“Lady boy? only 50 Ringit!” My cab driver proposed while shuttling me back to my hotel from a bar on Penang road. That’s less than 15 dollars US.
I was a bit drunk but better judgment prevailed. “no thanks,” I said.
Penang is an interesting place. It’s an island on the west coast of Malaysia in the straits of Malaca. It’s a nice place, but for an island, the beaches are almost non-existent. Most of the coastline is a rocky mixture of dirty sand and gray clay. There is one beautiful stretch of beach about 20 minutes up the road from my hotel, but the the area is pretty isolated and is largely dominated by a couple big resort hotels who set up shop in the area.
I preferred the light weight bustle of downtown George Town to the peaches of Penang. It’s no KL, but it does have its charm and a healthy dose of party. The architecture in George Town is an interesting mix of colonial and modern buildings., and outside there is a large industrial area. Penang offered international companies tax breaks and duty free import / export (i believe) to help bring some money to the island.
The bar scene is different from Bangsar or downtown Kuala Lumpur. Penang road is lined with British pubs, local dives, nightclubs, and karaoke bars, all competing for tourist’s wallets. Prostitutes stand on just about every corner of this strip, beckoning passersby with short dresses and blown kisses.
Heading out of George Town one morning, we stopped at the butterfly sanctuary where hundreds of butterflies swarmed around us, many drawn to my red shirt, expecting a taste of sweet nectar. A strange and serene experience.
check out the video of the butterfly sanctuary here:
We also visited the Spice Garden, a botanical garden focusing on the many herbs, spices, and various plants of the Malaysian rain forest. The guide gave me a fresh nutmeg seed, which he explained would give me energy but also have a calming effect, when taken in small doses. When taken in large doses, like chewing an entire fresh seed, nutmeg can cause hallucinations and a marijuana-like high. A quick Google search informed me that this is true, but the high can be terrible – accompanied with feelings of impending doom and severe cottonmouth. I still have the seed but I don’t really feel like spending a day on the beach drinking copious amounts of water and waiting for the world to end – so I’m not sure if I’ll eat it.
For lunch the other day, we had Banana Leaf Rice, which the Malays claim is a Malaysian food, but I’m a bit skeptical. You go to the restaurant or food stall and they lay down a banana leaf and put a pile of rice and various portions of food on the leaf. You can order chicken, beef, or lamb masala, and you eat the whole thing with your hands. Actually, you only eat with your right hand. This is because in places with toilets that consist of a hole in the wall and a nearby water spigot, your left hand is reserved for other tasks. In fact, its impolite to wave, shake hands, or pass objects with your left hand.
Anyway, the whole thing is obviously Indian, but it was a delicious meal, so who cares where it comes from.
Next stop, Langkawi.