One long, cold, uncomfortable bus ride later I found myself on the island portion of Penang, Malaysia. One of the few down sides to taking overnight buses is that you find yourself in the next city at the wee hours of the morning. I had made arrangements with my next couchsurfing host but my phone decided to make my day and chose not to work thus leaving me stranded and confused at the bus terminal. I decided to get a taxi into town where I could find some wifi and send John and email. I think the taxi drivers in Penang might have been some of my favorite people along this trip - super friendly, talkative and kind, A+! After killing some time at Gloria Jeans I managed to contact John and was soon in his car getting a high speed introduction to Penang - first stop, Cendol, John wasn't messing around.
The afternoon was more relaxing - really my only priority was a shower and change of clothes, both of which were quickly accomplished. I took some time to relax before we grabbed dinner and then made our way into the city. I met some other couchsurfers (like I said the CS culture in Malaysia is really big, often planning outings and get togethers) for a parade. I got bored with the parade so grabbed a taxi and met John and his friends for a movie - couldn't pass it up being only $3 compared to the near $10 I'd pay in Korea or the US. After we grabbed some drinks on upper Penang road - really cool bar/restaurant/cafe/club area.
The next day we had plans to hike up to the top of Penang hill, which is conveniently located just a few short steps from Johns apartment. I had no idea how long or difficult the hike would be and John warned me it would be hot - but hey I was in Malaysia, what do you expect. Before heading out we had breakfast (again right next to Johns apartment) which for me consisted of a traditional Malay dish, Wan Tan Mee - egg noodles with a side of pork dumplings....far from my typical bowl of cereal. The first half of the hike was fairly steep, winding up the side of a hill but had friendly markers to let you know how far you had made it. John informed me before starting that we had to reach 39 - at which point we would start the hike up Penang hill. I would really call the remainder a hike though, just a really steep walk. It was up a winding road and carried on for another 2 or was it 3km, my memory is a bit fuzzy. It was entertaining though as we reached the top and were met by everyone that had either driven or taken the cable car - I think we got a few stares as we strolled through sweating in search of a cool drink. Thankfully I've never been one to care what people think of my appearance. We hung around for a while, took some pictures and checked out the temple and mosque before making our way down, again on foot, to the Botanical gardens.
Monday John had to work so he dropped me in the center of town to explore on my own. I didn't really have much of an idea of what Penang had to offer (other than food) so I made my way towards the waterfront to relax and make a plan for the day. I figured i'd just do similar to Singapore, wander the city until something jumped out at me, I got hungary or tired, or all of the above...which eventually happened. Between the walking and the heat I wore myself out that day although the copious amounts of delicious, cheap fresh fruit I consumed managed to help.
The next day despite the looming rain clouds I decided to make the trip out to Penang national park for some hiking and swimming. A year ago I never would have listed hiking as one of my top vacation activities and some of you reading this might think i'm crazy, but come to Asia and you'll quickly find out what it's all about. Thankfully the rain only lasted for the morning and by the time I arrived at the park there were nothing but Blue skies (and annoying boat drivers) to welcome me.
Although the beach was looking quite appealing at this point I only stopped for a moment. I planned to continue on another 1.2km to the point of Muka Head and the lighthouse. As I began I had some doubts as to weather or not I wanted to continue, it was only an estimated 30 minutes from where I was but looked to be entirely up hill. I reminded myself that after I finished there was a gorgeous beach waiting for me at the bottom and so I pushed on. The only other person on the trail was a worker who was carrying what looked to be a really heavy tank of propane up - umm glad I don't have that job. Happy that everyone else was either too lazy (or smart enough not to trek up in the heat) I had the lighthouse all to myself - and pretty views it had.
After taking in the view I made my way back down to the beach, enjoyed a swim and took some time to relax. Eventually I figured I should start my trek back through the jungle in order to catch a bus and make it back to town in time for John to pick me up after he finished work. Almost near the end of the trail I met a couple from Malaysia who were both shocked and impressed that I was traveling on my own. "You westerns are so brave and independent, I admire that, good for you!". I must say before going I had no idea what to expect from the people in Malaysia but they did an amazing job of making me feel welcome, definitely a culture centered around hospitality and generosity.
The days and nights all kind of blend together (everyday is Saturday when you're on vacation) but one night we made our way back up Penang hill, this time via cable car, to check out the night sky. I remember reading in my guidebook that this was one of the must do events while visiting Penang but kind of forgot about it until I was up there - thankfully John's an awesome host and made sure I saw it. The sights really were breathtaking, even more so than during that day - or maybe it was that I wasn't exhausted and dripping in sweat.
Mid-week in Penang I decided it was time for another adventure and so I booked my tickets for the ferry to Langkawi. Two days on a beautiful island, sounds good to me.
I got lucky picking this as my first major, solo=backpacking trip. The locals that welcomed me into their homes and taught me about their culture fueled my fire for travel. The food is diverse and delicious, as is the country itself. With heavy influences from both China and India there is a lot on offer.