Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Final Countdown: Penang, Malaysia

Accommodation: The Banana New Guest House was cheap and convenient ranging from RM25 to RM70 for a double/twin room. We stumbled upon the guesthouse on arrival to Georgetown, the best area to find cheap hostels, a buzzing nightlife and great restaurants nearby aka India town.

Places to See: Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I think partially because the entire tiny island mixes all of the best sights together. From waterfalls, secluded beaches, to cultural heritages bringing a melting pot of yummy food together.

Getting to and from Penang: Buying a ticket in advance or extremely last minute for flights from Surabaya to Penang is VERY important. The prices can range from £34 to £87 on Air Asia, which is relatively pain-free. You can get some really good deals on South East Asian flights from there. From the airport, you can (most of the time) get a taxi from outside of the Penang Bayan Lepas International Airport. On the way back to Thailand, we took a train from Butterworth, the main port that connects Penang to the mainland. It takes about 23-27 hours on the train, so no mean feat and costs around £24 in a second-class sleeper.

Transport: We rented our own motorbike or scooter to get around. These shops can be found along Chulia Street and also Penang Road. Cost is around RM25 for 24 hour rental. Deposit is often RM200. We got ours from Banana Guest House's travel and tour company next door.

It was quite a change from the mountain-hiking, sooty landscape of Bromo. It was pouring in Penang, far from the idyllic sandy shores I had in mind, and finding a taxi outside of the airport was next to impossible under the rumbling thunder. But eventually, we arrived at Georgetown, which seemed to be buzzing with its humdrum nightlife and hundreds of tourists. And Banana New Guest House appeared to be the most enticing, specially as motorbikes lined the vicinity - which meant only one thing - travelling around Penang in style.

Around the corner came little India in the form of little restaurants and stalls. It was weird to be eating great home-cooked- style food, something that I cook myself, in Malaysia. There was South Asian faces everywhere, and I could understand everything they were saying, even conversing with them all myself. It's like I never left home. My boyfriend was also on a mission to eat the best Channa Masala since his trip to India, so we were in the right place.

Being back on the rear of a motorcycle was an exhilarating experience, and not just a painful one. Closing my eyes, letting the sun and wind seep into my skin. I got my much needed Vitamin D intake in Penang, particularly after 6 months of hibernating in Beijing. There were no plans or restrictions.

We went where the open roads took us. From eating authentic local cuisine from stalls lining the coast, to being the only people on our very own private beach. We even attempted to climb a steep hill to see the waterfall at the Botanical Gardens, but after the first flight of steps, it didn't quite fulfil the 'relaxing' leisurely time we had in mind. After trekking through Borneo, climbing volcanoes and other structures for the last five weeks, it started to take its toll.

But I did attempt to drive the motorcycle myself and that's when I realised that I am officially bi-wheel challenged. Whether it be bicycles or motorcycle, if it doesn't have an extra wheel, I have no sense of balance, and so riding the bike was not a pretty picture.

Then it was all over. Six weeks of being on the road ended with us taking a boat back to Butterworth for the final journey back to Beijing. It was one of those moments, a sigh of sadness rather then relief, despite all of the ups and down encountered. One word to sum up - unforgettable.

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