July 31, 2012


I crossed over to Malaysia from Thailand by rail, my first international border crossing on my favourite mode of transportation. Long but comfortable, the almost 24 hour journey began in Bangkok and ended in Butterworth. Upon arrival I quickly purchased tickets for my onward journey to Kuala Lumpur departing that very night. Located near the fabled Strait of Malacca, the only redeeming quality of Butterworth is that it is easy to catch a boat to the island of Penang from there.

In the same vein as Singapore but on a much smaller scale, Penang features an enjoyable blend of Malaysian, English, Chinese, and Indian influences stemming from its colourful history. The British cleverly gained control of Penang from the Malays by offering to protect it from Siamese and Burmese attacks. Although Penang never reached the dizzying heights of a Singapore or Hong Kong, it was still a bustling port from before during the days of the British Raj when China was a strong trading partner.

The heat was excessive and I was carrying a heavy backpack packed with all the necessities for my journey through Southeast Asia. Even though I boast a world class physique, I quickly tired. There was no luggage storage area either at the train station or ferry terminal, so a friendly police officer told me to head to the Penang police station and leave it there. Unfortunately, the officers at the station were not as friendly. I had almost convinced a junior officer to help me, when his senior barged in and vetoed the move. "We cannot guarantee the safety of your bag" he told me. I grumbled "But this is a police station" and continued on my way in the midday heat, as beads of sweat formed on my temple and dribbled down my face.

Most of my limited time in Penang would be spent sitting and eating as the island is famous for its fare, such as laksa and nasi kandar. In between lunch, dinner, and several street snacks, I managed to visit some neighbourhoods with impressive colonial era architecture, a seaside promenade, Fort Cornwallis, and Chinatown. Built in the late 1700's by the British, Cornwallis is the largest remaining fort in Malaysia. The religious diversity was almost as refreshing to see as the food was to taste. I stopped by at a church, a mosque, a Buddhist temple, and a couple of Hindu temples during my brief stop in Penang. As the sun set behind me, I sailed back to Butterworth.