchant home in the center of Georgetown’s India town.

The inn has a lovely café open to the street, serving wonderful food. I tried a local dish that let’s you wrap tiny pieces of shrimp, ginger, onion, cucumber, calamansi (small limes) and chillies in a fresh leave from something that grows below our balcony. The assembly concludes or starts with a sweet soy paste and is then popped into one’s mouth.

Everything is very low key. It’s not quite like the Majestic, more homey and very comfortable in a backpackers kind of way – guests greeting each other and exchanging tips, and at a price that is more manageable.  We picked another Heritage house for dinner and are largely making up for the not so great dinners of our Best Western days and its mediocre culinary neighborhood.

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