Saturday, November 21, 2009

Since Marc spoke about Koh Tao in our previous blog, I will just write briefly about our journey from Bangkok to Koh Tao. We left Bangkok for Koh Tao in an overnight bus which was suppose to take us to the pier at Chumphon, and, from Chumphon, a ferry to Koh Tao. Of course our travels to Koh Tao didn’t go as planned. What are the odds in that, right?!

When the bus driver herded us out of the bus in the morning, we found ourselves in some desolate little town. We waited there for about an hour or so before some random guy in a pick up truck boarded us onto his vehicle. And off we went to the pier in Chumphon—so we thought. Wrong! It was just another drop off point where, to our dismay, we found ourselves in Surat Thani! This city is quite south of Chumphon. So we ended up island hopping from Surat Thani to Koh Samui – Koh Phangan – Koh Tao. And lets just say the ferry rides between the islands are not too pleasant. That said, Marc and I had a wonderful time. Koh Tao was great. Oh, I also got to watch the Pacquiao/Cotto boxing match from our restaurant.

Moving on…
Determined to make it to Indonesia in a few weeks, where we will be volunteering for Hands On Disaster Response (HODR), we decided to venture south to Penang, Malaysia. To get to Malaysia we traveled overland, which consisted of taking a ferry, bus and train ride, with many stops and waiting periods in between. I was quite anxious to board our train from Thailand to Malaysia, as I have never ridden an official train before. Plus, this was an overnight train where we would be given our own sleeper/bed. When I awoke the next morning I was greeted with pleasant scenery from the Thai and Malaysia countryside. Unfortunately, there was much poverty to be seen as well. Not unfortunate to have witnessed such dire poverty but unfortunate that such poverty exists.

Once we arrived in Butterworth, we boarded a ferry to the island of Penang. My initial thought of the island as we approached it from our ferry was how its skyline reminded me of Hong Kong’s. Now I’ve never been to Hong Kong but from pictures that I’ve seen, Penang’s skyline is reminiscent of it. We found a nice guesthouse within the city of Georgetown—a UNESCO World Heritage City—called Banana New Guest House. The employees there were extremely helpful and accommodating.

I was extremely amazed with the city’s multi-culturalism. There are many ethnicities that reside here: Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Malays, Achehnese, Burmese, etc, etc. Apparently, during the British rule here, they brought labor from Indian and China. This city is a melting pot to the fullest. And it’s not like these ethnic groups are segregated from one another either. For example, each one of these ethnic groups’ religious buildings—Mosques, Churches, Chinese and Indian Temples—can be found on the same block, as well as their restaurants and other business establishments. Speaking of which, the food. Ah yes, the food. The most delicious food on the planet can be found here as a result of the city’s diversity. And not only is the food here delicious, it’s cheap! Dirt cheap. One can seriously eat like a king here. Furthermore, it doesn’t appear that there is any racial/ethnic tensions either. They all seem to co-exist quite peacefully. The rest of the world needs to take notice of this wonderful city.
There is something else great this city produces: the people. The people here in Penang have been incredibly accommodative, kind and friendly. Sure you’ll come across a knucklehead every now and again, but, for the most part, everyone has been great. It has also been refreshing to escape from all the touts and scammers that we’ve encountered in Thailand.

Some of our highlights here on Penang: Penang Hill; viewing the historical and religious sites within the city of Georgetown; trekking Penang National Park (this included walking across a 40-50ft canopy); and, of course, eating the delicious food.


Next stop: Cameron Highlands.

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