Monday, February 4, 2013

Living in the Tourist Zone

Every week, I get online and read travel blog roundups that take me away to far-off destinations. But lucky for me, I live in the midst of a tourist hotspot, too. Other people daydream about visiting the place I call home. It's not just that I live in Penang, an island with much ballyhooed street food and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vacationers are right next door.

My condo is along a stretch of beach lined with the type of mid-price hotels favored by package tours. I've found blog posts excitedly showing pictures of a Penang vacation with shots taken at the beach outside my window. I come across tourists almost every day, sometimes even in the elevator since there are a few Vacation Rentals by Owner in my building. People watching is the best part of living in the tourist zone. We see everyone from Aussies in their flip flops, tank tops and shorts to conservative Muslim women in full burkas.

"My" backyard

Cruise ships sail by my home every morning and night.  My friends who live near the pier in George Town have an even closer view of the boats.  I imagine the passengers on deck gazing out as it makes its way around the top of the island. Are people already getting down to the business of gambling and drinking, especially if they're on the one night, International Waters cruise? Or are they relaxing by the pool as the boat sails towards Thailand?

Cruising past Penang

Watching the crazy people frolicking in the water near the hotel beach is even more fun. From my bedroom, I can see people jetskiing as if there's a protective force field surrounding them. They seem to have no fear that their crazy maneuvers and criss-crossing paths will cause a collision. So far, they've been okay. Whole families hop on banana boats to be hauled around in the midst of the insane jetskiers. There's always a few parasailers, too. Yes, it's definitely a holiday atmosphere.

These jetskiers were circling around in opposite directions and nearly hit each other.

The self-proclaimed World's Largest Toy Museum, a major kid magnet, used to be located near our school. Families poured out of cars and excitedly lined up for photos in front of the facade evoking ancient Egypt. (These weren't toys. They were merely leftover decor from the building's former life as a nightclub.) In fact, I'd have to make sure I didn't run over youngsters with my car as their laser focus on the Toy Museum blinded them to their surroundings while they skipped towards the building. It was a popular place for school field trips, too. Teachers grouped the kids on the steps and then stood in the middle of the street to get the perfect picture. I tried not to collide with these folks either. What struck me was how just plain happy everyone was to be there. I could feel the positive vibes radiating from them.

Who can rescue Woody and Buzz Lightyear?

We love passing by the numerous tour buses on our walk to school. Stickers on the window advertise the amenities offered inside. For a long time, my daughter thought karaoke and DVD players were the best ones. And then a few weeks ago, we came across a fancy, double decker bus. It advertised Food and Beverage service, massaging chairs, PC games, and personal entertainment systems. I really should have found out what tour group it belonged to since that one is definitely tops. Sometimes, people are boarding the bus as we walk to school. They are off to their next adventure on holiday while my kids must toil for the day. Don't worry, our turn will come.

I wonder what sights they'll see today.

The only downside to living in a tourist hotspot is all the traffic. Local tourists tend to swarm Penang every public holiday. I have invented the Tour Bus Indicator. There's a direct correlation between the number of tour buses outside my condo and how tremendously crowded the roads will be that day. Four buses means I should probably just enjoy the comforts of home instead of heading out if it's not absolutely necessary. The road with the nearest major mall, Gurney Drive, normally takes me about 5 minutes to drive down. On a public holiday, I've sat on that same road for 1.5 hours slowly inching the car forward. (If I'm in a metric country, would the phrase be "centimetering the car forward"?) One of my daughter's classmates who lives on Gurney had her birthday party on a public holiday. Imagine her tears when not one guest showed up despite all their good intentions because they couldn't bust through the gridlock.

3 buses = Double the normal driving time

Come on over and visit Penang. It's a fabulous place, and the tourist I meet seem to be envious that I get to explore it at my leisure. I consider myself lucky to call it home for a few years.

This post is part of Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check it out for more travel inspiration.


  1. I think CNY has to be one of the few times traffic is worse up there than in KL. I remember that being a complete nightmare last year and I don't at all envy you having to deal with it ;P

    There is a bus with masseurs/masseuses onboard that goes between KL and Singapore. I don't think it's a group bus though. You just buy tickets and go. Maybe it was the same thing?

    1. Someone else told us CNY is the perfect time to go to KL since everyone leaves town.

  2. Your post inspires me. I will put Penang on my list of things to do while in Asia!

  3. Loving your backyard... nice.
    I'll be pitching up in your yard very soon as I'm on a three week business trip to Penang. Forgoing my usual 'business' hotel near Queensbay Mall I'm shacking up in the Holiday Inn.
    Looking forward to some weekend beach time...
    See you on the beach ???

    1. Whenever, we go by the Holiday Inn, we always try to figure out if it's better to stay in the Beach building or Ferringhi Tower. I hope you're not having to drive from the Holiday Inn down to Bayan Lepas near Queensbay every day.

    2. Our travel organiser has me booked in to the Tower, so fingers crossed it's a good choice. (Lucky dip?)
      Have you experience of staying at the Holiday Inn then?
      My daily destination is not far from the BIG Tesco just before the bridge.
      Not too far to commute...

  4. Such an interesting perspective being a resident in the middle of a tourist zone!

  5. I also though I was lucky when I lived near the Washington Zoo, but not on weekends when I couldn't find parking space for all the cars that would park near my home.
    One of these days, I'll be one of those tourists!


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