Jethro: My first glimpse of Penang was from the little ferry, and it felt like I had been transported back in time to 80s. ‘Miami style’ white tower blocks dominated the skyline, clean and (for the 80s) modern. The backdrop was forested mountains, with various structures built on it. It was idyllic in an old school kinda way. I half expected a guy with a mullet to ride past in a speedboat, while talking on a foot long mobile telephone.
The main city of Georgetown, where we arrived in Penang, feels totally different to that view of the north coast from the boat. The buildings are a mashup of English colonial and Chinese influence. There was a law which stopped most development and renovations, only repealed a few years ago. This means a lot of the buildings are worn but original. It gives the place a great feel. Super modern malls are aplenty outside of the UNESCO protected area.
Penang is famous for its food. The Malay food was already good when the Chinese rocked up and added 5 spice and whatnot. Then the Indians came over and were like “hey guys, heard of us? We the kings of tasty food. Let’s turn your flavours into a banging curry”. And so Penang’s cuisine was born!… ← This is definitely wrong.
My favourite was the Nyonya food, made by the Peranakans. These guys were Chinese men come over for new opportunities… opportunities including their multiple Malay wives. My favourite was probably a game changer of a dish called “Assam laksa”, and also one cafes version of a bowl of happyness called “rendang”. Our very first meal in Penang was one of these internationally renowned dishes, but was terrible because it was from what we afterwards decided was Asian wetherspoons. It didn’t have drunk guys fighting yet, but it was early hours. Thankfully Penang food redeemed itself after that, with dishes normally costing £1 and being delicious.
Peach: I was feeling proper awful by the time we arrived in Penang, the rocky ferry which I would normally enjoy did not do me any favours. After a failed attempt to eat some plain rice in the Asian Wetherspoons (couldn’t face food) I delicately sipped on my soy milk instead. We decided then that it was time to go to a local hospital, but soon discovered that all hospitals were open for emergencies only, due to the public holiday, so we made our way north to our lovely comfy homey guesthouse.
Jethro: Our awesome expat guesthouse, was not in Georgetown, but the (80s miami) north coast (called Batu Ferringhi). We were checked in by the lady’s son who was doubling up as a enthusiastic crypto-currency salesman. When we lied that we’d check the new currency out, he left. He was super lovely but very enthusiastic. This out of town guesthouse was chosen because there was a nearby cat beach rescue centre we were to be helping out at for a few days. (Peach: There was also an excellent restaurant down the road called ‘Andrew’s Kampung’ at the top of an old apartment block style building where we tried some non spicy Kapitan Curry and some Nyonya style fish).
Cat beach (cats in pockets!)
Peach: I’d found a cat sanctuary/rescue centre online who were crying out for more volunteers to help them look after the cats and generally keep the place running smoothly. So whilst we were going to Penang we thought we would make ourselves useful and go and help out at this place called Cat Beach. When we first arrived it was the end of a public holiday weekend and they were massively short staffed so we were instantly given loads of work to do which kept us pretty busy, obviously part of the perks of working at the car place was choosing which cats looked like they needed playing with/cuddling and then playing with and cuddling those cats. Some kittens were so tiny they would literally fit in our apron pockets!
Some were poorly and looked really sad and lonely so it felt good to be giving them extra care, even if the work was quite dirty sometimes. Some were too cute and we couldn’t help having favourites that we liked to give extra attention to. (Jethro: My favourite kitty was a scraggly little dude called Rok). It was such a hectic place with 200+ cats including 60 or so kittens that I suppose part of the benefit of us volunteering was to keep the regular staff from going insane from overwork. Whilst we were here the kind owner lady and one of the volunteer ladies recommended that I go to the Adventist Hospital (the other one I was looking into was the Island Hospital) – as I was still feeling sick.
We stayed for a few more days on the north of the island, enjoying the comfy guesthouse with a kitchen (which meant I could prepare safe plain food like banana on toast) and helping out at the cat place, and exploring the local attractions such as Art and Garden (literally a garden with arty stuff in it). It was a pretty place to wander around and take photos, there was also numerous spray bottles of natural lemony scented insect repellent dotted around the place. There was even a couple of giant turtles!
Not far from the Art and Garden place was a Butterfly Farm, Entopia, so as we were in the area we thought we’d give it a go. It wasn’t as scary as I though it would (I hate bugs and things flying at me) and we both enjoyed running around, and watching the other things (like chameleons and mini dragon lizard things) chase after butterflies, thinking that they might get something fluttery for dinner.
Some exploring was to be had on the North Side, especially with a rented scooter. We drove all the along the north coast to the west side, seeing some good scenery on the way and on a day that I was feeling decent we went for 2 hour walk through a national park to Monkey Beach. We didn’t see many monkeys actually on Monkey Beach but the walk was good, even if some of the path was slightly blocked by fallen trees or broken bridges (thanks weather).
However, a few fallen trees never holds us back for long, and we made it to monkey beach were we chilled out with a fresh coconut in a hammock for a bit, before the guy who runs the mini beach bar wanted to close up shop so offered to take us back to the start of the National Park over water on his uncles little boat.
The journey back on the guys boat was pretty fun, he sat us at at the front of the little boat and handed us a rope to hold on to. It did not seem needed. Jethro made a joke about holding on for our dear lives and in a competely serious face the guy just said yes. For a moment we wondered, once again, what we had gotten ourselves into. The guy was taking his mate and his kid on the journey so we knew it was safe.
It was an entertaining twenty minutes and saved us a walk back through the national park to return to our bike. Even the wonky pier they dropped us off at was entertaining in a ‘is this going to fall apart any second?’ kinda way…
We had spent enough time in the north of the island, so we decided to head back over to where we initially arrived on the island to explore that side of the island – to Gerorgetown!