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The Island of Penang, Malaysia

Author: BJC
Email: BJC49@telstra.com (More Trip Reviews by BJC)
Date of Trip: February 2001

We decided to go back to Penang after an absence of 6 years, so you can imagine what changes we found in the Island over that time, especially with the proliferation of “high rise” apartment buildings, dare I say it but the place is starting to look more like Singapore!

Penang is definitely an Island on the go, that struck me as an economy based on manufacturing and trade, with Tourism playing only a minor roll, despite promotion to the contrary, based on a couple of observations which I will detail below, one might even venture to say the “Singapore of the North”.

We were told by our driver, that the recently released 5 year plan for the Island includes a second bridge from the mainland, south of the existing bridge and about twice as long, coming in at the back of the Airport.

Also a Monorail is planned to run from the Airport to George Town, then out Penang Hill way and even on towards Batu Ferringhi Beach, I suspect it might terminate at about the Penang Swimming Club, just before that “torture track” around the hill and down into Batu Ferringhi.

There are also plans to expand and widen a number of roads, hopefully the “torture track” will be amongst these, and there are a number of new high rise blocks planned for construction to meet an expected increase in the Island's population, so it’s all go, go, go in Penang.

We stayed in the tourist area of Buta Ferringhi Beach, which still provides most of what any tourist would want to find in accommodation, however I would recommend that the hotels at the George Town end of the strip would be more pleasant.

So what did we do and where did we go, firstly Penang Hill via the funicular railway, was well worth the effort, and while there isn’t a lot to do at the top it was a pleasant experience.

Mind you the view was not the best, as the all pervasive smog that literally permanently hangs over most of Asia from China and Korea all the way to Bali, meant that we were barely able to see George Town, let alone the causeway bridge, which was such a shame, but is now a fact of life.

For those who had expressed concerns about traveling up on the Railway, let me assure you it is no different than if you where to drive up the hill in a car, it travels along at just over walking pace, and is less “frightening” than using the lift in your hotel.

I would recommend that on the way up sit in the last carriage facing backwards, and on the way down sit in the same place which is now the first seat looking forward, that way you get the best view.

Also go early to beat the rush and preferably not on the weekends as that is when the locals go, we left our hotel at 0830 and arrived at the lower station at about 0915 and caught the 0930 train, it runs every half hour in both directions.

Next is the magnificent Kek Lok Si Temple, or the Monastery on Crane Hill, you can walk there from the Penang Hill however if you are not accustomed to the heat and humidity I recommend you catch a cab about 5MR.

We had hired a car and Driver for 2 days, and on his recommendation we had him drop us off at the middle of the three major levels and we walked and took the chair lift up to the top and worked our way back down. We where to meet up with our driver again in the middle level car park, under one of the temples, and decide if we would continue to walk all the way to the bottom and meet him again there, but the heat and only 4 hours sleep on the first day got the better of us and we gave it a miss, which just means we have to come back and finish the tour.

Anyway about Kek Lok Si Temple, this is an amazing place, and well worth at least two or three hours of your time, especially with the construction of the huge pergola over the top of the Kuan Yin Statue, which is a project and a half, consisting of a number of giant pillars, there must be at least 16 or more, using pre-cast and sculptured concrete rings, about 2 and a half meters in diameter, and about 1 meter high, each weighing a ton, and I believe each column will have either 42 or 44 of these rings, and the carvings are just breathtaking such that when assembled they actually look like marble.

You can assist in defraying its construction costs by paying 35MR to have one of the Monks paint your name, in Chinese characters, on one of the thousands of roof tiles that will be used in the pergola, and thereby you would enjoy blessings for the rest of your life.

There are a number of Souvenir Shops strategically positioned within the Temple, such that you can not move from one section to another without you passing through one, where you can purchase just about everything, the profits going to charitable works and helps keeping the place ticking over.

The Penang Botanic Gardens was another early morning start for us, and as we drove up just after 9 am we were met about 2 blocks from the main gates by a procession of about 1,000 School Girls, who our driver told us had been in the Gardens to do their morning exercises, it was so wonderful that they, and many more of the “locals”, use this facility for healthy pursuits.

At just about every turn and under most of the big shady trees we found the locals, ranging in age from small children to elderly Grandmothers, doing some form of exercise, it must be uplifting to do it is such beautiful surroundings.

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