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Penang, “The Pearl of the Orient” – George Town, Malaysia

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

When the British Empire took informal possession the entire island of Pulau Pinang in 1786, A.D. It was the British East India Company's Captain Francis Light, who landed here and renamed Pulau Pinang the "Prince of Wales-Island".

Pulau Pinang was a little used territory of the Sultanate of Kedah prior to these events. Captain Light married the Sultan's Daughter and was awarded the island as a partial dowry. Light immediately ceded the island to the Government of India and gave his word to aid the Sultan in military ways, should the Sultan's quarrels with the Burmese or Siamese (Thai) escalate any further and threaten the Sultanate.

Light must have lapsed to inform his colonial powerhouse, the East India Company about this promise and faced anger by the Sultan, when his call for help during attack by Siam wasn't responded to by his son-in-law.

The Sultan unsuccessfully tried to recapture the island in 1790 A.D. by force, but failed and was given a sum of money as a honorarium from that year on. These 6.000 Spanish Dollars were a few years later upped to 10.000 Dollars, when a strip of Land on the Mainland was included in this deal (1800 A.D.). Those 700+ sqkm are known today as the Province of Wellesley and are a part of Penang State in Malaysia.

Todays visitor to Penang may come by plane, boat or car. The ferry service belongs to the most efficient of its kind in Asia, arriving passengers never have to wait long for their departure across the channel here. Even at around 6.A.M. in the morning, thousands of commuters are already in motion. Below picture shows the Komtar Tower with the morning sun from the eastern horizon behind us just shining at the lowest possible angle. Behind the City of Georgetown you can see Penang Hill, a massive jungle mountain with a top elevation of over 800 meters. Penang Hill will be subject to a separate feature by SIAMPEDIA, pointing out and documenting its uniqueness.

From mighty Windjammers to sleek Catamarans, sailboats are the wealthy Penangites favorite pasttime since centuries, look slightly to your right, when approaching the Penang Jetty – the piers and harbors there do sport a great array of private vessels.

Colonial pomp under palm trees is ever present in the older parts of the city. One easily feels like an actor in a scenario, made for glamorous movies.

Early morning sun with a rich blue sky is any photographers dream come true here. At least if he or she is into colonial architecture. Penang and it's sister city Melacca further south, won their UNESCO World Heritage designations for visible reasons.

You can stroll downtown Georgetown for many hours and still find massive evidence of the historic past.

Sometimes you can daydream about the old times on Penang island, backdrops seem to fit many scenarios. Depending on the chosen time of photography, your pictures will reveal some of the magic and beauty, plenty of these old buildings are still in use! It is a lively metropolitan and multicultural area here, where the old never appears to have been forgotten and the splendid new architecture blends right in.

Hotels are around in abundance, and again historical offerings are intermingled with ultra modern sky scrapers to lodge in. The famous E & O (Eastern & Oriental) Hotel by the Waterfront is operating since 1855 and has seen much in it's history. Famed authors Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling or Hermann Hesse stayed here before and many Presidents or crowned people have resided within the famed E & O's walls. Interesting "Heritage Trails" start right at the doorstep on Lebuh Farquhar. Trishaws are bicycle-taxis, powered by one person, slow and safe they are ideal for sightseeing in Penang, if pressed for time. We prefer to explore on foot, as Penang offers real pedestrian walkways and sidewalks that deserved this name!

Excellent bus routes across the island make transportation a breeze. Air conditioned, modern low-floor buses offer spacious seating and even on-board WiFi for those, that cannot live without the latest gadgets of the information age. An islandwide free WiFi has been established in 2009 and is accessible for tourists as well.

How well old and new can live together in harmony – Penang is surely a good example for this. Old bazaars and hawker-alleys fill the streets in between the main roads

Cheap guesthouses, tour operators, money changers and cafes are centered around Lebuh Chulia. Lebuh means simply street in Bhasa Malay, and Chulia Street reminds many seasoned travelers today of the Khao Sarn Road  in Bangkok in the 70's and 80's, before it became overly commercialized.

You can still get some backpacking-flair here and meet with folks from around the globe. Malaysia's great visa-policy gets big boosts in attractiveness with every reduction in length of allowed stay or visa amendment of their northerly neighbors in Thailand. Arrival at any border qualifies the traveler almost always to a 90 day stay and a free visa on arrival! Those are renewable without much hassle and Thailand has finally begun to see Malaysia as a competitor. With Langkawi as a great and unspoilt Andaman destination rising in the travelers focus, toss in their status as a duty-free island with out of this world shopping options in the tropics – and you see, why the whole area is booming! Penang always has been a stepping stone for the resort islands further north, a new and direct ferry daily to Langkawi adds nice options. Ferries are also available to Medan on Sumatra (Indonesia) and the low-cost airline Firefly chooses Penang International Airport as its hub .

The currency here is the Malaysian Ringgit, it exchanges to Thai money at a stable rate around 1 RM equaling 10 Thai Baht for years now.

Motorcycle rentals are from 20 Ringgit/day up, depending on the duration of rental and the rented equipment. Contacts are plentiful on Chulia Street, shop around for the best bargains. The second hand bookstores here, are often a good source for bus tickets or other travelers needs.

Whilst Chinatown occupies a large sector of the area between the jetty and Komtar tower, Little India close to the jetty has its own spirited soul. Great Tandoori eateries and other specialities of India await the visitor here.

Penang is the only Malaysian area with a non-muslim majority! Hinduism is very present, but so is Christianity. Food variety in Penang almost has no comparison in Southeast Asia. The true cosmopolitan mix of ethnic groups and religions is hard to beat.

Penang's bridge links also to the mainland, we often promised ourselves to return, when we leave Penang. That we have done over and over again across the seasons and we will be back again soon. There is much more to tell about Penang's features. SIAMPEDIA gladly will have follow-on reports for you telling interested folks what one can do here. Make sure to read our feature on Batu Ferringhi, the perfect beach for activities like Jet-Ski or Parasailing.

A report exclusively dedicated to Penang Hill will also follow soon.

Another SIAMPEDIA report is featuring the favourite beach destination of the Penangnites – Batu Ferringhi – Malaysia’s urban Resortbeach on Penang Island

Nakhon Nayok – Kayaking-Fun in the Nature

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind



Whilst only being a short 1 hour drive away from Bangkok (just over 100 km), Nakhon Nayok province is located east of our home turf in Pathum Thani and surprises the visitor with many options to spend a day outdoors. Plenty of waterfalls, nature trails and the possibility to rent mountain-bikes, bicycles or kayak-style boats are being offered. Prairie and rice fields meet the rain forest here.

Some of those waterfalls belong to the prettiest in the kingdom, and best of all – they are free of the foreigner rip-off charges, like so many other ones in Thailand. We will discuss and prove this in a later report, dealing with our favorite waterfalls. Today, we want to get wet and have fun inside a canoe on a stretch of water, which is called a white-water river here. To a former Tennessee resident, this creek hardly meets minimum challenges for a boat handler, but it’s the fun that counts and the contact with the water.

Anyone following the Road number 305 eastbound will discover the well signposted routes to the venues. One should keep an eye open for stacked up canoes. on the sides of the roads. Chances are, you can’t read the signage here – but the presence of heaps of colorful boats on-site, should ring your bell! These Kayaks are fairly safe to operate and the same brands Kayak fans are familiar with can be found.

Jam-packed stalls with rental gear are right on the roadside, just park your car and inquire inside. Business is booming with a young Thai crowd, but up to half of the rental fellows can also communicate in English with you.

You need to rent a kayak, a helmet, a floatation vest and a paddle. Total cost is depending on the traffic, these businesses have; the day of the week (expect surcharges on the weekends) and of course your very own negotiation skills ;)

I have paid as little as 350 Baht for the gear and a 3 hour trip, but some pay much more than that. Trips exceeding 3 hours are not recommended, as  the scenery really doesn’t change a lot and bloodsucking insects attack you like mad, if the sun gets too low. Excursion guides are booked for first-timers or ladies with limited physical strength. They offer double-seater kayaks for those traveling with a guide and single seaters for the more ambitioned or experienced paddlers. I found these waters very suitable, even for beginners!

Kayaks, gear and paddlers are then taken to the starting point in a pickup truck for a short ride.

Instructions are given on the rivers edge, here is also the starting point  for the ride in the wet and the excursion guides await those passengers, which booked one.

The creek or river is rich of fish, dragonflies in every color thinkable and cranes plus storks in season can be viewed.

The water has a moderate temperature, but it originates in the mountains of Khao Yai and is significantly cooler, than in the lowlands east of here. It is pretty clean, as there are no sizeable communities further upstream.

Within minutes, the ride and fun begins. Nakhon Nayok river has a true beginners level in terms of rapids, the smooth flowing waters seen to offer little or no hazards to the paddlers.

Only a few spots show a little white water, it’s a bit tricky to shoot pictures with a digital camera that has to stay completely dry. The whole trip is downstream, but at the “rapids”, these guys make sure to loop a few times and get at least some spray of water onto their passengers

I always preferred the single kayaks for their extra maneuverability and fun. Guides are good for rookies and twin seaters a great challenge in real white water for a good team, here you can test both options.

Once the kayaking team has passed the “rapids”, the current disappears gradually to the smoothly flowing stage. Here it is also deep enough to swim and have some fun. The rainy season will bring much more water and the situation here will change accordingly.

The mountains in the backdrop here do unfortunately not offer streams big enough for year-round kayaking. Trouts are so tame here, you think that you could catch one bare handed.

Trouts in Thai are called Pla Chon. The grill-stalls offering grilled trout or chicken roam the sidewalks as the day passes and provide a tasty meal. A trail head for the Khao Yai nature trail can easily be found near the Nang Rong waterfall. Hiking is a valid option in Nakhon Nayok and the Khao Yai National Park itself offers a variety of hiking trails.