The Lonely Planet recommended a couple of hostels in Chinatown, and so we gave the minibus driver an address of a hostel before we set out. Well, instead of dropping us there, he dropped us at a different hostel that he was told by his employer to drop us at (or so he says). This hostel was quite cheap, offered free wifi and looked quite clean, but out of principle we did not want to stay there. So we checked out about 5 other hostels, all of which were slightly more expensive but offered about the same thing (except for one very sketchy place that was filthy). Deciding to save a buck, we returned to the first hostel and booked a room for $8 CAD/night. The people we met on the minibus also decided to stay there, so we had friends in the building which was nice.
After settling in, we headed off to the night market for food. Penang is known primarily for its delicious food, as it has had a long multicultural history with large populations of Chinese, Thai, Indians and Malaysians calling it home. These cultures have all mixed together, and created some delicious food. The local special is assam lemak, which is a spicy and sour fish noodle soup, with the sour taste coming from the assam (in English: tamarind paste). Greg quite enjoyed it, but it was rather too sour for my taste.
Incredible Indian food in Little India. That mango lassi was *amazing*
The other thing Penang is known for is its beautiful colonial architecture. The British controlled Penang as a port for many years, and many of the old mansions and government buildings remain. All this mixed in with Buddhist and Indian temples made for a very interesting city!
Anglican Church in Georgetown
We also had a couple of days to leave the city and explore the island. Our first trek was to Kok Lek Si temple, which is the largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia. It was very impressive! Beautiful colours everywhere, and of course lots of street hawkers selling all sorts of random souvenirs. The top of the hill is crowned by a giant statue of Buddha.
View of the temple from the street
In front of a fountain in the temple with our new friend, Jen, who we met in the Perhentians
Being 'round' in the round gate
Candles in front of a statue of Buddha
Giant Buddha statue
Our final full day in Penang we went to Penang National Park, which according to my mom's googling is the smallest national park in the world. Our initial plan was to hike to monkey beach to see some monkeys and go for a swim. But when we arrived at the park office, we were told there were baby turtles at the turtle hatchery! I insisted that we go see the turtles, and we joined with a friendly American couple for the hike. It was only ~3.5km each way, but there was a lot of hill climbing, and with the heat, we were utterly exhausted by the end. The turtle hatchery was created to increase the population of sea turtles. It's on a beach that is a popular nesting site for the turtles, and once the mothers lay the eggs, the conservation folk go and dig up the nests and put the eggs in incubators in the hatchery. Once the eggs hatch, they put the turtles in a large bin of water, and release them back into the wild. This reduces the number of turtles that are eaten by predators either in the nest or on their trek from the nest to the ocean.
Meromictic Lake. Mark, I will give you a cold beer if you can tell me what a meromictic lake is without googling it!
Baby sea turtles waiting to be released into the wild
Reward after the hike: an amazing chocolate banana crepe-type thing. We stopped for cold lime juice at a tiny stall on the side of the road outside the park gates. Who knew they'd have such deliciousness??
All in all, Penang was a very interesting place to spend a few days. This was our last stop in Malaysia: next up, Thailand!