On Thursday morning we said goodbye to Kuala Lumpur and headed back to the train station with our $20 tickets. Seven hours later we arrived in Butterworth, then walked right on to a waiting ferry that shuttled us in 15 minutes across the Malacca Straight to the island of Penang for less than 40 cents per person!
Feeling ambitious and overly confident that the hotel wasn’t far away, we hoofed it through town with our backpacks. (Next time we’ll take a taxi.) The good news is, during our walk we found the right office where we needed to get tickets for the next leg of our trip. This was the only ticket I hadn’t pre-booked (I think the website was giving me a hard time), and the lady behind the counter said it was a good thing we didn’t wait any longer as the ferry was nearly sold out.
Finally we found our hotel, the Eastern & Oriental, sister hotel to Singapore’s Raffles, and recommended by one of my favorite travel books, 1000 Places to See Before You Die. This is where we began to be spoiled by Asian hospitality. As soon as we stepped into the place, we were ushered to comfy couches, handed cool towels and frosty drinks, and checked in without having to stand at some silly counter. There were special touches waiting in our room like a personalized welcome letter, fresh fruit daily, and 24-hour butler service with a ringer on both sides of the bed. The hotel was built in 1884 and has been recently refurbished. Gorgeous!
We spent the next day and a half wandering around Georgetown, the main city of Penang and once the capital of British Malaya. According to my book, the city is considered to have some of the best-preserved English colonial architecture in Southeast Asia, along with an authentic Chinatown.
Colorful markets! I don’t know what most of these fruits are, but it would be fun to try them all.
There’s also a street full of modern bars and nightclubs. (Not that we checked that out or anything…)
This place is full of 2 things: bikes and dogs. The bikes will run you over if you’re not careful, even inside a marketplace. The dogs are well cared for. They’ll spread out on the sidewalk anywhere they please, and people will step around and over them, no problem. Even the ugliest dog in the world was being looked after!
Most importantly, Penang is one of Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Foodie Holidays”. We found another hawker center (basically a food court) nearby where we could choose from dozens of little food stands. I wish I could try them all! We’ve decided this is the way to go throughout the whole region. There are also very nice restaurants to choose from, but you’ll pay Western-style prices. For example, afternoon tea at the E&O was $40 (and it was absolutely fabulous, I must say), but delicious and safe street food could be had for a few bucks, sometimes less.
As usual, we found that 2 nights were not enough. There’s plenty more to see and do in Georgetown, and beyond that much more to explore of Penang, the Pearl of the Orient. But there was a purpose to these quick stopovers: We were in a hurry to get to our next stop, the “real” vacation we had in mind, where we can finally relax and unwind. We’re heading next to the island of Langkawi, where we will spend 4 nights in a rain forest resort, with nothing else to do but chill.