Posts Tagged 'Penang'

Up and around Penang-2

We now regret a bit that we didn’t decide to fly from Penang to Bangkok and instead are taking the night train which takes about 20 hours. We wouldn’t have minded to stay here a bit longer. The old town is full of beautiful old buildings and coffee houses, a combination Axel cannot resist: sip his cappuccino and sketch. That is how we started our second day in Georgetown.

Last night we had a late night one hour foot massage, expertly (and for Axel painfully) done by two giant Burmese men who had learned the art of reflexology. While Axel let out whimpers of pain now and then, they pointed out that they were working on our spleens, hearts, lungs, digestive system and more. Despite the pain Axel made an appointment for the next evening; there was something very right about what they did. I whimpered only once.

We are both reading the same book: the Gift of Rain, which is a story about the years before WWII on this island and the Japanese occupation of Malaysia. It is a terrifying and beautiful tale of cruelty, love, divided loyalties, co-existence and duty with the beautiful island as a backdrop.

On the recommendation of a Trip Advisor traveler we hired Mogan to take us around the island which turned out to be a great move. Mogan, like Regi and Ravi, is also a third generation Tamil. He showed us the places I was reading about in my book. He took us to the lovely small museum, showed the island’s beautiful architecture and its extravagant temples. Mogan told us many tales about the island where Buddhuism as he called it, Hinduism, Christendom and Islam live side by side, sometimes in harmony, sometime snot, and have been doing so for centuries.

Although third generation, Tamil is still his first language, as it is for his children who learn Malay, English at school and Chinese or Hindi on the side.

We picked a bad day to go up to Penang Hill because of the May 1 holiday. Thousands of people lined up to get into the little mountain train that takes only a 100 people at a time. We bought the fastlane ticket for 10 dollars more which got us to the front of the line. It would have taken us all day to get up and then down again otherwise.

Up on the hill the view is breath taking if you can for a moment forget about the 1000s of other people around you, taking selfies and dragging tired and screaming children along. It’s a bit of a Disney Park up there until you get about 50 meters away from the beaten path. We sat under colorful prayer flags on the empty lawn of the Bellevue Hotel that has been taken over by the government and has fallen into disrepair. I could imagine the pre WWII gardens and the parties held here in the cool air above the stifling Georgetown heat; it was now a badly overgrown garden full of untamed and diseased plants and bushes.

We ended our trip at the old E&O Hotel, a bit like the Majestic in KL, right on the ocean, with a G&T as one should in such places. After a work related call for me we returned to the foot massage place down the street and enjoyed andother hourlong foot massage until after midnight. It made for a good night sleep.

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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