3 Dec 2007
Penang, Malaysia
5°24'54.83"N 100°19'48.24"E


We were well and truly blessed with accommodation in Penang - a beautiful 3 bedroom condo, just on the green edge of the central business district and free internet access - if you haven't read the review you should if you plan on travelling to Penang and don't want to be on the beach. I don't know why anyone would want to be on the beach. Pollution is a huge problem - last time we were here, seven years ago, the only people plodging in the sea were those who couldn't see all the floaties. The government have only just in the last week decided something has got to be done, and is doing something about the sewerage outlets, but the foam on top of the water has to be chemical (therefore industrial), so they've got a long way to go. Still, I suppose it's nice to look out onto a sea view, even if you can't put your toes in it.

Getting to Penang was a breeze - Edward from the hotel in Nipah Bay checked on bus times, booked seats for us and took us to the ferry terminal. At the other side, we had just enough time to get some breakfast before getting onto the bus to Butterworth. A two minute walk got us onto another ferry and we decided to splash out and get a taxi when we got off - we already knew what the fare should be, and fended off the drivers wanting to overcharge by walking towards the bus stop, where a not-so-greedy cabbie quoted us the right fare. Taxi drivers seem to annoy everyone - even the locals were complaining that they give all Malaysians a bad name by overcharging tourists. Still, we just stuck to walking and buses, which is heaps more fun - especially when the bus takes an unexpected turn and you have no idea where you are or where you're going. Or how you're going to get back. All part of the fun.

Peter had a foot massage which he insisted I had to try - he said it was borderline as to whether it was better than mine, so while he went to the Blind Association for a full massage, I went to the dubious reflexology place. Up two flights of stairs into a not-so-clean room where no-one spoke very good English. Two people were in the middle of massages - Peter had said he thought it was run by two brothers - and I took the seat next to them expecting to have to wait as the only other person was obviously not going to be working. Wrong. He was an old - I'm talking late 70's at least - Chinese man with one tooth, and the shakes. Someone else appeared and brought the bowl of water over as he wouldn't have been able to carry it without it spilling - the shakes really were that bad. I was thinking I've blown my money here. He got hold of my feet and gave them a welcoming rub and cuddle, really gentle. Then he looked at me very solemnly and said "You have big back problem". He had to say it a couple of times as I couldn't understand, but then I said yes, and he said "No, not normal problem. Big problem. Serious problem". He then called the other two men over, spoke to them for a minute or so and had them cuddle my feet as if showing them something. The other two customers (who had temporarily lost their masseurs) were just as interest in what he was saying. I was astounded. There is no possible way that he could have known I've had back surgery. He then gave me the best foot massage ever, and shakes or not, was using more pressure than I could have put up with for too long. And all for a couple of dollars.

We didn't really go to any of the tourist spots, apart from the tourist China Town. All of the buildings have been renovated and house restaurants, and it really is beautiful to wander around. The real China Town may not be as clean and pretty, but the food is better and the people are friendlier - friendly because they want to be as opposed to friendly because they're paid to be. Big difference. We were enticed to try all manner of foods we couldn't identify, and discouraged from trying things the seller thought we wouldn't like (or given small samples to try) and most of them were nice. The ones that weren't to our liking were so cheap it didn't matter that you just ask for something else, and if at the noodle stall I said I fancied fried rice, they'd recommend which one they thought was best (or related, but who cares). Peter was disappointed in the seafood - Penang has a really good reputation for it, but even when paying for extra quality it wasn't as good as he'd hoped. Personally, I just stick to chicken and pork. Asking for no shellfish in fried rice or noodles was no guarantee that there wouldn't be dried prawns or anchovies in there - makes me feel like the only person in the world who doesn't eat shell fish, and I often end up saying no seafood, so I miss out on white fish just to make sure there's no yuckies in my meal.

In the space of one week, Peter managed to snap his flip flops AND his walking sandals, so we had to go to a tourist mall on the hunt for new shoes (again) because it's the one thing we really can't afford to skimp on. Our biggest expense apart from accommodation since we left has been on foot ware - seriously. I've also been doing a lot of trawling around computer shops looking for a stronger antenna for the computer as I think getting onto the internet is going to be a bit more of a problem in Thailand - we've really been spoilt in Malaysia with all the free access points everywhere. I don't think that portable high gain antenna's are strictly legal, which may explain why I haven't been able to find one yet. Plenty of DVD's though, and some of the sellers are really pushy. Not as pushy as the skin care sellers though. In one local shopping mall, every time we passed by a temporary stall set up near the escalators they tried pushing leaflets and samples on us - the sample was on their finger and they tried to put it on your arm as you passed. One grabbed me and I almost lost it - this is serious whitening (bleaching) cream, with who knows what toxic ingredients

We were going to go to Langkawi, but have decided to head straight for Thailand as it would mean some serious back-tracking by plane to Penang or KL (school holidays means we may not have been able to get seats anyway) or a 3 hour ferry trip to Thailand - Peter was being very brave about it, but I really don't want him ill for a few days. Accommodation is also starting to get a bit tighter (and a lot more expensive) as we get closer to Christmas, so we need to be where the tourists aren't.