I had originally planned on leaving Tanah Rata by going across the Cameron Highlands and heading in to east Malaysia and visiting Kota Bharu. I was then going to work through South Thailand up towards the north and Bangkok but after I read some information on the religious tensions in South Thailand and checked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice website on the area, I decided it was probably better to head back into western Malaysia and north from there. This would let me visit the island of Penang while skipping the risky areas of South Thailand.
Leaving the Cameron Highlands was much more fun than entering them. It was basically one great big down hill on nice wide smooth road, with beautiful mountains to look at.
This of course did not last forever and I was soon down on the flat again passing through the town of Ipoh towards Sungkai Siput where I would be spending the night. Here I managed to find a hotel and was quoted a price that seemed very reasonable for the standard of room. It turns out it was very reasonable as the boy who showed me the room was new there and had offered a price that was less than half of what he should have done.
Luckily the manager honoured it as I had got all my stuff and my bike in the room before they discovered the mistake.
The next day I rode for Penang passing more unusual mosques:
and fighting through the heat of the day.
To get to Penang I had to take a ferry across the straits as the only bridge is an expressway and if there is one thing Singapore taught me it’s that bikes are not allowed on expressways…
Thankfully the ferry was surprisingly easy as I just rolled on and off with the motorbikes and scooters and stayed with my bicycle for the crossing.
Arriving in George Town, Penang’s main city it was immediately clear I was right back on the tourist trail as there were tourists all over the place and a lot of hostels, hotels and bars set up to cater for them. All this choice made it harder to pick a place than normal, especially as the first place I selected was full. In the end I settled for a hostel called Roommates which was nice but meant I was in an eight bed dorm, with a bit less room than I was used to and I always feel guilty when I wake up an hour before sunrise to get ready to leave as this is normally about four hours before most other people in the dorms wake up.
One bonus was that there were other people interested in sightseeing staying there so I had other people to look around the town with the next day.
There was a lot of interesting things to see in George Town – it was again a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian and colonial influences all mixed up in some parts but also split out into their separate distinct areas. Everything was very tourist friendly with lots of signposts and plaques around the city.
I had dinner at this place. The rate which they could churn out noodle soup was phenomenal – it was like a production line. One that was so popular it was never fast enough.
The Queen Elizabeth was in port. Security wouldn’t let us on board to have a look.
While in George Town I had some shopping to do, as the previous night disaster had struck. I had slept on my kindle and the screen was no longer changing. From some research it appeared that outside of Kuala Lumpur getting a Kindle in Malaysia would be unlikely so I was going to have to buy my first paper book in a long time. Luckily George Town had a lot of secondhand bookshops. I was going to have to choose wisely though as I didn’t know when I would next find a place with English language books and I couldn’t carry a lot due to the weight.
So I went for a book that would definitely last me until Bangkok and probably until the end of the trip or existence itself: the first two volumes of Proust’s In Search of lost time.
While in Penang I also succumbed once more to my addiction to fruit drinks and probably ingested about a kilo of sugar in the time I was there as a result.
After a day’s sightseeing I left the same way I came: by the ridiculously efficient and cheap (about 25p return) ferry.
I was now heading north for Thailand.