Welcome to Malaysia – my first “new country” of the trip. First stop on the way South towards Singapore: Penang Island.
As the oldest of the British Straits settlements – predating both Singapore and Melaka – Penang has been described as one of Asia’s most fascinating islands, a fusion between Malaysian, British, Indian, and Chinese cultures.
For my brief “en-route” visit, I made my way by bus straight from Krabi – this time, thankfully, without any extra-charge shenanigans. Most of the ride I spent socializing with a friendly American traveler/climber and Facebooking on my phone…until I crossed the boarder and was once again without Internet (oh, my! :P)
From the moment I set foot in Malaysia, the vast cultural difference was more than apparent. This wasn’t just another country…it was another world. Nearly everything seemed to be Muslim: women wore veils, Buddhist altars had been replaced by countless mosques, and even the average skintone seemed to have suddenly shifted – the local populace now appearing closer to Indian than to Asian. Gone was the indecipherable Thai alphabet, replaced instead by Roman and Arabic. Nametag after nametag read Ahmed or Mohammed or Ali. It was if I’d been suddenly transported back to Egypt, culturally at least.
I crossed the boarder around 6pm, passed out, and awoke on the bridge to Penang…just in time for a hint of observation number two: language.
In addition to the convenience of being able to sound out streetsigns and menus, it seemed as if everyone in Malaysia spoke English…perfectly. On the last few minutes of our ride I took part in a fully native conversation with the guy sitting in front of me – he told me that, having been a British colony until the 50’s, Penang has many features quite similar to Hong Hong…including its prevalence of English. English may have been available in Thailand, but it was nothing like this.
By the time I arrived in Georgetown, the largest city on Penang, it was around 9pm. I headed straight into Chinatown in search a place to stay – finding a spot about a half hour later. Although it did lack most of my “necessary criteria” (i.e. no window, slow wifi), receptions were starting to close so I figured I’d best grab the first bed I could.
Looks like I’ll be relocating first thing in the morning 😛
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above narrative took place on Friday, January 14th.