Sexual harassment in Penang – safety facts for female travelers!
This is a post I wasn’t sure I should write… mostly because it’s very unpleasant. But traveling can sometimes push our buttons and get us in a position we wish we didn’t get into.
This is also a warning for everyone traveling to Georgetown, Penang, specially solo female travelers, no matter what budget you’re traveling on, please, make safety your priority! Your life and well being has no price!
Many people in forums and in my Portuguese version of this blog encouraged me to write it and if it helped a single person, then it was worth it!
The trip from Lanta to Penang was interesting. We traveled in a mini-van cramped with a few sweaty unfriendly french people and a German couple. The mini-van driver demanded we payed 10thb each to cross the border. I refused to pay, which caused some friction. Yes, for some it might be only 10thb, but it’s still a scam… Border crossing is free, everything is included on the tickets we buy at the travel agency, so no matter what the drivers might tell you – that it’s a special holiday, that these are extra fees, etc- it’s NOT true! It’s a scam!
|The infamous hotel|
We arrived in Malaysia very late at night, not at 6pm as scheduled, because of the constant breaks and stops the driver was doing. Devon and James had booked a hostel, I had booked a bed at a good hostel too. The German couple asked where we were planing to stay, since they had no idea of where to go and we told them the name of the hostel. After withdrawing some cash at the ATM we got to hear the news! The German couple took the last 2 beds that were supposed to be ours! We had nowhere to stay and most hostels were fully booked. It was a weekend and a lot of people cross the border for visa runs or to indulge in the famous Penang food.
|The view from our window- this is where one the of guys masturbated while looking at us|
Out of the blue, Oxana, the Russian girl who had volunteered with me in Koh Lanta, and then joined me at the Clayzy House was walking by when we bumped into each other by accident. She told us there was a very cheap hotel near by, run by Chinese people, it was very central in Love Lane and the best option for tonight. Most hostels were booked anyway and our beds were “robbed”, what else could we do?
Carina and I decided to share the room for the night and see how things would go and move to a hostel next morning. We went out for dinner and came back later on.
|The holes on the walls used to sneak|
By the time we came back, I’ve noticed something that felt odd. We were surrounded by men only. There were no women around, no couples, no westerners. I had a very strange feeling, the walls were extremely thin and the door felt unsafe, but not dangerous and we had no idea of what was about to come.
Later on, I’ve noticed all the wholes on the walls these creeps use to sneak on other people. The little alarm clock we found out there was used to mark the time… the prostitutes had to provide for their services.
Damm it! Are we at a brothel or something??!! No, it was just a regular hotel…. It was 1am and even though I wanted to get out of there, I was too scared to get out in the middle of the night hunting for a bedroom. So we locked the door very well.
I went to the window to feel the fresh breeze, when I noticed an Indian man staring at me, he open his zipper and… started masturbating. I was shocked and started yelling at him! Carina couldn’t believe it neither!
|A knife by our side and a spray for protection|
The people from the rooms next to us arrived and there were strange noises coming in every direction. Carina insisted on the noises which I thought were coming from the old dusty fans… till the bed of the neighbor started knocking against our wall.
We heard men masturbating. In some of the rooms there were 2 or 3 men.
I was absolutely terrified someone would try to break in our room and rape us.
I noticed noises on the walls as if someone was trying to sneak through the holes in the wall, I laid down fully clothed and covered and kept the room as dark as possible. So during the whole night, we had to keep the lights off.
I was so terrified I couldn’t sleep and kept a little knife and a spray by my side all night.
Carina managed to fall asleep, she had been traveling a lot the last 2 days and was exhausted, but I couldn’t.
Another guy arrived (I’ve heard the steps), went into his room and when he came out he started to masturbate outside our door.
|Carina sleeping deeply|
This was our first night in Penang, we just arrived a couple of hours ago and I was already regretting I came here! I was warned many times to avoid Malaysia and specially Penang because of the sexual harassment and all the dangers a female traveler has to face. But I heard it was a gem for vegan food and didn’t want to miss it! Besides, I was not even hanging out late at night, but in my room…
Now, I really wished I hadn’t come!
|I couldn’t sleep one minute!|
This horrible hotel reminded me of the hotel from the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo Dicaprio. The run down walls, the doors, the type of people staying over… the whole atmosphere was creepy and dark. I’ve stayed at many cheap guest houses in Asia, but never had such an experience.
The sun finally came out, Carina was still sleeping but I was already packing. I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. The perverts next door were up till 5am, making noises. I wish I knew this place was like this before.
We finally got our stuff together and searched for another place to stay. Carina slept through it all, but I was really disturbed! We finally found a great hostel, clean, nice and modern with free breakfast and amazing rooms at Love Lane. Oxana was staying there too and I managed to get a great deal with the receptionist who was a great guy from London, a friendly traveler which was currently working there as a means to make some money.
Unlike Thailand where you can find great hostels for a really cheap price, in Malaysia you usually get what you paid for. Rooms are more expensive and flashback hostels are normal. Be aware of the very cheap hotels, check the rooms before you commit and try to see if the clientele is a mix. I found out the hard way that extremely low budget hotels are used as brothels and trust me… you want to avoid those!
Penang didn’t feel save at night during low season when the streets were mostly empty. During the day dress conservatively, you’re in Malaysia and you should respect the culture, but you’ll find the Malay people are extremely friendly and respectful.
Finally, it was time to discover the Pearl of the Orient! We moved and I fell in love with this amazingly beautiful and friendly city. There’s so much history and culture here, I might stay much longer than I expected! This city seems to offer more than I imagined.
NEXT POST: Penang’s famous street food! This is a vegans paradise and I’m so glad to be here!
** NOTE** I got a couple of extremely negative sexist messages from a few men who thought I was fully responsible for all this and that I totally deserved this harassment. Since I was not walking around late at night, wearing provocative clothes or behaving “bad” the accusation was that I was too cheap. Well, I have to say that if someone would have been treated this way moments after arriving in my country, I’d be embarrassed and sad. Same thing with the scams tourists have to face. For the rest – Penang is probably the most beautiful city I’ve visited in Asia so far, the people are super friendly and apart from this incident I had a blast there. I planed a 3 day only stay and decided to extend my visit to 11 days!