Tom Vincent

Essays on hacking, travel and self-improvement

Penang

After KL, Penang feels more a holiday resort. Georgetown, the UNESCO protected area, encompasses everything you’ll want to see in a short trip. Two days would be enough.

After a trundle round the very pedestrian unfriendly streets, I’d already seen the main sights around the Central hub — Jalan Penang — largely consisting of street markets and food stalls. I met Yani in the evening, a Bulgarian research student studying in Japan. His intense sightseeing style suited me and after a light breakfast with a couple from New Zealand, we took his pre-planned, Lonely Planet inspired route around Georgetown.

The sights themselves aren’t particularly memorable; a few nice looking buildings, Fort Cornwallis (mainly a derelict grassland with a few displays of various spices; “the main trade goods of the time” Yani explained) and the obligatory Chinese temples, such as the hundreds you’ve undoubtedly already seen if you’ve spent any time in south east Asia. At one though, we were unexpectedly given a free lunch. With no illnesses or other repercussions after, there is such a thing after all!

Not visiting many tours before, we left Cheong Fatt Tze’s Mansion feeling impressed. By this time though, the sunburn on my feet (the first and last time I’ll wear flip flops!) really kicked in. Reduced to hobbling, we caught the free shuttle bus towards Kek Lok Si temple. Yes, another Chinese temple, but as the supposed largest in Malaysia, it had a certain uniqueness about it, with an impressive scale, intricacy and great view over the city. If you only had to see one temple, this would be it.

With bus change courtesy of a kind old lady — “the hospitals won’t charge you a thing if you die while inside!” — we returned for some street food. Over rojak, a strange blend of fruit salad and unknown sauce, we were caught up in a speech from a political activist and leader of the opposition party. Politics is a touchy subject to be opinionated about while traveling, so we remained neutral and let him finish his debunk of the “corrupt” government. You could certainly feel his passion if nothing else.

By morning, the ice bag on my bruised feet melted, we headed to Batu Ferrengi. Not the tropical paradise the guidebooks had suggested; we were largely unimpressed. Back to Komtar, the scaling government offices, an unfortunate eyesore of the city, we tried “the king of the fruits”: durian. With a smell of turd, or “sweet dirt” as Yani politely put it, it’s not particularly welcoming. “Smells like Hell, tastes like Heaven” they say. Well, more like tangy, sweet and with a more mushy texture than banana I’d say. “Acquired” is an understatement. As the national fruit of Malaysia though, it’s a must try… If you dare!