Day 7: Georgetown, Malaysia

by - May 03, 2011

I met people! Having spent my time in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur by myself, my hostel in Georgetown actually had a decent communal area where people could mingle and as a result of which I ended up going out to a seedy local bar with another two Brits, and two Australians.  It was quite a relief, as people thus far had been very anti-social, and I was beginning to wonder how I would cope with another four weeks without decent human contact.

Kek Lok Si Temple Complex, Penang Island
So, having gone to bed feeling social again, I awoke with a renewed desire to explore.  Unfortunately it was pouring with rain, which delayed me leaving the hostel, but I was able to have a lie-in and a long breakfast looking over the maps.  The plan for today was fairly simple and I wasn’t going to be particularly busy.  My first stop can’t really be classed as a sight, but was important nonetheless as I went to the Immigration Centre to check that I had entered the country legally.  It turns out that Singapore train station is actually owned by Malaysia, and the officials therefore don’t feel the need to issue you with a stamp.  In short, I was going to be fine.

With the official business out of the way, I put on my raincoat and headed for the bus station, from where I was planning to catch a bus to the highest point on the island - Penang Hill.  It turned out that the cablecar, that completed the final ascent of the hill, was closed for maintenence today and with no desire for a 3 hour jungle trek to the summit, I opted instead to go to the Kek Lok Si Temple - the largest Buddhist temple in South East Asia.  The bus that I was originally going to catch went past the temple on its way to the hill and I had been planning to fit it in anyway, so my overall plan hadn’t been completely derailed.

Kuan Yin statue
The temple really was something else, blowing all of the other places that I had seen out of the water.  It is built on the side of a forested hill and had a wonderful mysterious air thanks to the low cloud that had fallen.  I don’t pretend to know what all of the various parts of the temple mean or symbolise, but I will try and use the technical terms with the aid of wikipedia.  There are two main stand out features of the temple.  Firstly, the ‘pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas’ - a seven storey tower that could be climbed for some pretty impressive views over the island’s east coast and secondly the 30.2 metre high statue of 'Kuan Yin’, one of the important Buddhist deities.  The latter of these, the statue, is housed in a pagoda that is still under construction and there is still a large crane on the site.  Though luckily no scaffolding.  I spent about three hours walking around the temple, what with it being so vast.  It was also nice to take it a bit slowly and relax, though stubbing my toe in one of the areas where you have to take your shoes off required all of my self control to prevent my causing grievous offence to the monks!

The view from the top of the pagoda
I got the bus back into town and arrived back at the hostel at about 5ish.  The Barcelona vs Real Madrid was on the hostel TV, so me and Will, one of the people I had met last night, sat down and watched.  He was a very interesting character - he had been in Penang for weeks and was a writer who had previously been a stand up comedian.  One of the last acts he had written for was Ant and Dec interestingly enough.  We were soon joined by the other Brit I had met, Maddie, who was able to give me some hints for where to go for dinner.  Having eaten Chinese food every night thus far, I was eager to try something else and followed her suggestion to go to the 'Kapitan’ Indian restaurant.  Penang is probably THE place to eat in the region - as a place where Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisines are fused, and the Kapitan restaurant was superb.  Tandoori Chicken with naan bread and apple juice cost me 10 ringitts - or about 2.50, and was amongst the best Indian food that I had ever eaten.  It was certainly the most genuine.  It was to be my last major act in Georgetown, as tomorrow morning I am flying to Cambodia for a whole new part of the trip.  I have seen the colonies, and now I am going to see the kingdoms.

Amazing Tandoori Chicken, Georgetown

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