The Penang Layover

Thai temple in Georgetown

The Perhentian islands were beautiful…absolutely incredible.  But we needed a two month Thai visa so we headed over to Penang, Malaysia to visit the Thai embassy and sample some of Malaysia’s finest food….according to tips on Penang.

After an 8 hour minibus ride, we arrived in Penang with 2 more friends than we had started with and looked for a budget hotel.  A fellow San Franciscan (who of course knows people we know), Joe, was with us just for one night before flying up to Bangkok and then home, Charlotte was on the last 3 days of her 8 month travels before heading home to Stuttgard (Germany) and Vicki is still traveling with us.

Vicki, Charlotte, Joe, Amando at the Red Garden Food Market

The colonial city (and world heritage site) of Georgetown was where we decided to stay.  It boasted a couple of lively night markets featuring everything from grilled chicken wings, noodle soup, crispy duck and sashimi.  We manged to visit the botanical gardens for a very sweaty Sunday afternoon stroll and walked into random shops and malls for brief visits with air-conditioning. In Little India, we had the best tandoori chicken we have ever tasted and got driven around by a tuk tuk driver who was not only drunk, but eating and drinking while driving us (with no hands), crossing into oncoming traffic, and liked to run red lights.

Sunday stroll in the botanical gardens

Penang is nice and all, but as soon as Monday came we headed to the Thai embassy to obtain our visa.  And of course as soon as we arrived we realized that we had left the passport photos we had just gotten yesterday in the hotel room.  Those were of course replacements for the passport photos we accidentally sent home with my sister.  Ugh.  However, the universe has its funny ways of making things work out for us. Just as we were in the middle of self loathing, a brilliant entrepreneur opened his van door, unrolled a blue screen, camera, and printer, so we were all set.  And lucky us, we found out our visa would be ready that afternoon!

The very next morning we set off to Thailand at 5AM.  Four minibuses, 3 ferries, and 13 hours later we came upon the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand.  We’re relaxed, very, very relaxed.  And the only real time we feel beat up, exhausted, and frazzled is when we’re sitting on those old wooden roller coasters they call minibuses.  So we were very glad to get there after such a long day.

Its low season right now for the west coast islands so the place was deserted.  Which was great for us because we found a wonderful little clean hotel for cheap on the beach and a family run restaurant we ate at for practically every meal.  Unfortunately the sea was stormy so we didn’t go swimming. So we rented a motorbike instead and just explored the crazy dirt and mountain roads the island offered us.  After three days of strenuous relaxing, we decided to travel to Koh Phi Phi where we are currently enjoying limestone cliffs, bucket drinks, a bit of decent western food, and of course, white sand and turquoise water.

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** Traveler’s Tip: Broadway Budget Hotel in Penang has excellent service and is RM60 ($20). The food court in Penang (ask anyone) is fun, tasty, and has at least 20 restaurants to sample local food. Kapitan Restaurant has the best Tandoori and Tikka Masala Penang has to offer. The Thai consulate can take care of your visa the same day, get there by 830am to be at the front or close to, the line. Visas are for 2 months (RM110 each one and they only take RM and no credit cards!) and the cab ride from central Penang is RM15. Lanta Nice Beach hotel is great, we paid 550baht ($18) for an excellent room on the beach and is close to good little mom and pop restaurants that easily beat out the other stuff sold on Long Beach.


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