As I sat on the 20th floor balcony of our room at the Rainbow Paradise Beach Resort
(actually more of a hotel), I could see the storm on its way. Thunderstorms are a special treat for me ordinarily, but I had never experienced one this high in the sky. The one coming in the darkness looked large, huge lightning bolts piercing the sky and moving my way. Putrie was inside the room, on the phone with her aunt, who lives in Penang, but she would not think about coming outside to experience such a storm.
The balcony afforded me cover from the rain and a great view of about a 90-degree slice of the sea. The rain enveloped the hotel tower, wiping out any other sounds, except for the periodic “Darling!” being yelled from inside. I sipped on my Jack Daniels on the rocks and nibbled on the salted pistachios purchased earlier from a local market.
Suddenly, a streak of light blazed the sky, striking the water maybe a mile away. I waited for the thunder. It came, but unlike any time I’ve experienced in the past. The sonic booms seemed almost like close-in cannon shots, not one, or two, but maybe eight separate explosions. If they could be seen, they reached within 200 yards from my perch. The hotel rattled, my body shook. A smile and then laughter. A shriek came from inside – “Darling!”
Such was the highlight of an otherwise stressful day of traveling on my first day of vacation to Penang, Malaysia.
Anxious about the trip, I was awake about 3 a.m. and unable to get back to sleep. Finally,
just after 7 we prepared ourselves, finished packing and went downstairs to the waiting car of a friend of Putrie’s. I brought along a large apple, thinking I could get food somewhere along the way. Putrie brought along her own food. Taxi fare to the Hang Nadim airport in Batam was 100,000 rupiah ($10).
We were early because I anticipated some problems with Putrie’s ticket. I had used her shortened name for the ticket, not the name on her passport. We had gone to the airport the previous Saturday to attempt to change the name but they wanted half the price of the ticket to do so and we were not evens sure it was necessary. Turned out it wasn’t.
Knowing how small the seating space is on the Indonesian planes (they are configured for people about a foot shorter than me and at least 50 pounds less), I asked Putrie to request an exit row seat, which we got. The legroom was appreciated, even though it was only an hour’s flight to Medan, where we would change planes. The flight, however, departed late, and we had a small window in Medan to change planes. Our landing in Medan was about as rough as I’ve experienced.
In Medan, things got a little confusing and I was glad she was along. The plane was full
and we all tumbled out and boarded buses. Think of the New York subway at rush hour – packed in like sardines. They took us to one of the terminals entrances and now we were lost. The terminal was disjointed and signage, even in Indonesian, was inadequate. A couple of questions, however, and we found the right area to re-enter for departure to Penang – but not before more confusion.
Even with the name concern, Putrie had no problem going through immigration. I did. Seems I needed an immigration card, which no one had provided. The agent sent me back to the check-in gate, where one was provided. After filling it out, I passed through immigration and we were hustled up a flight and down a flight, where we were left across the road from the tarmac. After walking towards a Lion Air plane like the one we arrived at, I decided that we were supposed to wait for a shuttle to take us to our next flight. Sure enough, there was a van waiting. We waited for two Muslim women to arrive and then we careened down the road for a backyard area that held a number of rusted and dilapidated planes. There also sat our Wings Air turboprop.
We were hustled out of the van and rushed to the plane, which was hot inside. I was fully soaked by this time. As usual, the plane was full. This time, there was no exit row seat. I could barely fit my legs in. As we taxied to the takeoff area, the underbelly of the aircraft creaked like a ’54 Ford pickup that needed new axles or shocks, or both. I hoped they would survive the takeoff and especially the landing. Thankfully, the flight was only about an hour. And, obviously, without falling apart.
We were in Penang, Malaysia. Another country on my list.
Immigration was perfunctory, except the agent did seem to be writing into my passport
more than I saw with others. Found an ATM and our bags and were soon approached by Melissa. Just so you know, the currency here is ringgit. It is equivalent to about 33 cents US, so that’s roughly three ringgits to a dollar. While I’m making this math in my head to try to understand what I’m paying for things in a currency I understand, I’m also trying to do the currency translation in rupiahs for Putrie. I don’t think I have any Alzheimer’s yet.
Melissa is a little old Malaysian lady who also happens to drive/own a brand new Toyota SUV, seats four. She approached us before we were even able to turn to look for a taxi. And she spoke excellent English. She was very proud of her car.
Our hotel, the Rainbow Princess, is on the northern end of the island, while the airport is on the southern end, roughly 25 kilometers apart (do the research). Melissa offered a rate of 60 ringgits, or about $20. Seemed fare.
When in a new place, I like to engage the taxi drivers about my new place, if they speak English. Melissa spoke excellent English, although we were hoping her tongue would fail as we closed on our destination. Boy, could she talk! But Melissa was enlightening about the island, although much of what she told us I had already read online. She offered to take us touring the island for $10 and hour, and gave me her card.
The hotel staff was right onto our bags and showing us to the registration. Check-in was a snap except they needed a deposit ($30) instead of using my debit card as guarantee (already paid for the room online). Porter brought our bags to the room within minutes of our entering. Excellent check-down by the porter of the room amenities.
The room is pretty standard by U.S. standards. Western style. double bed. Desk and closet area. Nice bathroom with shower and tub. sink and frig area, wit coffee counter top. And a nice balcony, overlooking the sea, 20 floors up. The nearest I can remember was on a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was there for a conference and had a 7th floor, ocean view room. Trouble then was that at 7 a.m. there was a jackhammer working in the room next door. Just a thunderstorm this time.
We were both tired but very hungry, so cleaned up and decided to try the hotel restaurant. It is located on the beach level, so you can kind of see the beach through various obstructions. We ordered Malaysian, a chicken and rice dish and my choice of crab croquettes and rice. Both were less than memorable. My crab cake looked like sausages and were spicy. My rice yellow/brown rice was dry and tasteless. Putrie’s chicken and rice contained very little chicken. her pineapple/rum drink was mostly water and very little rum, and cost $8. Very unsatisfying and we promised all other meals (besides our free breakfast) would be offsite.
Then we decided to walk around looking for a market (for snacks and soda for the room) and maybe a restaurant for takeaway for Mr. Ken. Immediately, we found a minimarket and local restaurant across the street, but decided to venture further. Eventually, we found a two-block area of shops, restaurants and a food court. A bunch of snacks, sodas and ice cost about $9 (including a couple of ice cream bars).
We then stopped at the food court for some takeaway late food – lamb and rice, with a little cole slaw. Turned out to be good, except there was too much non-edible lamb. The total was 11 ringgit, or less than $4. Compared to the hotel meal, of course, it was a bargain.
First impressions of Penang in next post.