Tanjung Bungah

Which means flower cape is home to the Copthorne Orchid Hotel where we are to lay our weary heads for a month. Let me be clear, it has seen better days, much better days indeed in the 1980’s it must have been quite a classy joint but now it is most certainly in the sunset of it’s career as an hotel. Quite how the maintenance staff keep the whole thing going is one of those marvels of the world. Nothing has been done to the place since it opened in 1979.

Still it is amazingly cheap for a long stay. The deal is room and breakfast for £32 ( $50 ) a night plus 20%off food and 10% off drinks and laundry. The room is huge

Room 503 Copthorne Tanjung Bungha

plenty of seating area and two double beds. The bathroom is a wonder of old style plumbing and a team of plumbers somehow keep things kind of working though the odd flood does occur.

The balcony view from these long stay terrace rooms set well away from the rest of the hotel is superb

View Balcony Copthorne

Nice to wake up to every morning and with the large patio door slightly open at night you sleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the small beach alongside

Beach Copthorne

Swimming in Penang is not for the feint of heart. You have to be very brave or maybe very foolish. There are thousands of jelly fish waiting to sting you, loads of sea snakes waiting to bite you or plenty of catfish lying in the shallows which if you stand on one will push three or four barbs up through your foot. Still the old Copthorne has a big swimming pool

The Big Pool Copthorne

a few lengths of that and you know you’ve had a swim.

Opposite the hotel is an hawkers food market with loads of different food sellers. The great news is that the price of large bottle of beer ( 660cl) there is 13.5 ringits so we have come down from the hawker stalls in K. L. at 20 ringits to 15 ringits in George Town and now a more manageable price here . It is in fact about £2.15 a pint in UK money which is 70 pence more than we pay in Puglia. The food is cheaper than George Town too with a set  (10 pieces ) of satay at 7 ringits ( £1.30) and two huge bowls of noodles and chicken for 6 ringits.

I am sitting writing this on the balcony and the Lankawi ferry is just going pastLankawi Ferry from Balcony

At night as you enjoy a well deserved night cap the cruise ships sail out of George Town and light up the horizon as they file past and stop to drop the pilot just outside the window it seems.

I am drinking a cup of tea with leaves from Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands . In the old days the British Tea plantation owners would come to Penang for R&R away from their secluded lives up on the plantation. P&O my old company sailed ships in to Penang from Britain and often the tea planters would go out to the ships  and visit them. One tea planter was well known by the officers and a heavy drinker to boot. He would often keep drinking and the officer of the watch would drop him with the pilot onto the pilot boat.

One year he was due his 1 years leave back in Blighty so joined the ship put his bags in his cabin  and started drinking heavily in various officer’s cabins and on deck. The officer of the watch unaware he was a passenger ensured he was dropped with the pilot as always and the poor guy awoke the next morning in the pilot’s office while his ship and bags were on their way to Blighty.

Advertisements

Pukka Penang

George Town is all about colonial history and so I trotted around a few of the sights for you this morning. Let me say it was hot. The whole of Malaysia is in the grips of an heatwave caused they say by a lack of winds to form cloud. Temperatures are 5-8C above normal.

The Portuguese were first here but only used the place to pick up water on their way to Indonesia. Then a few British privateers ( pirates) who used it as a base to plunder ships and finally The East India Company. Captain Charles Light hoisted the Union Jack on August 11th 1786 and built fort Cornwallis in the following years and that is still here

Fort Cornwallis

I am standing in the moat to take the photo .

To build the town Light needed to clear the area of jungle. He used the cannon you see in the photo to fire silver coins into the jungle. To find them the sepoys had to clear the area and so the job was achieved with little fuss. Light died of malaria  and is burried in the protestant cemetery along side hundreds of other Brits who came out here and died of the various tropical deceases. Whole families perished over a few years. These were hardship postings without a doubt.

In 1805 Penang was elevated to the status of Residency and Stamford Raffles arrived. Regulars will know we stayed at his hotel just recently !!

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 Penang took off and being a duty free port it became a real crossroads for trade. With wealth came more traders and the place was a real hooch pot of nationalities. The street names today reflect that. Burma Road, Siam Road, Katz Street, Armenian Road  etc. The British running the place did well and as always built some impressive places from which to govern the place.

The town hall of course

Town Hall Geaorge Town Penang

The city hall , though quite why they needed both I have no idea but hey when the money is slushing around why not spend it. What is that line from Hello Dolly ”  Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” City Hall George Town Penang

It is great to see that some of the other buildings are now being renovated rather than knocked down. This is a massive project

Renovation George Town Penang

would that the British government would be as caring when building stuff here. This is their contribution to the classic architecture of George Town

British Council Penang

Oh dear a glass and steel box. Well done H.M. Gov.

In 1897 to commemorate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign millionaire businessman Cheah Chen Eok started to build a clock tower . Unfortunately by the time he had finished it in 1903 the dear old girl had popped her clogs and gone to that great palace in the sky. It is still  here and I got a shot of it

Clock Tower George Town Penang

Mind you it isn’t just the more recent British governments that can muck things up. For reasons best known to themselves the local council a few years ago decided to match the clock tower with what looks like an Easter egg on the roundabout

Clock Tower and Egg

Hmm,. The other shame has been that since 1975 when I first came here most of the old colonial houses have disappeared under the builders sledge hammers . Few are left and most are now offices

Old Colonial House George Town

40 years ago there were street after street of these lovely buildings but they had huge gardens as well and so were a natural for the hammer. The game was to buy one and then open it to the elements and let it almost fall down. Then have it designated as a danger and Bobs your uncle you could build your 45 story apartment block instead.  Clever these Chinese and the bribes were too good for the council I guess as well.

Anyway our history lesson is almost over. On Aug. 31st 1957 the party was over. Malaya became Malaysia and the Brits upped sticks and came home to a pleasant little Edwardian number in Cheltenham or Tunbridge Wells where they could then plague the Times or Telegraph letter columns with missives on why they were disgruntled until they too died out.

We move from The Traders Hotel, George Town to the very much less salubrious surroundings of the Copthorne in Tanjung Bungah some 12 kms outside. So tonight is our last free flow of booze. from tomorrow we start paying for it. so i must get my skates on. we have battles to fight as the Club floor has lost it’s 12 British school teachers here for a conference on how Malaysia could show the Brits how to run schools and they have been replaced by 15 German engineers here to build a power plant. Something wrong here I think. Wouldn’t it have been nicer to have 15 British engineers. But that’s another story I’ve got to get to the wine bottle .

Tourism revisited

Despite the wonders of the internet it is still quite nice to have a newspaper delivered to one’s room in an hotel. Today I opened my New Straits Times ( new because like The Times of London it has gone tabloid size). The front page was full of details of the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s speech on tourism and the changes taking place that his country would focus on. It was full of marketing gobbledygook with weird phrases like the creation of a new global elite and money rich time poor super rich etc.

His speech almost echoed speeches reported in Thailand when we were there and Vietnam as well as similar ones heard from almost every tourist board around the world.

Anyway the gist of it is apparently that they want to attract the new high spending tourists from China, Russia, the Middle East and India. Well which country doesn’t ? The trouble is they often are mega rich because they work incredibly hard and rarely take holidays. They also tend to cluster where the others are in well established destinations . There also aren’t that many of them compared to mass tourism .

Since 1998 European and Australian tourism here in Penang has been falling every year as tourists head off to other places . Tourism here is now mainly from Indonesia , a little from China and Japan and the rest is weekenders from K.L. The most popular month for tourists is August . Penang has watched islands like Phuket and Ko Samui in Thailand and Phu Quoc in Vietnam take their bread and butter.

George Town on Penang is a UNESCO world heritage site and when here 3 years ago UNESCO in, to me, a surprising move as I always felt they didn’t make waves, threatened the State government with the removal of the UNESCO name as more and more of the town was being developed and ruined. Walking around today in George Town there was some proof that things had changed and the rows of empty buildings that greeted us then seem to have new tenants rather than being knocked down and another sky scraper put up in it’s place.Old World George Town

When here in the 1980s and 1990s Love lane was a thriving street full of shops with lots of tailors and dress makers. They all disappeared but now it has been re-invented as a back packer area with bars, hostels, cafes and small restaurants. It is again a vibrant place just different than before

Love Lane George Town

Another great trend is the development of rows of these terrace shops as upmarket boutique hotels.

The Seven Terraces Hotel is great example of this

Seven Terraces Hotel George Town 

The hotel has been developed by the same two guys that built several boutique places in the Old Fort at Galle in Sri Lanka. It isn’t cheap with rooms starting at £120 but nor is it for the mega rich either . There are a few of these now and hopefully loads more will follow as booking rooms in them is quite difficult, they fill so quickly.

If only this kind of development had started in 2000 rather than 2011 how different the tourism figures might have been and George town would have retained it’s original charm and still been the Pearl of the Orient .

Mind you things have gone  backwards in the last few years with the advent of the cruise liners docking here.

When I first came here in 1975 George Town resounded to the tinkle of bicycle bells . There were a few motor taxis but in the main you got around by tricycle taxi with a guy peddling away for all he was worth behind you .

Tricycle Taxi

It was exciting stuff as you were thrust out into the traffic first so he could see around the corner. They of course died out when taxis became the norm and a few decorated the driveways of hotels or the inside of the odd restaurant to remind people how it used to be. There was a feeling that this type of transport was somewhat demeaning for the pseddler and an hangover from colonial times so the State government was keen to see the back of them.

In Hanoi when the Communists came to power in 1955 they stopped the man pulled rickshaw as it was seen also there as Colonial suppression. Today one of the senior Ministers family own an huge amusement park just outside Hanoi and to get around it visitors  use one of the man pulled rickshaws. How quickly they forget when money is involved.

So too here in Penang, Colonial hangovers be damned, there’s dollars in them there peddles.

The cruise line guys here also saw the potential for resurrecting the tricycle taxi. Today three large cruise liners were docked in town and once again the streets rang with the sound of bells.

Tricycle George Town

They stretch back as far as you can see and about 40 had already gone past me. The trouble is for the lads peddling is that westerners ( and Malays who have a countrywide massive obesity problem ) have got much fatter than when these were the normal way to get around. This is probably more so for cruise passengers . So it was fun to see that in many of the tricycle taxis the couple could not fit comfortably in without one or the other sitting up off the seat. Indeed in some only one could fit and the partner followed behind in another.

God knows what the excursion office on the various cruise lines charge for this but hopefully these lads peddling away are well paid. Today the temperature was 35C (96F)and humidity was really high as well. Where two had managed to squeeze in several of the lads were pushing their tricycles rather than trying to peddle such was the weight inside.