1 February – Happy Lunar New Year of the wooden Horse!

Being meticulous planners for this trip…ahem…..we had decided on going to Penang for Chinese new year on purpose, so we could see all the celebrations and experience it in a fairly Chinese place. However, we soon realised it was a little bit like Christmas day back home (albeit it without the champagne conga ala Si and Gez) whereby everyone is at home with their family, no Chinese businesses are open, meaning all the Chinese – Malay food we had been looking forward to would have to be on hold for a few days.

On the plus side there is a Little India for us to explore, so curry inbound!

Due to having curtains with linings we actually slept in, it also helped that there was a time difference here that we belatedly found out about!

Breakfast was Roti Canai, they had already sold out of Murtabak, it was about 11am so possibly not surprising!

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After a quick look around the shopping malls which were mostly closed we had some lunch at a hawker stall, Guy had Laksa – Penang style with lots of shrimp paste, beef stock, mint and liver balls.

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I had Char Koay Teow, basically noodles, prawns and Chinese liver sausage, the stall was heaving and it took ages to get our food,  but a family from Singapore had a quick chat with us to pass the time of day.

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After this, I went to explore the pool and sauna in the hotel, steam room was mouldy so gave that a miss, was enjoying a sauna until 3 burly northern europeaners turned up, I left soon after!

It was now snack time, so we had a murtabak each from the stall down the road, and chatted to a 76year old who had been here 50 years ago, he now lives in Almeria!

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Next door to the snack place was an English pub we had been in 15 years ago, and after being away for two months, laminated menus, vinegar and pints of ale had made us well up a bit. So for a bit of nostalgia we went in again, this time we had tears of pain when we realised we had just paid £3.50 a pint!

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After a wander around and a few more beers to cool down, and a notice in the gentlemans loo which made me wet myself………( see middle image below)

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…..we ended up in a veggie indian restaurant for lush spinach and cheese curry, jeera rice.

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Then it was back home to watch Iron Man 3. So quite a typical Saturday night, beers, curry and movie!

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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