Penang, or more accurately Georgetown, makes for a superb travel pit stop. For those heading north from Malysia and into Thailand, consider weaving it into the itinery.
It’s a cheap and relatively cheerful place where things can be done with the minimum of fuss. Laundry can be sorted for next to nothing at any of the local Chinese dhobi shacks, onward travel arrangements, including a plethora of visas, can be arranged via many of the bookshops along Chulia Street and for those whom prefer DIY travel, internet access only costs about 2 buttons an hour – even cheaper should you own a laptop and hang out in the bars/cafes offering free Wifi with a purchase. It’s incredible how long one you can make a coffee last.
Also, with eating and drinking being great value and somewhat of a Malaysian national sport, it’s easy enough to find a world class curry and pay less for it than you would, say, for a mug of tea in a Happy Chef – or Happy Thief, as they should rightly be called – the robbing bastards.
In Georgetown, value for money extends beyond these two primordial needs. Alongside sensibly priced restaurants, bars and cafes, some central hotels offer just as much bang for your buck. If you’re up for a break from 5 dollar flophouses – even if you’re body says ‘yes but the wallet says ‘no’ – Georgetown offers several mid-range sleeps at almost budget prices. Within just a few blocks of the tourist hub you can sniff out a decent room in the kind of classy establishment that offers aircon (ear plugs recommended), fuzzy terrestrial TV (both channels), Wifi (if you are up high enough), free soap, shampoo, toilet rolls, bed sheets and shower curtains – all this for around 15 US Dollars. Well, they’re classy compared to usual backpacker hangouts, anyway.
Throw in a Chinese and Indian quarter, colonial architecture at every turn, and a heap of things to do and sights to see within and beyond the town and it comes as no surprise to learn Georgetown draws travellers by the dhobi-bucketload. And best of all, despite it’s inherent popularity with foreign visitors, you’ll encounter a minimum of hassle and just a smattering of touts.
Granted, at times Penang can be a touch chaotic and appear little rough around the edges. At night, for instance, some areas do become a little seedy (after dark, the shifty ‘you want lady?’ cyclo drivers crawl out from under their rocks) and I wouldn’t consider nocturnal exploration armed with any more cash than I require pints of Guinness.
In addition to the potential hazards above ground, others also lay below. While wandering through Georgetown you forever run the risk of consumption by storm drain. One moment you’re weaving around a motorbike parked across the pavement, or marvelling at the intricate mouldings above a Sino-Portuguese shop house, and the next you’re approaching terminal velocity in an altogether downward direction quicker than you can say ‘AWOL paving slab’. In Georgetown, this can happen in a trice. Particularly at night, and particularly if you’ve already saved a fortune in a bar promoting export Guinness at dangerously low prices. Nevertheless, in my opinion, Penang’s pros (please excuse the pun) still outweigh the cons. Tenfold.
All this diving around, and living on, a dainty, tropical island is slowly taking its toll. Maybe it’s a subtle case of island fatigue, maybe I’m experiencing what the go-getting, high fliers describe as ‘burn out’ but, more likely is the case, I’m just being over dramatic and looking for an excuse to wander around a bit for a few weeks. In short, I’m taking a holiday from the current long holiday. I’m going to Penang for a curry and a Guinness.
I’ve got two weeks to return before the dive shop sends out a search party so, unless the curry happens to be about the same size as a 3 story town house in Winchester (and gets washed down with enough Guinness to fill Micheal Barrymore’s swimming pool), I’m banking on having sufficient post-curry time to visit a few other places as I wend my way back to Phi Phi. But let’s be honest here, either way I can’t lose.
So, the plan as it stands: Head straight to Penang, gorge on curry, see some stuff on the way back up to Phi Phi. And why not?
A little while ago, I put an obscene amount of time into creating a community aspect to the site. Being my first venture into such things, I didn’t know if it would take off or not but wanted to launch it nonetheless as I truly believed there was still a place for it.
If I was just able to transpose the initial concept from my head onto a rather large pile of A4 paper and then onto the internet then I may just have something here, I thought.
Despite the hard work and late nights (poor me), initially take up seemed a bit slow. But now, pleasingly, it’s beginning to take shape as more and more people are joining and making it into exactly what it says on the tin i.e. a real budget travellers community. We now have the makings of a superb little community, and I’m pleased to say that it’s here to stay. Forever.
I want to thank all those so far who have invested the time to sign up, share with everyone a little about himself or herself and, of course, upload their funky profile pictures. It’s the little things that make it so much more friendly, personal, and a better place to be. Without question, it’d be a pretty sh*t community if the first few people hadn’t taken the time to sign up, post mugshots, and see if it would go anywhere.
So thank you all once again, and the cheques are in the post. Honest.
Although I haven’t really had much time to post of late, I can assure you that my commitment to Ubertramp.com remains absolute. As time marches onward and beans from the ad revenue slowly accumulate, I continue putting it back into the site to help it grow. From time to time (read: when funds allow), I pay very clever people to add more stuff and iron out the few remaining bugs. Which reminds me, apologies to all those who are still plotted on the profile maps in Nebraska (not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with Nebraska) – I’m still working on that one…
Anyhow, I just thought it fair to write a quick post to say thank you to my readers and sponsors for sticking with and supporting the Ubertramp and, of course, to each and every one of you who have helped make the new Budget Travellers Community a great place to be. You’re all smashing.
Chin Chin, Ho Chi Minh.
Ps. If you’re not in the gang yet, you can join in a jiffy by clicking on the guy with the poodle haircut.