Saturday, January 27, 2018

Travelogue 2018, Episode 3, On familiar grounds (Penang & Satun)

Penang, Malaysia


We stayed 6 days on Penang, Malaysia. We’ve been here before and again we enjoyed the great facilities and the variety in cultures. We paid tribute to all three population groups.

We visited a large Chinese temple in the mountains, a mix between a building site and an amusement park.

We visited the floating mosque, a mosque built on stilts over the sea. It was a  peaceful and serene place.

Everyday we visited Little India for a touch of the real India. The sari shops,  Bollywood music blaring from the dvd shops,  grocery stores with all Indian ingredients and spices, ladies in sari and jeans walking hand in hand, restaurants where the food is better than anywhere in India.

An inherent part of Penang’s history is its colonial past. We visited a guided tour around the Protestants cemetery. There were 15 people listening to the funny and knowledge guide. Lots of little stories about Penang’s history and its inhabitants. One of them was the Scottish lawyer James Richardson Logan, who invented the name Indonesia, as he believed its people had the right to have a name that was not made up by or connected with its Dutch colonizers. It wouldn’t be until early 20th century that “Indonesia” was picked up by the independent movement. And so Indonesia stays with us this trip, just like India.

Penang was as cloudy as Sumatra, but much warmer, in the low 30s. Two and three years ago we saw nothing but blue skies here.

Satun, Thailand

This was the fifth time I went from Penang to Thailand. And again I found a new route and a new transport mode. This time it was the super fast ferry via Langkawi. Despite the long wait on Langkawi it was an easy and relaxed route.
As soon as we arrived in Satun, walking to the hotel, we looked for things we recognized, things that were new, things that had changed, things that were gone. Considering the dusty old town it was, surprisingly much had changed. Fortunately not in our hotel. That was as pleasant, quiet and comfortable as we knew it.

Qatari, Indonesians and Malaysians have almost always been very friendly and helpful to us. But the radiant heartiness of the Thai exceeds it all. The famous  Thai smile still is a joy to see.

We were often called at and greeted by passers by. Sometimes when they were on a bike. Like these three young people on one bike, shouting “hello”. We cheerfully waved back at them. The two girls on the backseat did the Thai greeting with hands folded in front of the chest while making a small bow. And they did so in perfect synch. On the back of the moving bike.

As far as understanding goes, it is the opposite. Very few signs are in English and English is hardly spoken. It takes a lot of sign language.

Our favorite lunch restaurant was gone. A search around the new, relocated market was in vain. We inquired with the neighbors of the shed where it used to be, with a picture of the woman, pointing at the former place, and looking puzzled. After some talk amongst themselves we were put on the back of a motorbike and driven to the new location!

Our friends in Satun, the owner of the hotel, the lady of the restaurant, the girl of our favorite coffee shop (who worked somewhere else now) all looked very pleased to see us and they all gave us food.

And so we enjoy having a coffee on our veranda, taking a walk in the countryside or the mangrove forest, cooling down by the pool, reading a book, eating a delicious Thai curry.

At last the skies turned blue and sunny and it got seriously hot. We were lucky to have a clear sky during the lunar eclipse. We saw the shadow of the earth slowly cover the moon that got more and more red, more and more round (in the 3d sense) and in the end looked like a semi-see-through egg with the rabbit inside.

PS Preview of the upcoming Satun info sheet *link*

Satun is a small provincial capital in the far southwest corner of Thailand. It has a definite end-of-the-road feel to it. A dusty little town where nothing ever happens. On the surface.

8km further south is the port and jetty of Tammalang. It has ferries to Langkawi and Koh Lipe, but for neither island this is the main gateway. So Satun sees very few tourists passing through. You may see some people living in Malaysia on a visa run or having their yacht maintained at the wharf. And there’s a hand full of western men living here with their Thai wife.

Satun is part of the Islamic south of Thailand, that used to be part of the Kedah Sultanate, until that was divided up between Thailand and then British Malaysia. Satun has none of the troubles the other (southeastern) Thai provinces have. It is largely Muslim but with a strong Thai influence. People speak more Thai and Malay than English.

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