The Big Adventure: Pigs ears in Penang

As the first leg of our trip came to an end we hopped on another death minibus and made our way across the border to Malaysia. First stop: Penang.

12 hours later, 2 immigration points, 3 minibus changes and a thunderstorm later we were dumped in the middle of Chulia Street i.e. backpackers home. Lost, sweaty and exhausted, we made our rounds of the locals in a quest for directions to our hostel: New Rope Walk Inn.

This is another of those moments where the less said the better. It was dirty, dank and dodgy. But it was a bed with a roof, so if you are desperate it will do for a night or two.

Penang is an island off the northern coast of mainland Malaysia. Connected by a 13.5km bridge (one of the largest in the world) it is one of busiest hubs in the country, known for it’s fantastic street food & shopping.

Talking of street food, I would like to point out that what you think you are eating, is often not. For example: Chicken breast was in actual fact Pigs ears. I am a fussy eater to say the least, so my first taste of Malaysian cuisine was not a favourable one.

Another thing that struck me was how much quickly the landscape changes once you cross the border. One side was a chaotic high street with KFC and street sellers; the other flat motorway, luscious greenery and rain. RAIN. We hadn’t seen proper rain since we arrived 4 weeks earlier. Oh the rain. Yes, I know it’s odd to be lamenting the rain but it just felt so homely and familiar!

This didn’t last long. It rained every day. Humid, sticky and unpredictable. We were soon fed up.

We stayed in Georgetown – the capital – an hours walk away was Guerny Drive: a strip of high-end hotels, shops and harbours. A far cry from the grimy streets of New Rope Walk.

Penang is busting with colonial history – a British colony until 1957 everywhere you looked were museums, colonial architecture and British-isms. The island clings to this history. For example, over the centre of town streets are named based on the activities that took place there. New Rope Walk was taken from the women who sat weaving ropes for the ships along the road. Love Lane, on the classier end of the spectrum, was named after the brothels.

Courtesy of worlddailyphotos.com
Courtesy of Penang-traveltips.com

And of course, back to food. Fellow nomads raved about Malaysian Cuisine. The internet told us that hawker stalls would sample some of the the best food we would ever find. After the first hawker ear-incident we discovered the holy grail of Malaysia: Roti.

Malaysia is wholly multicultural. A giant amalgamation of Indian, Chinese and British culture, districts are a common theme in the Malaysian cities. We found ourselves right at home in Little India. Roti – a soft, light bread to be dipped, twisted and relished at every moment. I miss Roti.

The Curries…before leaving I wasn’t big on spices. I could only handle a korma – and that was only a recent introduction to my taste buds. I have been known to go to the curry house and order egg and chips. But the Malaysian curries were filled to the seams with flavours and spices of every imaginable kind. Piled high with rice, chicken, naan, roti and sauces, with sides of poppadum’s, salad, omelettes and an icy coke – all for a grand £1.50.

We met some fantastic people while we were in Penang. There was an old man called Ben who started serenading us at lunchtime with a few Beatles tunes. We also had a pretty amazing burger. Greasy, sloppy, cheesy and moorish - from a stall decorated by Manchester United posters.

One of the highlights however, was the Penang Botanical Gardens. A 'short' bus ride away which in fact took around 2 hours we wandered around a beautiful green garden blooming with bright flowers and playful butterflies. We also took an afternoon to trek the National Park. Now while I say 'trek' you may laugh, as it was only around 3 hours there and back. But it was a hard one - clambering up hundreds and hundreds of steps, balancing on wooden planks and searching for baby hatching turtles on a deserted beach. Fantastic and agonising at the same time.

Penang has a lot to offer: from snake temples to hilltop sunsets, it really is a beautiful island. Had we found better accommodation I would have loved to stay longer - maybe one day I will return! We missed out on a fair bit because of time/money but when I think back we crammed a lot into those three days. 

Until next time… 

Chewing on a Haribo Egg

And the monkey says 'Hello'
Playing in the botanical gardens


  1. Wow this trip sounds amazing! Looking at doing back-packing next year, how long did you go for? X

    1. Ahh it was absolutely incredible - we went for 2 months all over Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia - now i'm planning my next trip! Definitely do it if you can, you won't regret it xx