Our first minibus experience. Taking a minibus normally would be fine but taking one through winding forest roads when the driver is late to pick other people up is not so enjoyable. In fact, I am pretty sure we went up one hill so fast it turned into a ramp and we got some air. After struggling to keep ourselves from tasting breakfast twice, we caught a much calmer ride to make it to Penang in time to find the cheapest beer in Malaysia (i.e. 3 for 10 rm ~ $2.50).
The struggle that was our first day
We started the day the latest we had started any day so far. We were ready to go at like noon with very little ringgit in our pockets. Our first mission was to find money. Fun fact, all money exchangers are closed on sunday. We weren’t aware until the three that we sought out were all closed. We then looked for an ATM and got out enough money to finish up our time in Malaysia. Now that we had some kind of money, we went on a tour of the Chinese clan temples around Georgetown. This was a cool way to not only walk around the city and see some of the street art but also visit a bunch of different temples. Unfortunately, most of the temples we went to were closed but simply walking around the city was worth our time. For lunch we went with the well proven method of finding the place with the most people in it. This worked especially well for us when we ended up in a small noodle restaurant (Yeap Noodles) that is famous for their homemade noodles, which definitely did not disappoint.
It was then that the real struggle began. We decided we wanted to go up Penang Hill that day and it was getting late (it was 5:00). We had settled on taking the train up since it was too late for the two and a half our walk up and sought out the bus to take us to the hill. We sat at the bus station and watched three of the buses we wanted to take just zoom by. No slowing down, not even a hesitation of oh hey maybe we should stop at bus stops. Luckily we found this cool church though.After half an hour a man comes to the bus stop and tells us that it is too late to go to the hill because it closes at 6. We were not sure when it closed but were curious as to why a hill would close before sunset. We had no reason not to believe this man so we head back to the hostel to find out a little more. We did a quick google search and found out the it actually closed at 10 pm. Back we went with the mission of getting on top of this hill still on. We took a different bus that actually stopped and took us to the main bus terminal. You would think at this point it would be easy going – just take the right bus from here. Well, Malaysia has a pretty awful public transport system as a whole. The bus driver told us to wait in one place and then the map clearly told us to go in the opposite direction and once we got there another bus driver told us to go back. So, we ignored the giant map that told us where to wait and just stood around until the bus miraculously came. Never have I been so happy to be on a local bus.
We then took the incredibly steep train up the hill. It could be transformed into a rollercoaster at any point. I really hope it is one day. Anyway, on top of the hill we were treated to some really nice views of the city. We enjoyed the views even more knowing that it was our reward for the days struggles. I also didn’t mention that it was one of the hottest days so far at approximately a million degrees with a thousand percent humidity. The temperature on the hill, however, was much cooler and much more enjoyable which also made the view of the city exponentially better. The bus back was surprisingly easy given that I have lost all faith in Malaysia’s public transport. We got back to our hostel with a feeling of accomplishment and were excited for a day of scooting around the island, going from beach to beach.
We rented our scooters the next morning from what might have been a crazy man. However he does “not bullshit, scooters are good”. He did not say many words to us except vroom repeatedly while shaking his fist and sometimes entire body. It’s hard to explain but it gave us confident that our scooters would go “boom boom” which one would think is not good but in this case was a positive. (Side note – Collin could not possibly win best quote since all we said the rest of the time was vroom vroom) All that aside his scooters were very good and if you ever happen to be in Penang go to the place next to the Old Penang Guesthouse to have yourself a laugh along with a solid scooter. With these scooters we were able to visit the Chew Jetty, Shamrock Beach, Moonlight Beach, Miami Beach, and make it around the whole island through the national park and to the less touristy side of the island where we happened upon some good food and friendly conversation. I am happy to report that riding a scooter on the island was pretty easy and once we got over the fact that we had to stay on the left side of the road it was like riding a bicycle, just a bit faster. It was definitely the most convenient way and best way to see the island (and the cheapest at 28 ringgit a scooter, even cheaper since we got two for the three of us). The chew jetty is pretty much a little town built on stilts. We found out that by stilts they mean buckets of concrete stacked on top of each other with sticks thru them. I certainly wouldn’t sleep too well knowing that my house was supported by buckets, but they seemed to be doing just fine. The main road where everyone is funneled is a little strip of pure tourism trap beauty. You really get zero feeling of what life is actually like on this jetty. However, we went ahead and took a random turn and were pretty much just walking around where people were living their day to day lives. There was a man peeling garlic on the floor that seemed pleasantly surprised to see us as he smiled and waived at us. It was here that we got a little peek at how life is lived on top of buckets. Then off to the beaches! While the beaches weren’t necessarily for swimming they were pretty enough to sit around and just stare out. There were some fun rocks to climb on and plenty of pictures worth taking. We had a blast scooting around the island and taking in the views on the coast and we definitely would not have enjoyed our time here as much had we just stayed in Georgetown.
We then ran into a little market where I experienced the pure joy of drinking from a bag.
Penang in a scootshell
Georgetown is a fun little city with a vibrant nightlife and maybe some of the cheapest beer in Malaysia (well “beer”). Head out to Antarabangsa Enterprise, buy a couple of beers, and then head to love lane for a night filled with *unforgettable* covers of all the sing along classics you can think of. During the day head out to see some street art, temples, jetties, mansions, museums, hills, waterfalls, really something for everyone. However, get a scooter that goes vroom vroom, see three seemingly private beaches and go to the parts of the island that are farther removed from tourism for a real treat.