Jun 042011

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜›

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜‰

Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above narrative took place on Tuesday, January 18th.

  16 Responses to “Penang by Motorbike”

  1. Sounds like you really did your homework πŸ˜€

    The photo of the gangway to nowhere was nice. It immediately reminded me of this pic:


    …from this post:


    Out of curiosity, from your google maps pic, what was down that road where it looks like smoke is emerging? Was it a factory of some sorts?

    And regarding T.P. do you *really* think people still don’t use it down there? I mean, they’ve been civilized for decades… πŸ˜€

  2. >>Sounds like you really did your homework

    Actually, not really! LP had a list of spots on the island outside of Georgetown, so I pretty much just noted a few that sounded interesting and Google Maps + GPS did the rest πŸ™‚

    >>what was down that road where it looks like smoke is emerging? Was it a factory of some sorts?

    The peninsula (10th pic). Smoke -> Clouds.

    >>And regarding T.P. do you *really* think people still don’t use it down there?

    Well, while I haven’t exactly been into the bathroom with anyone else in Malaysia, what I do know is that 99.99% of bathrooms seemed not to have TP, and I had at least half a dozen people instruct me to always eat only with my right hand, often adding “Because the left is used for something else…”

  3. “nutmeg and plum juice”
    That does sound kinda gross….but I would have been tempted to try it too

    “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.”


    I love the motorbike idea…..sounds like you really covered a lot of ground and had a blast

  4. Yeah, it really is fun…both times I rented so far (here and Phangan) I absolutely loved it.

  5. Hi Justin,
    Cool stuff here, I was just looking at your wp-fb-autoconnect and thought I will browse your blog… cool plugin, cool blog, cool person…

    Hey are you coming to Singapore after Penang? I can show you around a bit n can get you some zoo discount coupons if you are (sorry, run out of free tickets)..

    Always good to network.


  6. Hey Allen,

    Thanks for saying hi…and for the offer πŸ™‚ Unfortunately, the blog is like 5 months behind – and I *did* go to Singapore, but that was already back in February πŸ˜› Next time, I guess!

  7. LOL- I cannot believe that place burned the morning before you went.
    I am ready for noodles and chiles with a fork/chopticks

  8. Yeah, seriously – and not just burned…exploded!! Scary.

  9. Mm, fish broth. That would have killed me. And what’s wrong with plum juice? The name sounds good to me. After all, umeshu is plum juice, and everyone loves that. πŸ˜‰

  10. Yep – it SOUNDED good which is why I tried it. I dunno though, the taste was just….funky.

  11. Justin, I imagine that you might already know about this, but when it comes to cell phone batteries there is a case called a “Mophie”, that not only protects your phone but charges it on command too. I’ve one for my new s4, and have a portable usb battery charger for my tablet. Might be worth looking into.

  12. Where did you rent the motorbike? What was the price rate?

  13. Hey! is it compulsary to have a motorbike license to ride in Penang? Thanks!

    • I honestly can’t recall, but I think it might have been? I did have an international license at the time…

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