Penang: An Empty Hostel, and Finding the Clan Jetties

A lot of your travels have been spent in a state of disorientation. Your sense of direction must have been mis-calibrated at birth as Google Maps (with GPS tracking enabled) still can’t prevent you getting lost.

This wasn’t an issue on Koh Tao; the island only really had one main road, and was itself just slightly larger than a large man’s thumbnail. Knowing exactly where you were on that 21 square kilometre chunk of tropical paradise was glorious.

November is monsoon on Koh Tao, and your dive centre was one of a number who closed due to the poor weather and diving conditions. Malaysia has the same monsoon, but funds prevented you from travelling much further afield.

Again, due to the aforementioned lack of funds, you arranged to do a few hours of housekeeping in exchange for a free bed at the female only Queen’s Hostel (which is honestly one of the best hostels you’ve ever stayed in). November is not peak season in Penang (monsoon!) so you had the entire two storey building all to yourself, and over the course of a week discovered just how much hair you shed- enough to carpet a small studio flat, in case anyone was wondering.

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Image courtesy of Queen’s Hostel, Penang

The hostel was an old building that would groan at night as the temperatures dropped. Doors opened of their own accord, the locks would click randomly, and the floors would creak as though someone were walking across them. Paranormal activity aside, this place had a rainfall shower and was the height of luxury compared to some of the other places you’ve slept: your Koh Tao neighbour’s mosquito-ridden porch, a weird hostel with sweaty plastic mattresses in Vientiane, and a bamboo shack full of spiders in a Karen village.

A typical day would see you having a breakfast of roti and daal at one of the street stalls at around 8am, and then you would clean for a few hours before having the rest of the day to explore.

In hindsight, it was perhaps a little unwise setting out at noon when the oppressive humidity and tropical heat was at its worst. Your first hours of exploration were lost in a haze of mild heatstroke, and it’s fortunate that you found a stall serving ais kacang (pronounced ‘ice kajang’) before it got too bad. The sweet shaved-ice dessert and the attentions of a dusty ceiling fan helped normalise your core temperature and endowed you with the renewed zeal of a survivor.

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Ais Kacang: Source

Ais Kacang is one of the oddest desserts you actually enjoyed. It’s a mountain of shaved ice topped with ice cream, cendol (bright green pandan-flavoured noodles made with rice flour), palm seeds, sweet corn, peanuts, grass jelly, condensed milk, rose syrup and sarsi syrup (which tastes like root beer). It’s an unusual combination and possibly only tasted as good as it did due to dehydration and exhaustion.

Buddhist, Shrine, Streets of Penang, Stuffed Dog, Offering, Religion, Malaysia
Stuffed dog at a street shrine, Penang, Malaysia

The Clan Jetties of Penang are a collection of floating villages that were founded in the 19th century by emigrating Chinese. You stumble across them partway through your aimless meandering and decide to have a look, half expecting to be chased away by locals shouting, “private property!”

Turns out it’s a popular tourist spot, and the people living there have grown accustomed to  nosy tourists peering into their houses and taking photos. Some of them capitalised on this and were selling bottled juices and durian ice cream from their porches. Each house was originally built to house harbour workers who could not afford houses on land, but the majority of them have now found work elsewhere.

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Looking down one of the quays
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Looking across the Straits to the mainland

You decide to start making your way back as the afternoon light fades, passing commuters on their way home. Somehow, you’ve managed to walk in a near-complete circle, and the hostel is less than a ten minute walk away.

Malaysia, Georgetown, Penang, Shop Fronts, Chinese, China, Rustic, Photography, Travel photograph, streets of penang
Shop fronts in Georgetown, Penang
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7 comments

    • Penang really is a fabulous place- amazing food, loads of street art, and a very very pretty historic old town.

      The dessert is okay if you eat each part separately. I can’t imagine how awful it is if you mix it all up.. Definitely one of those, ‘okay, tried it, don’t need to do it again’ things.

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