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Paul & Tracey's Travels
7th Feb 2011 - Penang, Malaysia & Singapore
Kok Lek Si Temple and a scary bus ride

Very hot (again)

Last full day in Penang and I started it (as I had originally intended for every day of our trip (!)) - by going to the gym. There is a fantastic view of the jungle clad mountains to be had as you pump away on the cross trainer. Interestingly, on the TV in the gym they showed the temperatures at all the major cities in the world for today (Monday 7/2/11), and the only place hotter than Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur 33C) was Mumbia in India (36C). By the time I had got back to the room, Tracey was up, and at about 9.30am we set off from the hotel to go to Kok Lek Si Temple. This is the biggest Chinese Temple in SE Asia and is in the centre of the island, so we decided to do a round trip going south, then head into the centre of the island to the temple, then across to the state capital George Town on the East coast, before heading back West to our base at Batu Ferringhi. 

Eating off the beaten track

Things started off well as we left the hotel and caught the Rapid Penang Bus 101 almost straight away for the 3km trip up to Telek Bahang in the North West corner of the island. We intended to catch the 501 bus south at 10.30, but on our arrival we were informed that the next one was not until 11.30. We therefore had an hour to kill in the sweltering heat. As we had not had any breakfast we decided to try and find somewhere to eat. Most places do not open until at least middday, so we were not spoiled for choice - we decided to stay near to the bus terminus (a layby with a small hut where the local bus manager resides). With trepidation we entered Khaled Nasi Kandar Restaurant, an open area with a part roof where the food was displayed out in the open, and cats, birds and flies outnumbered the customers. No english was spoken and all the food was itemised on the wall in Malay so we were reduced to pointing and making a best guess as to what we were asking for. Tracey ended up with cold fried egg (manhandled by our waiter from the main tray into the bowl) and green beans with some spice and other bits of vegetable. When I tried to identify one of the foods the waiter asked me if I wanted to grab a handful and taste it to see if I liked it - I did (a salty red vegetable) so I had that with a bowl of rice. You would thing drinks would be easy, but Tracey asked for tea, and ended up with something that looked like hot chocolate and had froth and was very sweet. All in all a semi success as the food was tasty and we beat our previous record for cheapest meal - 2 drinks and 2 meals for £1.40 !!
Back at the bus terminus, I was acosted by a very large local female on a bike with Security badges on who wanted to know where I was from - on finding that I was from the UK, she seemed to associate this with cold and skiing, which I suppose was partly correct ! She kept saying I was cool - I did not know whether she found me personally attractive, or that I come from a cold country. Luckily our bus arrived shortly after, and we were unable to continue the conversation much longer except to ascertain that she was part of the security team at the nearby Chinese Girls School. 

Scary bus ride

The 501 bus runs southward to the town of Batik Palau and in the process goes way up into the jungle covered mountains and back down into the valley. This was a genuinely scary bus ride ! It did not bode well when after a few corners one of the 20 odd seats suddenly flew into the central passageway. The rear door that I was sitting next to kept falling open, and ascending into the mountains the road become a non stop series of hairpin bends with sheer drops - the driver just flung the bus round the corners - the angles that the bus leaned at as we went round the corners had to be seen to be believed. Add to this the fact that the bus was rattling and the brakes were screeching - I did not think I was going to see another sunset. A bit later a woman got on with a small child and as she was paying the driver (who had already pulled away), we rounded a corner and the child (and seat) flew into the passageway, doing a suk-ahara with full twist !! Luckily the child seemed unscathed and the journey continued. 

Arrival at the temple

We finally arrived at Balik Palau unscathed and caught the 502 back up through the hills into the town of Air Itam where the temple is. This is a predominantly Chinese area and as we got off the bus in the midday sun, we joined a huge throng of Chinese trying to avoid getting run over by the incessant traffic as made our way through the teemimg streets towards the temple. The temple is on top of a hill and we knew we had to ascend some stone steps but it took us a while to realise that we had to enter a dark tunnel of stall traders who were lined up along the steps selling all manor of religious and other artefacts to the masses ascending the steps to the temple.

Kok Lek Si Temple 

Near the top you can pause to look at a small pagoda and a pond which contains hundreds of turtles basking in the sun. On reaching the top of the steps and entering the temple complex, after passing by the Vegetarian Restaurant (£1.50 for a buffet meal) you are faced with an array of rooms each linked by open spaces or a small set of steps. There are also more traders here but these sell figurines, incense etc simply to raise funds to maintain the temple. At some points you have a view of George Town 8km away, but generally your gazed is turned inward to the magnificent architecture and colours of the various parts of the temple. In one prayer room there are 3 life size gold statues which your gaze is initially drawn to, then you notice that around the walls of the room are literally thousands of small Buddha statues, each one identical and covering every square inch. The temple is massive and what with the extreme heat and the hundreds of (predominantly Chinese visitors) we did not see everything but we made a point of going to the highest point (via an Incline Lift) to see the absolutely huge statue of Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) which is 30 metres tall. The statue is so tall that it is very difficult to actually fit into a decent photo that shows it’s scale.

Illegal trading 

We caught the 502 down into George Town and changed on to the very packed 101 underneath the Komtar shopping complex. We got back to the hotel at about 5 and had a dip in the pool. Later we went out to grab some food at the restaurant that we used on the first night and which has turned out to be our favourite (Ferringhi Garden). Tracey then went off into the night market to buy a souvenir whilst I returned to the DVD shop. I say shop – basically it is part of the night market and is simply a 3 walled space where the guy sets up some tables to display his wares. I was just trying to make my final choice when there was some shouting (and increased activity on the walkie talkie that always seems to be warbling away) and the shop owner suddenly pulled down the metal shutter with me and a couple of other customers still inside. No one said anything and we all just carried on browsing, then there was some banging on the shutter and more shouting. I thought – this must be the DVD copying police ! The shop owner ignored this and eventually whoever it was went away. I decided it was prudent to try and make a withdrawl, so I made my purchase (including Skyline & The Boat that rocked if you are interested) and asked to be let out. I noticed he put the shutter down again after I left.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow we leave Penang and fly on to Singaapore



Next: Leaving on a jet plane (to Singapore)
Previous: More Malaysian Macaque Monkey Mayhem


Diary Photos

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

End of the world restaurant at Telek Bahang, Penang, Malaysia

Telek Bahang, Penang, Malaysia

Unusual road architecture at Batik Palau, Penang, Malaysia

Local bus at Batik Palau, Penang, Malaysia

Air Itam main street, Penang, Malaysia

Our first view of Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Entrance to Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Entrance to Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Turtles at Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Turtles at Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

View of George Town from Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Tracey outside the main prayer hall, Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Paul at Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Paul at Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Tracey at Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Giant statue of Kuan Yin at Kok Lek Si Temple, Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia

Tracey tucks in to her starter at Ferringhi Garden, Penang, Malaysia


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