It only took about 15 minutes but I knew that Penang and I would not get on.
Perhaps it was the abundance of ugly dilapidated buildings lining the road into Georgetown, or perhaps it was just how run down everything looked. Not in a rustic end of life way, but a dirty uncared for way, such as a flag so faded and torn flying from a rooftop that it now seemed a mockery rather than a symbol of pride.
I was staring out of the taxi window when the traffic started to slow and thicken marginally. A mans body lay broken in the middle of the road a small patch of blood starting puddle.
A single policeman was there. No one stopped to look, no one stopped to help him. In the period that it took for the taxi to approach and pass the scene, a time period that took mere seconds but felt much longer, he threw a jacket over the body and reached for his walkie talkie.
A short but significant distance away we passed the remains of the mans scooter. It was destroyed and now lay In a field of debris.
The taxi driver barely acknowledged it. His only noticeable action was to slow down to the speed limit as we passed. Straight after, he sped up again.
My accommodation for my time here was the Old Penang Guesthouse. Unlike my last two hostels, this was a very nice place. The staff were friendly, helpful and welcoming. The room was without windows, but unlike that of the 5Footway the room did not feel like a cell thanks to good lighting, use of colour and art on the walls. In fact it better represented what the 5Footway claimed to be whilst the Old Penang claimed to be nothing other than a pleasant place to stay.
After settling in I asked the receptionist to point me in the direction of a barber. Luckily there was one a short walk away an so off I headed.
The barber was Indian and he danced and sang as he worked. He did a good job as well, and I’ve never had such a clean haircut. Normally I leave Sams (my hairdresser of over 25 years) with half of my shorn hair down my shirt. Not here though.
I couldn’t believe the price. It came to less then £1.50. I actually thought he’d said 70myr at first, which at £14.40 would still have been pretty good value.
I walked around for a while, eventually stumbling on a large shopping mall. Here I was finally able to get a gang plug. The one item I really should have brought with me, but didn’t. It has taken a surprisingly long time to find one, even in countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore and my first stop in Malaysia – all places that use the British 3-pin plug as well.
The iPad keyboard that I bought in Hong Kong died in Langkawi. It no longer holds a charge. However, I found it so useful that I bought a new one. This one looks pretty much the same, but cost three times the price. I’m hoping it lasts 100 times as long.
I completed my shopping excursion with a trip to the chemists to pick up some toiletries, including a half decent razor as the disposable I’ve been using may as well have a blade made from plastic, as well as the handle.
For dinner I went to a sushi bar. I’d always wanted to try sushi in one of the places that had the little conveyor belts, and now I have. I ordered a set-meal with piri-piri chicken, which was lovely, and supplemented it with a few choice pieces that trundled past before returning to the hotel and retiring for the evening.
The next morning I resolved to go out and see Georgetown. The hostel gave me a map with all the major destinations on and so off I set.
My first stop was the museum and art gallery. This was pretty good. It gave an interesting insight to the history and culture of Penang and the gallery was a nice distraction. I liked that the gallery was made of work entirely by local artists, something I wish more communities would promote.
Unfortunately, the museum would seem to be as good as it gets for Georgetown. The heritage part of town can be very pretty, but there just is not much to do at all. I visited Fort Cornwallis, but that is all it is – just entrance to within its walls, which basically equates to large empty spaces.
It was the same with all the other highlights, City Hall, the monuments – all pleasant to look at, but that is the sum total of engagement that you have.
Everywhere was closed, all the cafes and food stalls that later burst to life in the evening were shuttered. The vast majority of what the city offered was centred around food, but it is not something that you can do all day.
After 4 hours of walking around I was bored. In a place I didn’t know, whilst on my great adventure and actually bored.
I recalled seeing a sign for a cinema near the mall, so I decided that I would go and see whatever was playing. On the way there was a tremendous cloudburst, that saw me sheltering in the doorway of a church for 20 minutes or so. This was the strongest rain I had seen yet. Each monsoon that I encounter is more intense than the last. The ground before me went from dry running water in seconds.
Now soaked through I shelved my cinema plans and headed back to the hostel to dry off.
A few hours later I headed back to the mall. This time I bought a proper umbrella. My little one from Tienaman Square had served me well, but it is no match for Malaysian rain.
I found the cinema and watched Dredd. I enjoyed it a lot.
Whilst drying at the hostel, I made changes to my travel plans. So bored was I at the prospect of spending another 5 nights here, I changed my flight and would be leaving on Tuesday morning and flying to Kuching earlier than planned.
I spent Monday catching up on news from home, editing photographs and watching a couple of films on the hostels TV. I only left to go for a brief walk, and to have my tea at an amazing place called Steak & Frites. They literally only do a single dish, but what a dish it was.
I do think Georgetown is worth a visit. But it isn’t a place that demands you stay longer. Two days seems to be ample time to explore and enjoy the city. Its so compact that it can all be walked, and it is an enjoyable walk.
The night is the highpoint of the day in Georgetown as that is when it comes alive with food markets, cafes and other small bars and restaurants. These are well worth your time, it is just the daylight hours that caused me an issue.