Penang was another example of a city of decaying colonial buildings and amazing temples. It would appear that the only things that are properly maintained and painted are the odd colonial building (kept for tourist potential) and the religious temples, mosques and churches. Everything is left to slowly rot in the humid heat.
The first choice we had was how to get around. We opted for the hop on hop off bus, which took us past the clock tower and other well-kept colonial buildings. It is incredible to look back at the amazing reach of the British Empire and to appreciate the scale. All of these Asian/Indonesian sites had an array of buildings to house the ruling British Governors and associated military, bureaucratic and business people. They were all there in their little enclaves, ruling, exploiting and systematically stripping assets with their mansions, servants, polo clubs and cricket grounds. One can imagine the public schools, in the 18th century, churning out a stream of these people destined to live the life of Riley. Now the remains of their hegemony are preserved as part of the tourist attraction.
The Burmese temple was probably the most garish yet, and the sister temple was a near match. We saw huge reclining Buddhas, gold Buddhas, standing Buddhas, white Buddhas, black Buddhas, blue and green Buddhas, fierce warriors, dragons, golden stupas and fair dancing maidens. All with gold, blue, red, yellow, orange and scaley glitter, bunting and adornment. All with sparkly splendour. All intended to create an impression.
Back on the bus to the next stop and off up the steepest funicular railway in the world to the incredible views and coconut ice-cream. The restaurant at the top was exorbitantly priced so it was back to the bottom and lunch with the locals. We observed where the taxi drivers and locals ate and jumped in. As we could not speak the language we are not quite sure what it was but it was spicy chicken with rice, with a mug of sweet coffee, and tasted excellent, and all for thirty pence.
Back on the bus we were dropped off at the biggest temple complex ever. Temples are great aren’t they? So much human energy, endeavour, creativity and hope poured into proving that there is a foundation to choosing this one over all the others. The drive to bigger, brighter and more elaborate (coupled with various attire, rituals and prayers) is like an arms race! If only they put as much energy into the city infrastructure!
We climbed up through covered markets with the sweat dripping down our backs. We inspected temples, Buddha’s, fountains, chanting, retail opportunities (what religious site is without them) and new building sites before making the final ascent through a lift in a shop to the biggest Buddha of all on top of the hill.
Back waiting for the bus we tasted the local pastry delicacies – both savoury and sweet – and both delicious, before hopping back to the boat.
Much to see and wonder at. Thailand next!