We ended up spending 5 nights in Penang without even realising it. We spent the first 3 with Claude and his daughter Lena in Batu Feringghi, about 14km out of Georgetown. It was wonderful to have a base to recover from our colds, finally do some laundry and rest our legs after the ride over from the East coast. Batu Feringghi is home to lots of European immigrants so we found everything we needed there, like more sunscreen. Each night Claude took us out to dinner somewhere new. On the first night he introduced us to his neighbours, Swiss cycle tourists who have been riding for the last 7 years, recently with their daughter. It was interesting to trade stories and get some idea about what we have ahead of us.
On our first full day in Penang we rode into town to drop our passports off at the Thai embassy to get our visas. It felt like we had motors in our bikes, riding without the bags, although cornering was strange without the front panniers. We didn’t turn up early like some people suggested, but didn’t have to queue. We did discover that it was a Malaysian public holiday the following day, so we would have to wait another day for our visas. We had heard there were a few good bike shops in Penang, so we vistied a few to try and find Bryony a shorter stem. We had tried some on the way up the coast, but they didn’t have much in stock and thought anything shorter than a 80mm stem was silly. We managed to find a shorter one in an upmarket bike shop, but it didn’t come cheap. Unfortunately anywhere with variety is targeted towards people with a lot of money (Bryony overheard one customer scoff when asked if he wanted carbon aero bars “of course, only the best”). While there we met Leigh, a touring cyclist from Holland who was changing his tyres. He’d ridden through south east asia and recently arrived from Thailand, so we spent the afternoon trading stories. James is writing about all the interesting people we meet on a separate page here, and he’ll update it regularly so you should check that out too.
On our fourth day we left Claude and shifted into a hostel on Love lane, right in the centre of Georgetown. We picked up our visas without drama and decided that instead of heading back to mainland Malaysia that we would take a ferry to Langkawi and then another one across to Satun in Thailand. We booked our tickets (apparently bikes are only ok on the 8.30am ferry, but I haven’t heard that before) and set about exploring Georgetown for two days. The best bit was probably losing ourselves in the streets and stumbling across street art, chinese, islamic and indian religous monuments, different food stalls and a kid doing wheelies on a pink fixie. We also went to a couple of tourist attractions – including Fort Cornwallis, which was interesting but had confusing signs, so we’re not sure if we got the whole story. Penang has dozens of (often gimmiky) museums for tourists. We went to the gold museum which was interesting. We had our own tour guide who was pretty interested in our trip (and James’ gold tooth). We saw a 50 kg slab of gold valued at about 7.5 million RM and a demonstration of smelting silver. We ate a variety of different foods. Leigh introduced us to a nice Indian restaurant where we ate a couple of times. We walked past a Chinese restaurant with queues out the door and down the street because of some good reviews on trip advisor and ate delicious fresh seafood noodle soup two doors down in a restaurant where the only customers seemed to be old guys with their stainless steel takeaway containers. We even found a craft beer pub, but couldn’t bring ourselves to spend a nights accomodation on one Australian craft beer.
Catching the ferry was no trouble with the bikes, and the 3 1/2 hour ferry ride to Langkawi was over by lunchtime, giving us plenty of time to bike the 20km to Cenang beach and find somewhere to stay. Turns out it’s quite a popular tourist beach destination, without the laid back, beach front vibe like we found at the Perhentians. In fact finding the beach was hard because so many resorts, shops and restaurants have taken over every available space. That said, the beach was nice for a walk, and we enjoyed a beer on the bean bags at a chilled out beach bar. The beer was cheaper (no tax) but the food was much more expensive than anywhere else we’d found in Malaysia.
On our full day there we biked about 20km in our jandals to the seven wells waterfall and walked up to the top. There wasn’t much water, but they were pretty. We didn’t plan on it, but while there we took a gondola up to the top of a peak and walked along a bridge spanning the valley. It was one of the more expensive tourist things we did in Malaysia, but the view was great and it was an impressive ride – the steepest gondola in the world.
The following day we caught the 4.30pm ferry to Thailand, giving us plenty of time to bike to Kuah, book our tickets and find some lunch. We perhaps overestimated the time and spent our last two hours in Malaysia playing cards on the floor of the ferry terminal. Again we had no troubles with the ferry – just wheeled our fully loaded bikes on and they tied them up. And with that we sailed away from the second country of our trip and towards Thailand.