We set out to travel from England to Asia without flying. A slower, more sedate approach, in a time when time flies and life is gone in a flash, we wanted to slow time and see things properly. We also wanted to see how we would cope with life on the road. So after 190 days rocking and rolling the final transport count from Kenilworth to Kuala Lumpur is:-
Is there anything I would do differently? At my age, I’d bring nasal hair trimmers.
Have we learnt anything? Well, we already suspected but now we know that your average person is kind and helpful and stereotypes are not always true. Russian and Chinese train conductors, grannies, shopkeepers, dinnerladies, waiters, hoteliers, policemen, security guards and people on the street have all helped us when we have been lost or in need of something. We thank them all.
Food.Blog.Food.Pack.Food.Bed. There you go. Just like most days.
Our expanding waistlines tell us its time to leave.
The bus is the most comfortable one yet. Three large seats wide and a good reclining level.
About an hour into the journey we pull into a garage. This isn’t expected. The driver tells us we need to change a tyre and we’ll be 20 minutes. We take the opportunity to buy crisps and nuts and pastry products from the garage next door for a healthy buffet breakfast.
An hour later and we’re back off. We listen to music and I’m so comfy and the ride is so smooth I fall asleep. Later, I come round from my slumber and watch Malaysia zoom past the window.
The aircon stops and we start to warm up. We pull over to the hard shoulder. The driver tells us the fan belt has gone and he needs to fix it. He takes his toolkit and goes outside. We start sweating as the temperature in the bus soars. We wait. The bus rocks from side to side as trucks speed past us. A bus pulls up in front. We are told to change and luckily there are exactly the right number of seats free. Another hour and we are in KL.
A helpful ticketbooth lady explains our tube options and after two short rides we walk to our apartment hotel. This is our last Asian destination and sadly for us our last overland destination so we decided to up our flashpacker credentials and go out in style. We have a double bed, ensuite, fridge, kettle, pool and gym!
We head to the local, huge temple of consumerism, Times Square, for food, where an ordinary chicken and chips and noodle dish fills us. Friday night essentials of red wine and chocolate are bought and we luxuriate in our 22nd floor room enjoying the view across KL.
The day started with a rat scuttling across our path, but with the open sewers its not suprising. We crossed the road to eat at a food stall our hostel recommended. Wanton mee for me and curry mee for her. Both good.
We walked to the bus station at Komtar and caught the number 10 to the botanical gardens. Al saw a cockroach on the bus.
We had chosen a bad day to visit the Botanical gardens as the specialist plant houses were closed. We were able to wander round the outside though to see cacti and bromeliads but sadly the fern house was huge so we couldn’t see everything.
We did see Lizards though, wandering around.
A troup of monkeys too.
It wasn’t top of our botanical gardens list but it was very tranquil to visit after the noise of Georgetown and is a beautiful green space.
Back in the old town I finally get to try Assam laksa, a local sour soup of tamarind, chili, sardine, pineapple and mint. It sounds like fridge leftovers but it works and I really enjoyed it.
Al had kaka on white toast at a street cafe which every morning had a long queue down the pavement. It was white bread, toasted, with coconut jam on. I’m pondering importing toasters to Penang.
Another Rat scuttled across our path.
Then it was Laundry Time! The glamour of travel is endless. Our hostel guy was complaining about the heat and I thought about his words as I sat sweating in the launderette. I melted. It was running down my head. I love the heat and humidity and its great for my psoriasis and sitting in the launderette was possibly the hottest moment of the trip so far. As a puddle of sweat formed under my chair, the lady in charge turned the fans on and the hot, humid air was moved about. I continued to sweat. A lot.
Back in the hostel, our friendly host clearly recognises my Dr Dolittle powers and hands me his pet python.
Another restaurant which always had a queue down the street was the 110 year old Hameediya. We had tried to go twice before but decided not to bother after seeing the queue and being spoilt for choice but as we leave the hostel our host tells us to go now as it will be quiet. We walk straight in. Chicken murtabak, tandori chicken and naan and biriyani rice with beef rendang, curried cabbage and pickled chilli. Each component was of high quality with strong flavours, delicious.
We were stuffed so we had a walk round the block and stopped for a cup of tea. On the way back a cockroach crossed our path and then a rat scuttled past.
Georgetown isn’t easy to walk around. There are few pavements, so you walk in the road and trust the judgment of the speeding scooter drivers who are used to dodging tourists by a hairs breadth.
On top of this, you face the assault course of uneven surfaces, potholes, open sewers, gas meters, raised manholes, lowered manholes and the ends of sawn off street notices which all test your awareness, especially in flip flops. Despite the fear of raising my vision from the ground, I can’t stop staring at Georgetown. It is a film set of quirky detail. A beautiful, visual assault. Its worth the fear and I love the buildings here.
In the old town, 19th century Straits Chinese architecture dominates the residential and commercial property. Colonnades shade the main front doors which are flanked by a window on either side. The upstairs floor is a row of wooden shutters. Peranakan (meaning mixed – from Chinese immigrants marrying local Malay) floor tiles create beautiful facades. Muntri street is one of the best places to see examples of this style.
Since Georgetown had UNESCO heritage listing in 2008, some of the buildings have been bought up and carefully redeveloped into boutique cafes and hotels. They retain their original features but now proudly display a bright, clean exterior. For me though, the dilapidated, old exteriors are the most beautiful. Faded glamour is far more romantic than fresh paint.
One of the buildings we were able to enter and look around is China House, a narrow building of over a hundred metres long which stretches between two roads. The interior has had minimal renovation and houses cafe/bar/restaurant/music venue/shops in a retro, vintage Chinese bohemian space. There is a lot of art and I don’t like to use the ‘C’ word but it’s beyond cool. Plus their cakes were the best we’ve eaten and the house Red was the best we’ve drunk but this post isn’t about food.
Besides the Straits Chinese architecture, there are also fabulous colonial and art deco buildings.
We have been to Georgetown twice before, most recently in 2014 and I can’t remember much street art then but now I see it everywhere (having a map also helps). One of the tourist things to do now is tour the streets snapping art which I’m more than happy to do. Below is a selection of some of the many pictures I took but I don’t want to litter the internet too much.
Penang may not be to everyone’s taste, but with beautiful architecture, varied street art, stylish cafes, fabulous Malay, Chinese and Indian food, WE LOVE IT!
Got up and decided we should leave, neither of us can act, so pretending we are too ill to get on the Penang ferry is out. Sad is not the word, we were hungover, emotional and it was a real wrench to go.
Hugs were given, tears were shed as we drove down the long, long drive from The Crowded House.
We got to the port early and with hungover stomachs proceeded to devour a KFC. Yes, we felt that bad…..
The ferry crossing was as flat as the proverbial pancake, thank goodness, we felt queasy enough without any more speedboat antics.
A long, long 3 hours later we got to Penang, got a cab to our hostel and laid on the bed.
Hunger set in and the excitement of being in a foodie paradise got us going. We had curry for lunch at the same place we went to last time for our first meal, it wasn’t intentional, but once we saw it we couldn’t resist. It wasn’t as good as before, but it gave us energy for the rest of the day.
It was hot, humid and sweaty, we slowly walked around and reacquainted ourselves with Penang. There are some changes since our last trip, notably street art everywhere (more on that later), more cafes and fancy restaurants.
A Penang couple we met said that more and more local businesses are being forced out due to high rents, which is a shame as the most interesting parts are the mechanic shops or hardware stores run by Chinese for years with their grubby, worn interiors and faded exteriors. There is beauty in old things (as Guy is finding out!!!).
For dinner we went to Bite and Eat Dindigal restaurant for dosa masala, prawn chettanad, paneer butter masala, fresh chapati, rice. The waiter suggested we needed one more dish so we ordered spicy potatoes. It was too much, but Guy manfully finished it all. We loved it, all of it, in all its spicy, juicy, tasty glory.
Walked home avoiding any trip, drip or overhead hazards that were put in our way.
Repeated this action more times than we care to admit.
Lots of funny stories were told, of which none are suitable for the blog, but may appear in a pub, near us, after a few light ales.
Dogge, Guy and Jonas acted out a vanilla sandwich.
We ate food.
Went back to Crowded House, drank more than we did last night…..signed leaving t shirts, because that is normal!
Decide we can’t leave the next day, however it is past 10pm. I try and ring the travel agency to change our ticket, no answer, I try other numbers, no answer. Probably just as well as I am sure I would have been incoherant.