After Leaving Port Klang around 8 last night, we woke up again to find ourselves in a new port, this time in the city of Georgetown/Penang, though still in Malaysia. It’s a bit of a shame we hadn’t made it to this place while living in Singapore, being a quick, cheap flight away and such a nice, quaint city on the water, so we were both really glad for the stopover from the cruise.
Now, a bit of backstory is needed for this. My employment pass in Singapore was cancelled just over month before we left, which was not too big of a deal, but in this case, your visa is automatically only 30 days instead of the normal 90 days on arrival most countries get. So, this means I had to leave the country and come back in on another visa so as not to be caned and retained at the border. An inconvenience to some, or a great excuse for an afternoon day trip to Johor Bahru, Malaysia for the cup half full people (JB is just across the Singapore border, and almost the equivalent of going to TJ from San Diego, but without the excessive tequila, Oakleys and donkey shows ). Anyway, about a week before we leave on the cruise, I head up to Malaysia on my visa run and lunch (you can really never go wrong with a Ramli Burger and Teh Tarik). Anyway, as I’m leaving the apartment to get the bus, I grab RM20 (Malaysian Ringitt, ~5 usd) from our “leftover foreign currency from travels box” for food, but Simone convinces me to take all the Ringitt we have (25 USD). She says she explicitly said “just in case”, but she didn’t. I totally heard her say, “because you are totally awesome…enjoy” and then something else, but I wasn’t paying that much attention. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So, long story short, I took all of the Malaysian money, though it really wasn’t much and went up to Malaysia for the afternoon. For those of you who have visited or especially lived there, you know Singapore tends to make people suckers for deals, promotions and cheap buys. Well on this particular day, there was a sale on in the mall outside MY immigration, and I ended up buying two pairs of boardshorts and a nice shirt, inadvertently spending, to the dollar, exactly all of the Ringitt I had, minus lunch, which is actually pretty impressive if you think about it (good math skills, thanks dad). Thus, this is how we ended up a week later in Malaysia with no local currency, which, in and of itself, is not usually a problem.
So, back to Penang…
Being the third day and already like 6 meals deep without going to the gym, and it’s a beautiful day, we decide to walk around and explore. We are armed with a tourist map, though there is no scale, and a vague sense of direction for where we want to go and what we want to see. We end up having a nice walk for an hour or two, just seeing the sights, what we find, and, as usual for me in South East Asia, sweating profusely. It’s Sunday, so must shops/places are closed, but there’s some interesting things going on here and there and its nice enough. However, without any local currency and not passing any ATM’s, we can’t get a taxi anywhere, or even a cold bottle of water. So, we keep walking, hoping to get to the touristy spots for an ATM or credit card something at least, and keep walking towards the hills, where there’s a trolley to some restaurants, temples and nice view (Penang Hill). Around this point, its fairly residential, and I end up asking some guys leaving a tennis club if we are close to where we want to be. There was an initial look of shock when we told them where we wanted to be (we were a few miles off) and then an even bigger shock when we said we walked from the cruise terminal. Whether the surprise was from the distance or like the Singaporeans and just surprised we had walked at all, the guy was speechless. Luckily enough, Malaysians are incredibly nice people and this guy (a tennis pro on to another lesson) was going at least part of the way in the right direction. So he drives us about a mile or two south before pointing us in the right direction up a road. Refreshed from a nice air conditioned reprieve, we head up the road towards the temple, also keeping an eye out for any ATM. Halfway (being on the main road we had kilometer markers) we finally found an ATM, but NO the card doesn’t work. So, we keep walking and luck into two more ATM’s half a mile away. Bad news is, the card doesn’t work again. So, after calling the bank on the phone, there’s no hold on the card, we try again. Nope, the card has given up.
Well, can’t win ‘em all, we keep walking, hoping to run into one of the 3 or so people we know from the cruise at the temple. Beautiful place, but waaayyy too many stairs and no luck running into anyone we can bum so cash from. We try a 7-11, but nope, they don’t take credit card either (welcome to Malaysia). Finally, after nearly resigning ourselves to a terrible afternoon of a long walk back to the ship, and being very thirsty, we manage to convince a gas station attendant to, first, sell us a few bottles of water and 100+, but second, and more importantly, over charge the credit card and spot us some cash for the tram up the hill and a bus/taxi back. The day was saved. Still more walking, but with the money, we were able to take the tram, enjoy the great views and take a bus back to the ship later on.
So, despite walking between 8-10 miles in the heat and humidity (see map below, though it doesn’t do it justice), Penang was a really beautiful place with a lot of culture, diversity and relaxed atmosphere. Just make sure you have some local currency or a working ATM card.
In other news, we made it back to our cabin to find a nice note from my ex-colleague and his wife, Owen and Edel, (who’s honeymoon trip back to the UK we kind of gate-crashed on) to catch up with for a drink. Turns out the ship is pretty big and we were unable to run into them randomly over the last few days. Definitely great to have another couple in the same age group as us.