Saturday, July 21, 2018

Bang Bang Penang

If there's a more thrilling cocktail of eastern cultures than Penang, we've yet to find it. Penang has long served as the link between Asia’s great kingdoms and an important outlet to the markets of Europe and the Middle East. At its heart is diverse, cosmopolitan George Town, Penang Island's main city and an urban centre that delivers old-world Asia in spades, from trishaws pedaling past watermarked Chinese shop houses to blue joss smoke perfuming the air. The freshest aspects of modern culture are present, too, in the exceptional art scene and free-spirited carnivals, all fed by an infectious local enthusiasm for Penang's long history and kaleidoscope of cultures.  -- Lonely Planet

Someone at Lonely Planet can knock off early and go have a pint.

Today our hero walked confidently into the KL airport towards the Malindo Air with his C$20 ticket for the one hour flight to Penang. Sliding his passport across the desk to check in the service guy hits the keys on his keyboard and instantly looks confused. "What time is your reservation sir"? he inquires. Penang at 2:10 I respond losing the cocky swagger I had when I entered the airport. Then he asks for my confirmation code which I supply and still nothing. Shit.

He motions over to his co worker who after a few keyboard clicks, sadly looks at me and meekly says, "sir your ticket is for August 16th not today" You got it, today was July 16th..stop laughing. Through all my hotel and flight bookings for the next  month I got lazy on this one and booked the wrong date. Yippee.

It was an easy enough fix considering I only paid $20 for the ticket. I walked over to the ticket counter, changed the flight for $25 and was back in line in 20 minutes later. "Can I have a window seat because I am a dumb tourist?. "Of course sir, but your not angry. Usually people are very angry and yell at me? says the female agent, who originally diagnosed my stupidity. "If I got angry every time I did something dumb or silly I would always be angry a lot". With that I was given my ticket for my  flight to Penang and walked straight to the gate giggling at my stupidity. I was going to take the 7 hour bus but this flight was the same price...until I F**ked up that is.

Penang is jammed packed with sights and sounds. There is a large Muslim community here with a couple of gorgeous mosques. There is also quite a large "Little India"..does that make sense? A large little India? The British influence is obvious with colonial buildings plus the remnants of Fort Cornwallis. There is an attempt at a "bar street" but it was lame and over priced. Having a picture of Bob Marley on the wall with a pot leaf on your sign does not make you a Reggae Bar. I do think that all of these Bar Streets, Irish Pubs and Expat Bars have run their course with me. I have a new philosophy on extended travel but that will come in a later post.

Penang is a great city to walk. However there were two things that I wanted to do. First, I needed a hike and second was to devour street eats and look for the famous Penang Street Art.

Penang National Park was about an hour by local bus and is the final stop on the 101 Route. The ride went through the city and along the coast through various towns and villages so it was not unpleasant. There is no charge to enter the park but you must register with the park wardens and they give you a permit to enter. The trails are well marked and thankfully not all to easy. I needed the exercise and plowing up and down gorgeous jungle trails that opened up along the ocean, crossed deep streams and ended at a beach was just what my spirit needed. If I go long periods without being in nature I start to get jumpy.

At the beach there was a turtle sanctuary and who doesn't like that. I wandered the beach front and chatted with a few boat captains that were ferrying tourists who did not want to hike. The first hike took about an hour and there were two others to explore. Sadly, the main trail to monkey like was closed but you could see and hear black monkeys in the trees. I don't know what kind they were but unlike city monkeys or the little bastards that hand around temples or tourist sites these dudes kept to the trees and did not bother me.

I had a good three hours in the jungle and was heading back along a trail I liked. It crossed a small stream where it gave me a chance to rest and take in all the shades of green and the incredible quiet. There were pools of small fish under the bridge so naturally I crumbled up my chips and was feeding them, minding my own business when I heard a huge splash. I though "oh shit I am dead in a Malaysian jungle". I looked up I caught the back end of something huge swimming away from me. At the entrance I was reading about the various creatures in the area and I figured this was a Monitor Lizard and these suckers are carnivores and can grow to 3 metres, nose to tail. Sure enough my suspicions were confirmed when I found Godzilla swimming in the open water where the jungle river emptied out. He was swimming towards the shore, and directly at me. It was time to find my bus.

Penang is also a draw for its food and street art. Malaysian food with Indian influences made me eat even when I wasn't hungry, which is another reason I needed a good hike. Costs here are a bit higher but it is Penang (tourist town) and Malaysia. Not every place can be Vietnam and Cambodia cheap.

As I said, this is a walking town and while I was wandering from food stall to restaurant to cafe I came across what I was looking for, some of the most interesting street art I have ever come across on this trip. The artwork itself was brilliant and many of the images had a real 3D quality. It was how it was presented that made it so unusual. Kids riding a bicycle where the bike was real and embedded into the wall. The same a child playing basketball, kids on swings, a vendor selling produce and a child reaching for an apple. Incredibly creative and a huge tourist draw.

If a town is looking for something creative to get people to their under developed downtown core (I am talking to you Niagara Falls) this is an idea that works. Go see the street art along side streets and in alleyways then stop for a drink or lunch. People need a reason to go somewhere and the simplest are usually the ones that work.

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