Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pearl of the Orient

According to our travel brochures, the island of Penang on the Northwest of Malaysia, is the "Pearl of the Orient". The brochures promised "lovely beaches, colourful history and rich potpourri of cultures." We found it to be your typical Malaysian town: loud unruly traffic, loads of excellent food choices and shopping malls. We did find a beach but it wasn't as lovely as the beaches we found in the Perhentian Islands.

After taking the ferry off the islands we waited for a bus back to the main town. And we waited some more. And we had to shoo away taxi drivers who asked us every 20 minutes or so where we were going. Eventually we broke down and took a bus that wasn't going to the town we wanted but was at least getting us away from the taxi stand in Kuala Besut!

Where the bus took us was the town of Kota Bharu in Northeastern Malaysia, right on the Thailand border. When we got off the bus we couldn't go 10 feet without teenagers harassing us. One group followed us to the ATM and then the Pharmacy and we had no idea what they wanted. Turned out they wanted to practice their English. They went to a private English school and had an assignment to find English speakers. We chatted with a couple groups of them. I thought it might be a scam, but we left without being pick pocketed or anything else happening and in fact we got some presents from them in return.
From Penang

We caught an over-night bus to Penang, but the bus got in two hours early so we were dropped off at 4:30AM. We shared a taxi into town with a woman from New Zealand and then got to sample some of the left-over nightlife of Penang. There was a drunk Irish guy who said we could stay at his hostel - he ended up taking a taxi three blocks when we finally got him to leave us alone. And there was a really nice bar owner who let us rest in the back of her bar while we waited for any of the hostels/guest houses to open up.

Luckily a guest house nearby opened up fairly early and let us check-in around 8:30, where we took a nap before hitting the town. The main town of Georgetown on Penang is Malaysia's second-largest city it seems to be quite popular with both tourists and locals for vacationing. We took the bus out to a huge temple complex, Malaysia's largest Buddhist temple, Kek Lok Si Temple. It was quite beautiful all lit up at night:
From Penang

Although we loved the street food in Georgetown, the city wasn't all that exciting so we heading along the coast of the island out to a smaller town of Batu Ferringhi, where there are some beaches. There are some foreigners here, but it seems very popular with Malaysian vacationers. The beach reminds us a lot of our trip to Mexico a year ago; there are people selling things along the beach and offers to do all sorts of water activities.

Tomorrow we take the ferry out to Langkawi.


  1. What an unfair assignment for high school students! Imagine if we made our local teens go around Seattle looking for native speakers of Malay!

  2. Very true! Plus, the two main guide books for the region (Lonely Planet and Rough Guide) don't recommend going to Kota Bharu because when they were revised in 2008 apparently there was some violence in the Thai/Malaysia border area. Therefore, the area doesn't see very many tourists. It seemed fine to us, although we didn't go there on purpose, but only ended up there because it was the next available bus away from the ferry landing.


Related Posts with Thumbnails