During my trip to Penang last weekend, I realized that I hadn’t really ever traveled alone. I once stayed in a hostel in Monterey for a conference alone. But really I wasn’t “traveling.” I really have always had either family or friends with me while traveling. I think this was a really good first trip for me to take. It was only 2 nights (3 if you count the night on the bus) and was in a pretty safe place. And the city is pretty easy to get around, plus people still speak English.
I really enjoyed my trip and couldn’t believe how much I packed into such a small amount of time. I arrived on the island at 4am on Sunday and my bus left at 4 pm on Tuesday and I mainly did everything I wanted to do. Some stuff, mainly the museums, I skipped out on mainly because I didn’t feel like spending the money and the time. But I’m also really not the museum type of person.
So here’s a list of my favorites from last weekend:
1. Penang Hill
I thought my bus would drop be off in Butterworth and I would take the ferry to Georgetown and drop my stuff off when I arrived but my bus dropped me off at Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal. This meant that I would have to take a cab to my hostel. Since my bus got in at 4am and I didn’t want to take a cab all the way to Georgetown just to drop off my stuff at the hostel then go all the way back to Penang Hill to see the sunrise I thought I’d just wait it out at the bus terminal. The first tram goes up to the top of the hill at 6:30am so at about 6 I went downstairs to haggle with the taxi drivers. They initially said RM 55 to take me to Penang Hill. That’s three times as much as it should cost, I got them down to RM 35 but I was determined not to pay more that 20. After lying to me about Penang Hill not being open yet and saying that taxi’s cost more on the Island than on the mainland, and that it was really far away, an Uber appeared within range on my phone. See ya later taxi drivers! 20 minutes later and a Uber ride that cost RM 12 I was at the base of the hill.
Reviews of Penang Hill have people saying that they waited in line for an hour and a half to get to the tram. At 6:45am I walked right on, along with a huge group of people that were going up to either do yoga or Zumba. I missed the full sunrise by about 10 minutes (dang Taxi drivers!) but it was still beautiful. And it was a great way to start my trip! At the top there’s a restaurant and bar and some random stalls and such. I walked around and took pictures, watched some Zumba and talked to some other tourists. Since I went so early it was fairly empty, except for those who were getting there morning workout in. Apparently you can camp up there which would be pretty awesome.
The ride up is RM 15 each way but I showed my student ID and got a discount. Seriously when you travel always have a student ID on you, even if it’s old. I really don’t feel bad doing this because I’m a teacher and I feel like anywhere that gives student’s discounts should also give teachers discounts anyways.
If you are in Penang this is a must do. The view alone is worth the trip!
I decided to walk back down the hill. This was a huge mistake. It’s a 5km walk (3 miles) but with an elevation change of around 2,000 ft and I hadn’t dropped my bag off yet. By the time I got down the hill my knees hurt and I was sweating like a pig. Also I had incorrectly assumed that the end of the trail where the botanical gardens were would also be near where I went up the hill, making it easy to go to the nearby temple next. Nope, the trail ends on the exact other side of the hill. Whoops. By the time I had walked down I had no energy to walk through the botanical gardens. One the plus side all of the bikers that were heading up the hill, said good morning even though that meant that they had to take a huge breath just to be nice. Seriously I have no clue how they bike all the way up that hill. It’s insane.
2. Kek Lo Si
I was planning on going to Kek Lo Si after Penang Hill since it’s somewhat close by but I instead went the next day since I walked down the Hill. Kek Lo Si is beautiful Buddhist Temple in the hills of Penang. It’s said that it’s the largest Buddhist Temple in Malaysia. I will let the pictures speak for themselves on this way.
100 Foot Statue of Guanyin: I overheard a man explaining that the finger position of the goddess symbolizes to give or to bring and since she is pouring out something from a vase she is meant to be bringing water to the temple or city.
Tip: Take the bus! It’s pretty easy to figure out. It’s only RM 2 whereas taking a cab is a lot more and you get to see much more as you drive around! Some stops are a little weird though, as in I have no clue how people know that this is a bus stop. I really do think that as long as you are on the bus route and you wave down the driver, they will stop for you.
3. Eat everything
Malaysia is known for having some of the best food in the world and Penang is definitely one of the places people take about when they talk about food. I didn’t try as many different foods as I should have but what I did have was delicious. My recommendations are below:
Kimpo Famous Roasted Duck: I don’t eat duck really so I had the chicken and it was still delicious. The mango sticky rice at the Thai place in the same set of food stalls is also delicious.
Assam Laksa in Air Itam: I shared a table with these Chinese guys that had driven to Penang for the day from Ipoh, it was hilarious to watch this guy try to pick out all the peppers from his Laksa (a type of noodle soup) while the women didn’t bother to even put any in mine since I’m white and she knows white people don’t typically like spicy foods. Be sure to get some sugar cane here too, it’s crazy to watch this women literally juice sugar cane and serve it as a drink.
Adam’s Famous Chicken Curry Puff: I’ve really decided that I could eat curry puffs for every meal of the day. These ones are delicious.
I didn’t try any Char kway teow so that is still on my list. I also skipped over the Dim Sum, which I feel bad about but it’s not particularly my favorite.
4. Tropical Spice Gardens
Yes, this is all the way on the other side of the island. But I definitely thought it was worth the trip, and I was staying the night in Batu Ferringhi so it really wasn’t far from me. This isn’t for everybody but if you like seeing plants and learning or just relaxing in a jungle-ish environment I’d recommend it. They have two tours, a guided tour and an audio tour. I did the audio tour which was pretty good, and somewhat long, I skipped some parts to speed it up. Anyways from someone who comes from a region that imports all of our spices the tour was really informative and just plain cool.
5. Hike in Taman Negara Pulau Pinang (the National Park)
Most people choose to hike to Monkey Beach (Teluk Duyung) I went a little bit further out to Turtle Beach (Teluk Kampi). It took me about an hour to an hour and 15 mins each way to hike it. The trail has a good amount of people on it and it’s well marked so I felt safe walking it alone. The beach is beautiful when you get to it. Unlike the water in Georgetown which is dirty and full of trash, the water is very clear and it makes you just want to jump right in! Don’t! Unfortunately there’s jellyfish and one of the girls I was talking to got pretty badly stung. I honestly don’t think it’s worth it to swim. But it is really really pretty.
One of my biggest regrets of my trip was not hiring a boat to take me back from the beach. It’s about RM 80 to get picked up from Turtle Beach (40 RM from Monkey Beach) and be brought back to the trailhead. I tried to negotiate this down but could only get RM 75. Since I was alone, this seemed like too much, if I could have split it with at least one other person it would have been a no brainer. RM 80 is only about $20 but when I spent less than $100 for the whole trip, including the hostels and the bus ticket, $20 seemed like too much to take a boat back, especially since I’m trying to budget for my next trip.
All in all I had a great trip! Since this was my first alone trip I did have some interesting realizations. First, I actually live in Malaysia. Like I live here. I talked to a lot of people taking 3 months to a year off to travel and every time I told somebody that I live in Kuala Lumpur it was like a reminder to myself. It finally sank in that I live abroad. Also people asked me if I was traveling alone, a lot. Almost just as much as I was asked where I was from. It only felt creepy a few times, and I almost always answered with “Oh, I meeting someone.” But most of the time it felt like people were just generally surprised that I was traveling alone and others told me to be safe and showed a general concern for my safety. At no point did I feel unsafe. Ok, that’s not true, but being scared of the monkeys in the jungle don’t count. Seriously monkeys are scary.
Anyways if you are planning a trip to Penang please feel free to ask me questions! Or if you have any recommendations please pass them on!
Ah I just realized I didn’t even talk about all the street art and Chew Jetty! Both are also a must see! I also really wanted to do a tour of the Blue Mansion, a friend said it’s pretty cool but the tour times never lined up with the other things I was packing into each day.