Wander with Me: Penang
August 2, 2007
I’m back in Bangkok, still reeling from the events of the past 7 days. After being unceremoniously fired from my teaching job, I decided to write freelance full time. In a matter of days, my laptop literally became my entire life. In less than a week, I’ve dragged it across 2 countries while the beachcomber in me ran around free in my Billabongs. It was the trip of my dreams, and I still can’t believe that I lived it.
Since I wanted to stay in Thailand but was virtually unemployed with no possibility of a non-immigrant B visa in sight, I decided to get a tourist visa instead. I flew to Penang via Air Asia on Thursday morning. From the airport, I had the taxi take me directly to the Royal Thai Consulate in Georgetown. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that tourist visas were given to Filipinos gratis. That saved me about 2,000 baht. The visa wasn’t available for pickup until the next day, so I had the taxi take me to Chulia Street, the haven for backpackers in Penang.
Chulia Street was long and narrow and lined with guesthouses and hostels. I shopped around for a bit and eventually decided to stay in Malibu Café for 25 ringgit (1 ringgit is about 10 baht) a night, including breakfast and an hour’s worth of Internet access a day. I had my trusty laptop with me, however, so they just gave me unlimited wireless access at no extra cost. I was quite touched.
The room was as basic as can be. It was kept relatively clean and the bed was surprisingly comfortable. Showers and toilets were shared but they were quite clean so I couldn’t complain. I had a fantastic meal of pasta with white sauce, Cajun chicken, and bananas at Ecco Café across the street from Malibu. I checked out the used bookstores for a bit but found them grossly overpriced. Other than that, I didn’t explore the city much on my first night because I had to get some writing done and I was dead tired.
After a good night’s sleep, I was quite ready to see Penang. The “concierge” (for lack of better words) at Malibu haggled rather furiously in my stead for a taxi to take me to the Consulate then to Penang Hill. They finally settled on 24 ringgit total for both trips, which I figured was quite reasonable as taxis in Penang were horrendously expensive. I got my passport back and my tourist visa without a hitch and off we went to Penang Hill, or Bukit Bendera, as the Malaysians called it.
The idea was to ride the cable car right to the very top and back down. I got a roundtrip ticket for 4 ringgit. The ride itself was rather unpleasant. The cable car was filled to capacity with Indians, Muslims, and Arabs and it stank to the heavens. By the time we made it to the top, I had a nasty headache. The fresh air and the beautiful sight that greeted me, however, made it all worth it. I had a sweeping view of the city of Penang and it was gorgeous.
I walked around Penang Hill for awhile, just taking in the view and eating corn in a cup. I eventually headed back down when it started drizzling. The ride down the hill on the cable car was worse than the ride up, if that was even possible. I caught a taxi back to Chulia Street and killed the couple of hours before dinner writing a few articles.
Dinner found me in Cinthra Street where all the fantastic Chinese restaurants were. I’ve always been a huge fan of dimsum and I’ve been sorely missing it. I was looking forward to having some good old-fashioned dimsum in Penang more than anything and I was not disappointed. I found myself in Tai Tong’s where I had Yong Chow fried rice, dumplings, and a custard pie. I wanted to eat so many things but all the servings were huge and I was alone. It was the best meal I had in ages, though, so I was quite happy.
I walked around the nearby streets for a bit but the rain was really starting to come down hard so I just headed back to Malibu. I was leaving early the next morning and I wanted to get some sleep. It was impossible, though. In the middle of the night, the Norwegian couple next door came back drunk from somewhere and was having a huge fight right outside my door.
It was quite an interesting end to my Penang adventure. I spent a total of 198.50 ringgit, excluding the airfare I charged to my credit card. Not bad at all.
Next stop: Phuket!