The 230km to Penang were a bit tough with brain that only had a couple hours sleep and a belly that digested some low quality alcohol. As the road curved and weaved back down out of the highlands, the humidity slowly rose until I was back into the land of sweatiness. I almost made it to Penang without getting caught in any rain. I saw the nasty wall of darkness ahead and knew it was coming. First the mist came, which turned to a drizzle, to a steady rain, and then mother nature unleashed. Luckily Malaysia has areas under the overpasses, which are made for motorcycles in times like these, and are always signposted. About thirty Malaysians and I huddled underneath while the rain came down like an avalanche and lightning and thunder boomed all around us.
After an hour the sky gradually cleared and we were all back on the road. Penang is an island off the northwest of Malaysia, which is connected to the mainland by two huge bridges. I stayed in Batu Ferringhi for my first couple nights. The place I stayed was pretty funky, but close to beach, lots of good street food, and cheap. The room smelt like rotten farts had bathed in stinky sweat. From Batu Ferringhi it’s just a quick ride to Penang National Park. There’s some nice trails through the jungle that lead to a handful of really pretty beaches. I hiked the hour and a half to Pantai Kerachut, one of the beaches. Beautiful and deserted.
Only a few other people were around the whole time. There was a storm approaching, which made some cool colors and contrasts. At the very end of the beach is a turtle sanctuary where you can see brand new little baby turtles. If anyone doesn’t like baby turtles they have a problem. It looks like a tough battle they’re fighting with the fishing boats offshore killing huge amounts.
A ranger said that for every thousand they let go one will survive to be an adult. Less than half way back I got caught again by possibly the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen. In seconds I was drenched to the bone and boots full of water. It turns out that the rainy season in Malaysia is hitting with full force in early December, and has only been a couple days that didn’t at least have early evening downpours. All over Penang you’ll find big colorful temples. If you tried to go to all of them you would end up getting pretty sick and tired of temples. So best to just enjoy some good ones. I went exploring and found a few really cool ones. The Snake Temple is a bit south of Georgetown (LINK). It’s pretty much exactly what the name implies, a temple full of snakes. At first I walked in and was disappointed because I didn’t see any. I pictured a scene out of Indiana Jones witnessing snakes slithering around on the floor hissing with giant fangs. Most the snakes are up off the ground in these wooden treelike things.
There’s lots of them, but no slithering or hissing. They’re really pretty snakes, and I noticed a sign saying they’re poisonous after I had been going inches away from them. It’s kind of creepy walking around with them all around and above you.
I’m glad they’re not flying snakes. Kek Lok Si is a big complex closer to Georgetown up in the hills (LINK). There’s some nice views out over the island. It’s a Buddhist temple, which means it’s under never-ending construction, always getting bigger and better.
It’s a beautiful area. There’s an spot where you can buy a ribbon and write a message on it, and then hang it with all the others. There are many choices from asking for help with family to help with jobs or money. I chose the “coming and going safely” since it fit with my journey, and added a note on the back.
For sunset in Georgetown, a nice place to be is the clan jetties. Six jetties remain, which are a society of different Chinese clans living in houses on stilts out over the water. It feels like you’ve entered another world as you leave the concrete jungle of Georgetown out onto the wooden planks of the jetties. The first construction was in the late 1800’s, when it was wood yard littered with planks and firewood. The Chew, Lim, Tan, and Yeoh jetties are the oldest. The area has seen it’s fair share of rivalries and infighting throughout the years over work consignments and control. As the sun goes down, the oranges start to come alive, and the contrast of the blue waters with the orange and browns is really nice. Out at the very ends of the docks you can enjoy some peace and solitude, which can be tough to find in the city.
As you look back towards the city, you get a view of the past colliding with present as big ugly buildings loom over the tops of the rickety collections of homes and shops. The older Chinese community is still living a simple life in this unique collection of lives.