Monday 8 June 2015 – George Town, Penang
Caught the Rapid Penang public bus to Kek Lok Si Temple in the hills just behind George Town. Lots of Asian tourists, including some Malays. Kek Lok Si is the biggest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, a great gaudy place with a temple to Quan Yin (The Goddess Mercy of Monkey Magic fame to those of my generation) and a huge pagoda. Quan Yin is reached via a funicular at which there was a long queue, so I climbed the pagoda instead. Views back over George Town are quite good and a storm threatened over the hills behind. The temple overall – let alone the gift shop – resembled a Chickenfeed superstore about a month before Christmas.
The funicular up Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) was on the same bus route, but only a short distance so I made my way there on foot. What had been a little-visited attraction on my previous visit had boomed, especially for the domestic Malay and international Arab tourist. With little apparent interest in George Town’s historical appeal, this is clearly their attraction of choice. Queues were around the block. As I recalled it had not been spectacular on my previous visit, I cut my losses and caught the bus back to town.
I jumped off at the Komptar tower bus exchange and had a quick wander through the various malls that have popped up around it. In an upper corner of one, I found a wee café doing nasi campur, which I didn’t want, but they did a reasonable iced coffee, which I did want.
As I was in the bus interchange, I decided to catch the No 10 to the Botanical Gardens. It took ages to come, then ages to grind its way through traffic to get there (only a few kms away near Gurney Drive). It’s at the base of Penang Hill and I later discovered there’s a walking track from the top to the Gardens – an adventure for next time.
The Gardens sit in a valley and seem to be in constant peril of being swamped or resumed into the jungle that sweeps down the hill. A few pleasant paths and roadways make their way around the gardens, which seem to be a popular keep fit route for locals. Having arrived by 4.30 I’d pretty much done them by 5.30, so I caught the bus back; again it took nearly an hour to grind its way back to town.
I jumped off a few stops early to walk the rest of the way to the hotel. I was joined by another chap who it turned out was a biologist from Melbourne. Dinner at the Danish(?) biriyani joint down Chulia Street, quite tasty. The girls at reception organised a taxi for the morning and I finished the night with a couple of beers on the roof.
Chulia Mansions Hotel has been a real find – a slick, modern budget hotel that does it well. Pared back design, few frills in terms of décor, but everything works. Big room, staff were always able to sort problems, help and offer good information. Extras like drinks at the rooftop bar, café 24 hour access for coffee – which was admittedly not great) and a kilo of laundry per room per day were great touches. The only letdown was rather flaky Wi-Fi – which is free and when it does work, it flies.