January 13 – 15
The great thing about Asia is that not only no one expects you to make any ahead planning, but no plan will work out the way you thought, so there is no point in trying. Just go with the flow and see what happens. Things do work out in some way, eventually. With this spirit I buy the flight to Panang Island, Malaysia about half a day before departure without any idea of what my program in the country might be.
Except for Lankawi, which is a tax-free zone, where everyone goes to forget their religion and get drunk, Panang is probably the most open part of the country. The inhabitants are in equal parts Chinese, Indian and ethnic Malay, which makes the local cuisine a superb fusion of the three influences. In fact, the food is probably the only reason one should pay a visit to Panang. Because otherwise, it’s a dump. A UNESCO protected dump (one does wonder where all the money goes), but still. Allegedly, Georgetown (the largest city on the island) was the fourth coolest place on the planet to visit a couple of years ago. Oh my, I dare not checking which cities ranked higher. Blackpool? Caracas? Chernobyl? The town’s main attraction is supposed to be the old colonial architecture, but quite frankly, the whole heritage area looks like an ill-maintained street in Brighton, including hipster coffee shops, excluding some decrepit amusement park.
The fact that it’s Sunday and some Hindu festival probably doesn’t help, because everything except tourist crap bars is closed, so the place looks like a city of ghosts with bored foreigners roaming aimlessly the two central streets. The second thing Georgetown is famous for is the street art. But do not imagine anything overwhelming. There are a couple of good pieces, but mostly they are just paintings (of doubious execution) on the walls of allegedly listed buildings. Which, surely, spraying stuff on the walls of UNESCO protected buildings cannot be good, even if you call it art. Right, I am turning into a bitter middle-aged lady. The only thing I need to complete the picture is a grumpy cat.
Heritage area in Georgetown:
The best part of the town are the people. For a change, everyone speaks english, more or less. The Malaysians are the Italians of south-east Asia. Even though I restrain from wearing revealing clothes (this is still a muslim country), they shout their greetings, they comment, they make their appreciation well obvious, they honk when they pass me (or other women) in a car. I have been asked (or rather, my boobs have been asked, as the guys never bothered to look elsewhere) for my phone number several times. And in quite the same manner as the Italians, the older the locals are, the more insistent they get.
There are a few things one can do outside of town: botanic gardens, funicular to the highest peak of the island, some buddhist temples. I opt for a little hike in the national park – there is only one park, and only one hike, really. The path will take you through the jungle for about an hour to a beach which would be beautiful and a refreshing swim would be most welcome, if the water wasn’t full of jellyfish. There is a little turtle protection centre on the same beach, but I am not certain what they actually do (and I don’t think they are, either). There are a few turtles of various sizes in plastic containers, but no one tells you anything about them, about why are they there and what possibilities they have for the future. When you leave the National Park visitors area, you can agree with one of the boat companies to pick you up and to take you back with a short stop on the monkey beach. I did, and I would not do it again. First because the people operating the boats are idiots who navigate quite dangerously (and I am not easily scared). Second because the monkey beach, regardless being in the heart of a national park, is quite a sorrowful sight. There are a few bars apparently ran by western hippie kids, who sit around doing fuck all except for playing percussions and guitars (I do swear that if I hear “No Woman No Cry” one more time, i will start killing people), while the beach is full of garbage. Look at me, bitching like this about young kids. I really must be getting old. The monkeys are annoying thieves who will steal anything that’s not tied. If you don’t want them to snatch your drink, just throw a handful of sand at the first one that tries to approach, that should scare them off.
PS: By the way, I really did kiss Johnny Depp. And without being too modest, I have to say that my arse looks rather alright for someone my age.