The long road to Malaysia

Day 57
Penang, Malaysia

Still groggy from a couple of Chang beers with Derek and Andy last night, we set out from Ao Nang this morning at 8:30 a.m. It was a long haul through all of southern Thailand, which although certainly scenic, wasn’t very comfortable with 11 people packed into our small minivan. We stopped a couple of times for gas and food — with the dodgy rest stops, that was limited to Lay’s crisps and Coke Light.

After 6 hours, we arrived at the Butik Kayu Hitam border crossing with Malaysia. This was my second overland border crossing of my 80-day trip and was just as chaotic as my first. There were huge masses of people, lots of pushing, no queues and general unhappiness as we waited with our backpacks weighing us down. After exiting Thailand, we managed to find a couple of taxis that drove us to Malaysia to be stamped in. In the process, we set our clocks back an hour, pushing us to 12 hours behind the East Coast. Another bus was waiting to drive us the last leg to Penang, where we arrived at around 7 p.m.

This city on an island on the west coast of Malaysia has a long history. It was the East India Company’s first settlement on the Malay Peninsula and was later occupied by the British, then Japanese. Here, Indians, Chinese, Malay all mix; as do Muslims, Buddhists and Christians. Bollywood movies are shown at Chinese cinemas and the aroma from truly global cuisines fill the air. It’s a multiethnic melting pot and reminds me a lot of New York. Somehow it all works.

What didn’t remind me of home was our room at the Cathay Hotel — a decrepit, beat up place that probably hasn’t seen a renovation in 40 odd years. The shower has one temperature setting (“on”) and the provided towels weren’t even suitable for drying dishes. This is not a welcome sight after you spend 12 hours traveling to a city, are covered in sweat, grim and who knows what else, and just want a hot shower.

We later discovered that our ash-tray had not been cleaned out from our room’s previous occupant, and there was a mysterious jug whose contents could not be determined. Then, the helpful man downstairs offered to turn on our air conditioning, provided we pay him 10 ringgit ($3USD). Deal!

This lovely abode in the heart of Georgetown’s Red Light District couldn’t damper our spirits though. Starved, we walked across the street to the Red Garden, a night market filled with food stalls. A barbecue chicken leg, plate of fried oysters, order of char kway teow (rice noodles with egg, vegetables, shrimp in dark soy sauce) and Tiger beer later, life was much better. Plus, entertainment was provided by this awesome guy.

There were a couple of bars just down street, so we decided to head out for a sampling of Penang’s nightlife. We walked into the first decent place we saw, which happened to be an expat hangout filled largely with Americans and Aussies. It was an interesting crowd — with an even more interesting classic rock “band” that covered Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses and Journey.

Beat from Belivin’, we called it a night a little after midnight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: