Thursday, September 22, 2011

(Travelogue) Oriental Outings Day 13: From Highlands to Low Ones

March 13, 2011 
A view from Penang Bridge
Getting early in the morning was tough in the chilly hill station but no choice. We had to take the first bus to Penang.

It was so early that hotel’s front door was closed and the staff was sleeping! Luckily, the side door was not locked and was wide enough to let our luggage through.

On the other side, it was an opportunity to catch birdsongs. Priceless indeed! A chance for self discovery. A moment to find out what nature is and if there is a creator. 

Life looked shorter and worthless!

That was peace and tranquility versus crazyness and hypermarkets. That moment I discovered how Arif Lohar got it 100% right! 
Misha sleeping tight
No Breakast!
Outside, most of the shops were yet to open depriving us from the much needed hot tea sips. Around the bus station, some vendors were selling homemade food stuff, from where I bought a few doughnuts to make up for the regular breakfast.
Waiting for the sun

Listening to Birdsongs
Of Bus Seats
There were a few bus companies running Cameron Highland – Penang route, all via Ipoh, out of which we selected Unititi Express. It cost us MYR 34 per person (~ USD 11), a little more than what others were quoting, but still reasonable for the 4-5 hours route. It was 2x2 seating arrangement, less comfortable than the 2x1 we found in the upward journey.
Cameron Highlands to Penang: inside the bus
A Scenin Jorney
The ride was scenic, and this time we were able to see a lot more, due to the daylight, than we could during the journey up the hills. Low height clouds were playing hide-and-seek with lush green valleys and sunrays started peeking into the vale making their way through dense mountainous skyline.

Medan Gopeng
After about two hours we reached Ipoh where the bus stopped at busy Medan Gopeng for 20 minutes. The bus station was bigger and a lot cleaner than the Medan Kidd, which we used for the earlier Ipoh – Cameron Highland passage, and consisted of a decent waiting area, a multi-story commercial building, and kiosks selling bus tickets.

Salespersons did not hesitate to try selling us tickets in a slogan style chanting, while we were walking around; an authentic Malay style which we observed elsewhere also! 
Medan Gopeng Ipoh
A salesperson in Medan Gopeng Ipoh
Ticket kiosks in Medan Gopeng Ipoh
Palm Oil
The second part of the journey was quite different from the first one; most of the times the bus ran through unending palm plantation, a major source of exports revenue of the Malay land, and at the same time a key element of import expenditures of my beloved homeland.

Just to mention, we Pakistanis consume around a billion dollar worth of foreign vegetable oil per annum; not a surprise in a society where the already soaked curry is topped up with a few spoons of fat and where doing so is still considered a status symbol!
Palm trees
Crossing a bridge
Bus Stations in Penang; Too Many
Before entering into the proper island, which is connected with the mainland via 13.5 km long Penang Bridge, the bus took a sojourn at Butterworth bus station. The bus took yet another stop at Prangine Mall, after getting into the island, which is located in Georgetown, the city center. We also got off here rather than going all the way to Sungai Nibong, island’s main bus station. 
Penang bridge (see top right)
Penang Bridge
Penang Bridge continues
Another view of Penang Bridge
Enjoying the scenery
Butterworth bus station, Penang
Go by Ear
Since Penang was the Plan B, in lieu of Taman Negara, so I took the risk of not booking a hotel in advance and rather decided to test Penang’s popular image of a tourist friendly place, which we did not found that wrong later during our stay. All I knew was to make it to Lebuh Chulia, or the Chulia Street, the main artery of Georgetown, to find an affordable place to stay for a couple of nights. 

Red, Hot, and Humid
We then took one of those red Rapid buses, which was quite doable even with that entire luggage. However, finding an accommodation was daunting while strolling the stuff and managing a temperature shock. It was sunny, hot, and humid – around 35-40 C – as compared to the cloudy, cool, and dry morning when we left the hill station!
Rapid red bus in Penang
Red bus had enough space for luggage!
View from the front screen
There's no 'Google' in the Real Life!
The search continued till we got drained out of energy! There seemed to be an issue with every place we glanced into, and the strategy to ‘go by ear’ started proving fatal, until we found Red Inn Heritage, a mid range accommodation which was in the final stages of finishing and decoration. An AC room – with free breakfast, running hot drinks and internet – was quite a deal in MYR 50 per night (~USD 17), which would easily go for MYR 100-150 once the place would be completely ready for commercial sale! 

Red Inn Heritage

Lounge of Red Inn Heritage
happy happy!!
Love Lane
The basic hotel is a comparatively upscale version of the old Red Heritage which is a popular backpackers’ dugout. Both are located on the infamous Love Lane, off Lebuh Chulia!

As everything in Penang, especially around Georgetown, has a history associated with it, the Love Lane is also a reminiscent of old colonial Penang as the neighborhood was then used by wealthy businessmen to provide their second, or third for that matter, wives with a hideout! 
A view of Lebuh Chulia
Food hawker
Chicken Tikka and the Palestinian Fellow
It took us a couple of hours more to settle down before going out for our first meal in Penang, which was too late to qualify for lunch and too early for the dinner! While we were having Chicken Tikka at Restoran Kassim Mustafa, a mid-range Arab looking man sat besides our table and started chitchat with us after exchanging Muslim greetings. He thought we are Arabs!

He further introduced himself as a Palestinian who had to abandon his family, with three kids, and the homeland as he was targeted by Israeli forces.

He told us that he was out of money even for the bus ticket for Kelantan, an east coast Malaysian province, where he is enrolled in a University. Though he did not bluntly ask for any monetary help which – frankly speaking – we were not even in a position to respond to while traveling, however, the incident kept ticking me for coming days.
After the meal, we took an easy stroll around the town till the sunset before getting back to the hotel as we wanted to have enough sleep to fully utilize the next day, our only full day in Penang.

See you tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. love reading your travel journey..