19.11.2010 - 30.12.2010
After a short stop off at Kuala Lumpur airport we flew on to the UNESCO world heritage site of Penang. I’m not sure of the process for applying for UNESCO WHS status. Perhaps you fill in a form and send it along with a cheque and SAE and a few weeks later your new status is sent across to you. Whatever the process, I’m pretty sure nobody from UNESCO has ever been to Penang. It does have a few nice colonial style buildings but nothing to get too excited about. Much of the city of Georgetown is a rundown mess. Perhaps it has some charm which is beyond my cynical outlook on life. It certainly has the best chicken tikka and naan bread I have ever tasted although there was not a penang bite in sight.
Our first night was spent in the Hotel Mingood – as the name suggested it minged, it minged real good. Our first action upon checking in was a trip out to find somewhere else to stay for a few nights. As the Penang marathon was taking place over the weekend there wasn’t anywhere available in which we were keen to stay. We pulled the flashpackers emergency ripcord and checked ourselves into a proper hotel in the beach resort of Batu Ferrengi.
In fairness to Penang – once you leave Georgetown the area improves dramatically, probably helped by our beachfront hotel and our free upgrade to a suite with amazing views over the ocean. What’s more – the sun was shining. We spent a couple of days here sitting in the sun and having delicious curries for dinner.
Once the marathon had left town we found a room in a hostel in Georgetown and used that as our base to see some tourist spots such as the spice gardens and the national park. The latter really was lovely, being rainforest / jungle which stretches to the coast. We hiked the trails in the jungle for a couple of hours and then had our picnic on the beach.
On our way back, the trail met a troop of monkeys which were happily swinging on vines and jumping into the water to cool off. So cute..... at least that’s what I thought as I crossed the bridge through the middle of them. Niamh was not so sure... She hesitated but finally when most of the monkeys had gone she bravely stepped onto the bridge.
I have never heard a scream quite like it, the volume and the implied terror made me spin around fearing the worst. The last remaining monkey on the bridge, one of the bigger ones, took at look at Niamh, bared his teeth, and with a hissing scream made a lunge for her. She ran, he missed and no one was hurt. It later transpired that the mistake had been to make eye contact with the blighter. This is the second run in we have had with monkeys since we have been away. As cute as they might look whilst they rip the windscreen wipers and trim off your car as you drive through a safari park, sorry Lisa, these bastards are cruel, vicious and mean, aren’t they Niamh?
Next we take a minibus to the Cameron Highlands where they grow tea and strawberries. The temperature was noticeably cooler here and we got to wear the jeans we have been carrying around for 3 months. We drank tea, ate strawberries and trekked in the jungle for a couple of days before our bus journey to Kuala Lumpur.
Christmas has hit KL in a big way – I haven’t seen such enthusiastic representation of the Christmas spirit for some time. Complete with carol singers, snow machines and more lights per square foot than even I manage in my typical over excited festive decor. All the more impressive since this is a Muslim country.
We took in the sights, tall towers, china town, little india, hit the shops, walked in the park and generally engaged in big city stuff. Upon the advice of the signs in our hostel, Niamh didn’t visit the “unprofessional massage services” that were available from the two scantily dressed ladies that flanked the steps at the entrance of our hostel. We say ladies as that was how they were dressed, it was the subject of some debate as to whether this was an accurate gender allocation so I too refrained from availing myself of their services.
We had intended to spend a week or so in Malaysian Borneo to climb a mountain, see an orang-utan or two and perhaps have a dive but our fear was that it was the wet season in that part of the world and it would be pretty miserable doing those things in the driving rain. We’ll just have to come back next year. For now we boarded our train for Singapore.