Nick and I left Tonsai and took a boat, tuk tuk, and bus, to the border city, Hat Yai. As the Malaysian border was closed for the evening we decided to spend the night in Hat Yai and explore the local market. The market was extremely hip and not only did we indulge in delicious food, but also watched a middle school dance group perform to Michael Jackson. Some of the food stalls sold: dim sum, Indian curry, mini sushi, mini macaroons, fresh coconut yogurt, durian sticky rice, coconut jelly, grass jelly drink, golden raisins, dried pineapple, sesame cashews and mung bean pastries.
The next morning, after delicious dim sum, Nick and I took a bus (as the train was out of service) to the Malaysian border. Every land border is unique, some are easy, hectic, strict, hostile, poor, but this one was just strange. We were stamped out of Thailand and wandered for a mile in no mans land, unsure if we somehow already entered Malaysia. We weaved in and out of idling deisel trucks until we finally found our way and were stamped into the Malaysia.
After some negotiating we jumped into a mini van headed to Penang. Like most mini van drives we’ve experienced in Asia, this was nothing different. We were packed into the van, 2 to a seat, like sardines. The driver sped, was unnecessarily heavy on the breaks, and was pulled over twice by the police (nothing a bribe couldn’t settle). Nick and I came to the conclusion that all mini van drivers in Asia must be a little psychotic.
Did I ever mention, Ada, our mini van driver in Mongolia, who was a champion derby racer? He sped on windy dirt paths and passed so aggressively. An incident with Ada was probably our closest call to ever getting into an actual accident.
As we looked out the windows of the van, we noticed how developed Malaysia was and observed mosques that dotted the landscape. This was the first predominately Muslim country Nick and I have traveled to this year and thoroughly enjoyed the cultural difference. Similar to the Jesus lovers in the states, Allah billboards on the highway expressed their devotion. As we approached Penang, we were welcomed with a beautiful skyline reflected in blue water with a waiting cruise ship.
Penang, a melting pot of culture, quickly become one of my favorite cities. Red decorated Chinese temples with giant smoking incense sticks and paper lanterns were located directly across from white mosques sending call to the midday prayer. Little India had blasting Bollywood soundtracks, sold samosas and dosais on every street corner, and woman shopped for clothing, bangles and bindis. Just a few minutes away, Chinatown offered herbal medicine tea shops, dim sum and and dragon dances.
Nick best described Penang as the New Orleans of Southeast Asia. It’s an old city with European architecture, a mix of cultures, located on the water, with great food and a hip scene. The British Rai-era architecture dominated the buildings and homes that lined the quant city streets of a Georgetown (UNESCO World Heritage Site). They had colorful tiles, stained glass windows, large double doors and wood carved window ceils. The textures of the city were most captivating, exposed brick, chipping paint, and crumbling concrete. Modern street art on these vanishing walls combined the old with the new. Nick and I enjoyed the street art on Armenian Street, smoked hookah and passed hipster coffee shops. We spent time contemplating art at the Batik Painting Museum which was fascinating and thought provoking. After a mature museum we felt the need to digress and luckily found the 3D/truck art museum. We later determined this was primarily for children, like ourselves?
Favorite Local Eats:
Tho Yuen Restaurant – dim sum
New Woodlands Restaurant – Indian vegetarian, try the dosais
Kheng Pin – try the lorbak (spiced ground pork wrapped and fried in bean curd), fried tofu, fried taro and/ or chicken rice)
Hammediyah – try the murtabak (a crepe filled with ground beef and minced onions)
Hawker Stalls – explore the handful of open air food courts and try local dishes, including: cendol (shaved ice, pea flour worms, beans, brown sugar and coconut milk), char kway teow (rice noodles, egg, shrimp, Chinese sausage and dark soy sauce), laksa asam (fish noodle soup), and an oyster omelet.