My last day in Penang had arrived, and miraculously, I actually did manage to get out of the room (and away from the neverending email) just as early as planned 🙂
First stop: Chinatown, for a $10 motorbike rental and the start of a loop around the island.
Man, I just love the freedom of a motorcycle. Riding along the coast, zipping in and out of traffic, totally free to explore anywhere and everywhere you please.
My planned route would take the better part of the day, passing through small fishing villages, temples, fruit farms, and isolated sandy beaches.
Unfortunately, just minutes after getting on the highway a tropical downpour materialized out of absolutely nowhere. I took the next exit and popped into a covered eatery to wait out the storm.
(Not surprisingly, I was the only foreigner there – and most of the customers were very surprised to see me. I was also the only one not eating with my hands; ordinarily when I travel I try to “do as the Romans,” but there are just a few things I’m not quite comfortable with. One is using my left hand instead of T.P. – still more common than you might think. Another is shoveling drippy curry with my right :P)
Thankfully the weather did clear back up, quickly turning to just the kind of tropical blue I’d been hoping for.
I can honestly say that the rest of the ride turned into my favorite tourism day of the trip thus far.
Penang island outside of Georgetown is so different from the big city it feels like another world entirely.
Tropical palms overhang crystal blue waters, local mosques sit at the mouth of dense jungles, and roosters roam about small fishing villages backdropped by fluffy white beaches.
While doing a bit of “off-the-beaten-path” exploration, I even ended up riding my way through a jungle to a deadend peninsula (see the map posted above). There was nobody around for miles; just me, the trees, water on three sides, and a small dirt path behind me.
My first major stop on the loop was Balik Pulau, the island’s second largest city.
I pulled over the first chance I got for a sample of the local culinary specialty:
Laksa, a tasty rice-noodle concoction with thick fish broth, mint leaves, pineapple slivers, onions and fresh chilies.
And to drink: nutmeg and plum juice, another local specialty. The first was as good as it sounds; the second was as bad as it sounds 😛
From here I continued the circuit towards Sungai Pinang,
Stopping for a tour of a mountainside tropical fruit farm.
I’m sure it would’ve been great had the season been right – but as nearly nothing was ripe, the main fun of the tour, picking fresh fruits right off the trees, was not available. Too bad, if only it were July.
On the plus side though I did befriend a pair of French travelers who’d just started an 18-month round-the-world tour of their own. It’s always nice to swap stories and advice with fellow long-term wanderers 🙂
Next I continued through the twisty mountain roads until I reached the North coast at Teluk Bahang,
another small Muslim fishing village known locally as the “End of the World.”
It wasn’t tough to see why. Not much beyond here!
Then after a quick petrol fill-up
It was a beautiful coastal drive on to Batu Ferringhi, the most touristy of all of Penang’s cities: a beachfront resort town chock-full of Hiltons, Hard Rock Cafes, Mc Donalds, and souvenir shops.
Using Google Maps, I found my way to a restaurant recommended by the local with whom I’d shared breakfast the previous day – the Sunset Bistro.
But it turned out the Sunset Bistro was no more – apparently it’d been destroyed that very morning, by an explosion in the kitchen. It was now little more than a pile of smouldering rubble.
Initially I’d intended to lounge around until sunset before exploring Ferringhi’s famous night market, but as that was still 2 hours away I decided to just press on.
I was starting to get pretty tired anyway, and already felt more than satisfied with a near-perfect day.
The only mental note I’d make for next time: bring a backup iPhone charger. The GPS had burned through nearly 100% of my battery, and without the convenience of GMaps, I never would’ve covered half as much ground 😉
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above narrative took place on Tuesday, January 18th.