A City Steeped in History
Penang, Malaysia, 2011-07-19 12:00 by Laerke
I like taking sleeper trains, it is a form of travelling that still has a bit of a romantic air about it. Hua Lompong station in Bangkok is large and busy with countless people passing through on their way to all corners of Thailand. Railway staff is also very helpful towards sweaty, flustered farangs with way too much luggage, and we were quickly guided towards platform 4 where we were to catch a train to Hat Yai in southern Thailand. All tickets on the train directly to Penang were sold out, so therefore we had opted for this train as it would get us as close to the Malaysian border as possible.

The train was chugging its way down through Thailand, we passed by little homes built right by the tracks, if we had put our hand out the window we could have touched the rusting tin roofs and the laundry hung out to dry. As the train got further away from Bangkok we entered a part of Thailand where life moves at a much slower pace. We passed an intersection where a dog was standing in the middle and a pickup truck was driving around it. The next morning we had reached the countryside, and everything was so green. Rice paddies, banana palms, papaya trees and suddenly large limestone cliff started jutting up from the ground, it was a bit like driving through a dry Halong Bay.

Penang was everything I had thought it would be. And so far I really like it, I love old shop houses and I’ve been photographing facades, doors, signs - you name it - like a mad woman! Martin seems slightly worried that I’ll be run over by a car or motorbike on the pretty heavily trafficked streets here, but I kinda have to walk in the middle of the road to properly photograph the lovely old houses and temples :) We live an old, heritage house – in bright green and have a view right out to an old cemetery, I love it, it has so much character! And who cares if the toilet only flushes every other time, right?
The streets are filled with gorgeous, crumbling old shop houses, I saw hundreds of buildings I wanted to buy and restore back to the former glory, it was great walking around gazing in through open doorways and imagining what it would be like to run a quaint little boutique hotel where the patio would be filled with sweet smelling flowers and each room would have a balcony where you could stand and look down on the busy street below.

Penang was also hot and humid, way too hot and humid and we decided to head to the beach for a day. We jumped on a bus to Penang National Park where we embarked on a 1 hour 20 minute hike through the rainforest to reach the beach. Talk about it being hot and humid!! It was unbelievable humid in the jungle, it was so bad that I ended up taking off my t-shirt and just walking in my bikini top. Anybody who really knows me knows how I dislike tourists who wear beachwear while not on the beach, but there you go. I will have to take back all my bitter talk about inappropriate tourists because sometimes you just don’t have a choice…

The beach was lovely and it was practically deserted, we swam and lounged on the warm sand all day. A few hours in we realized Martin’s t-shirt had vanished. It had been laid out on a fallen palm tree to dry and suddenly it was gone. There were only 3 other tourists on the beach plus some Malaysian school kids on a fieldtrip, but really would anybody want to steal a sweaty, old t-shirt? We of course got the national park beach guard involved in this mysterious disappearance of the 100 baht t-shirt, I searched the beach together with the guard while Martin lay on his beach towel contemplating how he was gonna survive the heavily air-conditioned bus ride back to our hotel without a t-shirt, not to talk about the disapproving stares he no doubt would have collected by the Muslim locals. The guard and I returned from our search empty handed, just as all was starting to look really grim the guard offered up a spare shirt he had in his guard house – what a sweetheart! Even though it was way too big and bright yellow Martin accepted it with open arms :)


Road to Jakarta
Thailand & Malaysia