Caught an AirAsia flight to Penang after a last minute decision to skip Thailand’s islands (don’t ask). Eventually found a bus to Penang’s capital, Georgetown, after a little while wandering around the construction site they’re calling an airport.
Our first evening’s walkabout in Georgetown didn’t really endear us to the area. We went to get some food and almost hit the ceiling with the prices; Malaysia is hands down the most expensive country in South East Asia. There’s a 7% tax and a 10% service charge on food (of course they put this in a tiny sentence at the bottom of the menu that you’d need a magnifying glass to see – just put the actual price on the menu lads!) We came across this pub street, an entire street cordoned off with outdoor seating areas and fairy lights – there was like four people in the whole area. The Malaysian government have realised that heavily taxing alcohol makes a tidy little profit (they must have an Irish expat adviser) even though most Malaysians don’t drink as they’re Islamic. Stayed in a guesthouse called the Red Inn Heritage on Love Lane; nice communal area, pool table, internet access…outdoor toilets – what more could a girl ask for? We spent a lot of time exploring the town…
Day-time in Georgetown went down better; it’s actually quite a charming, picturesque place, recently added to UNESCO’s heritage list. There is a lot of building work going on; it’s more of a ‘watch this space’ place than a tourist mecca at the moment. We actually enjoyed this though, it’s nice to get somewhere before McDonalds sets up shop (although Starbucks have already settled). There’s one area which is pretty heavily modernised, fancy schmancy shopping centre and all!
We wandered around the old town area for a good few hours, taking in the beautiful City Hall and Town Hall down by the sea, Fort Cornwallis where the British landed however many years ago, some temples (obviously), a pretty cool clock-tower, (HSBC!), one of the only (I would have guessed the only) train-stations in the world without any tracks, the pier area, the most amazing building in the universe apparently owned by some famous people but the security guard was hush-hush about this (so why say anything in the first place? It’s the type of building anyone would kill to own even a studio apartment in and there was a great open-air courtyard which housed a young female violinist in the evenings as well as plenty of art exhibitions in some of the upstairs rooms). Georgetown has some pretty great wrought iron art strung on the side of buildings randomly strewn across the city.
All in all, a nice place to spend a few days. We booked a bus to take us to Kuala Besut from here, the gateway to the Perhentian Islands off the north-east coast of Malaysia.