31 Jan – train then ferry to Georgetown

Woke up a couple of times in the night as the train lurched around on the tracks but overall slept very well in the berth. Watched the Thai countryside roll by and felt great. It was only a few hours later the deserved hangover kicked in. Breakfast was dried fruit and nuts with half a packet of biscuits. We didn’t think about it at the time but we wouldn’t eat again until 4pm which was bad planning.

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We arrived at the Thai/Malaysia border and passed uneventfully through immigration and customs before getting back on the train. The only thing of note was a huge sign that described hippies and explained they are not welcome in Malaysia. Apparently they wear singlets and no undergarments.

Finally after 22 & 1/2 hours we pulled into Butterworth and headed into the station to withdraw money from a cashpoint. Amazingly, no cashpoint, but huge red signs for a moneychanger. Got to the moneychanger and he was shut. Well its obvious, one of the only trains that comes to the station daily and the only international one per day, why would you want to open your currency exchange service as dozens of tourists carrying Thai Baht and needing Malaysian Ringgit are around? I was told he was on his way. Eventually the shop keeper from Mr Ben strolled up and grinned through his sparse teeth at the queue of us westerners, slowly melting into a huge puddle under the searing Asian midday sun. The heat, after a more temperate Hong Kong, lack of food and last night finally catching up with me put me in a tired grumpy mood.

We boarded the ferry and slowly watched Penang come into view.

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A free shuttle bus dropped us off in the backpacker area and our strategy was to wander from place to place in the heat, with our rucsacks, trying to find a room. After five nights in HK we were fully aware that it was Chinese New year as we had enjoyed seeing the preparations there. Like Joseph and Mary we were turned away time and time again with no room at the inn. Just as they couldn’t get a room as it was Xmas, we couldn’t get a room as it was Chinese New Year. (Instead of the baby Jesus, Al was carrying a dim sum belly)

Best of all was a middle aged american who looked like a cross between the comic shop owner in The Simpsons and Jabba the Hut explaining to us in a patronising tone that it was Chinese New Year. “Oh really? Is it? I screamed as I shoved his bag of donuts into his face. I imagined.

Well, just as our favourite pregnant virgin and carpenter eventually got room in a stable, we got a plush three star hotel. We wanted to pay less but beggars can’t be choosers.

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As we gazed across the crystal waters of the bay from our 18th floor room we noticed the firm king size bed and realised it would would be the first night for a week that I could sleep with my legs straight. Relieved to have a king size bed in a three star hotel, I headed out for a haircut, my first since Xmas day. I got no discount for my bald patch and no smile for my crap gag.

We came to Penang 15 years ago and loved the food. As an ex British colony there are generations of Chinese and Indian immigrants alongside the native Malays which adds up to culinary heaven. We headed straight for little India and had tandoori chicken and naan fresh from the tandoor. Delicious. After some fruit juice we crashed early.

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