Two nights in Penang

26km Langkawi Island to Penang Island

Another offering to the spiritsIt was with some reluctance that we left Langkawi Island. Such relaxing spots quickly become addictive and we had the feeling that if we didn’t force ourselves to make a move soon, we just might spend our whole month there. So, it was off to Penang by ferry, just over two hours away, past beautiful islands that also called to us. “Come spend a week,” they said. If only…

Arriving at the dock in Penang couldn’t have been more of a change from Langkawi. Out went the quiet beach and in came a bustling city. We pushed our way through the crowds of taxi touts and ventured into the streets for our first taste of Malaysian traffic. It’s definitely a bit crazier than gentle Thailand. No one uses their horns but the drivers are revved up an extra level and we know we’ll have to be on our toes navigating this country’s cities.

Once on the streets, the hunt was on for a hotel. We tried one, then another and the result was the same. Clean rooms but windowless boxes of rooms and rather expensive at that. Only after a little more searching did we find a room – still a windowless box but this time quite cheap so we threw our stuff in the barely-big-enough-to-walk-around-the-bed space and headed out to explore.

Street food is a Penang specialty and barely two steps from our hotel we ran into a huge night market with fried noodles, dim sum, fruit juices and more but we bypassed all of it for a Chinese cafe we’d spotted earlier on a tiny alley by the name of Chulia Lane. We were the only tourists there and the food was fantastic. Plum chicken, fried greens, rice and two mugs of Chinese tea to wash it all down with. Superb.

We didn’t venture too much further. Although we were enjoying bustling Penang, we had the feeling for the first time in a long while that there was a slightly seedy side to this city lurking underneath and we didn’t fancy meeting it down a darkened street.

A monk we enjoyed talking withInstead, we got up early on Monday morning for another round of sightseeing. We were headed for ‘Little India’ – a few streets in the centre crowded with food sellers, clothing shops and incense sellers. We didn’t get far though. Instead we stumbled upon a Chinese temple and stopped to watch the action. A few minutes later a monk approached us. It turned out he was American and we spent most of the morning talking with him about many aspects of Buddhism. It was truly an enlightening conversation for us – the first time we’ve really had the chance to speak with a monk and ask some of those questions that have been lingering in the back of our minds ever since we first arrived in Asia.

The rest of the day passed quickly and now we’re back at the hotel once more, making our plans to move to the mainland tomorrow. The hilly but apparently beautiful east-west highway awaits, along with the Cameron Highlands and hopefully Kuala Lumpur in about two weeks. Onwards!

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