The docks to Penang came into view just minutes before the sun started to fall beneath the island’s mountains. Unfortunately, the dock’s enormous metal scaffolding hindered any attempt I made to capture the sky as the mountains and clouds blended into gorgeous streaks of black and pink. So unable to capture the view on camera, I took in what little I could while kicking back with a Kickapoo.
Once on the ferry, a mere 1.20 ringgits, the mountain silhouette and the black could were virtually indistinguishable. The illuminated urban skyline of George Town, though, continued to grow in its contrasted splendor as we passed by several freighters moving through the Straight of Malacca.
Night had completely enveloped the city by the time I stepped off the ferry. Given the number of people getting off the boat, I was amazed by the emptiness of the George Town docks. I had gotten so used to Thailand’s swarms of tuk-tuk drivers and guest house representatives trying to grab anyone they could as soon as they depart a bus or boat. This silence was a change. A pleasant change.
The largest concentration of guesthouses lay only a half kilometer from the ferry docks on Chulia Road, so I began walking in that direction. The difference from being in a Thailand city was immediately noticeable, and the varying architecture immediately stood out. Given the nature of many of the restaurants and food stands I was passing, I seemed to be skimming the edge of Penang’s Little India district. That was fine with me, as I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast in Hat Yai and I hadn’t had a good Indian meal since I was in the U.S.
Chulia Road has loads of overnight options popping up through its gritty (in a good, having character kind of way, not Bangkok’s purely dirty way) streets. Street vendors of different sorts lined the street. Bikes were everywhere. And the ethnic mix was unmistakable. I was certainly in a different country than Thailand now. After walking through the main cluster and turning around, I headed down a sidestreet labeled “Love Lane”.
No way I could go wrong someplace like that, right?
Walking by a darkened and kind of creepy building, Micke’s Place – Love Lane, I got to the Reggae Hostel. There was nothing at all remotely ‘reggae’ about it, though it seemed to be a lively place, and I wanted to drop off my bag and eat. It turned out to be one of the trendiest budget places I have ever stayed. The downstairs looked as if it belonged in a lounge bar (which it did indeed have).
Sticking with the Asian tradition, I left my shoes in the big pile at the base of the stairs before heading up to the guest area. Looking more like a research facility, the guest commons and computer area were sealed off by a code-access glass barrier.
Beyond that were the guest rooms. The rooms had 12 compact personal bunks going into the wall with highly comfortable mattresses. However, the top bunks were atop a 10 foot ladder which proved intimidating to go up and down in the dark. Meanwhile, everyone’s baggage lined the floor.
Back downstairs, I was asked by an American girl if I wanted to participate in a sponsored poker game that night. It turned out she was working there as the hostel’s guest event coordinator. More interesting than that, she was actually from Grand Rapids, my home city. After having met Jolene two days before, who had worked on Mackinac Island the smae time as me, this amazed me even more.
We began talking over a couple beers about common places and people we knew. She had been in Asia about the same amount of time as me, but was supporting herself through more offbeat and under the table jobs than I was. She gleefully described her responsibilities at the hostel as eating and drinking with the guests for free. It sounded pleasant enough, though a couple of weeks later she told me she had left.
After a while, my hunger had resurfaced and I set out into the city looking for food. Since I happened to be on the border of Little India, it seemed appropriate to indulge in Indian food. Following the rule of thumb of looking for the busiest place when unfamiliar, I found a hopping open-air restaurant and ordered a familiar butter chicken and cheese naan. It was a welcome change from constant Thai food and I hadn’t eaten Indian in well over a year.
Dinner was followed by another half hour or so walk around the area. Unfortunately, fatigue was starting to catch up with me. It had been a very busy day. Toss on the fact that I was still physically drained from 3 nights of the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, and I soon headed back to the hostel.
Kelly from Grand Rapids was sitting outside with her friend from Portland. I joined them for a couple beers (good beer, something you cannot find in Thailand [even odder considering Malaysia is a Muslim country]). Eventually though, I did have to call it a night.
Given what little of Georgetown I saw, I truly wished I had spent more time there to see what else it had to offer. It seemed like a spectacularly interesting city. Maybe someplace I’ll have to return to soon.