I’ve been to Penang before. It was 4 years ago and after having spent 5 weeks in Indonesia and Borneo where I’d seen some absolutely stunning and unforgettable sights. It had rained and we’d been exhausted from our travels, and were really just quite content to pause for a moment, catch up with friends and family in Internet cafes and wander through the streets. We hired a car and drove around the island and I felt I’d seen it all, so wasn’t overly fussed when it was decided that we’d include Penang in our most recent trip.
Oh hindsight, what a wonderful thing! I’m quick to forgive and forget, and as often as I can will give things a second chance to prove themselves, and Penang did just that.
We had a taxi booked for 11am with our new friend Roslee (contact on +60 19 520 5250 if you need a driver in Penang), the over-chatty but very lovely driver from the previous day, but we weren’t ready to leave. In a bid to cram in as much as we could we raced out of bed and straight to our new VERY favourite food stall on Lorong Pasar. We needed to try them out again and we had to give ‘tea in a bag’ a go!
With little time to spare before Rosslee came a-tooting we stood up tall, sucked in our cheeks so as to appear teeny-tiny-skinny and approached a cautious-looking trikshaw driver.
“Space for 3 teeeeeny-tiiiiny-skiiiiinny people?!!”
We pulled it off! He agreed! We felt very lazy (and all agreed we could swap and take turns if he’d like us to) but it was a new way to see the city.
As we said our sad goodbyes to Penang, Rosslee kept us busy with his constant flow of chat, and brilliant banter – he’d sussed us out very quickly and knew just how to push Jen’s buttons, much to our (mine and Holly’s; collectively known to him as Bollie) amusement.
After much discussion about the roadside fruits, we pulled over to try the local…err…delicacies? The lone stall was buzzing furiously with flies, and a huge pile of rotting fruit had built up like an ant hill just a few metres away, but this is how you get under the skin of the culture and the skin of the fruits. First up we have durian
Once opened it looks like rotting fruit, smells like a babies nappy, texture of smash (strange fake potato mash mix) covered in a thicker film, taste of tangy milk. None of us enjoyed it, despite me giving it second and third chances.
Next we tried the purple mangosteen. This looked like garlic gloves and was more like a lychee in garlic form. Perhaps it was the lingering taste of the durian, or perhaps the swarm of flys I could still see raging in the distance, but it wasn’t for me either.
Finally, as we jumped back in the car, Roslee presented us with the bunch of rambutan to try. Jen took the steering wheel as he jostled with the big bunch to split them I’m half and hand it back. Safe country….! (At least we had our seatbelts on. Much to his insistence that “you really don’t need to wear it”, we all agreed, “oh, no, we REALLY do”)
After 3 hours on the road we arrived at the ferry port for our next crossing. This time we’d mixed things up a little and booked into a resort. I have to say, as much as I hate this whole hand-holding travel style, it was rather useful to be able to drop our bags off at the shop and then just meet them at the other end of the ferry, rather than all this lugging about we’d done on and off ferries.
A little van took us from the ferry to the port where, much to our amusement, we were greeted with little fruit drinks and a guitar strumming along to some over-enthusiastic welcome song. Ugh, so tacky. We checked into our room but didn’t stay long as we wanted to get out and explore the area rather than stay cooped up any longer. The local village had a great food market, where you could choose your fish, choose how it was cooked and then eat it all up on the infamous plastic stools. It’s just incredible what flavours they can pack together in such basic conditions.