We had a pleasant enough five hour drive from Belum to Georgetown. Our driver wasn’t aggressive, at least by local standards. It wasn’t until we approached the Penang Bridge to take us to the island that there was any significant traffic. I’d not expected an eight mile long bridge – and there’s a longer one still opening a few miles away. There was a false alarm when we were initially delivered to the wrong hotel, but we persevered – and lucked out.
Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (as is our nearby Kew Gardens). What makes it unique? Architecture – there are lots of well preserved shophouses. It’s more Chinese than other parts of Malaysia, but all the ethnicities seem to get along well: Malays, Chinese Malays and Indian Malays. Mind you, they have had a couple of centuries now. Still, they’ve made the best of it.
As for our hotel, the Campbell House, it wins my boutique hotel award. Brilliant. The owners interview you – and annotate a map of what you should see and where you should eat. We ate dim sum on their say so, not 100 yards from the hotel.
Kate’s friend, Elida, and family came to Georgetown to show us around and show us the ropes. We’d never have experience the town the same way. I’ve never eaten curry with my hands off a banana leaf, as just one example. They were staying in a shophouse nearby. Wow. It might only be 20 feet across. But it must be a couple of hundred feet deep, and on two floors. The place was beautiful and comfortable, cooled by a few ceiling fans and enormous openings to the sky. Perhaps we were all a bit too tempted, too often, by the cakes from China House. But we did squeeze in a few meals with them, including driving us to their family favourite, the Tree Monkey. And without them we’d certainly never have made it to the Pinang Perankan Mansion.
An hour in a taxi, an hour in a plane from Penang to KL, 13 hours back to London – and we returned on New Years day to tales of gales and lashings of rain.
This was my third and final post on our Malaysian holiday. I feel the urge to summarise:
- This was a good introduction to Asia. Most everyone speaking English helps.
- The people are very friendly, welcoming and helpful.
- It is still good value for Europeans.
- It’s a melting pot that works.
- I did overhear some concerns that the country may be becoming less secular and more Islamic.
- I did hear some resentment that the West wants to preserve the rainforests and its biodiversity whilst the Malays want to develop lucrative mono-cultures.
- Stuff works. Traffic is bad. Not all banks do foreign exchange. Pavements would drive Health and Safety nuts; I tripped the light fantastic a couple of times.
- Perhaps the most interesting comment came from one of our guides. He stated that colonisation was, no question, on balance, a bad thing. But he thought if you had to be colonised then the British were a good choice. Malaysia has a working government, a good education system and other functioning relics from the colonial period. He felt that the Dutch had left little of value behind in Indonesia. Similarly, the Americans had left little behind in the Philippines. Interesting.
- We had fun. The menu system Rickshaw Travel uses worked well. Kate organised us – and only bullied us about when she absolutely had to.