Week 17… Penang, Malaysia

Poor old Sophie didn't get much of a send off at the end of last week: after days of glorious sunshine, the weather decided to turn rather nasty with huge thunderstorms, torrential rain and grey skies. It didn't even do us the courtesy of dropping temperature: it was still sticky and hot but we couldn't sunbathe or dip in the pool to cool off!

The day after Sophie left, I bid farewell to Cocooning and, after staying there on/off for three weeks, I really did feel sad to be leaving the gang there. I was picked up in a minivan for the first leg of a very long journey. I won't moan too much about it but it took 27 hours in total, a minivan, 2 ferries, a coach, a taxi and an over night train…as you can imagine, I was pretty revolting when I finally arrived at my hostel!

Part of why my journey felt slightly like a J.R.R.Tolkein epic was that I had a lengthy wait at Surantthani station between being dropped off by the coach (5pm) and my train to Butterworth (1.26am the following morning). I had resigned myself to reading a lot, hopefully finding somewhere I could sit with some food and a drink etc. I hadn't expected that there were next to no available cafés/restaurants etc in the vicinity, nor that my train wouldn't in fact arrive until after 3am! I did talk to a number of people during my wait, the most notable being an utterly bonkers Thai woman who would, every 5 minutes, try to sell me the array of beauty products she was slathering on herself…or at least that's what I think she was trying to do. To be honest with you, what she was saying was complete gibberish: even the Thais around me were saying she wasn't using actual words. There was also the Thai man who, whenever he saw anyone reading, would insert his head between the person's eyes and whatever had their attention. Needless to say it was quite difficult to continue reading through someone else's skull. Where are all the Thai crazies? Suratthani train station, clearly.

However, my train did eventually arrive and I managed to catch about 4 hours' sleep before pulled into the border crossing. The border crossing itself was an absolute breeze! Anyway, after many an hour, I finally arrived at Tofu Bikes and Hostel in Penang and was really happily surprised! I got my own little pod bed, the owners (Lucas and Joyce) were unfailingly helpful and informative and even invited me out to dinner and a movie with them that evening as I was the only guest at that point! We went to a local food hall and Lucas appeared very amused by my enthusiasm for food: especially things I've not tried before. He said I was the most adventurous westerner he'd come across! He and I shared a huge plate of barbecued stingray (delicious) and I also had frog cooked with chilis in a traditional clay pot and the sour plum drink Joyce suggested. Yum! No wonder Penang is known as a food destination!

I'm staying in Georgetown, Penang, which is a UNESCO heritage site so all the buildings are charmingly rundown, there are murals and iron works on most corners and no building is over 3 storeys high (however, immediately outside the heritage site boundaries, there are skyscrapers galore!). I hadn't done a lot of research prior to arrival so I had no idea about the mixture between Chinese, English and Indian culture I would find. It really is a melting pot of all three! I've actually, today, moved hostels and am now staying right on the corner of “Little India”, so I'll hopefully see a different side of the town from here too.

If you get a chance to come here, I really recommend it. The architecture is lovely and I find myself gazing around (I might as well have a neon sign above my head screaming “TOURIST”! Haha!), the people are really friendly and the food is awesome.

Now, the people: I had obviously been aware that Malaysia had been a British colony. However, I had no idea that, 40 years after liberation, people would speak English so widely and so well! In fact, their vocabulary puts me to shame! Sure, many people don't speak English, but the majority I have come across speak it fluently or, at the very least, a darn sight better than I speak any other language! I hadn't realised how much that little point (of having people around who speak your language proficiently) was something I'd missed. It sounds awful to admit but I am much more confident here strolling into a tiny “shop” with plastic chairs, filled with locals, in order to get myself some street food for lunch because I know I'll be able to make myself understood and will vaguely know what I'm ordering.

I mentioned that people are friendly here…they are; however, I have found that, as a woman alone, I am approached by strange men, or have comments made from truck cabs, much more frequently than I have in any other country so far. They've not said anything untoward, in fact they've offered to help me find places or just asked me where I'm from and how I am, but the frequency and the uninvited approach has slightly put me on edge, especially at night. Of course, I'm a London girl so I know how to extricate myself from these men…but I have to say, I'll feel just that little bit more confident once my parents and Alex arrive.

I might be going to Langkawi in a few days and potentially Izzy and Aislynn might come join me (which would be SO cool!), but currently I have no idea. My only definitive plan, currently, is getting to Kuala Lumpur for the 2nd Nov to meet my parents at the airport the following day! I can't wait to see them!! 🙂

Milly x



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