Malaysia, Penang, Batu Ferringhi
It was time to leave the steamy streets of Georgetown and head round the coast to the tourist beach resort of Batu Ferringhi. I found a two bedroom managed apartment on booking.com for about a hundred Ringgit a night that sounded better than the star hotels and all the hassle that comes with them. The owner even picked us up for no charge which saved us another taxi fleecing.
Within an hour we were checked in and walking into town … to find everything closed. Malaysia is an evening place, with the Chinese, Indians and Malays either sleeping or praying during the day most businesses and shops are closed until the heat subsides later in the afternoon. We managed to grab a bite and visit a fish spa where the inhabitants grabbed a bite out of us, a very bizarre experience that was.
It was time to get mobile and rent some bikes, which of course here are severely over-priced at 40 RM per day for a battered scooter with flat tyres. Bartered them down to 30 for two days and rode out of town to a nearby butterfly farm for a slice of tranquility and another chance to get out the camera. The ride across the western side of Penang is great with less traffic and some nice twisties up into the hills. On the way back we stopped at a spice garden for a glimpse into the local spice trade on which the island first thrived and established itself.
When compared to Thailand or Vietnam tourist attractions here are expensive with the average entrance fees for adults at around 30-40 RM and kids at 20-30 regardless of how big or impressive the attraction is. There is also blatant dual pricing going on but here it is only 25% extra for foreigners as opposed to upto ten times the local entrance fee in Thailand.
Batu Ferringhi comes alive at night when a kilometer long night market is setup. It is worth a look but primarily offers tourist priced t-shirts, bags, watches, sun glasses, trinkets and the usual tat that people buy when on holiday.
The following day we rode into Georgetown to book tickets for the ferry to Langkawi. Driving and riding in Malaysia is far more civilized, they have separate lanes on the highway for bikes, yes bikes are allowed to go on highways here. Other drivers actually give way, let you out now and then, and don’t pull out in front of you. Drivers here seem far more courteous than in Thailand; everyone obeys the road rules, no driving on the wrong side here or flashing you to get out of their way. The only problem is parking, there seems to be a prevalence of trumped up parking attendants that seek great pleasure in their menial jobs … probably because the Chinese will just leave their car wherever they please. We resorted to doing it local style and parking the bike on the pavement most of the time to avoid someone running out and demanding money for parking on ‘their’ strip of the road. Cops were a rare sight and we only saw one road-block where, as tourists, we were waved through!
We stopped in Penang’s second Georgetown which is the island’s business centre and technology park, needless to say there are rows of western coffee shops, restaurants, and swanky TGI Friday type bars charging a fortune for drinks and eats plus a 16% service charge. Just south of the airport is the snake temple, a place I had read about online and looked forward to visiting. I was a little disappointed to discover that it was simply an enclosure full of tiny aquariums housing lethargic reptiles, I didn’t expect Indiana Jones but something a little more natural would have been nice.
Some days when you’re on the road things just get your goat, whether it’s the taxi bandit trying to charge you half a month’s wages to travel a couple of kilometers, or a crowd of ignorant Chinese tourists barging ahead with little regard for anyone else, or an agent adding their own inflated commissions to standard ticket prices because they can, or in this case an officious little prick of a car park attendant trying to charge me to leave my bike parked at the condo we’ve rented. Some days it just feels like the world is just out to dishonestly deprive you from your hard-earned – stop fleecing the uninitiated and get a real job you thieving bastards!