Penang Pt 1
After nearly two months of waiting, we finally received the papers we needed to complete a visa run. The kids were writing tests so we got the go ahead to make our way down to Penang. The process would take around 2 to 3 days (apply first thing Wednesday morning, wait a day and then pick up the visa in the afternoon). Now you can also do visa runs to Laos and Cambodia, but both charge a visa fee to enter the country (Laos being $30 and Cambodia $20), and Malaysia doesn’t, so Malaysia seemed like the most logical option for us. We are also closer to Malaysia (five hours to the border), where as, Laos and Cambodia would take at least a day, maybe longer. There is also an option of getting a train from Thung Song to Butterworth (Malaysia), which would have been our chosen mode of transport, but the train was fully booked (I do prefer trains to buses. They take longer, but are more comfortable and you can walk around when those legs of yours start going numb). The mini buses in Thailand are designed to cram as many people in as possible. They have even made special chairs that slide into the aisle to make space for extra passengers. What we have learned over our time traveling on these buses is that you shouldn’t sit at the back. There is hardly any leg room and every bump you go over, catapults you into the ceiling. Now let me be honest for a moment, we are always the suckers in the back seat. When the buses get called, we are the last to know and just have no chance of getting that good seat in the middle, where your legs can move freely and you don’t have a headache from banging your head every four minutes.
So we jumped on a mini bus (yes at the back) just before noon on Tuesday morning, and arrived in Penang just before 8pm. We first needed to take a bus to Hat Yai (130baht = R40), and then from there, change, and get a different bus to Penang (350baht = R85). The trip was as any bus trip normally is, long and sometimes uncomfortable. I find it really difficult to sleep on buses. I think it’s nearly impossible for me, especially from all the bouncing around.
Our first night in Penang included, meeting Jim (the visa guy), at Jims place on Chulia St, searching for a room and getting bad pizza at the newly built reggae guest house. Jim is the guy you want to know when it comes to your visa. He is genuinely helpful and charges a small fee of 20 ringit (200baht) that includes: checking all your papers, filling out some new forms and organizing the taxi (2 trips). It’s not much to pay for peace of mind. After meeting Jim we began searching for a room that suited our budget.Western Oriental Cafe, ended up being our hostel of choice, well not really. Everything else was full, so we basically had no other options. We ended up paying 45 ringit (450baht), which was a little higher than we wanted to pay and during a crazy rain storm at two in the morning, the room began to leak like a waterfall. After Angela ran to get the manager, he came up to the room, looked at the floor (which was soaked), looked at the ceiling (which was an open tap), looked at the bed (which was dry) and then preceded to say “bed not wet, you can sleep”. We both looked at him with a stare of hell, and said “no way jose, we need a new room”, so he reluctantly gave us the room next door. Luckily, there were no more waterfalls that night.
The next day we were all to meet at Jims place at 9am. From there we would make our way to the visa office, with all our paperwork and 220 ringit (2200 baht) and apply for the Non Immigrant B visa we needed back in Thailand to obtain our work permits. After some brekkie, we walked around, taking in some of the awesome culture of Penang. All together in one city, you have Malaysians, Indians and Chinese, living hand in hand. From little India to China town to Penangs vibrant city streets , there are many interesting things to experience. After changing some money at a terrible rate (100 baht = 9.5 ringit) we made our way to Jims, had a cup of coffee and waited for the taxi to show up while chatting to some new faces. The visa process would take approximately ten minutes. We arrived, stood in a short line, handed our passport, papers and money over. “Come back tomorrow at two” he said, and we left. Arriving back at Jims we had discussed renting a scooter for the day. Jim didn’t rent scooters, but next door seemed to be a good option. We chose to rent a semi automatic for 20 ringit (200 baht), very similar to what we have in Thailand. “Sorry mam, we don’t have passports as we are applying for visas”, “Passports, you don’t need passports, all I need to see is your license please”, I look at Angela as mine is expired, she takes hers out of her wallet and hands it over. “So you can drive cars and motorcycles” Angela looks at me, “Yes” she says, even though her license is only for cars. The lady hands over the keys and we’re free to explore for the day.
The plan for the day was, get to the mall and check what movies were playing, change accommodation, go have some Indian food in little India and then hit the beach (Batu ferringhi is known to be the best beach in Penang).
Here are few more shots from exploring the city.
The day was a busy one. We had not stopped for a second. A trip to the visa office, new accommodation (Love lane Inn at 30 ringit a night = 300baht)) a quick peak at the upmarket mall (1st Avenue), Indian for lunch, three different beaches and some nerve racking riding through the dense Penang traffic (It’s definitely not something you want to be doing everyday). And still we had more to do. We had planned for a movie at 6pm (Sherlock Holmes: Game of shadows, I must say I quick enjoyed it), and a sushi session at a swanky restaurant (Sakae sushi) on the 4th floor of the 1st Avenue mall. Every table was kitted out with an Ipad, where you could scan the menu and order items by pushing a few buttons. There were also plates flying around on a conveyor belt, that you could pick off at your pleasure. The experience was a new and exciting one for me. The high tech gadgets got my attention and I couldn’t keep my fingers off them.
This is where I sign off for the moment. More from Penang in the next few days.