Friday, 15 January 2010

Sojourn to Penang

When the port clearance was done I left with Jira for Penang (or Georgetown) with all passports to apply Thai visas for everyone. The ferry took 3 hrs to arrive. The trip was uneventful as the weather was fine. The ferry stopped by Pulau Payar to drop or pick up passengers and then we continued. Last time I had been to Penang was in 1998 with Superstar Sagittarius and boy had the place changed. The terminal was new and gone was all the shabby colonial buildings (well, most of them or they had been restored).

We checked in the Malaysia Hotel at Jalan Penang and after settling in went for search of some dinner. I found a local Thai restaurant and there we got our chili fix for the day. For rest of evening we walked around Jalan Penang to the shopping centres in Komtar and did not see anything worth mentioning except they had an excellent bookstore in there. Jira found herself a dress that she was very happy to buy. After awhile we took a rickshaw back to the hotel and retired for the night.

The Penang Clocktower

Next morning I took a taxi to the Thai embassy and of course I discovered that I'd left all my photocopies onboard so I had to go via the photocopier. Once arrived to the embassy I filled in my form and tried to submit all my passports and was informed they do not process Indian passports. I was perplexed and asked for more information why they could not issue visas for my crew that were all legitimate? I even had my Thai bankbook with me to show that I could provide for them all. After some time they produced me a circular from the Thai Foreign Ministry that stated that for so and so nationalities they cannot apply for visas in Malaysia unless they got permanent resident status in Malaysia. Well, that explained it all so I just applied for a visa for myself that I could come and pick up the same afternoon.

The reclining Buddha at the Wat Chaiya Mangalaram temple (built 1845)

So for the rest of the morning and early afternoon I spent sightseeing going first to a Coffeeshop and Batik shop that were next to each other. Not being a great fan of coffee since I stopped smoking I sampled the coffees that were on sale and must say that their coconut coffee was excellent so I bought a bag of it for Jira. They also sold different kind of chocolate candies and I settled for a sugarfree chocolate candy (only the fat was left, he-he). Next door I was given a short demonstration of how batik is done and yet again Jira found a wraparound pants to buy. I could not buy anything that was so colorful that every time I would wear it I would get a headache seeing myself in the mirror.

Entrance to Burmese temple

Next stop was the Thai and Burmese temple. They both semed very prosperous with so many decorations and gold leaf that they would put some of their counterparts in respective country to shame. We made our offerings and donations and admired the premises. Especially the Burmese temple had similar kind of wood carvings as the Shwedagon in Yangon. Just amazing woodwork.

Cannonball tree at Botanical Gardens

After this we headed for the Botanical Gardens that were somewhat a disapponting affair. Well kept lawns and walkways were there but the botanical aspect was a bit less if you compare to the Botanical Garden in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Entrance was lined with cannonball trees and some monkeys were around. Other than that there was not much to mention as most of the special plant houses were closed. The most interesting was the house were they sold plants, a nice selection of green plants, cactuses and orchids was on display. I liked most the orchid that smelled like chocolate. Around the garden and surrounding estates there were signs of trespassers will be shot...

Guan Yin at Kek Lok Si temple

Then as a last piece the resistance we headed for the Kek Lok Si Chinese temple. It was perched on a hill facing the sea and from the top you could see all of Gerogetown. The path started with steps up and up to different halls with Chinese God's and Goddesses displayed, in between there were souvenir stalls that sold religious paraphernalia like amulets, semi-precious stones protecting for all sort of stuff and music CD's for Chinese New Year, roof tiles with your name on it (for the temple) and so on. The highlight of the temple is to take the horizontal elevator up the platform where a huge bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara (or Kuan Yin) is erected. Kuan Yin is the Bodhisattva of compassion or "The Lord that looks down", she sure looks down at Kek Lok Si. Those who wants to know more about this deity can click this link . In addition there was yet another souvenir shop and a hall housing a Buddha with entrance lined with all the animals in the Chinese horoscope. After having enough of religion for the day we headed back down and headed for the Thai embassy to pick up my passport.

Kek Lok Si in the distance

Sri Tirupati temple in Mumbai, same deity as Kuan Yin, different name.

After having my passport well in hand it was time for a late lunch, the driver took us to the seaside and we lunched at the Ocean Green seafood restaurant. The place was empty as all the lunch people had left and the dinner guests were yet to arrive. Food was delicious and soon after we headed to the ferry terminal to buy tickets for next morning to go back to Langkawi.

Next morning was again an early rise and we had our breakfast at the hotel and from there we went to the ferry. This time it was a monohull as we had come with a catamaran. The weather was getting choppy and beside us was a French girl that was ululating as a stuck pig as she was feeling nauseous. At times she was breathing in a plastic bag and at times she was whining her seasickness. I must say she managed to keep her guts in control as she never heaved up. When an hour from arrival the boat suddenly stopped engines and after awhile they started going again, at slow speed, I suspect they lost one engine for some reason. Nevertheless, we arrived safely and were glad to be onboard.

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