22.05.2010 - 25.05.2010 35 °C
Our final day in Borneo was spent on the beach in KK. Not only is KK the gateway to Kinabalu national park, but can brag to be one of the world’s only industrial city’s to have direct access to Abdual Rama (Marine) National Park which houses not one, but four paradise islands. Within 15 minutes, you can literally go from filthy industrial streets to crystal clear water and golden sand by water taxi. It was not difficult to work out how we were going to spend our final day in Borneo.
Despite a rather turbulent time, we were both very sad to leave Borneo and wish we could have stayed for longer. We grossly underestimated Sabah (Eastern Borneo), never-mind the rest of the island in terms of holidaying activities and it was clear you could spend at least a month taking it all in. For example, Sipadan which is located in south eastern Sabah is considered by diving enthusiasts to be one of the best scuba diving spots in the world. We never had time for this which was very unfortunate, but sometimes even for the avid traveller sacrifice is the only option when you are on a time budget. One of the things I liked most about Sabah was the minuscule amount of Western tourists that come to visit in comparison to the neighbouring mainland peninsula. In both KK and Sandakan for example, if you walked past a ‘Westerner’ in the street, you would almost automatically and expectedly exchange a glance or nod, acknowledging that you were not the only tourist in the city. I was not expecting to experience this for the remainder of our trip.
When we arrived in Penang International Airport, I immediately felt like we were back to normality. The airport was clean, standardised and normal, so all in all, very boring. We then jumped in a taxi, the driver spoke perfect English, charged us a set price and directly dropped us outside our hostel. Too easy! The City of George Town is located in North West Malaysia close to the Thai border. Originally named the Prince of Wales Island (Penang), the settlement soon grew into George Town and was named after King George III. For more than one hundred years, Penang was held under British Colonial Rule until 1957 when it gained independence and became part of the now Federation of Malaysia.
On first impressions, George Town was very different to KK. The city is strongly influenced by British, Chinese and Indian settlement and this is certainly apparent in its cuisine. Penang is known to have the best food in Malaysia. There is diversity, fusion and value for money. There are street stalls everywhere selling everything from Noodle soups, to Indian favourites to Cheeseburgers. It really did seem that eating for over £2 was going to be a challenge. KK never had this diversity as it was noodle soup, Malaya curry or nothing else. However, some places in KK offered the dreaded ‘Western Menu’ which is the most terrible attempt at ‘bolognaise spaghetti ‘, ‘hamburger, cheese and fry’ and ‘American breakfast’ which consists of turkey bacon, egg, bread, cucumber and celery... Mmm, yum yum yum!!! It was very clear Penang never had this problem but instead was the epicentre for Malaysia’s food federation.
Our only day in George Town was therefore spent walking around the city and eating – we done lots of eating. We recovered from our previous day’s travel by sleeping into midday and we decided to walk to Little India for lunch. One of my main observations about George Town was that the city really is split into cultural districts which are all a short walking distance to one another. As we left our hostel walking down the cramped busy streets, it felt like we had literally walked through China and crossed the border into India. This took 15 minutes and it was amazing to experience the buzz, the shops blaring out bollywood music and shopkeepers heckling you to visit their shop to buy silk and gold. I’ve never been to India, but it certainly wetted my appetite for future adventures ahead. We then decided to sit down at one small market stall on the street and they brought over the only choice – Indian curry. I have no idea what it was but my suspicions were that it was a Chicken Balti. The sauce was thick, rich, tomato based, hot and spicy. But what I did know that it was one of the most memorable meals I have ever had. It was unbelievably flavoursome and just awesome. After the meal, we bumped into some Australians we met on the bus from Mt Kinabalu to Sandakan (see blog 5) who said if you ask nicely and pay the stall-owner a fee, they will happily provide you with a cooking lesson and let you recite their one and only culinary masterpiece, which has most likely been within the family for generations. If had known this, I would have been right on it, taking the recipe home, starting my own stall on Buchanan St and charging 6 quid a serving. I reckon it would be a definite winner!!!
After we had lunch in India, we then set out to find an ATM in the financial district, which was the British part of our trip – or little London. All of the major banks are here such as HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Barclays as well as the Malaysian banks. Like London the banks are located in substantial Georgian period buildings. This area is clean, tidy and wealthy and then you only need to walk 5 minutes to be back in the hustle and bustle of Chinatown and the food markets. The food markets were just incredible and you could literally spend all day there eating yourself to death. For dinner we had beef curry noodle soup and a fruit shake for desert. Overall, I found the cultural consolidation of George Town quite amazing, refreshing, unexpected and I think it can only be best realised on a visit. Today has been a great day. Tomorrow we head for sun, sea, sand and diving in Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands. Pick up is 5AM and the bus journey takes 5 hours, so I best get to sleep. Visiting and eating in three countries in one day can be very tiring work.