We fled Phuket in a blur of absurdly long bus and van rides to the boarder to Malaysia. Our destination was to one of the country’s 13 states, Penang, an island just off the northwest coast.
I’ll never forget the man who stamped our passports. My whole life I’ve been confronted by stern unbending men and women who demand quick short answers to monotonous questions about why the hell I’m enter their country.
We pulled up to the customs officer and handed over our passports. He immediately asked “where’s Jerry Benton with beard?” After we sorted out the beardless mum situation, and recommended he starts growing one, the jokes started flying.
“So American? You like Barack Obama? Yeah Obama. He used to smoke weed. We all call him Barack oGanja!” Somewhere amidst our confusing state of laughter – as I’ve never even comfortably cracked a smile crossing any boarder – the conversation moved towards Ben’s home state of Colorado as he scanned “Beardless Jerry’s” passport.
“Ah, Colorado. Ganja is legal in Colorado right?” More laughter ensued. Ben replied how “it is legal now in Colorado” and the officer should visit some time if he’s interested in that type of activity. “You’re welcome to stay with me. After all, you have all my contact and passport information”.
Once the out-of-line hysterics settled down, we got back in the car for the final leg of our trip.
The driver dropped us off in, what was to us, a totally random and unidentifiable part of Penang. We stuck out, but there were enough fellow tourists and backpackers to feel some sense of safety.
We got out of the van, looked around, picked a direction and started walking until we stumbled upon a hostel. The accommodations were simple, and just what we needed; a few beds and air conditioning, with some filthy communal showers to go with it.
Turns out we were dropped off in Georgetown, the historic area of the city which has become Malaysia’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bustling area fused impressive architecture with vibrant nightlife into an eclectic allure that offers something for everyone.
I found a fascinating photography micro-museum just two blocks from the hostel. Their collection displays the evolution of the camera in a very unique way. The original forms and ideas, all the way through modern digital models are arranged in chronological order spanning over 200 archives and artifacts.
A WWII era camera on display was once used to train pilots. Shaped like the machine gun it imitated, this camera was capable of shooting 10 frames per second while mounted on the wing. The photographs could then be viewed to review accuracy of the pilot’s “shots”.
Scooters are a must (in any place we go). We took them all through the city, exploring Little India, sushi restaurants, bowling alleys, Kek Lok Si Temple and the Penang Bridge, which spans 8.4 miles and connects mainland Malaysia with Penang.
Kek Lok Si is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. The pinnacles tower over the surrounding mountains of George Town. Perched at the peak sits a 99 foot bronze statue of a Buddhist deity. Views from the temple span the entire island.
As long as you and your friends can keep your hands off the animals and not defile immaculate religious sites, you will enjoy all Penang has to offer.