Our kind host in Batu Ferringhi on the north west coast of Penang in Malaysia took us on a motorbike tour of Penang. More accurately it was a 100cc scooter tour as the smaller bikes are rather more suited to the traffic on Penang. We got a great feeling for the overall geography of the place plus we visited a bunch of places we would have never seen otherwise.
Penang National Park
Penang National Park is just beautiful and is perfect for anyone wanting a bit of nature. At the entrance to the park is a museum with some basic exhibits about local wildlife. It also has wonderful bathrooms for anyone spending the day zooming all over the island.
You are able to walk along two jetties reaching out into the ocean. One is purely for tourists and goes nowhere in particular. The other rather less sturdy jetty is for the fishing boats that anchor at the pier.
Although it is not huge the Penang National Park has a lot to offer people. You are able to camp on park lands, there are hikes of up to 1.5 hours in length and there are beautiful beaches for swimming. If you are lucky there will not be any jellyfish to sting you. Bring vinegar just in case. Local boat taxis can take you to the beaches in the park for a negotiable but sometimes hefty price if you do not want to hike through the park to the more secluded beaches.
Pilau Pinang (Penang) is a very hilly island. The roads go up and down and are very windy. At some points Tanya, while holding the camera to take the video below, got a little motion sick. The scenery from the scooter is spectacular. At every turn there is something different to see whether it is a palm oil plantation, thick jungle, pineapple plants or the ocean sparkling in the sunshine.
The Penang Waterfall made for a great break from the heat. The water was very cool, there was lots of room to swim and even a “King Seat” for you to sit in and have water dump straight down on you. It was beautiful. Our host Michel regularly visits the waterfall. He even brings his own rubbish bag and picks up all the litter in the area. He also asks other people to kindly not throw their rubbish on the ground right in front of him. It seemed odd to litter so blatantly in such a beautiful place. I certainly could not do it but I suspect that is probably the result of many years of social conditioning received growing up in Australia. Sadly littering was a recurring sight with people openly throwing anything and everything on the ground as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
After the waterfall we rode around the island some more and ended up at Bukit Genting (Genting Hill). The ride up the hill was hilarious. Tanya had to swap motorbikes so that I (Andrew) had a fighting chance to get up the steep incline. Once up there the views were spectacular!
Much of the hilltop is covered with unusual sculptures and artworks. From life size plastic elephants to a 20 foot wide clock to some enormous tile mosaics. There were some really dramatic decorations that have obviously been a labor of love.
Bukit Genting has a restaurant and some accommodation available. The food was great and cheap. We started off our meal with Mieng Kham which is a Thai snack of roasted coconut, shrimps, chili, red onion, lime, peanuts, sometimes roast duck and a candied lemony sauce that is all wrapped up in a betel leaf and then popped into your mouth to eat.
As you can see from the video we past through a lot of places. Most of which I'm not really sure exactly where they were.
The fishing village, palm oil plantation and rice fields are all clustered around the southern half of the island. This is an area I suspect very few tourists see. It is not that accessible from Georgetown. Even if you have a bike it would be easy to miss much of it if you hugged the coast and simply did a lap of the island's perimeter.
I'm not sure why but rice fields in particular are always pleasing to look at. People who grew up around them probably have less romantic feelings about them. To us however they always seem quite idyllic. At least until you get close enough to see the bugs, snakes and other critters.
The iced coffee was a nice mid-afternoon pick me up. It really was great coffee. Good coffee is really difficult to find in Asia in our experience. Super strong, super sweet coffee is readily available but coffee that is actually pleasant tasting before it has had a cup of sugar mixed into it is rare. The location was “unique”. A disused food hall that, by the smell, is now mostly used as a public toilet. It all added to the character of the place.
The trip up a mountain to see the sunset was hilariously fun. The road was really steep, broken in parts and looked like it was more intended as a footpath than a road for scooters. People were racing down it on mountain bikes while we labored up it on our scooters drawing some very odd looks.
A beautiful sunset accompanied only by the buzz of the surrounding insects was a lovely finale to the daylight portion of the tour. Sadly the presence of a tinted visor on my helmet, forcing me to ride with my visor up after dark, meant that I would get to taste test many of the bugs Penang had to offer.
Mechanical difficulties reared their ugly head after we stopped to look at Georgetown and we suddenly found ourselves without a functional headlight. There's no RAC here to call so we had little choice but to head down into Georgetown to find a replacement. Michel provided us with a torch to both illuminate the winding street-light free mountain road and to warn oncoming cars of our presence. He had bought this torch after he himself encountered this same situation.
Although we needed to go to two repair shops to find a suitable replacement getting the light fixed was actually pretty quick, cheap and easy. Negotiating the traffic knowing that you are camouflaged in the darkness as a gap in the traffic for a car to dash through was a little frightening but we made it without incident. Five minutes at a mechanics and five Malaysian Ringgit and we were back on the road.
From there it was just another 40 minutes to get back to Batu Ferringhi. The road between Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi is a single lane each way. It is sandwiched between resorts and homes on one side and the ocean on the other. It seems to be almost perpetually bumper to bumper so being able to ride your scooter down the side of the often stationary traffic radically reduces the travel time. If we had been in a car its quite possible we would still be in traffic right now.
Our host Michel demonstrated that he knows Penang like the back of his hand. The tour route is the result of hundreds of hours spent exploring Penang as well as some research on Google Earth looking for routes that may not be marked on a street map or even obvious on the ground. Sections of the tour could be best described as “continue along the unnamed back lane then take the sixth unpaved track on the left for reasons that will eventually become clear.” It was great to have a guide who has that kind of knowledge of Penang. I would not be able to recall even a small part of the route.
All up, the motorcycle tour on a scooter in Penang took 11 hours with some lovely stops and over 100 kilometers in distance. 100kms does not seem much but when you take in account that the roads are very steep and windy and range from actual roads to unsealed footpaths, it can be very tiring. We had very sore bottoms by the end of the day.
The tour was fantastic. It was probably actually the highlight of our time in Penang. It was however an adventure and by that I mean that it was tiring, sometimes difficult and occasionally frightening. A great day out. Thanks Michel for a fabulous tour of Penang 🙂