George Town, Penang in Malaysia was more than I expected in some ways, and in other ways a little disappointing. Despite my sad amount of research on the island before we arrived, I had a picture in my head that it would be Kuala Lumpur meets island town. We had visited KL last year for a quick trip and I had loved it. George Town had much to offer, and I loved much of it. So with that I am going to tell you the story of our road-trip to Penang. It’s a long story, so instead of overwhelming you with a blog post the size of ‘War and Peace’ I am splitting this into two (maybe three) parts.
We packed up our four-door Ford Ranger early in the morning and started out around 9 a.m. from our house in Chalong, Phuket heading to Hat Yai, Thailand as our midway stop for the night. The drive was beautiful and smooth, the roads were wide and seemed pretty safe. That being said, we have gotten used to scooters (and occasionally cars) driving the wrong way on the road and such, so if you are new to driving in Thailand make sure to practice a little before taking this trip.
We arrived in Hat Yai mid afternoon and checked into our hotel, The Centara Hotel for the night. We wanted a place that had everything we needed on premises because we weren’t going to be there long. The Centara Hotel boasted of a kids playroom, pool, spa, and a couple of restaurants, one of which had a free breakfast. We got the room for half price on Agoda.com which was a good thing. Even at half price, the hotel was sub par. The kids playroom was some old blocks (not even enough for one tower) and a dirty Winnie the pooh stuffed animal. The pool was nice, but did not have a shallow end, so it was not that kid friendly. That night we ate at the Japanese all-you-can-eat buffet, complete with salmon sashimi, sushi rolls, and all sorts of delicious dishes that made me happily over-stuff myself. The breakfast buffet left me feeling hungry, mostly because every tour group ever was in there at the same time as us and all the food could not be replaced quickly enough for all the people that were
not queueing up for it.
(Side Note: I’ve realized that it’s better not to stay at modestly priced “nice” places in Thailand, they are tour group traps. Stay in guesthouses, or go all out and get an expensive place. The mid-range places are a waste of money, especially when you can’t have much of your free breakfast. The nerve!)
We packed up our truck again, grabbed a Starbucks coffee drink for the long day ahead and started driving for the Malaysian border. The border is about an hour south of Hat Yai. It’s a straight shot on the AH2 highway. The most eventful thing during the drive was seeing a couple on their scooter with a pet monkey in their sidecar. Such a trip!
Quicker than I expected, we were at the Thailand Border. We had read up a bit on it and had asked friends about it and had gotten the details on what to do and when, so the crossing from Thailand to Malaysia went smoothly. It’s always a little stressful at passport control, and this was my first ever border crossing using my own car. I felt a little panicky (for no reason), but we were off and driving down suddenly much nicer highways in Malaysia in no time.
The Malaysian roads to Penang were beautifully maintained and wide. I don’t think I saw a pot-hole or piece of litter the whole 3 hours to Penang. It was lovely. Also all the cars were driving the correct way on the road, how nice… it made for a much more relaxing time.
There were not many places to stop and get gas (petrol) along the way, but there were a few ‘R & R’ area’s that had restrooms, Prayer rooms, food stalls, and gas stations. The problem with these is that they are set up for you to progress through them quickly. We made the mistake of going all the way to the end of one for gas first, only to realize that we couldn’t double back and use the restroom. That meant we had to hold our bladders for another 60 km before there was another easily accessible restroom. So if you are driving in Malaysia and wanting to stop at a ‘R & R’, park and use the restroom, then eat, then drive to the gas station and get your gas.
We arrived at the Penang bridge in the early afternoon and drove the 8 miles across it to the island of Penang. The first thing I noticed were the high-rise developments right on the beaches. They were massive. As we drove through the city of George Town, I was amazed at the craziness of the roads. The reason for it was that they are all one way roads, and if you make a wrong turn, you are out of luck for quite some time before a u-turn would show up. Our phones were not working anymore because we did not have Malaysian sim cards yet and so our GPS was not really helping that much.
It took us about an hour (maybe more), to finally make it to our house that we had rented off airbnb.com. It was a quaint place, but had some issues…
And with that I will leave you all in suspense for next weeks post. I just love cliffhangers, don’t you? Well, even if you don’t, please follow us to hear about the rest of travels in Penang and everywhere else we find our way to.
(If you are looking for how to cross the Thai border into Malaysia by car, check here.)
Have you ever seen a monkey in a scooter side-car? What was the strangest thing you have seen while driving?