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Penang Passé

MALAYSIA | Wednesday, 9 October 2013 | Views [1591]

Poolside @ Heritage Hotel

Poolside @ Heritage Hotel

Leaving the world of medical care behind (which has been very good), I move to the north of the island where the best beaches are reported to be found. I plan to stay a couple of nights in Tanjong Bungah before moving to the island's 'jewel' - Batu Ferringhi beach. Perhaps the former is still too close to the Straits of Mallaca as the water doesn't look very inviting & the small swathe of beach is dotted with washed up debris. Asia's beaches have been something of a disappointment so far, and a long way from what I imagined them to be. Growing up in Africa I was spoiled with the outstandingly beautiful Kenyan beaches which inevitably have become my benchmark. I'm still hoping to find a beach that compares even with those in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. My perfect beach is quiet with clean soft sand, warm, clear turquoise water, palm trees and blue sky!

The homestay in Tanjong Bungah turns out to be an even worse choice than where I was staying before that. I stayed one night and left. Returning to Jalan Burma, I check into the 1926 Heritage Hotel and will definitely spend my remaining nights here. My room on the ground floor is large, has a terrace and the breakfast caters for the various nationalities. I stick to the scrambled egg, which is surprisingly good! I haven't had the chance to try out the pool yet and whilst the wet October weather is largely to blame, I have been trying to find some hidden gems to tell you about. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I shall concede defeat and go poolside.

A friend arrives from Bangkok and we spend Sunday checking out some of the tourist attractions on the island. Penang Hill entails a funicular train journey to its summit which is popular amongst sightseers, hikers, tourists and families looking for a day out. We arrive in thick cloud which gradually dissipates while we are enjoying a coffee from a viewpoint cafe. The Straits come into view revealing the current bridge linking us to the mainland as well as a second bridge being built further south on the island. Apart from that, it's high rise buildings.

From Penang Hill we take the bus to Komtar which I have read affords a pleasant view of the island. Unfortunately Komtar tower is only accessible in the week, a vendor in the collection of shops at its base tells us, as one needs to go through government offices. He recommends Little India and we duly take a taxi which rattles and hiccups its way through some narrow streets where music is blaring out and merchants sell all manner of shiny tat. We are as unimpressed as we were with Chulia Street and head straight off to the malls of Gurney Drive.  This is significant for two people who like to get off the beaten track. However, a pasta dinner at Ben's with a glass of wine, whilst not going local, is wholly enjoyed. Gurney Drive is often referred to as the tourist area. It is seafront onto the Straits and houses are being demolished to make way for luxury condominiums and hotels. Two malls offer genuine designer labels, a choice of international food outlets, health stores and coffee shops. You will also find H&M and Debenhams. It's pristine, bright and orderly-and a stark contrast! 

If there is one thing about Penang that really annoys me, it is the taxis. As I mentioned in my last blog, it says they are metered yet you are given a price, which fluctuates hugely. The same journey can vary depending which direction youre going-due to all the crazy one systems here. We were given a price of RM25 to the hotel from the acupuncture clinic. We argued that RM20 was normal and yet the meter showed RM11.10-which is what we paid. Perhaps the scam is putting the meter on & declaring that amount whilst pocketing the rest. Taxis tend not to cruise looking for business either so unless at a rank, can be hard to find. Scams aside, most speak at least some English. Walking here is made harder by the lack of designated crossing areas. The roads are busy and sometimes getting across them is a hazardous challenge! To a somewhat lesser extent than Thailand I observe that here too, he who has the whistle has the power!

A total of three visits for acupuncture and I am hoping that this chapter can be closed. The medical care here has been good. The cost of living is decidedly higher than in Thailand although overall I would struggle to say you get better value. The fresh fruit that is so readily available all around Thailand is quite difficult to find here and in general the food is, to me, much less appealing. With its colonial past, Malaysia has a better infrastructure in many respects (loo roll can be flushed, electricity isn't conveyed by masses of ugly wires overhead everywhere for example). The problem, as I see it, is an indifference to keeping up appearances and thereby relying on a former prestige that is slowly evaporating into the history books.

In summary I would have to say that the exotic images one may conjour up of Penang belong to many yesterdays ago and that today's reality is that it sadly has very little to offer visitors. Today the sun is out and the skies are clear and blue. Grateful that the hotel has a pool, which I even get to enjoy in solitude.

I've been here just over two weeks now and am thankful to be fit enough to move on. Next stop is Singapore en route to Bali where I am attending a workshop in Ubud.

Tags: 1926 heritage hotel, acupuncture, penang, penang hill

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