We spent most of this day in transit, starting with breakfast and a wait at KL Sentral, followed by a 7 hour train ride to Butterworth. If you’re ever hungry at KL Sentral, ditch the fast food chains and go to this cafe right next to 7 11. They offer a bunch of self serve grab and go items, many of which are dessert like sweet things and some actual food things. They had a kebab of fried fish and corn balls and banana leaf wrapped coconut rice (with hotchacha chili paste, mini fishies, egg, and peanuts) that were delicious and so much more satisfying than burgers. They also offer noodle plates a la carte and coffee/tea.
According to someone we met at the hostel in KL who came from Penang, we should’ve taken the bus instead of a train for a shorter trip (5-6 hours vs 8, and a taxi ride is about 3). Either way its a long trip, and the train ride takes you past some gorgeous places, so I’m definitely glad we ended up taking the train. We saw water buffalo chillin by lakes, people harvesting durians, some epic mountains, and more.
I also had the awesome experience of peeing with a nice breeze on my butt due to the toilet opening directly onto the tracks. At least there were options for both squatting and sitting :). And toilet paper. It now made sense why there were signs saying not to go the bathroom at a station…
We finally arrived in Butterworth, which is the mainland portion of Penang. To get to Georgetown on Penang Island, you have to take a ferry. The terminal is connected to the train station, and is pretty easy to find. There is a counter that exchanges your money for old Malaysian shillings because the gates only take coins. It was fun sitting in the waiting area, watching the hordes of people and lines of cars exit the ferry. The lower deck is specially for motorbikes, while the upper level is for regular cars and people.
The ferry trip was about 15 minutes, and it was nice sitting next to the railing, enjoying the sea breeze and the jellyfish. The water is extremely clean, and you can see blobs of pink and white under the waves.
Across the water, the other ferry terminal exited into a tunnel with food stands full of dried fruit and sweets, then opened into the bus terminal. There is a free shuttle (bordering the road, not in the circle of busses) that takes passengers around Georgetown. It’s geared more towards tourists as it stops specifically at landmarks, so it’s a nice way to get around town for free. We hopped on the shuttle and headed over to our hostel. We somehow got lost along the way, but after dropping into a couple of 7-11s and having a stranger (who had data on his phone) help us out, we finally made it in. We kept it a simple night and dropped by the night market (it’s next to a gorgeous beach! apparently you have to be careful when swimming though, because of the jellyfish) for a quick bite to eat before heading back in to figure out more plans.
Some things I learned from today –
- Public transportation is unfortunately not too reliable in this area, so plan for extreme delays
- Know exactly where you are going. Don’t trust people when they say they’ll figure it out when you get there, because that’s just more work for you in the end
- Convenience stores are the best.
- Don’t feel the need to stick to plans, especially when backpacking. Things never work out exactly the way they’re supposed to.
- Know the limits of the people you travel with. It sucks when you realize they can’t keep up with you and you are unpleasantly surprised by how frustrated you’ll be. If you plan for it, at least you won’t be so disappointed.
- Look for the restaurants that are crowded with non foreigners. They are probably delicious and more authentic.