23 October 2013 – The drive from Kuala Lumpur as expected was easy, again not a whole lot to write about. Even getting out of the city was a dream. There’s little interaction on the motorway with the locals other than the odd nod and appreciation waves to people driving odd vehicles – the man driving a not even nearly finished lorry, for example got a wave. After smashing our windshield the g-force on the motorway is pretty heavy or us, therefore he must be getting hit pretty hard too.
The final signal we were close to George Town was the bridge over to Penang island which is 10 miles long and the first time we’ve been included in toll payment – no privileged bike lane here. Penang is pretty much an extension of the mainland, only the heavily built mainland not the rainforest. As you come over the bridge there are loads of high rise hotels and apartment blocks everywhere. It’s not a ‘beach island’ destination. We headed for Georgetown, the state capital, to an area in the UNESCO protection zone called Love Lane. On route we passed a Ducati dealership, and they were all waving and happy to see us, Paul was no doubt looking enviously as his old Ducati was sold to do this trip.
We’re now use to the special treatment for motorcyclists here in Malaysia, but Penang state go an extra mile. An entire lane on the dual carriageway for two wheelers! A beautiful sight in the heavy congested traffic. After a wrong turn and some helpful locals directing us, we arrived on Love Lane mid-afternoon just as some stormy rain clouds were moving in. Keen to get settled before the imminent downpour I went for the first place we saw rather than looking around. The Old Penang Guesthouse is in 100 year old restored townhouse. It’s a pretty nice place, especially considering we were going to be in Penang over a week, it even had a window, a feature that is usually lacking in Malaysian rooms. But it was a bit pricey at £16 for us, especially as it was shared bathrooms, not being able to go the toilet when you need to is surprisingly irritating. The boss lady would not budge on a deal so we moved to a cheaper option round the corner after a couple of days.
Now we’re currently going a little mad in a room just bigger than the bed with no window but it’s a fair price. The effect of no natural sunlight is weird, especially on Paul.
The first evening we spotted a big bike under a cover outside a guesthouse. Doing this kind of trip you get used to looking for tell tale signs of other overland travellers, such as raincovers and panniers and get engrossed by looking at number plates on any large bike that you see. A peek underneath revealed what looked like an English number plate. I took a picture as there was website on there, Paul dismissed this as a stupid idea as it was probably just the place the bike plate was made. He was wrong and it turned out to direct us to a website of a lady called Cukie. Paul recognised her from a blog we use to look at home for inspiration – Big Tom’s Ride.
Anyway, we’re in Penang to arrange for the boat to be shipped to Indonesia using the very trusted Mr Lim at Cakra Shipping via an onion boat. We initially thought that the Onion part was to do with the shape of the boat, however no, it’s purely because it is used to transport onions. We paid Mr Lim an unscheduled visit in his very inconspicuous office which caught him a little off guard. He thought we were some guy called Bruce, after confirming we were not Bruce, we sat down. Email communication with Mr Lim has been very thorough and his written English is very comprehensible, but in real time it takes him a little time to think first which makes the conversation a little awkward. He was a little perplexed as to why we were there and said ‘Why here now? Not needed until Monday, make sure you made decision as you may change your mind’ we wouldn’t as it’s really the only option. We’ve heard of lots of other ports in Indonesia being troublesome with lots of bribes being paid to release the bike, so we definitely wanted to ship with Mr Lim. We just went with it, our schedule for the next 5 days isn’t exactly full so a visit to him on Monday was welcomed. Mr Lim advised us to get our Indonesia visas, so with an afternoon empty we planned to do just that. Hopefully second time lucky.
We headed back to the hotel to gather the necessary documents, As we were running around getting photocopies done, a guy was in reception waiting for us. He was a stand out character in short florescent green shorts, patterned vest and flat peak cap sitting angled onto the back of his head. Basically a n English version of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air look going on. I had spotted him earlier on walking into an Antiques shop. I’d thought it weird for a boy who dressed in this attire to be walking into a antiques shop so he stuck in my memory. Turns out we are not alone in our number plate examinations. Russell from Essex had seen the bike and was curious as he is planning to do a world trip on a Honda C90. As we were in a rush and couldn’t really chat as much as we’d like we agreed to meet him for dinner that evening.
Armed with photocopies of the newly booked return flights we arrived at the embassy for the afternoon opening. Of course, embassies don’t do anything in the afternoons so it was a bit of wasted journey as they would only allow us to take the form not submit it, despite all the staff standing around chatting. A little infuriating as we’d have to return the following morning just to submit then return a third day to collect. Time is not an issue, but the embassy is a £3 (that is both our dinners these days) taxi ride away each time.
When we got back from the embassy we spotted Cukie and Tom [Big Toms’s Ride] stood near a little cafe. At first we casually walked past unsure it was them, we conferred and went back. Paul cringingly asking ‘Are you Big Tom?’ like it’s his real name. Not embarrassing at all. Anyway, it was them and we spent the afternoon in the cafe chatting and agreed to meet them again after dinner. Suddenly our time is filled. Yayy.
Russell took us to a food court with every food you could imagine. He had us laughing the whole meal. It was his first time out of Europe and the first place he went was India then onto Bangladesh. He’s essentially doing all the research for his world motorbike trip now but as a backpacker. He told us of his numerous applications for the Bangladeshi visa and that on one form he’d put he was Atheist. It got refused on basis that if he didn’t believe in a god then he wasn’t human and if he’s not a human they can’t grant a visa, first attempt fail. His second attempt came to an abrupt end when he decided the clerk was ‘a bit of lad’ and when asked why he wanted to visit, his response was ‘I’ve heard there are a lot of nice ladies in your country’ he was refused the visa and asked to leave. Third attempt didn’t go anywhere as he got the same clerk he pissed off the second time. Fourth attempt was successful as he passed himself off as travelling with a huge group of Japanese tourists who happened to be there applying too. He had so many stories, all hilarious, shame he was leaving the next day but we’ll definitely be looking out for him when he starts his trip sometime next year.
Russell went off to pack his bag and we met up with Cuki and Tom. They showed us the cheapest drinking spot in Georgetown, basically a small backstreet warehouse. We got a bit drunk, Paul more so and we got back the early hours of the following morning. As they were heading off the following day also our social life evaporated in less than 24 hours and we’re back to just us two. A venture to the embassy was as far as we made it the next day, clearly not used to drinking so much anymore Paul spent the day hungover in bed.
Moving hotels proved to be a little more costly than we expected in the end due to my clumsiness. As we were moving the bike I put my bag down, it toppled over and my camera fell out into a water/sewer drain! Despite scooping it out quickly, it died instantly. Bugger. I love my camera. Lucky for me, mum has given me a loan for a new one as our insurance will not cover the full cost of my camera. Being in Penang we thought we may be have limited options, I definitely wanted the same one as it’s small but takes great video and photos. Definitely didn’t expect there to be a massive 7 storey mega shopping centre with more brands and shops than the shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur, but there was, weird place, it seems like it’s trying to morph into a mini Singapore. We got a deal we were happy with on the same but newer version of my camera.
Monday was a good day in Penang, our 60 day visas were granted; booking the flights we will never take was the answer. Though picking them up was slightly more of an issue, the Indonesian embassy requires appropriate clothing to enter which is clearly stated on entry, no shorts, flip flops or sleeveless tops and as it happens I had dropped off nearly all our clothes to the laundry man the day before and he was not open till later on in the day. I managed to find some leftover respectable clothing but Paul on the other hand was left with only the option of his thermals which are skin tight thin mesh like matching black top and pants. With no other option he had to wear them, no boxers or socks making it even worse. The skin tight suit on the supermodel skinny legs teamed up with dirty grey trainers is not a good look, the miserable faced princess would not pose for a photo.
We then went onto Mr Lim’s office (after Paul changed back into his shorts of course), confirmed the shipping, paid him and vowed to return on the Wednesday to load, all done before lunch.
George Town is nice but it’s extremely hot during the day, there is a distinct lack of pavements and lots of traffic making walking on the road a little tricky, therefore a walk around in the day is not so much fun. To say Paul gets infuriated quickly is an understatement. We went on few missions to find stuff for the bike and that’s basically how we filled our time other than what I’ve mentioned. There’s a little bit to see, especially the street art, but not a whole lot. 8 days was way too much for us in one place and we ended up spending quite a bit of time in the bliss of our air-con windowless room going a bit insane. We both really can’t wait to get moving again. In the spare time, Paul created a nice little addition to the website – a photo gallery. It’s basically just a collection of some of the good pictures from everywhere. Only a few on there at the moment but will add more when we have time; look for the ‘Gallery’ tab on the left sidebar.
I’m writing this on the last day in Penang. Today we went over to Butterworth on the mainland where the bike was loaded onto an onion boat bound for Belawan in Indonesia. There’s no ‘official’ ferries as such to Indonesia hence why we’re taking the onion boat but it’s also rumoured to be the best route/option to avoid hefty bribes at other ports in Indonesia. We’ll be reunited with the bike in 5 days time. We fly tomorrow [Thursday] but the bike doesn’t set sail until Sunday and we collect from Belawan on Monday. Today was the easiest export we have experienced thanks to Mr. Lim at Cakra Shipping, he basically did all the running around for us at customs which meant there was none of that clueless business, it was a dream. All done in under an hour, a record for us. We then just waited around for 2 hours whilst the boat unloaded, the boat crew tied some rope around the bike and used the crane to very swiftly load it on board. So swift I almost missed it with the camera.
Off to Indonesia tomorrow and we can’t wait!