Sunday, August 31, 2014

Penang - a long weekend in August

After a week working in Cyberjaya, Kuala Lumpur, I needed some R&R. Already in the neighborhood (so to speak), I enjoyed a short 4 night and 3 day trip to Penang at the end of August / start of September. Friday night after work, I flew out of KL. Off the plane quickly, I was promptly in heavy traffic all the way to Traders hotel Georgetown, which I really loved. In the lobby lounge, I met a few fellow Aussies and had a glass of wine (or 2) before crashing for the night.
Day 1, after a small sleep in, I ventured out on foot to explore Georgetown. Everywhere is close enough to walk, or you can hire a bike. But I just wondered around seeing where my feet would take me. Plenty of willing trishaws around if I get tired...

A few blocks away was Khoo Kongsi temple. It's gorgeous with a display below the temple that had lots of information about the temple and its history, as well as he surrounding area's temples, that was nicely done. Through the main alter room, two doorways lead to some lovely wall paintings on the rear terrace. Small plaques provided the stories and legends behind each picture.

The temple itself is lovely with walls covered with ornate carvings and paintings. I spent over an hour reading the displays and exploring all around. Its a popular attraction with a steady stream of tourists coming through and children running around. Not like other more serene temples I'd visited.

Seh Tek Cheah Kongsi temple was just around the corner with almost no tourists. Only local worshipers burning incense paying their respects met me. From the shadowy side stairs, a toothless old man approached me, pointing upwards. "You go, you go", he motioned. Upstairs, another alter room looked out over a balcony adorned with many red lanterns.
I then wanted to visit a few of the other temples (Teochew and Mahamariamman ) but they were under renovation and closed. I wondered the streets near by, browsing the shops instead.

Of course I saw many of the famous Penang street art. They are easy to find as there are crowds of people taking photos surrounding them, as well as stalls selling souvenirs, snacks and drinks nearby. I must say I enjoyed the street art and found various paintings and sculptures - some down side streets that I just happened upon alone. But you can't walk too far without finding an interesting piece to ponder over. 

I stopped for lunch in Little India and had lunch at Kapitan - which was very very yummy - 10 MYR for 2 cans of drink and a veggie curry stuffed paratha served with chutneys etc. Too good.
Refreshed after my delicious lunch, I wondered to the Clan Jetties and wondered up and down a couple of the rickety decks, but I didn't enjoy them too much. The street food in the area smelt amazing - but I didn't eat. 

I wondered down to the Goddess of Mercy temple, which was crowded with visitors. The streets surrounding it had many stalls selling incense and other devotional items that were bustling with activity. It was like a circus with screaming children, yelling parents, hawkers, and an underlying smell of something that didn't smell fresh. So I didn't stay long and wondered down towards the esplanade.
By now, I was tired and hot so just jumped in a cab back to the hotel where I took a swim and shower. For dinner, I made my way to Upper Penang road - a short stroll away, where I enjoyed another yummy meal. As I was finishing my delicious paneer stuffed potatoes, a motorcycle club (Aprilia) arrived at the restaurant, causing quite a commotion. They noisily parked their shiny, chrome machines in a line along the front, making quite a spectacle for passes by. From a busy diner they restaurant was instantly a crowded party place with many of the riders and their families getting together for food and beers. As it was Merdeka day, there were celebrations planned with fireworks at midnight, but I was too tired.

Day 2 was transfer day from Georgetown to Batu Feriringi (or BF). Through the hotel, I organised a driver to do some sightseeing along the way before being dropped off in BF. First stopped I planned was Penang Hill. As it was Merdeka day, it was crowded with 1000s of visitors. My driver suggested we came back later to see if the crowds subside. So we headed to Kek Lok Si. Leaving me at the top of the rise in front of the huge  Kuan Yin statue, my told me where to meet him and drove away. I spent a lot of time enjoying the surroundings.

I loved the little funicular from the top temple and gardens down to the main temple (with the massive shop with 100s of items on offer...). In the main temple area, there was the "Pagoda of ten-thousand Buddhas", a seven story handcrafted pagoda. I climbed the narrow stairs, around and around the various levels, each with a shrine and balcony to look out, to the very top for the view. From the top, you could look down into the remaining temple area and gardens and over to Tanjung Bunga and Gurney Drive with high-rises lining the beaches.

I also visited Wat Chayamangkalaram (reclining Buddha) and Dharmikarama Burmese temple that are across the road from each other and both free (though I always make donations). Very few other visitors were there with me, so I enjoyed some peace and paid my respects. The reclining Buddha is said to be one of the largest in the world at 33 meters in length. Ringing the huge Buddha are many other Buddhas in varying mudras.

The Burmese temple had much more to see and I spent time exploring the grounds and various shrines. Some monks were offering blessings in the main temple. I approached with a "mingalabar", which they were surpirsed to hear (it being the usual greeting in Myanmar). I had a quick chat to one who knew a few words in English. In a side shrine near the entrance is a magnificant standing Buddha, that reminded me of the huge Buddhas I'd seen in Bagan, Myanmar. At the rear was a huge bell tower with three levels of shrines and carvings. A lovely view met me at the top. This temple felt like a small piece of Myanmar right in the heart of Penang.

By mid afternoon, I was in Batu Ferringi and refreshed before a short walk along the beach. It's crowded with people and full of boats, parasailers, jetskiis and other water sports - not somewhere where you'd want to sit and relax. The beach itself isn't that great either. So I returned to the hotel (Holiday Inn) for a swim and drink. 

Before dinner, I watched the sunset, which was quite spectacular, but far from romantic (for those couples), with all the noise and activities. 

After dinner I walked up to the Hard Rock hotel that was crowded with a queue just to go in. Leaving the hordes, I just browsed the shops down the whole shopping street strip, buying a few things for family and friends back home. All the while, cars crawled along the road with people crossing and wondering along the crowded footpaths. Before bed, I had a glass of wine at the hotel bar away form the chaos of the street, where I met another couple from Australia.
Day 3 - From right outside the hotel, I caught the 101 bus (for the princely sum of 1.40 rigit) to the Spice Garden. It's a lush garden with a huge variety of herbs and spices, as well as rare palms. I really enjoyed strolling around all the trails and taking photos of some of the lovely specimens. I encountered some monkeys up near the shop and met a large lizard (dragon) on the path just near the large lily pond. A really lovely way to spend a few hours.


Stopping to first buy a cold drink from the stall across the road, I caught the bus up to the National park. Armed with a drink bottle, I hiked to Monkey beach. I knew it was over an hour, which normally doesn't phase me at all. But, this one was different. Silly me only had thongs (flip-flops) on so it made it an already hard walk more difficult. However, the jungle was shady and lush, with a few beachy stretches to enjoy. There's plenty of muddy ground over hilly terrain all the way, making it a hot way to get to the beach. 

Monkey beach itself isn't all that great. Nice sure, but not the white sands and peace I was expecting. Once again, there were jetskiis and water sports, not to mention 4 wheel bikes buzzing around in the bush beside the beach. Luckily, there were plenty of stalls with drinks, as I needed to replenish after my sweaty slog through the jungle.
Needless to say, I caught a boat back to the park entrance, choosing not to hike in the heat to return. I caught the bus back to the hotel, and jumped in the pool for a long swim and relax.


My last night, I ate at one of the hawker stalls and had an excellent stir fried noodle dish with a beer that was very tasty. I took one last look through the street market, buying a lovely little pewter lamp, before returning to my room to pack and prepare for my long trip home.

My flight back to KL was at 10am, so I had an early night, followed by an early morning. the traffic was pretty bad, but I made it from BF to the airport in just over an hour during peak hour (lucky I guess)... From Penang, I had to connect to a flight from KL to Singapore, and then 5 hours lay over in Sing to home. Ahh, I do love Changi, but it was so great to be home.  
- K

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