While I was rock climbing I met a trio of guys from Malaysia. I mentioned that their homeland was my next stop. They asked me what time my flight left and I informed them I was crossing the border by land and then driving to Penang. The looks of astonishment I received at least gave me a non rock climbing reason to question my life choices to date.
Despite this slightly ominous portent things went swimmingly. We piled out at the Thai border and waited patiently while they graciously gave us permission to leave their country. Armed with the imprimatur of the Thai authorities we humped our gear about a hundred yards down the road to where the stern faced guardians of Malaysia’s territorial integrity awaited us. After the obligatory fingerprint scanning and passport banging we were duly granted access to Malaysia. I’m not sure what we would have done if they’d refused us, the Thais had already washed their hands of us so we would probably have spent the rest of our days in a tropical limbo.
The difference once we’d crossed the border was immediately apparent. The time on our phones jumped back an hour to reflect the fact that we were in a different country or at least a different time zone. There was also a portrait of the Sultan of Malaysia and (presumably) his wife welcoming us to their time zone. From the expression on their faces I got the impression that their majesties would have been quite happy if we’d stuck with Eastern Standard.
As we stumbled past the border post our tour leader greeted us with bad news. The minibus that was going to take us on the several hour trip to Penang was unavailable. Instead, sadly, we would have to tolerate a large, comfortable, air conditioned coach. Nobly we concealed our disappointment and charged towards the coach as if afraid it would vanish before our eyes.
The first thing you notice about the Malaysian countryside is that you can see the actual countryside. You can’t really in southern Thailand, there are too many trees in the way. It’s different in Malaysia, once we descended from the hills we could see for miles. Mostly what we could see were rice padis but we could certainly see a lot of them.
The island of Penang sits off the west coast of Malaysia and is connected to the mainland by a pair of bridges one built by the Koreans (South) and one by the Chinese (mainland). We took the Korean bridge and ploughed through the suddenly pouring rain to our destination, the worlds grottiest Travel Lodge located in George Town, capital city of Penang. We cleansed our rooms with fire and acid and unpacked among the smouldering ruins. Then we went out for food.