I wasn’t on a dark desert highway (Penang roads are anything BUT a highway), neither had cool wind in my hair (Penang weather is hot hot hot, plus I was wearing a helmet!), but still: a Vespa tour of Penang is a great way to discover the island and to get to use one of the iconic symbols of my fatherland: Italy!
For this particular adventure I had planned in advance, contacting the one and only company in Penang (and please don’t quote me here, but I think they are the only ones in the whole of Malaysia) that does Vespa rentals, and we are not talking about vintage vespas here, but flashy, well-maintained new models of the most amazing colours.
Fateha and husband Feroz welcomed me in their office at the end of Chulia Street in the tourist area of Penang capital Georgetown on a cloudy afternoon. They explained a few tricks on the vehicle: the way to behave in Penang traffic, how to park and avoid getting a ticket, the way to use the stand and the petrol refilling process. A map of the island, a raincoat, the right helmet and a pat on the back, and off they waved me!
I negotiated the busy traffic of Georgetown and as the sun was quickly setting behind the green mountains of Penang north, I sped off towards my destination where I would spend the night, the Hard Rock Hotel Penang, along the coastal road. The amazing lights of a reddish sunset accompanied me all the way to Batu Feringghi, a popular beach area spot for those who want to have picnic and spend time on a sandy beach, and home to the Hard Rock Hotel Penang. I had a great evening there, albeit an early one since the following day was going to be exploration time!
I woke up very early; from my Hard Rock Hotel Penang sea-front room balcony I marveled at the Andaman sea. The temperature was perfect at that time of the year, not hot nor cold, and I went down to fill the belly at Hard Rock Hotel Penang amazing breakfast buffet. I then started my white Vespa, wore my white helmet and drove off, proud as only a Vespa rider can be, crossing hip and chic Batu Feringghi and heading north-west with the intention of driving a ring route around the island. These were my stopovers:
1- First stop along the way was the Penang Tropical Spice Garden: set up 13 years ago by a British couple who transformed what was an abandoned rubber plantation into one of Malaysia’s award-winning eco-tourism destinations, Penang Tropical Spice Garden feels like a park: giant butterflies, dragonflies, birds, sounds of nature, cicadas, frogs… the kind of place you will not want to leave when the staff will finally announce it is closing time…
2- I then drove on to the nearby headquarters of Penang National Park. Gazetted in 1958, Taman Negara Pulau Penang is one of the few protected areas left in Penang Island, with 1,213 hectares of land facing the sea, an area that consists of forests and wetlands inhabited by a diverse habitat. I took advantage and drove the Vespa along the small roads of the fishermen traditional village that spans a block off the National Park, enjoying the activities of the local fishermen.
3- Next destination was nearby Teluk Bahang Dam, the largest dam on Penang, created to provide an alternative source of water supply to the Ayer Itam Dam and the Botanic Gardens Waterfall. From its crest I enjoy a scenic view of the northern coast of Penang, but that was all, since Teluk Bahang Dam is not open to the public. Across the dam is Taman Rimba Forestry Park, starting point of numerous jungle trails which either circle the boundary of the park, pass through, or link up with Batu Feringghi.
4- The next 20km of road then took my two wheeled Vespa to an amazing village called Balik Pulao, which literally means ‘the back of the island’. With the island experiencing a development boom, locals say this part of Penang is disappearing quickly, but it is still lovely, with its views of the island’s west coast, the local farms, the rice fields and the communities of local fishermen. Visit it now before it changes.
5- I drove up the hill and down to the east of Penang, and I decided to stop in Georgetown for a lunch of Indian food and teh tarik and a walk along the town’s Unesco-protected roads.
6- The stopover to Fort Cornwallis was followed by a one-hour guided visit to amazing Peranakan Mansion, the place to go to if you are interested on the history of the Babas and Nyonyas, a prominent community of acculturated Chinese unique to this part of the world that adopted selected ways of the local Malays and later the colonial British. Get more information on http://www.pinangperanakanmansion.com.my
7- I had just a little extra time left and I decided to get more into nature, heading to Penang Botanical Gardens. Known as ‘Taman Botanical’, this garden has a very well-managed landscape that consists of plenty of exotic plant species. It is well-worth a visit, as the trek along its roads is light and refreshing.
And finally, back I drove to Batu Feringghi, savouring local food along the way at the Gurney food market. In the evening I still had the energy to dance the night away at the Hard Rock Cafe: the live music was great and I could not resist the temptation, in spite of being extremely tired.
It proved to be en extremely interesting day full of sights. Sites visited apart, the Vespa was indeed a great surprise: hip and reliable, I enjoyed very special moments on the saddle of this amazing 150cc machine. Riding it I felt quality, when compared to other scooters. Plus, as there are not so many of these yet on Penang roads, many pointed at it and marveled it when I stopped at traffic lights.
Are you visiting Penang? Do you look for an alternative and classy way to move around for a day or three? Rent a Vespa. You will not regret it!
La Belle Vespa & Scooter Rental
This amazing shop has been renting out Vespas for 5 years. They charge 60 RM per day (this is the real going rate, despite you may read different from some inaccurate posts), which I considered fair as Vespa maintenance is expensive and they have full insurance on all mopeds.
The service you receive is amazingly good, expect assistance 24 hours in case of problems, and you will indeed come as a customer and leave as a friend as Fateha and Feroz are so so friendly.
To rent a Vespa or another moped from them, you must carry an International Driving License as this is important for insurance purposes. This is just needed for identification and it is not held by the store.
Their address is 440-B Chulia Street, 10200 Penang, and you can contact Miss Fateha on WhatsApp +60164160617
Their FB page is fb.com/vespapenang