Alice Sullivan is an aspiring writer currently based in Prague as an English teacher. She has traveled to 25 countries and counting!
Penang is an island state in the Northwest of Malaysia. A few hours on a bus from Kuala Lumpur and a short ferry across the sea will bring you there. It is known for its beaches, wide range of foods from different cultures, and interesting street art throughout George Town. I'm sure many people have pleasant stays in the area, but we made many mistakes that affected ours.
Mistake 1: The Hostel
Booking a hostel is one of the most important parts of your stay. A bad hostel can ruin the experience in a place. A good hostel can make any bad or disappointing events feel less significant. In this case, we picked a terrible one. I was worried about budgeting our trip and chose one of the cheapest ones in the area. The reviews were neutral to good and the location was close to Little India, where I intended to eat my body weight every day.
What went wrong? Our hostel had no social atmosphere but was also full of old men. As young women, we felt uncomfortable sharing a room with several men in their 40s and it made the entire vibe feel wrong. Hanging out or resting in our room was impossible.
The hostel staff were not as friendly as our first hostel in Kuala Lumpur and the breakfast wasn't as good. These things would be fine alone, but it all kept adding up to a disappointing experience.
The biggest problem of our stay was security. There were lockers in our room, but half were broken. The locker above my bed was broken and the one underneath my bed was small. My travel partner didn't feel that her locker was secure enough to leave her passport, money, or any other valuables in. She ended up carrying most of her valuables with her.
Mistake 2: Carrying Too Many Belongings
Having security in your room is important. Carrying all of your belongings is illogical and unsafe. I resorted to hiding valuables in the bottom of my backpack in an older makeup bag, but my travel partner was carrying them on our day at the beach.
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It would've been a lovely day, but we encountered a problem. The tide was in and it blocked our path. It didn't look deep so we decided to walk through the water. However, my friend stepped into a deeper hole underwater and fell. Her bag carrying all of her belongings went into the sea.
We laid out everything on towels in the nearest restaurant. Her passport, phone, money, battery pack, and headphones were all soaked. Luckily, the only thing ruined was the battery pack which is easily replaceable. It was a stressful situation on a day that was supposed to be relaxing.
However, one good thing that came from the bad was the restaurant giving us free lunch and frozen margaritas. That's something that solidifies this travel memory as a positive and funny one (despite the feeling at the time).
Not a Mistake, but a Problem
Sexual harassment is a problem for women all over the world. It is not exclusive to any one part of the world and is not more likely to happen while traveling rather than in your home country. However, in this instance, the man in the restaurant who insisted on buying us things all day eventually made us uncomfortable.
There were comments about our appearance, unwanted touches, and even an offer of moving in with him. We waited until my friend's belongings were dry enough and left. His repeated advances and refusal to take no for an answer made us feel unsafe. We took turns using the bathroom but made a conscious effort to not leave each other alone for too long due to this man.
Mistake Three: Not Enough Research
There are plenty of things to do in Penang, but we didn't prepare accordingly. If we stayed in a more relaxing accommodation, we might have had the energy to do the hike up Penang Hill. If we had researched the Snake Temple, then we probably wouldn't have gone due to the treatment of the animals and the general sense of how underwhelming it was.
Of course, some things that go wrong are out of your control. Getting stranded in a thunderstorm or the locker above your head falling open and hitting you are some other examples from this trip. However, the research is something that we could've changed. We might have ended up in a better hostel and having a totally different experience. At least the food didn't disappoint.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Alice Sullivan