A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia

Sweating It Out in Georgetown

Pulau Penang, Malaysia

sunny 32 °C

August 21-23

(Rob)

Getting from Pangkor Island to Georgetown, on Penang Island, was a simple 20 minute taxi-40 minute ferry-3 hour bus-20 minute ferry-10 minute taxi ride. Actually, it did seem fairly simple and fairly pleasant. We all snoozed on the (apparently) bug-free bus. We enjoyed the views on the ferry, particularly the large one that took us from Butterworth to Georgetown. Both are mid-size cities. It also afforded us a view of the 13.5 km causeway linking mainland Butterworth to Pulau (island) Penang. Our cabbie in Georgetown pointed out both colonial architecture and many, many hotels that would be better than the Hotel Mingood, where we'd asked him to take us. This seemed suspicious. Sure enough, the Mingood was just fine, our first actual hotel on the trip, and a bargain at about $30 Canadian per night, including a nice breakfast in their rooftop garden room.

That evening, however, we didn't notice much for dinner walking down Jalan Penang, and ended up at the mall beside the big communications tower. It was early for dinner, but our travelling had meant we'd missed lunch. We ended up at a pretty bland restaurant where the staff was ridiculously eager to please.

The next day, fortified by the complimentary breakfast, we were ready to see Georgetown in our only full day there. We had a brochure of a historical walking tour, and off we went. It was early, but already getting hot.

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The distinctive blue wash of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

We examined the blue mansion (remember Indochine with Catherine Deneuve?), and paid our respects at a Hainan Temple (Chinese). Very elaborate and colourful. Anica said we should stroke the lion's paws for good luck. Was she making this up, or had she read it somewhere? We stroked the paws anyway.

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Soon, the heat was getting to everyone. Walking for hours maybe wasn't the best idea for the day. The mantra became: get to the Fort.

Georgetown is as colonial in architecture as its name suggests. What's impressive, then, is not the originality or scope of the town hall, court, museum buildings, etc., but that they are found here on this island in Malaysia, which was very sparsely populated before the British claimed it. What was most impressive in the entire morning was the huge lizard (iguana? monitor?) we saw sunning itself on the rocks by the seashore. Think komodo dragon in size! Then it waddled off to - where else - a sewage culvert...

By high noon we'd reached Fort Cornwallis. We paid the nominal entrance fee and cooled down before exploring this legacy of Francis Light, where it all began for the Europeans on Penang. Mostly, it was fun stuff, like locking Anica in one of the cells, posing with the musket, strolling past the "wild" horses, hunkering down in the gunpowder magazine. But we did learn a lot about Light, including the matter-of-fact details about his slaves, and the interesting life of his Siamese wife. The first wedding in the fort's chapel was the wedding of Light's widow.

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We took refuge from the heat at a hawker centre of food stalls beside the Fort. Just then we ran into a Belgian family from our hotel whom we recognized from breakfast. We got a nice big table and ate lunch together. Anica played with their little 3 year old girl. She only spoke Flemish, but their parents spoke very good English, and we traded travel tips and email addresses.

The afternoon couldn't possibly involve more walking in the heat, so I suggested a trip up Penang Hill on the funicular railway. This, too, turned out to be a hot and sweaty ride, and quite a lengthy process.

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I forgot about Jenn's low-key fear of heights, but she managed admirably. The views of the island were magnificent. This "hill station" is at about a thousand metres above sea-level. It's a whole village at the top, starring the Macaque monkeys, but also including a Hindu temple, a Mosque, and some great lookout spots, of course.

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And, it was cooler up there. The railway and many of the buildings date from the 1920s, when Penang Hill was a fashionable escape for Malaysia's F. Scott and Zelda set.

For dinner, we actually ate at a sit-down Indian restaurant that was entirely indoors. In other words, a touristry sort of place. Anica kept pointing out how many of the diners were white people. It was good food, though, and we did get to eat on banana leaves instead of plates, which was a nice nod to Indo-Malaysian authenticity.

Our final morning at the Hotel Mingood was spent taking advantage of the free wireless, reading, and waiting for our flight time. The employees were very nice, even giving Anica a piece of their Domino's pizza.

Posted by jennrob 07:08 Archived in Malaysia Comments (5)

A Holiday from The Holiday

Our lovely stay at Nipah Bay Villa

sunny 28 °C

To our regular readers: we've added some photos to older blog entries for you to enjoy

( Jenn )

Aug 19

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Anica announces her arrival in this (believe-it-or-not) candid shot

We moved to Pangkor Island a day early and it was the best decision we could have made. Our resort here, Nipah Bay Villa, is simple but clean and lovely, like our place in Melaka. For 37 CDN a night, we have our own bungalow, air-conditioned, with a king-size bed, a single and attached bath, where the shower is an actual stall "area" of its own. We have toilet paper (whee!), blankets and coverlets and actual television even if we only get two channels. Our bungalow fronts on a courtyard area with a beautiful tree that blankets the rooftops with its branches and our paths with its flowers.

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There are assorted frogs, cats and geckos to keep us company and a rather large black and white bird with a double bill. Two minutes walk away is the main beach and hawkers stalls. Five minutes gets us to Coral Cove with its stretch of virtually deserted white sand and almost clear water where we can lie under the shade of the trees and watch the crabs scuttle from one hole to another and the monkeys swing through the trees. And the food, the glorious food - did I mention our room rate includes breakfast? And not any old continental breakfast but the type of full breakfast which would blot out that price in an instant at home. Eggs, toast, fresh juice (whatever's been squeezed that morning - watermelon, pineapple, orange, mango...), coffee or milo. Some mornings pancakes, others french toast. And the other meals are delicious, safe and cheap. Last night we had steamboat. A burner placed on our table followed by a pot divided into two sections of boiling broth - spicy and non-spicy. We were given 3 plates of raw food to cook in the broth - one with noodles (two kinds) and eggs, one with vegetables (various greens, carrots, baby corns), and the last with meat (tofu, beef, chicken, squid, prawn). It was delicious!

(Rob)

Aug 21

We left Nipah Bay Villa today, and we were all a bit sad. Our waitress (for every meal for five days) made a special point of coming to our taxi (actually pink minibus, they all are) to say goodbye. She loved watching and listening to Anica's animated talk, and we'd had many good laughs together these past days. It just seems like a happy little community. The beach and its stores were used mostly by locals, with the occasional Westerner. Nobody was touting or scamming. The people at our resort were mostly other Malaysians, although we had a good chat with a Canadian couple last night. We all loved the beach, even when the waves knocked us over and embedded salt and sand in our hair. We loved watching the hornbills (a large bird) and the monkeys. We didn't try to sightsee, but that wasn't the point here. Beach. Eat. Sleep. Repeat...

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Posted by jennrob 06:16 Archived in Malaysia Comments (5)

TKO in KL

overcast 32 °C

(Rob)

What a difference a change of scene has made! We're loving it on Pangkor Island, especially Jenn! It's rustic in a good way, not rustic in a Dickensian way. I felt exactly the way Jenn did about the KL hostel, but I wasn't sick already. The bus ride out of KL grossed me out even more. But now, beautiful beach! We'll write more on that later, but this entry is about what we did see and do in Kuala Lampur.

Even the first night, we were so tired that we just headed for "Times Square," the biggest shopping centre in Asia. It's 10 floors, atrium-style. We soon realized it was the one with the indoor theme park, "Cosmo's World." No way we were getting out of this one, after what Anica had already cheerfully dealt with that day (bus breakdown, grungy hostel, smoggy streets, walking in the rain, not being able to hail a cab, slipping on the sidewalk tiles...). So we just said, "Anica, do you want to go the 'Cosmo's World' theme park?" She said it had suddenly turned into the best day of her life! There were a few really good rides, and some kiddie rides, and all three of us joined in. We stayed until the place was closing down at almost ten o'clock.

We made a point of going to get the free tickets to go up the Petronas Towers first thing on Wednesday morning. It's a good thing too, because, after waiting in a nearly two-hour lineup, they ran out of tickets JUST after we got ours. Good for us, except by then it was only ten in the morning and our visiting time was going to be 4:45. We enjoyed several hours (taking refuge from the rain) in yet another huge, posh shopping
mall. I had great Indian food for lunch, while the girls went with Western favourites - easy on the tummy.

When it cleared, there was still plenty of time for Anica to enjoy the splashpark and playground at the foot of the Petronas Towers. She stood under the horseshoe waterfalls and splashed around merrily.

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The playground is also huge, but not at all coherent. What they seem to have done is bought around 30 separate playground sets and stuck them all next to each other.

The twin towers are quite pretty, mostly in shape and colour (due to their silver steel banding). They don't seem that tall, especially since the skywalk is "only" at the 44th floor. We had precisely seven minutes to spend on it when our allotted hour finally arrived.

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So, not quite towered out, we headed for the KL tower. It's actually taller, but not free. It's not as tall as the CN Tower, of course, but it's in the world's top 10. Anica enjoyed the observation deck there, particularly the free telescopes every few feet.

Getting a cab back was typical KL, in our brief experience. First we couldn't get one at all, then only someone who would take us for 20RM. We knew that was a ripoff, and so we held out for a cabbie who would go on the meter. We got back to the hostel for just 5 RM, which shows our instincts were right. Unfortunately, the night was just beginning...(see last blog entry)!

Posted by jennrob 05:15 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

"See? You're getting to see all sorts of wildlife..."

-17 °C

Aug 15th

( Jenn )

I'm really miserable right now. I know things will get better but gah. There was a rat in the hallway of our hostel tonight and another cockroach in our room. I wanted to move to another hotel at any cost but /everything/ is booked up. We must have called 30 hotels. *cries*

It wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't still sick - in fact, I'd probably continue to find it semi-funny, including the night manager's explanation that the rat "just" came from the sewer drain down the hall (thankfully not on our floor) - but I am, and it's just wrecking me.

HATE KL.

It's been one big yuck with some very minor moments of nice. Thank god we're moving on on Friday.

I knew there would be things and places I'd hate on the trip, I just didn't expect it to happen so soon :(

The one good thing this place has done is to set the bar for Rob and I in terms of what we're willing to deal with and what we need in a place. We'll be seeing some pretty rough cities (well, starting with Melaka, but it was much closer in flavour to Singapore) and where you stay is almost a refuge at night, especially when you have young kids and need to return to your hostel/hotel earlier than average. Sometimes cheap is just too cheap, particularly when it comes at the expense of peace of mind.

p.s. The night manager did make up the room beside ours for us and move us there. He said this one has never had a problem. Uh huh. Well, either way, it doesn't have a cockroach in it /now/ and that's good enough for tonight.

p.p.s. The guys running this place are great. So helpful. Wonderful, wonderful guys. But the place is a pit and KL (in my estimation) is not much better. Maybe if you're staying in one of the 5-star hotels and spending most of your time being bused around the city, it's different but I wouldn't know and the majority of our experiences here have been less than stellar. Maybe when I'm feeling better, I'll try and write something more positive about what we have enjoyed.

Posted by jennrob 10:10 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

Another perspective...

semi-overcast 30 °C

Aug 14th

( cockroach )

So, I was just standing there, checking them out, listening to them talk about their day - how their bus broke down on the way from Melaka to Kuala Lumpur, the smell of burnt rubber assailing their nostrils until the bus driver finally pulled over, smoke billowing from the bus, and then how another bus picked them up, 30 minutes later...

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... and took them to the exhaust-filled central bus station where someone tried to open the woman's backpack as they bought their tickets onward in advance, then got ripped off for a taxi to their hostel, which turned out to have lovely hosts but be just a shade too grimy compared to the first two, and how they'd managed to miss lunch, eat only snacks, have it pour when they were ready to go out, have taxi after taxi refuse to turn on the meter and try to charge them 15RM for what was a 8RM drive, nearly get run over walking to Times Square instead, where they finally found a Kenny Rogers Roasters for dinner, a Borders bookstore to look through and a theme park to make the little one happy - when SUDDENLY the little one turned, saw me, and screamed....

The man grabbed his shoes, put them on - I ran right there - and tried to step on me. But I was quicker. I ran up under the pipes and stayed there as I heard him go downstairs and ask the night manager to come up and get rid of me. When he brought the great big can of bug bomb up, I knew it was time to skidaddle...

I don't think any of us had a very good night's sleep :P

Posted by jennrob 05:40 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

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