My first and only previous trip to Penang is a blur for me. It was near the end of my very first overseas trip, after visiting Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and the rural city of Kulim. My future mother and brother-in-laws were staying with us in Georgetown in an unmemorable hotel. For such a famous food destination I was disappointed by what I ate, it paled in comparison with Kulim.
Now, seventeen years later, we were headed back to Penang. And again we’d be meeting the mother-in-law there.
A taxi drove us to Changi Airport’s Terminal 1. I was interested to see what the outcomes of the renovations were as we had passed through there a number of times over the years. The raindrop kinetic sculpture at departures was a mesmerising addition.
The AirAsia check in area only had a single functioning kiosk and it wouldn’t scan the QR code from my phone, so I ended up going to the desk, where they printed out the dreadful thermal paper boarding passes. Then another queue to drop the luggage off.
We ate a late breakfast at Ruyi and I sneaked some cranberry kuih lapis from the Bengawan Solo outlet. By the time we had finished there wasn’t long to go before departure, but B still had to fit in some shopping airside. Alex and I watched our red, white and black aircraft taxi towards the gate. This was his first trip on AirAsia, my third, and I was curious to see how they compared with the other low cost airlines.
Boarding was done by zones. I found the seats comfortable enough for our short flight and the legroom adequate. Alex soon fell asleep, while B leafed through the inflight magazine and read about Taiwan, including somebody’s first tasting of stinky tofu (not good!).
There were quite a few bumps as we passed through the clouds above and around Singapore, but once through them the flight was fairly smooth. Not much was visible through the big puffy tropical clouds, but I enjoyed it all the same.
I noticed that the flight attendants were no longer outfitted in tight miniskirts (not great emergency wear) and were now clothed in jeans and short sleeved shirts. It was a bit like the rural services in Australia.
While admiring the cloudscapes I was listening to Kitaro’s soundtrack to Heaven & Earth and was really enjoying it, getting back into the mood of the original holiday. When the seatbelt light appeared I thought it was due to the ominous looking clouds ahead, but no, we were already on descent!
The island of Singapore is surrounded by vast numbers of ships. Penang Island was surrounded by a small flotilla of tiny fishing boats. It did feel like we were landing on an island resort, despite the size.
Penang’s International Airport was shiny, but felt unfinished. We had to use the stairs rather than an airbridge and walk a long way through a separate path to domestic passengers. Customs and luggage was completed very quickly, but once out there was virtually nothing to see or do. The tourist office was deserted except for a sign saying “Out to lunch”. No taxis appear to pick up from the airport except for a rather expensive prepaid taxi/limo service. We though of catching a bus all the way out to Batu Ferringhi, but I didn’t like the look of that big dark storm cloud approaching us.
The clouds burst shortly after we began our long ride out to the resort. The driver took it slowly as he sloshed through deep puddles.
I found the ride quite scenic.There were green tunnels of trees coated with moss and epiphytes, the buildings were so much more rundown than in Singapore. We passed through a big Chinese cemetery where many gravestones were hidden under dry growth that was steadily being burned off.
To get to the coastal resorts we passed along a winding road over the hills. I reminded Alex to look out of the window to prevent car sickness.
Batu Ferringhi had a real tourist air about it, more than a little backpackerish. But our resort, the Parkroyal was nothing like a coastal guesthouse. As soon as we stepped inside the open-walled reception area we were overwhelmed. We were given welcome drinks and the customer experience manager who I had communicated with via email came over to introduce herself.
Our room, upgraded thanks to the membership of a loyalty program, overlooked the sea and the lagoon pool. We were soon down there splashing in the water and riding the water slides. One is a fast tunnel, the other open, slower paced and suitable for Alex.
We swam and swam and slid and swam. The water was so warm and the resort atmosphere made us wonder why we didn’t do this kind of thing more often.
Near the end of our swimming time an Indian snake charmer did some demonstrations on the grass near the pool. He started first with the semi-venomous mangrove snake. We watched it pop balloons, stroked its skin and were amazed when the handler placed its head in his mouth.
Then he brought out the king cobra. At four metres long it was huge and very aggressive. Watching it rear its head up so high and spit venom was terrifying enough that I found myself taking involuntary steps backwards.
Mother-in-law and friend had arrived in Penang the day before and were staying at the resort. We joined them for a dinner in an open-walled Chinese restaurant up the road a short way. Terribly disappointing food. They were raving about the satay, but it was fried and held nothing up to the previous night’s version at Singapore’s East Coast Lagoon. I’m totally over Cantonese cuisine and want the complex spice flavours of Malaysia rather than yet more salty sauce.
Along the road outside the resort there are many tiny stalls selling pirated goods and other knick-knacks. B and I wanted to look, but Alex was just too tired, so I took him up to the room and had the pleasure of introducing him to Mr Silly and a fly who has a swim in a toilet. Children’s books can be very fun.
More swims, more food, but hopefully no snakes tomorrow.