PENANG - People visiting Penang sometimes ask predictable questions such as "Hey, looks like you have put on some weight! Is it the good food?" and "You are a few shades darker. Is it all the frolicking on the beach?"
The answer to the first question is likely to be "yes", followed by the sucking in of the tummy. However, the answer to the second question is a big "no".
It is too hot to frolic on the beach, which is a little far from the city centre. Getting there is also a nightmare, especially during the holidays because of the traffic congestion.
Everyone is headed for the popular Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi tourist belts, thanks to the beautiful beachfront hotels, water sport attractions (legal and illegal), great food and fantastic night market.
The problem is, the only road leading to these places is too narrow. Traffic jams can take hours to clear, which makes it increasingly difficult for the locals to enjoy their own beaches.
Having said that, there is a spot that has been somewhat overlooked.
There is a sandy stretch from Tanjung Tokong to the Esplanade, called the North Beach, which has the potential to become a tourist attraction. Lined with boulders, the stretch is sometimes dotted by anglers and a few tourists basking in the sun. However, the beach entrance in Jalan Green Hall is in a terrible state.
It is littered with rubbish and people who have had too much to drink are occasionally found there. Some of the benches are also broken.
It could become a quick getaway for the locals if the council would refurbish and equip it with facilities like beach chairs and toilets.
North Beach is truly a diamond in the rough. It is about time we explored more readily-available options for those who want to get a tan without having to sit through a traffic jam.
Who knows, it could be to Penang what Barceloneta Beach is to Barcelona, Spain.
The 3km-long beach, formerly fishermen's quarters, is lined with beautiful sculptures. It has helped to earn the Catalan capital a place on the National Geographic Traveler's list of Top 10 beach cities in the world.
Penang may just make it there, too, one day.