The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

An Island of Religious Mixology

Days 412-415, January 13-16, 2011

With my Dive Certification in hand, my job in Koh Tao was finished. I probably could’ve stayed and did my Open Water Advanced course as well and still make it to my train in Chumphon in time but considering that I fell asleep at 9pm the night we were celebrating, I took that as a sign that I was just too knackered to do anymore diving right away.

My next destination was the island of Penang in Malaysia. From Koh Tao it was a pretty easy journey. The trip on the ferry back to the mainland was a lot worse than the trip to the island a few days earlier. The typhoons in the South Asian Sea were causing massive waves up here in Thailand and most of the people on the ship were getting quite queezy from the rolls the ferry was making. We still managed to get to the mainland with lots of time to spare. And the train itself: I’m not sure how, or whether it was just standard on this particular route, but I managed to get a bed in the really new, air conditioned car. It made for a very nice journey.

Ferry to PenangIMG_9176

The train drops people off in the port city of Butterworth where you can take a short ferry ride across to Georgetown, the largest city on Penang. It was here that I met up with three other travelers from the train. Emma, Derek, and Anton. The train station was right beside the ferry terminal, and being a holiday, none of the money changers were open. And there were no ATMs either. We would’ve been stuck not being able to buy a ticket onto the ferry had Val not given me a 5 ringget note when I was with here in Cambodia. It was just enough to buy all four of us a ticket onto the ferry.

First stop when we got to Georgetown: find an ATM. Next stop: find a place to stay. This is where we ended up splitting up a little. Anton and I went to one hostel, Emma another, and Derek another. Even though we had set up a time to meet up it didn’t work out. So, instead of moping around the hostel, Anton and I rented a scooter to explore a bit of the city.

After getting lost a bit trying to navigate the almost endless stream of one way streets, we finally found our way to the Floating Mosque, the only one of its kind in Malaysia. It was a quick visit though as the sun was close to setting so we made haste back to the hostel to avoid driving on the roads after dark.

The Floating MosqueIMG_9178


When it was parked, we took off to explore the surrounding area by foot. It was there that we ran into Derek and Emma completely by chance. The four of us took a little walk around the city, making our way to the street that was filled with bars. One particular bar we noticed seemed particularily interesting to the two gents. It was called “Boom Boom” and advertised a cabaret show which, somehow, we convinced ourselves that it meant it was a live strip show.


Queen Victoria Clock TowerIMG_9233


As it turns out, it was a gay drag show. I could not help laughing the whole way through(and not just because the two guys were a little . . . unsure of what to think. The show hostess was hilarious!). It was the first actual drag show I had been to in a very long while.

After that absolutely hilarious end to the night, the rest of my time in Penang was pretty low key. Of course, that is if you ignore the slight traffic accident Anton and I were in. It was nothing bad.

We began the day trying to meet up with Emma and Derek at on of the old colonial mansions that Gerogetown is known for. Because Georgetown was once a British colony, many of the buildings are done up in the old Victorian colonial way. It’s actually very interesting to see such a change in architecture compared to Thailand. The accident though, occurred after that.


We were on our way to the largest Buddhist Temple in Malaysia when the car in front of us slammed on its brakes. We did the same but the tires skidded on some loose stones and down we went. I was fine besides some scrapes on my forearm and elbow. Anton was a bit worse for wear. We didn’t know how bad until we found a pharmacy and saw a nice gash on his leg spewing a steady stream of blood. Once it was cleaned up and bandaged, we made it to the temple.


The temple was huge(Captain Obvious here), and was getting ready for the Chinese New Year that was coming up in a week or so. Chinese lanterns were hanging everywhere. Though I can’t be sure that they were there just for Chinese New Year or if they were a permanant fixture in the temple.


The next day the four of us got together once again and took the local bus to the furnicular that takes visitors up to the top of Penang Hill, the highest point on the island. Unfortunately for us, the furnicular was closed and had been for a couple weeks with no plans to reopen for a couple days. Why the bus driver didn’t let us know, I have no clue. Luckily, there was a taxi driver nearby who agreed to take us to the other side of the hill where we could grab a jeep to the top. Thank goodness we did choose the jeep as going up the hill on foot would’ve been a very long and exhausting walk. There were even sections of the road that had a greater than 30% gradiant.


Believe me when I say that I felt extremely lazy when we saw older people on canes walking up the hill or people on bikes. Oh well. I like being lazy.

The view from the top of the hill was absolutely amazing though, with both Georgetown and Butterworth in view. As well, the longest bridge in SouthEast Asia, the one connecting Penang with mainland Malaysia, was also in view. The top of the hill also housed both a mosque and a Hindu Temple. When we were finished gawking over the view, we took the jeep back down and took some time to walk around the nearby botanical gardens while enjoying some fruit and ice cream. And running away from the monkeys who saw that we had food and had no qualms about coming after us.


Hindu Temple on Penang HillIMG_9408

Penang Hill MosqueIMG_9410


That’s the cool thing about Penang though. There are so many different religions side by side. Take a little walk around and you run into Catholic churches, Chinese temples, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, and mosques. There’s a strange harmony and peace among the different cultures. There didn’t appear to be, at least to me, any kind of animosity between them. And having so many different beliefs in one area probably stems from Malaysia’s full history of colonization and immigration.

Dragon Dance practice at Chinese TempleIMG_9358

Penang Catholic ChurchIMG_9434

Plus, with all these cultures, the food options are limitless! Mind you, I really only stuck to eating Indian food. Having a guy selling samosas for only $0.50 outside the hostel every night was very dangerous. Penang, as a whole, is said to have some of the best food in all of Malaysia. I can attest with the amount of food I ate that it will be hard for the rest of Malaysia to compete.

Penang is a large island and there are many areas to explore. I spent the bulk of my time, as you see above, within the confines of Georgetown. My last day on Penang, after both Anton and Emma left, I spent with Derek at the northern end of the island where the famous night market is held, as well as where the majority of the expensive resorts and hotels are held. It was a pretty good way of finishing off my first destination in Malaysia.


Malaysia is already showing a great difference from the rest of Asia. Cleaner and much more “western” than I have seen in the last four months. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

1 comment:

  1. Haha I can't believe you wandered into a gay drag show by accident?! How random, yet awesome.

    I love the photo of the temple, too - I was in KL in September, and absolutely loved the Buddhist and Hindu temples there.