Monday, November 12, 2012

Three views of Penang

We got up reasonably early today (given we'd lain awake watching the execrable Stripes on TV last night until I don't know when) and got a taxi over to Penang Hill, where the funicular took us up to the top.

It's a long way up: so much so that when the train paused at the middle station, I thought we were done. It was only recently installed by a Swiss company, and feels safe, unlike the first incarnation, built using slave labour and shoddy British engineering, and which was broken as soon as it began and had to be replaced over the next three years. Never get colonised, that teaches us.

The view from the top of Penang Hill is beautiful; Georgetown and the Penang Bridge are like little toys, while in the distance the hills of the peninsula are light blue silhouettes floating out to the horizon. To be surrounded by so many hills after the pancake flatness of Singapore is quite a strange thing.

There's an owl museum at the top of the hill. "Museum" means "big pile of stuff that you might like to buy", one of those strange translations from English into Malaysian vernacular. There's a lot of owl related art, which reminded me somewhat of the Museum of Chicken Related Art in Seoul, of varying quality; probably not worth paying to get into, but you do get a free owl-related geegaw for your phone, so it's not all bad.

There are quite a few monkeys in the trees at the top of Penang Hill; we saw some running across overhead cables, then went to the aviary, which is dreadfully depressing. If you like seeing birds stuck in cages that are too small for them, it's great. Otherwise, one to skip. As penance for supporting this, we tried walking down the hill.
We saw lots of ants, which was exciting, but also got very lost, which wasn't, and got bitten by half the insect population, which was annoying. Exhausted and sweaty we reappeared at the top and hastened to David Brown's Restaurant. I was dismayed to find we couldn't order hash browns from David Brown's, so we had some ice cream, admired the view one more time and then took the train back down to the bottom of the hill. It's slightly more scary on the way down (dull for 500 metres then the never-fulfilled threat of a slightly terrifying final 200 metre hurtle). Then a taxi back to the hotel, where I went back to bed.

In the afternoon we had high tea at the E & O Hotel, which was ridiculous. Later, as we walked to Armenian Street, we were asked to fill in a survey about tourism, and whether we'd had any good laksa or nasi kendar, and it was embarassing to admit we'd been eating scones and cucumber sandwiches. For what it's worth, I prefer the E & O to high tea at the Dorchester; slightly less obsequious staff, not too much to gorge yourself on, but it felt fin de siecle in a 19th century kind of way. I'm not suggesting revolution, but it was the sort of meal you eat defiantly just before catching the last helicopter out of there.

We walked around Penang, more successfully than yesterday, taking time to peer at ancient temples, paintings and brand new street art, then got back to the hotel and took another taxi to Suffolk House for dinner.

Suffolk House is in the middle of nowhere. Our taxi driver was lost and confused; I thought as we drove into a darkened lot that we were arriving in the middle of a horror movie. We turned out to be in the right place; a fine restaurant where we were the only diners, which certainly lends an exclusive air to it all.

I had a mushroom cappuccino (better than it sounds, though disorienting) and then a small mushroom main that was intensely filling. The Gran Marnier creme brulee was a mistake though - it tasted like there was a whole bottle included in the recipe. I could have done with a drink as it took almost half an hour to summon a taxi, and that one got lost as well driving us back. It may have been the festival of light, but Penang is still rather dark.


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