Good-bye Malaysia (July 9th - July 20th, 2012)

(Penang - Alor Setar, Malaysia - Pedangbesar, Thailand - Phattalung - Pak Meng - Krabi - Phang Nga - Khao Lak -  Khuraburi - Ranong - Chumpon)

Distance biked so far: (17,400 km)
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Penang is actually the City of Georgetown in the State of Penang but is commonly referred to by the State name. The City is known as the Pearl of the Orient and it lived up to its lofty name.

The State of Penang is divided with part being an island and the other part on the peninsular portion of Malaysia. The island is where I went for a few days to see this beautiful City. The City is made up of about 45% each of Chinese and Malay with the remaining 10% Indian. Each of the groups is well represented with a lively Chinatown and Small India close together and full of sidewalk cafes and lively night entertainment.

I found a place to stay after being told my initial hotel was booked, which is one of the first times that has happened to me as this is the low season. I ventured into a hostel, unloaded my bags and settled in for a 2-day stay. On my way down to start exploring I noticed a half dozen large rats wandering around the large common area of the hostel. I was glad they put me on the 2nd floor until I realized rats easily climb stairs. I didn't say anything, as it would have been more than obvious to anyone of there presence. Later that night I heard a number of cat's fighting and was relieved to find out they brought in the troops to deal with the plague. The next morning I saw one of the large cats sleeping in the hallway. It looked like it had been through a war with scratches all over it's face but since he was contentedly sleeping and no rats were in sight, I assumed he won.

Penang is a very beautiful City and one I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around in during my short stay. They have a number of Heritage Buildings left over from the British Colony period. Here is the City Hall building constructed in 1903.
Right beside the City Hall is the Town Hall built about 20 years earlier.
Here is the beautiful Supreme Court Building.
On my first night I ate at a recommended Indian restaurant and they didn't disappoint, as it was as good as any meal I had in India. Here is the meal served on a banana leaf. When you don't have cutlery, you simply use your right hand and roll the rice into a small ball, dip it into the sauce and eat. The Indians make it look easy but by the time I am done; things get messy on the table and worse on me.
Every single town I have been to in a Muslim country has a clock tower. Here is Penang's version, the Victorian clock tower built to commemorate the 60th jubilee of Queen Victoria.
Penang is a very artsy place with lots of colorful buildings and craft stores, particularly in Chinatown. One of the really cool things was the information provided on a number of street corners with the words and pictures made out of ironwork. Here is an example of ironwork art on a corner in Chinatown.
Here is a view leaving Penang on the ferry back to the Mainland.
The Deep South has had a number of recent incidents of terrorism. When I am biking peacefully along the roads I often wonder why people spend so much time with the sole purpose of killing or harming others. If they want to raise awareness of their particular lot in life surely there are better ways than to kill innocent people. It just goes against the overwhelming majorities, who just want to live in peace, raise their families and have a nice life.

When I came down Thailand last March I biked down the eastern side of the long peninsula, hugging the Gulf of Thailand. For the return trip I will be going up the western side that rubs against the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean.

Here are some waterfalls just off the road going towards Phattalung.
Every town in Thailand has a night market where the locals go to eat and socialize. Most people do not eat at home and a dinner out with family and friends is a typical way to spend an evening. You can't walk 100 meters in Bangkok at night without running into a sidewalk restaurant and it is no different in the small towns. The markets offer the town's specialty with many here serving up seafood. Most will just have food with another booth providing drinks such as smoothies, fruit juices and various milkshakes. It really is one of the best things in Thailand, the combination of food and the lively atmosphere each night at the markets. Here is an example of a night market in the town of Pak Meng.
On this night I had rice with cashews and vegetables with spring rolls. The mango shake was on the way. When I was finished I asked the girl if I could have another and she clarified that I wanted another mango shake and I said no, I would like another one of everything. She asked if someone was joining me and I said no. It was a long day, I was hungry and the food was fantastic.
After a few days crossing to the west I had my first glimpse of the Andaman Sea.
It is the rainy season and the Andaman Coast is the wettest part of Thailand. The high rainfall does provide some very green and lush jungles as I saw on one of my little side trips off the main road.
My good fortune with a lack of rain ended with 3 days of heavy rain as I headed towards Ranong. Each day I completely unpacked all my bags to dry everything out only to repeat the process the next day. It is not a lot of fun biking in the rain as you spend a lot of time looking down and just moving forward instead of enjoying the scenery so on the middle of the 3-day soak fest I took a day off at a nice retreat. It is low season for tourists so I was able to get my own bungalow for $20 instead of the normal $80 per night. The resort was on beautiful grounds and I spent a good part of the day just sitting under shelter and reading. Here is a picture of the grounds of the resort near Khuraburi including a beautiful swimming pool.
This is my very own bungalow.
Despite another day of heavy rain I had to continue moving forward. There is no better way to get going than with a big breakfast of lots of vegetables and fruit.
Thailand on the East is called the Isthmus of Kra. This is also the place that runs up against the country of Myanmar and you can see it here on the other side of the river. It didn't look too much different than Thailand from my seat.
I will be in Thailand for a while to cover the 2,000 km's to the north where my plan is to take a small boat into China. I have to apply for a Chinese visa and will do that in the Northern Thai City of Chiang Mai, about 1,500 km's north. I will bypass Bangkok to avoid the heavy traffic since I have been there a few times so look forward to new parts of Thailand not yet seen.
Here is the oldest Christian Church in Penang, St. George's. It is another reminder of the British influence in this Muslim country.
After 2 more days of biking I crossed the land border at Pedangbesar and into Thailand. The South of Thailand has a high population of Muslims and the Mosques are evident everywhere but you are still never too far from being reminded that this is a Buddhist country.
This part of Southern Thailand is characterized by the large limestone Karst formations. Here are some typical scenes as I entered the southwest City of Krabi.
The day was threatening but after a few early downpours I was treated to beautiful green jungles, mountains and the odd waterfall. Here is a waterfall near the City of Ranong.