Our first morning in Penang was spent sleeping late, after a tiring day in travel. I awoke just in time to go downstairs to prepare two plates of breakfast from the buffet to bring back to the room – omelets (tomato, onion, cheese), croissants, chicken sausage, pastry. The buffet was extensive, with Malaysian and Western foods, but no pork. Pork is not served at this hotel, probably because they seem to have a large number of Indian and Arab guests. There were rice and noodles, and a beef dish, and some other Asian food I could not identify.
We had decided to visit Georgetown on our own for some shopping on this day, so after breakfast we secured a taxi from the hotel for 30 ringgit, or $10, to Georgetown, about 15 minutes away. We took the hotel shuttle, but took a taxi back to the hotel. There are two types of taxis here, red with white or yellow tops and blue. The white/yellow tops charge 35 ringgit from Georgetown to the hotel, the blue taxis charge 52-55 ringgit. Obviously, we looked for the red taxis when we returned. There is also bus service for about 3 ringgit between the two places. Our driver told us where to pick them up but in our walking we got sort of lost, or turned around, and decided to just hail a cab.
It was a cloudy and quite pleasant day, not too much humidity, so walking around
aimlessly was not a problem. We had the driver drop us off in China Town, which happened to be adjacent to Little India. Quickly, we found ourselves immersed in shops selling Indian crafts and food. We wandered into a food market building, half of which was devoted to a fish market. There were no fish sellers in the afternoon, but the smell was unmistakeable.
Once outside again, we wandered down side streets, stopping at one Indian food stall where Putrie bought a few items. I considered buying some Indian craft gifts for Smiling Hill/Goodies staff but decided I wanted something Malaysian, not Indian. So we set off walking, The town is fairly modern, with sidewalks on the main streets and overhead pedestrian crossings where needed. Once you ventured into side streets, however, the feeling was more third world.
Traffic was relatively heavy but orderly. A stark difference between Penang is the drivers here actually obey the rules, stay in their lanes, stop at lights. And there seems to be a dearth of the dreaded motorbikes, especially the ones like in Batam that flaunt any semblance of control.
About 3 p.m., after walking for about an hour, we decided food would be nice. But,
interestingly, the restaurants here generally close up between 2 and 5 in the afternoon. Luckily, the food courts do not and they are ubiquitous in this part of the world – and I’m not talking about mall food courts. Here, you don’t have a McD’s, KFC, etc., vying for your dollars. Instead, you have a continuous string of family-owned warungs, each serving a different type of food. The warungs generally form a square, with tables and chairs inside the square. And they bring the food to your table.
We wandered around and decided on two distinctly different kinds of food. I wanted roast duck with rice from a stall on one side of the court but the duck was gone so settled on roast pork. The meal came with a small bowl of cabbage soup, mostly just a broth with a few small cabbage leaves, but very good. Cost was 6 ringgits, or $2. Just enough food, too. Putrie found a stall at the opposite end of the court and had a tofu soup and a seaweed noodle soup delivered. I added a Tiger beer to my meal. Putrie’s meal was 11 ringgit. She added a cup of sugar cane juice.
Now fortified, we ventured out again, in search of her birthday gift and the gifts I needed
for family and staff. First, we found a shop selling fabrics, mostly batik. I promised Risma some fabric to make a miniskirt (she wanted the actual skirt but I said no so she said she would make it herself). Liked the green motif so much that I bought two meters worth, one to use as a family gift for Christmas.
Next, we found a shop that sold primarily handmade bracelets and necklaces. A treasure trove for artsy stuff as gifts. I managed to cover 14 people at work and my two favorite females in the U.S. (again, Christmas gifts for family), plus a couple of gifts for Jenny, Putrie’s daughter.
Now starting to really look like shoppers, with several bags in tow, we happened to walk onto a street populated primarily by jewelry stores. Birthday gift time. We picked out one shop for no particular reason except its front was open to the street, and Putrie picked out a bracelet and sort of matching earrings. By the way, the “Let’s look elsewhere” tactic works in Malaysia, just like in Indonesia and Costa Rica. They didn’t want us to leave the store and offered discounts.
Time to head back to the hotel. Waved down a taxi, and the driver made a couple of restaurant recommendations. Decided to take him up on one that looked like, as we passed it by, it was a little upscale. (I wanted something nice for the birthday dinner.)
Jang Seafood Restaurant was our destination for dinner. Looked like a family-owned place
with maybe seating for 50, mostly open air. It sits across the road from the Tanjung Bungah Hotel. I let Putrie order.
Dinner included some iceberg lettuce in an interesting and unusual dressing, and a large bowl of seafood soup – large prawns, crab and calamari, in a tomato-based and slightly spicy broth. Excellent! Went very well with a Tiger beer. Came to 100 ringgit, or $33.
Then the fun started. Putrie wanted to go to a disco. So we took a taxi back to Georgetown, where there is a one-block area with several discos, bars and restaurants. There were a lot of young people milling around outside and despite my bellyaching, ventured into one of the discos. It was dark, fog-filled and there was a band playing with three female singers. A few local men sat at the bar or stood at nearby tables. There were no chairs. The music was very loud – and would get louder as the night went along. Cover charge was buying two drinks. Don’t know what they cost as I had given up on this part of the day.
Two hours later, my head about to explode from the increasingly loud music (the band was good, just too loud), the scene was crowded but most of the people were male. In Batam, such a disco would have at least a dozen or so girls working as hostesses; this bar had none, except for a couple of waitresses. There was virtually no eye candy in the place. Not like my disco days, when there were plenty of ladies around. We finally got out, I spent an hour or two once back at the hotel working on photos for this blog, and I awoke early with a spike pushing through my brain. Not from alcohol, from music beating my brain to death. Anyway, except for that, a good first day. Day two was planned as a relax and go to the beach to fish day.