I suppose it's about time I updated my whereabouts, mentally and physically.
Right now I'm comfortably ensconced in Penang, Malaysia, a Malaysian state on both the Malaysian peninsula and across the Malacca Strait on Penang Island, where its capital, the historic city of George Town, is located.
Once a manufacturing center, George Town has seen a boom in tourism that’s now made its service sector the number one industry.
I live in Batu Ferringhi, a George Town suburb on the northern coast of the island, about 40 minutes by bus from the historic city.
My neighborhood here is much different than where I lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In my Chiang Mai neighborhood, people seemed friendlier. They sat outside their smaller houses and talked or watched TV, greeting passersby, inviting them in. Many operated little grocery stores. Here, my neighborhood is more like a suburban community. People generally stay inside their larger, more spacious, air-conditioned homes like the one I'm staying in.
I was attracted here by the lure of nearby national parks for hiking and beaches, and in the spirit of slow travel, I booked a one-month stay in an inexpensive Airbnb. Batu Ferringhi is located along the northern part of the island about 15 minutes from Penang National Park and 40 minutes from George Town. I board the same bus in opposite directions to get to each location for less than a dollar fare either way.
I’ve been here three weeks. First thing I did was check the beach about a five-minute walk from my house. It was disappointing, a tourist attraction with jet skis, para-gliding, and a few, small, buoyed-off areas for actual swimming.
As if I wanted to swim after seeing it.
Among the local news reports since I got here have been reports of commercially grown fish dying in their cages, and then wild fish turning belly up in the murky water.
Apparently, the ocean bottom here is muddy, not sand and there appears to be no coral, and no offshore reef, hence no surf.
I didn’t go in the water.
I decided to see what it was like in the national park on the coast which I was pleased to learn has no entrance fee.
Unfortunately, most of the trails had been closed for some time due to landslides, which hasn’t been widely reported in the tourist info. To visit some of the key sites, such as Monkey Beach and the lighthouse lookout, you must charter a boat, which isn’t cheap, but it’s a boost for local tour operators, I suppose.
There was one trail that allowed visitors to walk to Turtle Beach, where turtles lay their eggs and research is conducted. It's just a walk pf a little over two miles through the jungle.
That trail goes a mile farther to the park’s most remote beach, which is where I headed, hoping to find the clean, clear waters I’d desired and expected of Penang.
The trail included several steep climbs and descents along the way, aided in some areas by rope handrails, and often obstructed by fallen trees and limbs to clamber over, and lots of mud, rocks and roots underfoot. So don’t wear your slippers, and take plenty of water. It’s a real jungle, hot and humid, in there. And despite the climbing, there were no views of the nearby ocean, just jungle.
I did enjoy seeing a monkey, (not sure which kind) perched in a tree behind me about 30 feet away. He called and uttered a low growl after I'd passed. I’m pretty sure it was intended to get my attention. I stopped and turned as he stared me down. He was eyeing me and watching his mate who was cradling a couple of little ones while crossing the trail. It was a nice little scene.
The trail finally opened up to a beautiful beach, called Teluk Kampi. The only person there was a caretaker sleeping in a hammock on the porch in front of his cabin.
After the sweaty hike, a dip in the water would have been welcome, but again the water wasn’t inviting. But no matter. A large sign with ominous, five-year-old drowning statistics, said swimming was prohibited, anyway, due to dangerous currents.
I ate my lunch, used the restroom, took a short nap and started to walk back.
I saw only two other people there, a pair of Chinese 20-somethings, who’d decided earlier to arrange to have a boat pick them up instead of hiking back. They’d paid $25 and were incredulous that I’d attempt the round-trip hike. They were waiting for their boat when I started back.
So my dreams that Penang would be the glorious swimming paradise that I’d found in Sri Lanka a few months ago were dashed.
So I will look to explore the city’s attractions. More on that to come.
Meanwhile, I have more stories and photos from Chiang Mai that I never got around to posting. I hope to post those as well in the next few days.
I'm a retired journalist from Hawaii who tired quickly of retirement and hit the road as a slow solo world traveler in August 2016. I've spent time in 18 countries on four continents and right now I'm enjoying life in Penang, Malaysia.
I've been interviewed about my travels by Nomadic Matt, and Expat Focus, and here's a great story by veteran Borneo newsman and writer James Ritchie, about our meeting in Kuching, titled, A Confluence of Adventure Writers .
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