PENANG, DAY ONE – I wanted to go to Penang during Chinese New Years, as the lights at the Kek Lok Si temple are meant to be magnificent at that time. However I did not want to go alone, and my friend was not free then. She was free the weekend before though…so we booked plane tickets and a cheap hotel to go then. Due to circumstance it would be a very quick, almost rushed trip, with an early morning flight on Saturday from KL to Penang followed by an evening flight from Penang back to KL on Sunday. This meant when I booked the taxi I had to accept that they would be picking us up at 4.10am. :/
I made plans to go to bed early on Friday night but time slipped away and I ended up going to bed at 1am. I had only gotten up at 2pm and I was feeling anxious about all the various things that could go wrong so when my alarm went off at 3am, I merely sat up and got out of bed and went to get ready without ever actually falling asleep. At 4.00am I get a phone call from the taxi driver to say he had arrived. At 4.10am I left my room and met my friend in the corridor and we headed down to the taxi. The taxi driver greeted us much too cheerily for the early time, though admittedly I was feeling very hyped up from lack of sleep. My friend fell asleep almost as soon as the taxi left campus but I was fully awake, left to stare out at the scenery, restless and still finding it hard to settle. I was quite excited once we left the taxi, looking forward to Penang, interested in my current surroundings as it was only my second time at LCCT, and basically irritably chatty and energetic compared to my poor friend, who was quiet and subdued with exhaustion. I always get this way when I have not slept, my sister does too. Every time we get a early morning flight to Cape Town, and we’re talking having to get to the airport at 4 or 5am here, our parents struggle to cope with my sister and I, clearly wondering why they were stuck with toddlers again. There have been many times they have not been able to get my sister and I to shut up.
Well, my friend and I decided that we should probably have breakfast, even if neither us particularly wanted it, and so we wandered around trying to decide what to eat. Eventually I left my friend at McDonald’s and went to Old Town cafe to buy myself some toast- the plainest, most ungreasy thing there seemed to be at the airport. I was feeling nauseous already, and we weren’t even on the plane yet. Worse, I knew I could not take my anti-nausea tablets as they would make me spacey, impossible to function properly really. My friend and I sat, ate and had a good early morning bitch to pass the time until we could go to the gate. The time passed quickly that way. Soon we were off to departures, only to be turned away because we’d gone to international departures XD we were both so sleepy and out of it- me in my hyper active way, and my friend who looked like she was about to pass out at any second. We went to the right place and got through to the gate, which was crowded and noisy, where we sat and waited for our flight. Then came the long walk to the plane. I was still overly enthusiastic about the whole affair, on top of my excitement of going to Penang, and my interest in my surroundings, short distanced flying is still very new to me, and this was only my second time taking a budget flight, as generally flying long distance = non budget and as I usually only fly long distance… well.
My poor, poor, long suffering friend.
We got on the plane and by this point I was not feeling good at all- light headed and nauseous. The plane journey was a not a good one. My friend dozed but I was too hyped up too doze, too nauseous to read or do anything. Thankfully, although not pleasant, the flight was very quick, with gorgeous views of the sun rising over the sea as we started to descend.
From the airport we took a taxi to the nearby Snake Temple. This experience was a little strange. We arrived there quite early and there was no one about. It was open, though, so we walked in and had a look around. My friend had heard from a friend that they had like, pits of snakes. As we entered the temple we were confused, wondering if we’d come to the wrong place…there were no snakes. We entered a room where there was a single other group of tourists and two snake handlers, carrying a large snake. There were some snakes who had draped themselves around the tops of the columns in the room. Still, it was hardly anything exciting. We had a walk around the rest of the temple but the place was deserted, both by snakes and humans. Eventually my friend asked the handlers what had happened to the snakes, and he pointed out a few in the main temple. It was like a game of spot the difference- here is your picture, now spot what is out of place. Needless to say, we left disappointed. We also left without much idea of how to get back on the road to get into Georgetown. We decided to try and find a bus stop, and thankfully we did find one fairly painlessly, mostly due to my friend. So, she sat down and I stood on guard, ready to throw myself at the next bus in order to get it to stop. Not that there were any forthcoming.
With few other options, we waited and discussed our plans for the weekend as we did so, finally coming to the decision that we’d switch our Sunday plans for our Saturday plans, as our Sunday plans needed more time than we had then, and the weather looked more promising on the Saturday. Weather was important, as our Sunday plans were to go to the Penang National Park. I was pleased, as I had been worried at how we would fit it into Sunday, and I desperately wanted to go. I wanted to see some Malaysian scenery, you know? However, our new plans meant we could not afford to leisurely wait for a bus that may or may not come. We decided to hail a taxi even though it was a lot more expensive than the bus, and then endured an awkward drive with the driver pointing out the sights (fine) and trying to sell us his specialised tour (not so nice). It was like being in Thailand again, the way the taxi driver was being! I really hate pushy taxi drivers. Though I always wonder, who allows themselves to get suckered into parting with their money this way? Because they would not give us the hard sell, if sometimes it did not work, right?
Anyway, we got to the hotel in good time, sooner than we would think for the price we paid for the taxi, ahem, and went to try to check in. We were staying at the Tune Hotel in downtown Penang, and it was a curious hotel. During the check in I discovered that the “extras” my dad had thoughtfully booked with our room were actually essentials- a towel and some soap. So thank everything my dad thought to book them, as I had no idea it would work this way when I chose the hotel. Even the travelodge in the UK comes with these basics, and both me and my friend were a little taken aback, and I am not sure about my friend, but I was embarrassed at the thought of sharing a towel between us. Well, whatever, we tried to check in but could not. We could, however, leave our luggage there. So off we went to the bathrooms to change and sort our stuff. My friend would take her backpack and I would take my handbag, no matter how inappropriate it was to go walking with a handbag, and leave my backpack behind. We handed the backpack over, got the worlds smallest, most easy to lose luggage tag in return then went to find a taxi to get ourselves to the park. We once again got ripped off by the taxi driver, but its not like we had much choice. We had to get to the park quickly, aka not by bus, so we paid the premium. At least this time the journey was substantial, taking us through George Town and to the small town of Teluk Bahang, then right through it to the park entrance.
We had to register at the park entrance, where one girl was catering to the large crowd, meaning the queue was long. There were a bunch of other tourists there, most of them better and more suitably dressed than me and my friend. At least my friend had a backpack- I just had my handbag. XD We eventually made it to the front of the line to register and get our maps, then set off with the goal of going to Monkey Beach, but feeling wary, with no idea how intense the walk would be or if we would even have the time. You see, the information on the Internet is very conflicting when it comes to this park- some sources say that the walk to the monkey beach is a gentle stroll, others say an intense walk not for the faint of heart. Some say it is quick, others say it is slow. The times the park itself displayed were again different. We really had no idea to expect but we knew that, if possible, we would go to Monkey Beach. Hell, at the beginning, we were dead set on attempting to get the lighthouse, even. We really had no idea.
We entered the park and found ourselves on a paved road. So far, not bad. It was very hot though, and not just that, but the sun was strong, and I could feel myself already becoming sweaty. The fact that I was hyper from lack of sleep had thankfully not begun to wear off yet though. Also: it was beautiful. to our left was the forest, and to our right were beaches of golden sand, and the sea stretching off into the distance. It was really, really gorgeous. This was the Malaysia that were sold when deciding to come here- this was the Malaysia splashed over the tourist brochures. We walked past those first few patches of sand and over the paved path into the forest proper, the trail very well marked, and very much an obvious trail, but it was dirt path now, and with all the minor obstacles you’d expect when walking through a forest. Still, not bad. It got more intense as we got along though, with stairs and bridges and clambering over rocks using ropes and walking over roots and under tree branches, through foliage… all the while it was hot, so very hot. The sun was intense as hell, and the humidity was as high as ever. I was sweating and panting in a highly unattractive manner. I was made to realise, not for the first time, that even after months spent in this country I am still not adjusted to this tropical climate. For the first time, I realised that I was probably never going to get used to it- I find humidity such an uncomfortable thing.
After longer than the map said it would take we made it to USM beach, where we sat to have lunch – some very nutritious chip sandwiches, and water. Then we continued onwards, still with the intention of going to Monkey Beach, even though we were both getting tired.
We did not make it. Eventually we had to accept that the path was getting too much for us, and we were tired, and there was a perfectly decent patch of sand that we had found, so we decided to stay there and leave Monkey beach to everyone else. I actually think that this was a good decision. We basically had this little beach all to ourselves. My friend settled down to read and I went off to explore. The sand was hard beneath my bare feet, initially, but as I walked on it turned to soft sand. I smiled to myself, walking right on the edge of the water, close enough so the waves could rush over my feet, but far enough that I would not get wet. I admired the view for a moment before turning my focus downwards, hunting for shells and interesting rocks. You’d think that at 20 years old such an activity would no longer interest me but it does and it did. It had been so long since I’d been to the beach. I spent a good while walking across the stretch of beach, exploring it, becoming familiar with what it had to offer, picking up the best bits, washing them off then laying them before my friend and whining at her to look at my findings (my poor, long suffering friend) , before setting off again. I made a few trips before I finally decided to settle down, sitting on the sand and getting out my cellphone/kindle, although my tired brain could not focus. I did my best, though and at least I managed to calm myself enough that I was not disturbing my friend. With that calmness came the tiredness. I could feel myself heading to the crash- the point where I become quiet, and withdrawn, and moody, like normal tired people.
The tide was coming in, so we decided to head back to USM, as I wanted to walk along the pier there. We ended up walking along said pier right to the end and settling on a bench right there, right out over the ocean. My friend read and I listened to music, staring out into the distance, soaking in the sun and the smell of the sea and just how lovely it was. I wanted to close my eyes and truly rest in the peaceful atmosphere that was just begging for me to do so, but I knew I would fall asleep. So I forced myself to keep my eyes open, and my mind to stay relatively alert even as it tried to drift, even as my eyes kept sliding shut.
I don’t know how long we stayed there, but it was a good while. Eventually we had to accept the tide was heading back and we had been there long enough, anyway, so we headed back the way we came. The way back was quicker, without us stopping to take pictures as much, and we both had a certain focus, now that we had decided that we were going back, and we actually very much wanted to get back. Once out the park we got a cool drink and sat for a bit, chatting idly and people watching a little. Then we de-registered from the park and left to find a bus. We ended up having to run to catch a bus that would drive, then stop and just sit for a good 30 minutes for some reason. Malaysian public transport really is an unreliable, unpredictable beast. It was a hellish wait, with the air con off, sitting there baking with no clue what was going on. It was relief when the driver got in and turned the bus on again, and with it the air con, and off we went. The bus journey was fairly long, but offered pleasant views in return. We got off at KOMTAR then walked back to the hotel to rest and freshen up a bit, as the only other thing we wished to do was go get food, and the place my friend wanted to go to would only open much later.
Much later, we did go out and did walk to the food place, then come back and finally, we were able to sleep. I don’t think I had fallen asleep so quickly in a long time.