I left the highlands early this morning, and took a bus to the east coast and the island of Penang. The island has one town called Georgetown which was the country’s first major port founded by the British East India company as a trading crossroads between China and India. It’s an interesting montage of Asian and European cultures all swirled together. There is still an old British Naval fort in town, and the local museum talks almost more about the British history than the local Malay past.
On the bus down here I met two other Americans, and we decided to all grab a room somewhere. The main backpacker area is called Chulua street, and it’s just one guest house after another, most with identical looking restaurants serving a mixture of western and Asian food. Most of them have huge big screen televisions showing different pirated movies every night. During the day they’re all playing some combination of Bob Marley, bad techno, or 80s music.
The guys and I decided to take a trip up to Penang hill, where there are several temples from different faiths on the top. To get to the top you’ve got to take a funicular railway that goes up quite a steep slope. On the way over there I recognized Meg, a girl I’d met in the Cameron Highlands. She was hanging out with a friend of hers, so we decided to combine groups. We saw all the tourist sights at the top, and stopped to sample a local desert speciality. I can’t remember what it was called, but it was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever had. Imagine soft serve vanilla ice cream with kidney beans, jelly beans, corn and some kind of sticky syrup poured all over it. It looked great on the menu, but none of us could take more than a bite or two. We decided to hike down the hill, but one of the guys accidentally slipped and cut his leg pretty badly. We helped him about halfway down, and then flagged the train at the midpoint. The conductor looked pretty puzzled about the situation, but did allow us to board…as long as we made sure to pay full fare at the bottom!
That night I got my first real experience with Asian beer. The five of us went out drinking at some local hole in the wall away from the tourist area. We ended up laughing and drinking with some locals who didn’t seem like they saw a lot of foreigners. I’m not sure who had the better time, us or them!