02 December 2010

George Town and Penang The Pearl Island

My latest trip to a UNESCO World Heritage Site happened just a week ago when I flew all the way to Penang for the Penang Bridge International Marathon.
Known as the Pearl Island, I actually took my very glimpse of Penang Island when I was heading back to Kuala Lumpur from Phuket sometime last year. I knew somehow that I was gonna be heading there – sooner or later and I was right. :-D
An unwanted surprise came quite too soon when I was asked to pay RM40 to check my luggage in. And the worse thing is, I'd have to check it in  at least 3 times throughout my KK-Penang-KL-Miri-KK cuti-cuti Malaysia roundtrip. 
Errr, wait a minute. Not 3 times but 4 times! That means RM160 would be spent away on my luggage alone. Lesson: try to squeeze everything into your hand-carried luggage for a peace of mine. Imagine how much food you can stuff into your belly with that amount of money in Penang. Huhu.
My very first rip-off happened when I got onto a bus they call Rapid when they wouldn’t let me refund the change for the RM3 that I gave for RM2.70 bus fare. OK, it was only 30 cents but it was still a rip-off.

I was told how I might have to spend some RM40+ to take a cab to George Town though. You see, I saved at least RM37 by taking a bus instead of diva-ing myself over a taxi. Again, RM37 vs food appeared to be such a great motivation. Hehe.
But then, the bus seemed to have taken me to a very long ride across the island of Penang. RM2.70 was well-justified for what appeared to be a coast-to-coast ride then (although it was probably going round and round).
The Hutton Lodge that I stayed in throughout my stay in Penang wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it is far better than most hostels that I've ever had stayed in before.

Some of the staff for some reason looked grim and unfriendly especially the cleaner who came into my room without a single word of hello-ing. But then, what do you expect from a cleaner right? It was obvious why he worked there (sorry, didn’t mean to be rude. Errr, did I? :-P ).
Apart from the 24-hours free wi-fi, Hutton Lodge seems so be a little gem in the middle of the old George Town. It offers the ambiance and relaxing atmosphere of a bungalow you probably share with a new-found family or something – at least in your imagination. I liked everything about it really.

I think dealing with too many customers had left them confused though. They told me I canceled one of my 5 nights stay there when I don't remember anything of it at all. As the newly met friend with whom I shared the room said 'you would have known right?'. Looking at how I grrrrr missed grrrrr my flight grrrrrr to Miri grrrrrr later, it kinda makes sense to me now that some little slot of memory had probably gone missing somehow. Hehe.
George Town is pretty much a big city. It has all the comprehensive and high-rise buildings that KL has. It is nothing short of massive residential condos and apartments and is so easy to get lost in the complexity of its road systems.

In fact, it reminds me so much of PJ in Selangor. If Penang didn’t fall into the hands of the opposition party, I’m quite sure it would have been declared Negeri Maju (Developed State) first instead of Melaka. (I mean, Melaka a Negeri Maju?PLizz).
For one thing, George Town is without doubt the most beautiful town in the country. Thanks to the British colonization spearheaded by Mr. Francis Light in the past, it is full of beautiful buildings with great architecture and historical landmarks.
Unlike in KK where you might be forced to offer an opening for misfortune by walking on the edge of a road to get to some places in town, the marvelous town planners have seen to it that it’d be convenient to walk in around the city of George Town.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is probably the place of dream to many photographers. It's like every corner of the town has been designed to give a capture that tells a story.
I found George Town to be such a sleepy town though. They open their shops late and close early. They don't really have an apparent schedule for operating hours. Even the food stalls are hard to predict. They can be there in an hour and gone in another.
The town is as old as its inhabitants. I don't think the youngsters stay in a town full of elderly so forget about bumping into hordes of sexy young ladies in summer dress that you probably get to see a lot in Singapore or even in KK har har har.
Komtar for me is a nuisance to the city of George Town. Standing exceptionally tall among the beautiful spread of old shop houses, it is like putting a 16-storey shopping mall next to a historical 105-years old clock tower or something. It dwarfs the beauty and all the historical values that it bears.  For me, George Town would have been better off without it.
Buses are OK for a third world country but of course there are still a lot of rooms for improvement. The routes can be quite confusing for a first-time visitor like me. They seem to keep 'hovering' around for quite awhile before going to the intended destination.

Some of the bus stops are so invisible you might need the eyes of an eagle to spot them.
You might wonder why some of the buses wouldn't stop even if you pulled your pants down in attempt to make them stop. I was so glad to know how they've got a departure and arrival schedule to catch up with before I got to do just that.LOL!
Every bus begins and ends its round trips at a bus terminal called Jetty. They’ve got their own uniformed officers to run things around at the station so do not be hesitant to ask them if you need to.

Some of them might look like they’ve just started working the day before but they’ll find a way or two to help you with at least the right number of bus to take to your intended destination.
You’d know how precious spare change is when you are in George Town. Buses here have the stupid rule of not giving back change. Put an RM50 note into the fare slot and they’d assume you knew the rule. Stop wasting your time to wait because they wouldn’t give the refund.
Having said so, you should know what to do so that you wouldn’t give them more profits then necessary. Stop somewhere to buy candies or condoms or anything cheap and try to put as much spare change in your pocket as possible. You know you’re gonna need IT later. I mean the spare change lahhh. :-P
Ohhh, and if you’ve got the patience of waiting extra minutes or even hours (I don’t. LOL), there are some hop-on-hop-off buses to provide you with free ride on certain routes within the central town of George Town.

I never got to figure out the routes throughout my stay there anyway.
I gotta warn you that taxi in George Town is a luxurious thingy just as it is in, sadly, Kota Kinabalu. They’re open for a little bit of negotiation but they’d laugh their head off if your negotiation turns to be funny for them. The problem is all leads to negotiation appear to be funny to them. Errkkk.
When I was told that a 5-minute taxi ride from the Jetty Bus Terminal to the Hutton Lodge was recommended for being el cheapo, I was putting my range at around RM3-RM5. It turned out to be RM12 and the cabbies anonymously threw their heads back and laughed aloud when I showed my 10 fingers.

I was so pissed off I was more than ready to fold down the other 9 fingers and leave my middle finger up. Lesson? Do not listen to other people’s recommendation unless you’re sure ‘their cheapo’ is ‘your cheapo’ too. :-P

Oh well, you’ve heard it right before, and you’ve heard it right again now. The celebrity cook Mr. Bobby Chinn described Penang as one of the food capitals of the world. With so many restaurants and food stalls dominating the streets of Penang, it is simply one of the best places to get ‘cute’ (errr, a better alt to flabby or fat).
I wouldn’t give Penang more credit that it deserves though. Food in Penang might be cheap but then you’d get what you paid for.
You’d see RM3.00 or even RM2.50 for a meal everywhere but the portions are quite small you may have to order twice to satisfy your taste buds and hungry belly.

It's not really that cheap after all. (Sorry to those who told me how cheap foods in Penang were). Small portions, that’s it!
Remember to always bring tissue. Restaurants in Sabah might get sneered at when they don’t provide tissue but I’m afraid that is not quite the case in Penang. You ask for a tissue there and they’d give you a puzzled look.
Taken in Sabah

Penang is heavily Chinese : No question about that. The whole town is a China Town.
Malays can be seen selling stuffs as vendors in the open markets..

..and so is Indians. They have their own spot areas.

It really is good to see how they live harmoniously although I don’t really see them mingle around with each other. Sorry to Penang folks, but I think Sabah is still the best reflection of 1 Malaysia society. Period.
If fact, you’d be surprised how differently they treat you when you speak English instead of Malay or even Chinese. The Malaysian Hospitality they call it but I’d rather call it the Malaysian Hypocrisy. Act like a tourist and they’d give you the biggest smile. Act like a local and they’d give those stupid blank looks.
A tourist from Hong Kong with whom I shared a room at the Hutton Lodge told me how the people at a restaurant that he went to granted him the 'privilege of invincibility' when he spoke in Mandarin. He decided to speak in English ever since and the unwanted privilege never came back to him anymore.
Sabahan might spare their butts because their slang would make them sound like Indonesian tourists (still tourist WTH) to the Penangites so they’d still get treated fairly well. Strange but that’s just it.
But then, I wouldn’t stereotype. Penang especially the old George Town is worth to visit again and again for all the things that it has to offer. You would be stupid NOT to come to Penang just because you wouldn't get a new stamp on your passport if you went there.

I felt so stupid I didn’t go there sooner that I should have. Bluekks.


chegu carol said...

Next year, Penang is in the list for our travel. Thanks for the heads up on the transportation ESPECIALLY the no-change policy by the buses.

Kelvin said...

The white british building is nice, is it a house?

Ellen said...

This *...but I think Sabah is still the best reflection of 1 Malaysia society. Period*

Absolutely, Jipp. Absolutely. I'm proud to be a Sabahan.

But back to topic, great write-up as usual! Love your critical (well, almost) critical analyses about urban planning and pedestrian intergration.

You sure engineering is the way to go? If you ask me, you really ought to be a travel writer!

ken said...

i go to penang once in a while.. go there to enjoy the food only.. haha :)

thomas said...

Penang taxis drivers have been
resisting the use of meters
so that they can continue charging high fares at their wimp and fancy.

Anonymous said...

You will lose weight after gaining weight eating New Lane food. No wonder Bobby Chinn is so thin.

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