Monday, August 29, 2011

Penang, Malaysia

          While in Malacca, I had a conversation with Mike "Smithers" McMillan, who told me of a family connection he had to Georgetown, Penang. As a result, I did a little research. Penang or Langwaki? Two islands both on the Northwest coast of Malaysia. Penang, is a really melting pot of culture, culinary delights, and ethnic backgrounds. Langwaki is a duty-free island, noted for its natural beauty, however a little more touristy.

I went with Penang. I will say right now, I see Penang as a wasted opportunity. I will explain why.

The infamous "Love Lane."
         Firstly, I grabbed an evening bus from Malacca. Because of delays I didn't arrive in Penang until 3:30am. As a result, many of the front desks for all of the hostels were locked up. Also, I have been good this entire trip of doing adequate research in areas beforehand, so I don't get cheated. This is especially true with taxi drivers. And because, I was so exhausted, I failed to realize that the cab driver charged me too much, and then dropped me off in a "backpacker lane." It was ACTUALLY called LOVE LANE, and was full of prostitutes. 

          So it is safe to say, I didn't have a positive introduction to the city. The other unfortunate aspect of Penang, was the simple concept that there wasn't too much to do there. Aside from eating, which I admit, the variety was incredible, I found myself wondering around a lot, and never finding anything new around the corner. And unlike Malacca, (where everything was in walking distance), essentially anything worth visiting, was a long cab ride away. It was almost as if the city planners, designed the island with every attraction spread out for the sake of the transportation industry. I certainly benefited from the English Premiership season beginning, as a couple of nights involved me joining people of all walks of life in bars to watch "the English game." In Malaysia in general, Manchester United is popular, however the favourite seems to be Liverpool.

It's also safe to say, I felt most homesick while in Penang. Back home in Vancouver, there were lots of exciting things happening, and I was unable to be a part of it. Likewise in Brisbane, where I really created a home for myself. My empty dorm room wasn't helping things either. It also seemed like, right when I became loneliest, the weather took a turn for the worst. It was essentially a prelude to soggy wet Thailand.

            On my last day in Penang, I managed to do something quite worthwhile, and something I really should have done earlier. For starters, Georgetown/Penang is not Kuching and Malacca. Everything is NOT in walking distance. I should have learned the bus system in advance (less than $1 Canadian to essentially cross the island); the western coast of the island is BEAUTIFUL. What a shame, that I missed that for 3 days. Here are some pictures:

           Honestly, this was my formula for Penang. The further west I traveled, the more I liked it. I should have done a better job with area, but I still feel like it was the one city/area that I never really connected with. Every where I go, I tend to find little pockets and niches that I seem to fit into, but sadly Penang wasn't right for me.

Apparently, Brenden Fraser is not a popular actor in Southeast Asia.

The docks and piers on the west coast of Penang were awesome to venture out on and explore. I talked to many of the local fisherman who seemed somewhat surprised that I was talking to them. I think it was because the only way tourists tend to venture out that far, is with a large group.

Glamour shot. 

My favourite beach I have discovered thus far in Southeast Asia. Yes, I have seen whiter sand, and yes I have swam in clearer water. What is this one my favourite? Check out the features. Firstly, it was completely isolated and I was the only one there. Secondly, a dog followed me and played with me the entire time. Thirdly, there were giant rocks for me to sit on. Lastly, there was even a small cave to explore. Great find!
 And the sun sets in uneventful Penang. Oh well, not everywhere will blow you away. Besides, I'm sure I will have a fair share of memorable moments in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand, which is my next destination. See you on the other side. My passport is getting colourful.


Well folks, I apologize, it has essentially been 3 weeks since I last wrote. I have been M.I.A. I have been filming a lot, meeting all kinds of folks, and have two memory cards full of photos. At the end of this trip, I plan to compile some kind of movie; however, this time I have failed to establish a general plan or style for the film, so it may be scattered. Just like this blog entry in fact. So last I checked, I wrote was in Kuching, so it is certainly time to move on. Our next scenic location is:

The Streets of Malacca
When I descended from the bus in the Malacca Bus Station I was initially weary. Everywhere I saw tourists; I had presumed by ignoring Kuala Lumpur (huge cities are generally avoidable for me) I was taking the less obvious path. Interestingly enough, there appeared to be very, very, few Western tourists. It became quickly evident that Malacca was very much an Asian tourist destination. Each and every bus unloaded loads and loads of travelers of Asian descent. Even in the wonderful hostel I found, most of the guests appeared to be of Asian descent. Considering my original plan was be in Malacca for two days (it eventually became four days) I was pleasantly surprised by the city.


- Although I mentioned tourists, by comparison to other cities I have visited, this was on the lower end of that scale

- The Hostel was absolutely lovely. I felt bad for the owner of the hostel, because he said despite his best efforts, he was having trouble getting the hostel advertised in travel guides. Apparently, "once you are in, you are IN." As a result, one of the owners would go every day to the bus station, and try and convince people to stay. Turns out, it worked with me.
I think I found the entrance to the Secret Garden
- The city is small enough, that everything was within walking distance. In the middle of the city, was a fantastic green hill. It was actually a Chinese cemetery, so as you climbed higher and higher, the gravestones became more elaborate. Strangely enough, one the most peaceful spots I have enjoyed thus far, was a cemetery.
- People who know me, understand that I dislike shopping. I dislike it even more when it is completely catered  for Westerners. However, in Malacca, aside from the main touristy centre, the city seemed to understand exactly what it was.

          I truly recommend Malacca to anyone traveling up the western coast of peninsular Malaysia. It has plenty of nice little surprises, and of all things, seems like a city content with its own way of life. I felt like I was really exploring something a little less visited. And then of course, pool, breakfast, drinks in the hostel were a lovely touch. I was so inspired, I even made a birthday video for a friend of mine in my hostel room. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Goodbye Singapore, Hello Kuching

Hello Everyone back in Vancouver, hope the summer is treating you well.

           My time in Singapore came to an end, and here are my parting thoughts of the city:

Flags, Flags, Everywhere!
1) Of all things, I cannot overstate that Singapore is a gateway city, and not a final destination. The only way, in my opinion, to avoid this feeling is to either work or study there. That said, it's a small island nation, that doesn't enjoy the community aspect that is associated with small island nations.
I counted thousands of flags.

2) Without a doubt, the highlight for me was the proximity of such diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups, in little pockets through the downtown area. They were natural and authentic, and not something simply put together by the tourism board. I also really appreciated the harmony of these groups, and the general pride the people have for Singapore itself. In one apartment block just outside of the city, I have not seen such a display of national pride in a long time. I even took some video of it, and will show that later.

Without question, I was excited to leave Singapore for the jungle. Kuching, while being the 4th largest city in Malaysia, is still relatively small. There is a compact downtown area, and the rest of the population is very spread out. I have very much enjoyed my 4 days here so far, and am excited about my remaining 6 days.

Here are a few photos and a bit of analysis to accompany them:

I will forever love being in a forest.

In the Jungle, The Mighty Jungle
       Firstly, I must say, that during the day, Kuching is the hottest place I have ever been to. The humidity is insane, and the only comfort can be found underneath the canopy of the jungle. We have been hiking a few times, which is what I am really after here. I have been missing the hills of my hometown, and the hikes with my father.

This was one lively Orangutan.
          We went to an Orangutan Sanctuary, and I will admit, this little journey had tourist trap written all over it. But thankfully, costing only 10 RM (just under $3) it is a chance worth taking. Watching the Orangutans play and eat was fun, but I still think I will never really like zoos or sanctuaries. The only one I appreciated was the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane; because they were simply taking care of injured animals that would have died in the wild anyway. Even though this park claimed to be training these Orangutans for the wild, how can man-made ropes and buckets of food be considered a natural environment? Maybe
my attitude has become more intense after seeing the brilliant documentary, "The Cove."

The Tracks Bed and Breakfast

Tracks Bed and Breakfast (Kuching, Borneo)

          Well all I can say here is, thank goodness for Taylor Livingston. He has been my little travel guide from afar, and he continues to lead me in the right direction. Not only is Kuching, Borneo exactly what I was looking for, but the accommodation is second to none. The Tracks Bed and Breakfast is out of this world. And at $4.75 a night, it isn't bad on the wallet either. The staff is really friendly and approachable and always willing to hang out and teach you about the local community.

Well, that is about all for now. Tomorrow we are heading to the Bako National Park. It should be an absolute dandy.