After many trips to Georgetown Penang, the first back in 1979 at the age of 18 is still the most memorable. A free trip, courtesy of the Royal Australian Airforce, had me standing in the cockpit of a C130 Hercules all the way. An overnight stay in Darwin with a short hop to Butterworth Airbase had us on the ground at around 5PM in the afternoon. After locking and chocking the C130, a quick shower and a change of clothes had us at the Butterworth ferry terminal at about 6PM.
The Georgetown Penang Ferry is an experience on it’s own. It was around $2.00 for the ticket and when getting on it was quite easy to understand how some of these capsized when being delivered for service up the Malaysian coast – they seem way too top heavy.
The voyage across from Butterworth to Georgetown on Penang Island is not far, but can get choppy. Go to the toilet before getting on the ferry as the toilets on board are not for the faint hearted. The bouncing of the ferry had all the toilets imitating mini geysers – the surging water in the toilet bowls put the contents everywhere! Catching a ferry is always fun and the Penang Ferry is no different, and the sea breeze helps cool down what is a typically a tropical hot and humid environment.
It’s only about 15 minutes and once across to the island the trishaw peddlers start spruking their services. I found it best to grab an older fellow, normally one that is sleeping in his trishaw. Almost feels like you are giving to charity this way, maybe helping the family of someone who is doing it tuff.
It’s not uncommon to be called “Cherry Boy” by the drivers, since back in the ’70’s the major attraction of Georgetown where the bars and prostitutes. These guys knew where most of the merchant seaman and visiting foriegn tourists where interested in 🙂
An all nighter for a trishaw driver could be had for a negotiated price of around $8.00, you could get away with paying half up front and half when finished for the evening. That way you knew he would have to hang around and look after your t-shirt and curry purchases while you ducked in and out of the bars he took you to.
First task of the evening was to grab a few beers and find a satay stall. Many to choose from and they operate all night. Some are as simple as an oil can with the side cut open, a few coals and a fan. Some have whole resturants on wheels which are positioned along the side of the road in opportune spots. Sort of all the same, around 5 or 6 sticks of some unknow meat in a plastic bag with satay source in the bottom for dipping and another bag with diced up cucumbers to kill the chilli burn. Great stuff! We could easily eat 30 or so of these whilst sucking down a few Anchor Beers whilst being peddled around.
Julia (or Chulia) Street is normally where you start the evening, grab the $2.00 t-shirts you promised your mates and your bags of Malaysian curry powder. With a belly full of satay sticks and trishaw races with your companions in similar trishaws over, it’s time to hit a few bars.
Like taxi drivers elsewhere in the world, the trishaw drivers of Georgetown know every nook and cranny of the city, you want “bars and girls” they will take you to “bars and girls” and then wait patiently while you check each place out and reject most for being too dirty or not enough girls, or full of ugly girls etc. I think most get tips for bring customers to particular bars and it may take a few attempts before you find something you like. Most are in back alleys and seem like a rear
entrance to something else. There are normally locals hanging around outside the entrance smoking cigarettes lounged over their motor scooters – they all look pretty seedy, but then again you are being taken to what feels like the underworld of the city.
The bars are usually quite dark inside. Some have dirt floors but all have a full stocked bar. Well, they have plenty of Anchor beer.
Rule number one, don’t order softdrink, not only will the Coke come in a Fanta bottle, but the girls will think you have an STD. Taking anti-biotics means you don’t drink alcohol, that was the story anyway – no AIDS back then either, worst you could get was the clap. A beer was a dollar and a girl was $10. Juke boxes where loaded with pop songs from the ’70’s with Asian singers singing in bad English..