(written by Dave)
Early start today, even in tourist mode. We caught a 6AM taxi and were on the first funicular train heading up Penang Hill. PH is about 3,000 feet above sea level and the train goes up a very steep incline. We were on top of the hill before 7AM, well in time for sunset. Too bad that there was so much fog that we never actually saw the sun come up… All the same, it was nice being on the hill early, quite cool and very few people. There are both a Hindu temple and a Mosque on top, along with some tea shops (not open). We hung out waiting for it to get light, taking lots of photos of the temple.
Eventually we decided it was time to head down. After much map reading, discussion and a brief consult with an Indian man who told us that there was nothing down our consensus direction, we headed down. I think the Indian man wanted to sell us something and with so few folks on the hill, he didn’t really want four potential sources of income to leave, however he could accomplish it. Mob rule won out and we overruled the Indian man’s advice. It was the right path.
The walk down was only 5.5k but it was much harder than we anticipated. It was a sealed jungle road but it was very steep. We saw several signs indicating 30% grade. There were very few slightly flatter sections to rest and our legs were all pretty tired by the time we reached the botanical gardens at the bottom. We saw several groups of monkeys, giving us an excuse to stop and rest, otherwise it was a bit of a slog.
The botanical garden was full of locals out getting some exercise. It was about 11AM by the time we got down there and quite warm. The garden was nice but also strange. Many of the plants, bromelaids, cactus, ferns and herbs were in locked cages, big cages that you could walk through had it not been for the locks. Not sure what was going on there. We spotted a new tree, the cannon ball tree, looked like it was right out of Dr Seuss. We also saw an impressive green snake and managed to get a photo (from a safe distance). Gretchen nearly gave a Chinese visitor a heart attack with her scream and snake dance – the rest of found it interesting.
We caught a taxi back to town and had an early lunch. Everyone was pretty knackered so we had a lazy rest of the day. I managed to get the bikes cleaned and ready for our island loop ride this weekend (part of an organised ride call Campaign For A Lane). We walked to The New World food court for dinner – it was another Lonely Planet favourite – food was ok, not great. We did however, order a couple cendols for desert.
A cendol (sometimes spelled Chendul) is a popular desert in SE Asia. The basic ingredients consist of coconut milk, a worm-like jelly made from rice flour with green food colouring ( derived from the pandan leaf), shaved ice and palm sugar. A popular addition that we’ve received every time is sweet red beans. It seems that different parts of SE Asia add or subtract one or more ingredient, with the green noodles being the one consistent theme. At any rate, all four of us liked the Penang cendol and Nancy and I are looking forward to sampling Thai, Laos, Cambodian and other cendols in the coming months.
As for the shorter term, tomorrow we are thinking some shopping (Steve and I are ecstatic as you might guess). It won’t be all hard work however as we are also thinking trying out a traditional southern India shave at a barber in Little India. Barbers of India are somewhat famous to it might be a fun way to spend an hour or so…