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.
After this article went viral in Reddit, I got a bunch of extremely disturbing comments and messages alleging I deserved to be sexually harassed or even raped because, given the circumstances I had to spend one night at a cheaper hotel with my friend. All those hate comments were deleted. A women is NEVER asking to be RAPED or SEXUALLY HARASSED no matter what!
I’ve been getting many emails from female travelers asking me if the level of sexual harassment in Penang is in any way related to the fact that Malaysia is a Muslim country. To make it clear, I have NEVER been sexually harassed or disrespected by ANY Muslim in Penang, nor in any Muslim country or region to be honest. Let’s not allow prejudice to guide our fears.
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!
The trip from Lanta to Penang was terribly annoying. 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 extra money each to cross the border. I could definitely noticed that Malaysia wold not be as smooth and easy like Thailand. Seems like scamming the tourists might be the norm around here.
I refused to pay, and this caused some friction between the driver and I. Yes, it’s 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, around 11 pm, 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 previously booked a bed at a recommended hostel as well.
The German couple though, not knowing where they could stay, asked where we were planing to sleep and we told them the name of our 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! Because we had arrived so late, the hostel gave away our beds. 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, was walking by when we bumped into each other by accident. She told us there was a cheap hotel near by, run by Chinese people, it was very central in Love Lane – the backpacker street – and the best option for tonight. Most hostels were booked anyway and our beds were “robbed”, what else could we do?
The name of the hotel is WAN HAI HOTEL, corner with Muntri st.
Carina and I decided to share the room for the night 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 tourists. I had a very strange feeling, the walls were extremely thin and the door felt quite fragile, but not dangerous and we had no idea of what was about to come.
Later on, I’ve noticed all the holes 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 at the most touristy street…. 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, a bunch of migrant Indian males. There were strange noises coming in every direction. Carina insisted on the noises but 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 have no idea what was going on there, but something was seriously off.
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 felt them really close to my wall, probably trying to see what my roomate and I were doing through the holes.
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. These were the days when many stories of gang rape were coming from India and here I was… finding myself scared for my safety for the very first time in my life.
Another guy arrived (I’ve heard the steps), went into his room and when he came out he started to masturbate outside our door. I’ve heard that fragile old door bouncing and a cold shiver crossed my spine.
|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 had been 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 was inside my bedroom, I was not walking around alone at night nor was I dressed provocatively outside.
|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, humping each other. 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.
HOSTELS AND ACCOMMODATION IN PENANG
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.
NEED A GREAT PLACE TO STAY?
My friends stayed at the Reggae Penang, a beautiful budget hostel located at Love Lane. They loved it and stay there every time they do visa runs. This hostel is a beautiful colonial house which is now renovated.
For the best prices book it HERE
After the incident at the other hotel, I packed my bags and moved to the Red In Heritage. This is no doubt the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at. It’s spotless clean, extremely comfy and serves the best breakfast in the world! With both typical Malay dishes and Continental. The bathrooms have massage showers and there’s a big table to play pool at the entrance.
I would totally recommend this hostel if you’re visiting Penang. For the best prices book it HERE