If you have a low stress tolerance and/or are a strong believer of driving by the book don’t ever go on a roadtrip in Malaysia. Ever. If you are interested in trying your nerves and patience go ahead, get in your car and drive.
For Christmas we had plans to meet my husband’s family in Penang, they were all in Malaysia for the holidays. We decided early on that we should take the car and make a roadtrip out of it. The gps said it would be a 6.38 hour long drive, not including breaks. So we packed the car and headed north. After about an hour it started to rain, and it rained Asian style. Not that slow, gentle pitter patter that comes down over Europe, this rain is something else completely. It is like a wall of water and I would be lying if I said I was not scared the first time we drove in rain. But after spending a few months in Asia you get used to the rain, but it is still not a pleasant drive when it starts pounding down on your car. Most people slowed down to around 40 km/hour but there were some (idiots) that sped along at 120 km/hour.
It rained for about half the time it took us to get to Penang. Including a break for food and another one for petrol it took us close to 10 hours to get to our hotel. The last couple of hours it was dark but at least it stopped raining. Around the city of Ipoh the landscape is really something else, steep mountains and so green you can hardly believe it. Even if it was dark it was so beautiful that it was like driving in a painting. We all felt we had to go there someday.
We chose the Bayview Hotel because it was located in Georgetown, had parking and wasn’t too expensive. It also had a small pool area that the children liked. The breakfast was okay, nothing to write home about but enough to keep you full until lunchtime. The parking garage had cctv and guards so we felt safe to leave the car there. It was free for hotel guests, which is always nice.
Georgetown is where you find a lot of the restaurants and also plenty of museums, churches, mosques and old colonial buildings. It is a nice part of Penang to stay in if you like to travel somewhere to see more than just the hotel and a big shopping mall. But if you happen to like shopping you won’t be let down as there are plenty of shopping malls. Queensbay Mall is huge and the newly opened 1st Avenue is bright and shiny and packed with shops. We went there for the Christmas tree, it was huge and you could walk inside it. Our daughters were very pleased.
We went to the Penang Time Tunnel which was interesting as it told the history of Penang in photos, text and replicas of an old kitchen, a coffeeshop and other places. Well worth the visit. We also went to the Camera Museum and that was great. Not so big but big enough for our family. If you are the least bit interested in photography you should go there.
One day we went up to Penang Hill. You go up by traincarts that are slanted so you kind of glide up the mountain. If you want to skip standing in line for two hours (going up AND down) you can pay extra and just walk past everyone. We did that and it was so worth it. Standing in line for two hours with two young children who also happen to be hungry is not my idea of having a good time. It was a really bad day to go up the hill if you wanted to see the views. It was so misty and we could see the rainclouds closing in but it was nice anyway. And for the heightskepticist it was excellent as you couldn’t see that far down.
A really nice thing to do is take a drive up the mountains and leave all the tourist attractions, shopping malls, hotels and resorts far behind. There is still jungle left in Penang, we saw monkeys and a lot of nice, brightly coloured flowers and trees that were huge. Sadly they are building almost everywhere so hurry up if you want to see some of the true Penang, soon it will be gone and replaced by ghastly resorts. My father in law said this would be his last visit as he no longer saw any of the Penang he loved when he first came there. That was in the 60’s and I can imagine how it must have looked back then. He said the beaches were really good and there were hardly any hotels, now there are hardly any beaches left as there are buildings everywhere along the coastline. Luxury apartments and hotels with an ocean view but the water is too dirty to swim in.
Last but not least we ate. And we ate good. The weather was awful, it rained every day and it rained a lot. So we ended up having dinner in places close to the hotel so we didn’t have to walk too far in the rain. If a place looked good (crowded and not to posh) we ate there. At Sup Hameed I had one of the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. My husband ate nasi dalca and that too was awesome. At the Red Garden food court we had a prawn mee that was supertasty, our youngest daughter ate about half of my portion!
Our eight days were soon gone and we packed up the car and left Penang. On the road again…