We decided to get out of George Town for the day and head over to the other side of the island, the western side.
There’s nothing much marked on the map we bring , not surprising really, mistakenly we bring along the cartoon bus route map of Penang.
Colorful little pictures of palm trees, butterflies and monkeys are not much help in heavy traffic.
Luckily we decide to include a GPS with the car hire, and after getting to grips with the accent of our new best friend we’re set to explore.
We picked the car up from the airport and, hoping to miss the bad traffic around George Town we head west, first stop is a small fishing village called Batu Maung, there’s not much to see, but it’s nice to be out of the traffic.
We poke around for a while, wander along the beach, check out the closed restaurants and the shrines along the beach, then we decide to move along, we only have the car for the day.
We take a punt and punch into the GPS a random town along the coast, Gertak Sanggul, we decide this on the strength of our bus map, the 308 from George Town terminates in Gertak Sanggul, the end of the line and as good a place as any to head.
A lovely little spot, right along the sandy coast, one really good looking restaurant, big wide verandah, fans, palm trees, everything you could ask for, except it’s closed, we decide on heading back towards civilization. It’s lunch and we’re “on the tooth”.
On the way back we spy a sign pointing in towards the beach, a restaurant with the startling name of KhunThai, ( try saying that three times quickly!).
It’s Thai, it looks great and we go for it.
It’s a big old barn of a place, open along every wall and facing right onto the beach, the staff are fast and friendly, the view is great and the menu long.
We decide on a papaya salad and a tom yum soup, some fruit juice and a couple of lemonades.
Those lemonades pretty quickly come in handy, the food is traditional Thai, hot, hot, hot.
Like really hot, our lips are tingling with spices instantly, the papaya salad has green scud missile chillies hiding away inside ready to blow the top of your head off if you’re not careful.
The tom yum soup is the winner of the two, full of big fat prawns, small squid tubes, a heap of firm white fleshy fish fillets, all mingled in with lemongrass, tomatoes, crab stock and ginger.
After finishing off the lunch it’s time to mop our brow and head off for cooler climes, up the mountain towards the lake and our next stop.
After dialing in the next location on the trusty GPS we head north towards Air Itam and the central lake, high in the central mountains of Penang.
We have to take it easy, the road is steep and has lots of bends, not to mention monkeys.
Suicidal monkeys, scampering across the road. Families of them, we love them, but cause traffic chaos as we stop to watch and the locals want to barrel on by.
Along the way we pass a durian stall, no actually we pass hundreds of durian stalls, it’s durian time, festivals, tastings and celebrations all across the island.
So we’ve stopped to see what the fuss is about, at the first stop we can only buy whole durians, not ideal for two durian virgins in a hire car so we pause to take the view in instead.
Sadly the view is all but impossible to enjoy, the Indonesian burn-off still causing lots of haze as the smoke drifts across from their rice husk and palm oil burn offs.
A bit further down the other side of the mountain we do eventually come across a roadside stall, and they’re selling taster packs of the famed fruit.
Ignoring all warnings from the hire car company about carrying the stinky fruit in the car, we grab a pack and head up to the lake for a spot of afternoon tea.
The afternoon tea doesn’t last long, we’ve both had durian ice-cream in Australia, but that doesn’t even begin to prepare you for what you’re about to put in your mouth.
Pungent, slimy, sticky and soapy, with a cloying aftertaste, it’s hideous, Annie bravely soldiers on and gives a second piece a go, but it’s not going to happen, we get rid of it as fast as possible and spend the trip back sucking on mints trying to remove the lingering stench and taste from our mouths and fingers.
At least we can say we gave it a go, it really is an acquired taste, one that I doubt we will ever acquire though.