Heading Towards Home

Today its time to head home.

Now when I say heading home, well, we will be home in a few days and I didn’t want to tell you that we also have a few days in Singapore as well, because I always seem to be in Singapore and I didn’t want to bore you before I started. But I always try to do new things when I get here for my own interest anyway and its one of those places in the world where I feel at home so I want to know everything about it. Someday I’ll be able to say I’ve seen and done it all – surely?

So first up, we are staying in a different location, booking four nights at the Grand Park Orchard on Orchard Road. I’ve never stayed on Orchard Road before. I’m expecting, nay hoping, that it will have an electric buzz, that continues long after the shoppers have hauled their treasures home.

I was hoping to get to a few places that have been ‘on my list’ for some time now, plus showing Mum a couple of the new places I’ve found on the last few trips, but given we aren’t well, we’ll just see how we go.

Anyway, our hotel room is not quite ready so we pop out for some shopping and a bite to eat.  The first shop we come across is The Soup Spoon, and its menu board shows a chunky mushroom soup that looks purpose made for people with bad colds.  Its so thick and full of mushrooms and good for the soul.

Afterwards, I spy a Ya Kun Kaya Toast stall.  Here goes the first of one of those ‘on the list’ things.   Kaya toast is a popular breakfast item in Singapore. It consists of toast spread with a kind of jam made of coconut and eggs, called kaya, and either peanut spread or thick slabs of butter. I know it ain’t breakfast time, but if I don’t grab some now, I fear I’ll never try it. So here goes.

Full of peanutty goodness
Full of peanutty goodness

I’ve gone for the peanut spread and its actually really tasty – very sweet, but definitely tasty.  Don’t know why I waited so long to try it.

With still more time to fill in, the next stop is across the road at Japanese department store, Takashimaya – more specifically – Kinokuniya, my favourite bookshop.  I was introduced to Kinokuniya by my friend Emma when I visited her in KL last year, and now I am hooked.  Upon entering I feel giddy with the prospect of so much choice.  I don’t know where the start and I can’t seem to focus, my eyes darting from book to book as each cover catches my eyes.  It’s a wonderland of words.  I leave with five books, spying another on the way out – which I’ll just have to come back for tomorrow.  The thing about Kinokuniya is there is so much range and the prices are better than what you can buy books for at home.  The other thing, is that the topics of a lot of the books interest me far more – tales of Malaya past and modern day Japan and gritty KL.  Book subjects we don’t get at home.  Mum is wondering how the heck I’m going to get all these books in my luggage – she doesn’t know that I pack an extra bag for the way home – just for such bounties!

I like books - just a little bit!
I like books – just a little bit!

Now it’s time to check in.  The hotel is fairly new and our rooms looks out over the shopping metropolis of Orchard Road, lights blinking with the promise of new and exciting purchases.  We are feeling quite revived after our mushroom soup.  Or am I still high from my book shopping? I’m not sure.  So we get dressed and head on out into the evening.

Our room high above Orchard Road
Our room high above Orchard Road

So we head down to the Esplanade to see a small, but free, exhibition called Rotations – The Art of Tim Yip.  Tim (Timmy) Yip is foremost a renowned costume designer. Winning the Oscar for Best Art Direction and Costume Design in 2001 for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, he has also collaborated with other prominent film directors such as John Woo (Red Cliff), Feng Xiangang (The Banquet) and Chen Kaige (Farewell, My Concubine).

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Outside of film, he has also created stage and costume designs for dance and theatre. This exhibition pays tribute to his works of art with photographs, prints and a collage of videos, showcasing his visually arresting costume and set designs and his other works in fashion and theatre.

After the exhibition, we stop by Makansutra Glutton’s Bay for dinner – yet another place I haven’t made it to yet.  Funnily enough, Makansutra was on tv in Langkawi last night and we watched him eat his way through the backstreets of Penang.  I guess it made me more determined to try this place, this time around.  People jostle each other and shuffle from signboard to signboard selecting their fare for the night.  I decided on Roti John, a dish I have never had before, washed down with a big Tiger beer.  It was kind of a like a big bun filled with a fried egg and accompanied with a spicy chili sauce.  Pretty good!

Roti John
Roti John

Whilst I was lucky enough to see the Gardens by the Bay light show on my last trip, Mum hasn’t been to Singapore since the new garden was up and running, so that’s where we are heading. Plus, given I was on a tour last time, I didn’t get to wander around as freely as I would have liked. Given the youth of the gardens, the night air provides perfect cover to explore, safe from the burning sun.  The gardens don’t disappoint – and its still wondrous the second time around.  Catching the MRT back to Orchard Road, I’m glad that we have managed to fit in these few things this afternoon and can only hope we’ll feel better tomorrow.

Super Trees
Super Trees

Driven to Paradise

Apparently it only takes about two hours to drive around the island of Langkawi, so it seemed to us that it would be a good idea to hire a car for the day and take a drive.

We had wanted to make our first stop at the Langkawi Cable Car and Oriental Village, but they seem to have chosen today to close shop for maintenance.  We continue to drive in this direction, and take a look at Seven Wells Waterfall.  Its considered the most beautiful waterfall on Langkawi.  It is said that the wells at the top of the waterfalls are where the fairies come to bathe.  Now what we didn’t realise when we started walking, up the steps towards the wells, was that there are a lot of steps.  638 of them in fact.  No sign tells you that, until you get about half way, and by then you don’t want to quit – no matter how hard you are breathing and how much you are sweating.  It was probably not the brightest thing to do while we are both sick, but we take it slowly, stopping frequently on the benches provided along the way.

Somewhere near the bottom of the hill, with no inkling whatsoever about how many steps are to yet to come
Somewhere near the bottom of the hill, with no inkling whatsoever about how many steps are to yet to come

It was a really taxing hike, but I felt exhilarated that I had made it – especially being unwell and not able to breathe properly.  No more steps today I hope.

On the way down FINALLY!
On the way down FINALLY!

The roads around the island are very easy to drive and everything seems to be very well signposted.  It’s a cruizy 60km/hr.  And a beautiful drive to boot.

Along the way, we stop in at the Langkawi Craft Complex.  Lots of souvenirs to buy here – and you can also see batik in process.

Batik in process
Batik in process

Just across the road from the LCC, is the most beautiful roadside area beside the beach.

Look at that view!
Look at that view!
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Stilted homes

The next stop on our island journey, is Mahsuri’s tomb.  Mahsuri was a young woman who was accused of adultery (in either the 14th or 19th centuries) and tied to a tree and stabbed to death as her punishment.  White blood apparently bled from her wounds, signifying her innocence and she cursed the island of langkawi for seven generations to avenge her death.  Many islanders believe the curse to be true as there were periods of failed crops after her death and numerous attacks by Siam were encountered.

Mahsuri's Tomb
Mahsuri’s Tomb

After Mahsuri’s tomb, we tried to find the burnt rice paddy field but despite the signs we just couldn’t find the turn off.

Langkawi views
Langkawi views
Rice paddies
Rice paddies
The weather coming in
The weather coming in

So we just drove to Cenang beach and did some shopping before dropping the hire car back to the jetty.  At RM130 for eight hours, I would definitely recommend this as the best way to see the island!

Island Hopping with Nick Saxon

This morning we are up bright and early to go island hopping.  Our taxi driver hits a black monkey which has unexpectedly swung down from a tree across the road.   I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come!

Waiting at the jetty for our boat to leave, a group of young men come striding down the jetty with photography equipment in hand, and one carrying a guitar.  They stand in front of us.  Wonder if its someone well known, I wonder to myself.

Looking at his curly shoulder length hair, I’m about to think not, until he turns his face to the side slightly.   Aha!  I do know who that is!  Nick Saxon from Nat Geo’s World Traveller (Foxtel) who’s also a singer/songwriter.  For the uninitiated, here’s a plug from Nat Geo:

I try to take a sneaky snap but the angle is no good.  Suddenly it is time to board the boat.  As I pass by him, he talks to me, which stuns me cause there are heaps of others around.  “Beautiful day for it, isn’t it?”, he says.  Shocked, I reply, “sure is”.  “Guess I’ll see you out there then!”, “Yeah, see you there!”

The boats race off towards our first island, the wind against our faces and the water spraying against the sides of the boat.  The waters are crystalline and the view stunning.  It feels good to feel the wind in my face.

The prow of our boat up ahead as we slice through the water
The prow of our boat up ahead as we slice through the water
Stunning
Stunning

Tasik Dayang Bunting Lake of the Pregnant Maiden) was said to be the favourite bathing pool of a celestial princess of Mambang Sari.  A prince fell in love with her and tricked her into marrying him.  Their child died from a mysterious illness at seven days old.  The grieving Mambang Sari left the child’s body in the lake and returned to her heavenly abode.  Popular law would have you believe that barren women who bathe in this lake will fall pregnant.

Alighting from the boats, tourists stream knowingly towards the forest, where a set of stairs awaits.  I don’t know where its going.  All our boat driver told us was that we had an hour here.  But there are steps and people are climbing them, so we follow.  After about 10 minutes, another 100 steps or so, we come across a segmented swimming area, and everyone’s diving in the water.  After the climb in the heat, the water is refreshingly divine.

Welcome to Dayang Bunting
Welcome to Dayang Bunting
The boats standing by
The boats standing by
The swimming hole
The swimming hole

Returning from the watering hole, crowds of monkeys gather around the tourists, screeching as they fight each other for the scraps the tourists are throwing them.  I know I’m over cautious, I’ve heard lots of stories about monkeys stealing stuff and attacking people and I’ve seen them in action stealing clothes from people’s rooms on Sentosa Island, and leaping off the stairways at the Batu Caves in KL, anywhere there’s monkeys battling for food amongst tourists and I reckon you’d be best to keep your distance.  There’s one monkey with half his nose missing – I ain’t touching that!  But there’s groups of tourists with their faces inches away from these screeching monkeys, stirring them up, feeding them – to me – asking for trouble.  A riot breaks out amongst the monkeys and everyone flees – luckily no-one was hurt and hopefully no-one ends up with some face-eating disease from an infected monkey!

All the boats now start to come into the dock to pick up their passengers, its amazing that none of the boats have numbers and we aren’t given driver names, so I have no idea how they know who belongs on their boat, but as soon as they can see that their group is assembled, in they come to the dock, and on board we go.

Next is a brief stop at Singa Besar Island where we sit and watch eagles circling the sky and then swooping into the waters below before soaring again.  In Malay, Langkawi colloquially means “Island of the Reddish-Brown Eagle”.   These eagles are all over the island, we can see them soaring the skies above our resort.  There’s even a 12m large statue of an eagle, in Eagle Square,  greeting tourists.

Fly like an eagle
Fly like an eagle

Last stop on our island hopping express is Beras Besah Island, where we have time to stop and play in the beach waters.  There are all sorts of water sports to undertake here, but unfortunately when you book the tour, they don’t really tell you that.  So I have no idea how much any of it cost, but there are loads of young people enjoying banana boat rides and a couple of para-sailers.   I was thinking it was a good thing I had worn my bathers, but to be honest it didn’t matter.  A lot of people taking the ride are Muslim and all just plunge into the waters fully dressed – seems like a good idea to me, so that’s exactly what I do too.  The water is beautifully warm and salty.  Its divine to float around in the warmth and the sun.

Heavenly
Heavenly

Unfortunately I don’t get to speak to Nick again, but I did manage to catch a snap of him playing his guitar whilst I was sitting on the beach.  Cool little brush with fame!  Certainly made my day, which coincidentally is my birthday.

Nick playing his guitar
Nick playing his guitar

And whilst I wouldn’t mention that normally, preferring to pretend the day is a normal day like any other, without any attention, I was made to feel extremely special by the staff of Rebak Island also.  A slab of cake was delivered to my room when we returned from the island hopping.  And for dinner, a special plate of complimentary desserts and a glass of champagne…

Mini dessert buffet...
Mini dessert buffet…

and then, when I returned to my room…

Birthday balloons
Birthday balloons

A Full Day of Travel to Arrive Half an Hours Flight Away

We were supposed to take a short half hour flight to reach Langkawi today. Unfortunately, Malaysia Airlines changed our flight (not sure if its anything to do with the missing flight MH370), so that it will now take us three and a half hours to get there, having to go via Kuala Lumpur!  If you go grab a look at a map, you’ll see that KL is well below the island of Penang, and that Langkawi is above Penang.  So we are flying southward for an hour to go north of where we already were!  Which means a whole day of travel pretty much – and not an exciting prospect seeing as I am unwell at the moment.

By the time I arrive at Langkawi I rather feel like rubbish – all the in and out of hot/cold environments and two flights have taken their toll and I feel sicker than I did this morning.  Thankfully, the island of Langkawi is so beautiful that it’s easy to try and forget how I feel.

Langkawi got its name from the combination of ‘lang’ & ‘kawi’. ‘Lang’ from the Malay word helang meaning eagle & ‘kawi’ from Sanskrit meaning marble.

We have booked three nights at the Rebak Island Resort on Rebak Island off the Cenang Beach end of Langkawi.  Once we arrive at Port Langkasuka, its a fifteen minute boat ride to our resort.  From the jetty we take a little buggy to reception to check in, greeted with a small glass of tea that tastes like nectar.  Then its back in the buggy to our room.  We have a partial view of the sea and a lovely little balcony from which to enjoy it.

On the way to Rebak
On the way to Rebak
Our home for the next three nights
Our home for the next three nights

After unpacking and freshening up, we pop into the reception area to book some activities for the days ahead, which is easily achieved.  And then we don’t have long to wait until happy hour which is from 6pm – 8pm at the Lepak Bar nightly.  After a short walk, we find out there is a Malaysian night market buffet on for dinner tonight.  I’m very happy to see there’s a roti canai (pronounced ‘charnai’) stall because its a dish I’ve been wanting to try for a while.  Served up with a nice chicken and vegetable curry, its a delight.

The Nights Delights!!
The Nights Delights!!

The satay sticks have been grilled to perfection and I also get to try nasi kandar for the first time,  which I really liked too.

Perhaps best of although, is the selection of desserts because most of the buffets we’ve encountered lately have had western desserts rather than local.  I grab a plate of pandan crepe filled with pandan flavoured coconut, some coconut mousse (absolutely heavenly) and one other coconutty piece which I can’t recall the name of.

Heavenly treats
Heavenly delights

This has definitely been one of the best meals to date, perhaps helped along by the night market atmosphere.   People are I right when they say the food in Malaysia is to die for!

A Tropical Day on the Island

Today we have hired a driver to take us out past Batu Ferringhi to see a couple of sites that are less easy to get to.  Mouy introduces himself to us, saying in dutch his name means ‘beautiful’.  And he does have a beautiful personality.  At 68 years old, Mouy prefers to spend his time working for Tour & Incentive Travel company doing airport transfers and driving tourists to points of interest around the island.

The views as we drive up the coast and along past Batu Ferringhi is stunning.  Crystal turquoise waters contrast against the brilliant green tropical jungles and blue sky.  The road is long and winding and its nice that Muoy takes his time.

The road to Batu Ferringhi
The road to Batu Ferringhi

Our first stop for the day is the Tropical Fruit Farm.  Built to preserve Malaysia’s green heritage, the farm has planted all types of local fruits as well as fruits from around the world.  Its 25-acres of more than 250 types of tropical and sub-tropical fruits.  First up we are given a guided tour of the farm, learning about the different fruits grown here.  Some are intriguing and it was a surprise to see how some of them actually grew.

A sampling of different fruits for sale
A sampling of different fruits for sale
This is how Durians grow!
This is how Durians grow!

After the tour, we are shown to a buffet of fruit – all sliced and ready to go.  A nice selection of pink and white guava, starfruit, passionfruit, mango, papaya, longons, pineapple, dragonfruit and watermelon.  I’m particularly taken with the longons.  It was a great opportunity to try fruits you may have seen in the shops and thought twice about and it made a refreshing break from the heat.

My fresh fruit platter
My fresh fruit platter

Back on the road, our next stop is at the Butterfly Farm.  The Butterfly Farm was opened in 1986 March, and is presumed to be the first butterfly house in the Tropical Region.  It was set up as a ‘living museum’ to educate the public as well as a research centre to develop breeding methods.  There are over 1000 recorded butterfly species in the Malay Peninsular, among the highest of any country in the world in relation to her small land mass.

Butterflies seated on Malaysia's national flower - the red hibiscus
Butterflies seated on Malaysia’s national flower – the red hibiscus

Apart from the bevy of futtering wings, there are also koi fish, an iguana, stick insects, millipedes and centipedes.  At one point I turned around and one of the guides was holding the largest stick insect I have ever seen, just inches from my face.  “She’s very cranky!” she warns.  Right, well, best you remove her from my face then!

Muoy drops us at the Tropical Spice Garden and this is where we say our goodbyes, deciding to find our own way back to Georgetown, now that our five hours is over.  It has been a really good way to get around the island.  Muoy was very informative and helpful and it was nice and relaxing not having to worry about how to get somewhere, because the island is definitely bigger than you think it will be.  I’d definitely recommend hiring a driver for anyone wanting to visit the island.

Tropical Spice Garden is situated in what was once an abandoned, rubber plantation along Penang’s north-western shores.  Work on-site took 1½ years to complete, and involved the major challenge of harmonising over 500 species of tropical flora with the natural valley fronting the Straits of Malacca.  It was crucial to preserve as much of the original indigenous flora and fauna while maintaining the original topography of the site to give the Garden a timeless, natural feel.  Many of the existing rubber trees were left undisturbed, to give shade and shelter to visitors.

Lily pond
Lily pond

You have to hand it to the Garden.  During development, they utilized mainly natural and recycled building materials salvaged from pre-war shop houses or sourced from local antique stores.  It uses only organic fertilizer and integrated pest control methods to limit the negative impact on the cycle of life, and they recycle.  They also make it a point to deal with smaller local vendors and traders to support their businesses and share the success.  Really great to see.

After looking around and a spot of lunch at Tree Monkey, the onsite restaurant, we decide to catch the local bus back to Georgetown.  They run every 10 minutes (ahem, half hour).  Just almost out of Batu Ferringhi, the bus is over loaded with young boys, who look as they they’ve been celebrating Songkran, the Thai water festival.  We were intending to stay on in Batu Ferringhi for dinner, but I’ve started feeling under the weather.  And looking at the traffic coming up the hill, it looks as though BF is going to be busy tonight, which could mean a nightmare to get home later.  The bus seems to take forever, and doesn’t seem to start emptying out till we are back in Georgetown.

But we are finally home at the hotel and ready to pack our bags because tomorrow we are off to Langkawi bright and early.

Monkey Cups and a Second Chance

Apparently the coolest place to visit in Penang is Penang Hill.  Literally.  With an elevation of 833m above sea level, Penang Hill is one of the oldest colonial hill stations.  It was established by the British during their time in Malaysia. Explored in the late 18th century, a horse trail was cut by the Waterfall Gardens to the summit of the hilly spine of Penang, allowing the British to escape from the chaos of George Town to the cooler climate on the hill.  The earliest mode of transport to the hill was via horses, or a system called ‘doolies’, where masters were carried up the hill on special sedan chairs.  Carried by four porters by transferring the load onto their shoulders, the trip up the hill could take at least a few hours!

Feel sorry for the poor guys who had to lug someone up the hill on this thing!
Feel sorry for the poor guys who had to lug someone up the hill on this thing!

The Penang Hill Funicular Railway was the second mode of transport established for access to the summit. The first railway was constructed in 1901 and completed in 1905 but was rendered useless, due to technical faults. A second railway was commissioned in 1909, and works for the second line started in 1914 with a budget of 1.5 million Straits Dollars. On 1st January 1924, the 2,007m long funicular railway was officially opened by then Governor of Straits Settlement, Sir L.N.Guillemard.  It’s a steep ride to the top of the hill, but its quick, taking only 7 minutes or so.

The steep road to the top!
The steep road to the top!

Situated on one part of the hill is Monkey Cup – a special garden dedicated to the monkey cup and other such carnivorous plants.  A monkey cup is so named because monkeys drink rainwater out of them.  Its carnivorous due to the fact that the plant contains a syrup which attracts prey, and then the lid closes in to trap it.  There are about 120 species of monkey cup, so we have only had a glimpse of a few today.

One of many species of Monkey Cup
One of many species of Monkey Cup

Penang hill also houses the Owl Museum, home to all sorts of different owls – ceramic, glass, wooden, plastic – you name it, it’s here.  All shapes and sizes.  For RM10 and not being an owl fanatic myself, I would have to say it was overpriced.  It’s just as well we got our value out of the day by walking around the hill exploring.

Colourful owls
Colourful owls

There are numerous bungalows dotting the hillside – some ghosts of their former selves, some still inhabitated.  It’s quite eerie to look at the shells of some of these buildings and imagine the past.  The bungalows were built by Europeans and some rich Chinese tycoons.  It was mainly British Officers that made their homes on Penang Hill, often seeking convalescence from the malaria plagues lowlands.  Some of the bungalows have faired better than others and still quite beautifully along the hill.

Deceased estate
Deceased estate

Heading back to town and seeing as this afternoon is ever so slightly cooler than yesterday, we decide to chance visiting a few of the spots we missed yesterday.  So we jump in a cab and head to the Khoo Kongsi Temple.  I am so glad to get a second opportunity to come and see this building because it is stunning beyond words.  It glitters with extravagance – colourful lanterns, gold bas relief and stone insets tell stories of all sorts

Absolutely stunning!
Absolutely stunning!
One of many lantersn
One of many lanterns

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (Khoo Kongsi for short) is one of the most distinctive Chinese clan associations in Malaysia, with the clans lineage going back 650 years!  And although there is a network of clan buildings, it is the magnificent clan house that you need to see.

Even The Alley is open this time.  The Alley is a little café that has become popular for its churros.  I’ve not eaten them before because I consider them as deep fried sticks of fat.  But I’m on holidays, so I figure I’ll use the opportunity to test the theory.  My small serve, which consists of 4 sticks and costs RM6 (approx. $2) comes with salted caramel dipping sauce.  The first bite tells me my theory was right so I’m not quite sure what everyone raves about, but I’m glad to have been able to find out for myself.  Plus the place was airconditioned to let Mum cool down a bit before our next bit of walking.

The Alley's churros with salted caramel dip
The Alley’s churros with salted caramel dip

After the churros we catch the CAT bus for a stop or so until we come to Fort Cornwallis.  There’s not much to see, but it was built by the British East India Company in the late 1700s and it has never been engaged in battle.

The waterfront
The waterfront

Running behind the fort and along for a bit is the Esplanade.  When Francis Lights boys arrived here, rumour has it that Francis fired gold coins into the bush to incentivise the locals to clear it.

For dinner tonight, we decide to head to Thirty Six, which is Penang’s only revolving rooftop restaurant.  It also happens to be owned by the same restaurant people that run Beach Blanket Babylon.  They have a buffet (not another one!) of local Penang dishes and the best view in town.  The food is pretty good, but the winner has to be the icecream!

Food with a view
Food with a view

It’s been a long day and an absolute killer on the feet – hope I can walk tomorrow!

The Blue Mansion and Other Assorted Mishaps

The morning dawns foggy and warm, but its still a relief to get some fresh air out on the balcony.  Airconditioning just annoys me after not long because I have to work in it all day.  I crave fresh air.  From the balcony you can get quite a good view.  The ocean, which seems to blend seamlessly with the sky, little fishing boats dotting the shoreline and the ruins of buildings from a past era, silently rotting away.

Ghosts of eras past
Ghosts of eras past

Breakfast is an international buffet at Sarkies Restaurant and there’s all sorts on offer – waffles, eggs all styles, breads, cereals, fruit, noodles, dim sum, greasy bacon, sausages and hash browns – even quiche and german sausage.  And of course, pastries.  Plus fresh juices – which you can design for yourself, or which they will concoct for you.  It’s not hard to eat your fill in a very, very short time.

It’s time to explore Georgetown. Get out amongst it and soak up the flavour.

More or less around the corner from the hotel is the Cheong Fatt tze Mansion.  Cheong Fatt Tze, who was quite the land-hopping jetsetter for his time, maintained mansions in Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, besides the one in Penang.  Although each reflected his high station in life in, it appears that this one was his favorite.  The Blue Mansion was certainly the most elaborate.

The Blue Mansion
The Blue Mansion

The Mansion’s construction began before the end of the 19th Century, and it was said that he had hoped to house nine generations of his descendants there.  Artisans were shipped in from Southern China for the project and building materials were imported from as far away as Scotland.  Unfortunately you need to take guided tours through the mansion and they are scheduled at 11.00, 1.30 and 3.00 – which it is nowhere near.  But from our view behind the gates it certainly looks as though it would have been worth it. Around the corner in Penang Road we manage to locate the free cat bus stand.  There’s no timetable or way of knowing how frequently they run.  So after about fifteen minutes we decide to brave the heat and walk for a bit.  The streets are quietly bustling with cars, trishaws, motorbikes, sellers and buyers and a host of homeless dogs.

The cooler way to get around, literally...
The cooler way to get around, literally…

At Campbell Street we turn left.  This street began life as a red light district, and then one of the most important shopping areas for local Penangites.  Now most of the shops have been taken over by retailers.  A little way down is Love Lane.  Whilst there’s some conjecture over how its name was arrived at – perhaps after a British officer named Love, the site for brothers frequented by sailors and soldiers or after the self-flagellation procession staged by Shiite muslims in the early 19th century, it certainly is a lovely little street to stroll down.

The entrance to Campbell Street from Penang Road
The entrance to Campbell Street from Penang Road

Coming across Chulia Street, I hope to find a local jewellery store called Laconic.  Laconic make contemporary pieces, many studded with Swarovski crystals and I was taken with some of the pieces I saw when reading about Laconic.  A piece from here would make a perfect reminder of my time in Penang.  But I can’t find it anywhere.

It’s really quite humid today and I can feel rivers of sweat trickling down my front and back.  Looking at Mum, I can see she’s struggling, so its probably time to find some airconditioning.  No problems, I read about a cool little café that should be right around here.  Ah, yep there it is – CLOSED!

I decide to give up plans to explore the rest of Georgetown today – Khoo Khongsi, the Weld Jetty, the Esplanade, the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.  It’s disappointing, but nothing is going to plan today so I should quite while I’m ahead.  Perhaps another chance will present itself.

It’s probably best to heard to Gurney Drive, and go shopping at Gurney Plaza, a nice big airconditioned mall.  Laconic is supposed to have another store here but its not listed on the store directory board.  Almost ready to give up on finding this jeweler, we stop in at Dome for lunch (only because we can’t find sandwiches anywhere else), and thank goodness because they have wifi and I’m able to track down Laconic’s store details.   Refreshed, its up to the 5th floor for one last look and there it is.  The shop is fairly dark, which makes it a little difficult to see the pieces in their full glory.  I see several pieces that are awesome, but there’s one in particular that catches my eye.

My new piece
My new piece

For some reason when I looked at it, it reminded me of some kind of art work featuring Peranakan flowers, so that was the piece that will be coming home with me.  There are a lot of pendants to choose from (as well as rings, bracelets and earrings), and then selections of chains for you to purchase separately, perfectly customising your piece.

Back at the hotel, its dinner time.  At Sarkies.  The Sarkies Brothers were a group of brothers of Armenian hnicity, best known for founding a chain of luxury hotels throughout southeast Asia (think Raffles).  Born in Persia the brothers were Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak Sarkies.  Tonight the Sarkies are hosting a Wine and Dine Buffet. About $60 for a medley of gourmet delights and free flow of wine and beer, the Sarkies put on a generous spread.  The stand out of the night would have to be the Penang Char Kway Teow – the best I’ve ever tasted – the noodles just like silk.  And of course the miniature sized cakes – such a shame I couldn’t find room for the chocolate pudding!  I think I don’t want to see any food for a while now – well at least until tomorrow morning!

Sarkies Delights
Sarkies Delights

The Tale of Betel Nut Island

This morning has shown me one of the most beautiful skies I’ve ever seen in flight  Beautifully clear, slowly leaving Perth behind, the sun is just rising in a vibrant wash of red, orange and pink.  And then climbing into a landscape of clouds.  I’ve never seen anything like it – they weren’t just clouds – there were lakes and mountains and waterfalls hanging in the clouds.  And no, I haven’t started drinking yet.

DSC08938
See! Those are mountains for sure!

I start off my flight movie marathon by choosing 47 Ronin, cause let’s face it – it’s been a while since I’ve seen Keanu Reeves in anything.  It’s a Japanese period drama, a tale of love and courage, about a half caste boy who grows up among samurai in Ako.  The Lord of Ako dies, leaving his samurai leaderless, or ronin, and they join forces to seek revenge for the death of their master.  The costumes and scenery are just amazing and I quite enjoy the movie, except for the animated bits about demons and make believe jungle creatures (but I’m not a computer generated graphics fan in any case), but poor Keanu just looks so sad throughout the whole movie.  It was hard to tell whether he was acting or is just that miserable in his real life.  Come here Keanu – I’ll give you hug, cheer you up a bit!

For movie number two, I flit around a bit from channel to channel, instead of doing what I just should have done straight away – and that’s choose Dallas Buyers Club.  As a result I don’t get to see the ending before we land at Changi Airport, but what I did see was really good.  Matthew McConnaughy’s skeletal frame is terrifying.

We only have about an hour until our transit flight to Penang takes off, so its not long til we are on our way again.  The flight is full of bumpy moments and we land with such a thud that I’m sure our plane has bounced off the tarmac and is going to have to try again, but we have made it.  Coming into the airport you can straight away seen the lush greenery of the island.

Coming in to and from the south of the island.
Coming in to and from the south of the island.

Our luggage arrives with us (yay!  Always a good thing!) and our transfer from Tour & Incentive Travel is waiting for us.  He’s a very friendly guy and he uses my name whenever he speaks to me.  As we drive to the north east point of the island, he tells us bits and pieces about the island.

Penang was originally called Pulau Pinang, loosely translated as Betel Nut Island – the name coming from the abundance of betel nut palms scattered across the sandy beaches.  Penang was born when English captain Francis Light persuaded the Sultan of Kedah to cede Pulau Pinang to the British East India Company.  In 1786, he landed on what is known today as the Esplanade and fired gold coins into the surrounding jungle to induce his men to clear the area.

In 1832, Penang formed part of the Straits Settlement with Malacca and Singapore.  The Penang maritime port was among the busiest in the region, attracting rich merchants involved in the lucrative trade of tea, spices, porcelain and cloth.  Settlers and fortune-seekers from the all over called Penang home and it was from this interesting mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Siamese cultures that Penang became a melting pot for hybrid communities – the most famous being the Baba Nyonya, Jawi Peranakan and Eurasians.

It remained under British colonial rule for more than a century until Malaysia gained independence. George Town was accorded city status by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957, becoming the first town in the Federation of Malay – after Singapore – to become a city.  Georgetown was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

Streets of Penang
Streets of Penang

Before we know it (about half an hour though), we are pulling up to the imposing white façade of the Eastern and Oriental Hotel – our home for the next four nights.  We are staying in Georgetown, because to me, why would you stay anywhere else but at the iconic E&O?  Well anyway, I had always imagined the E&O hotel when I thought of Penang, so we are here.  She’s a grand old colonial dame, a flashback to British stuffiness, garden parties, elegant marble and stunning architectural features.  Part of our amazing accommodation deal is the lure of complimentary evening drinks and snacks in the Planters Lounge, fresh fruit, breakfast, complimentary water and softdrink and free wifi (in ALL areas of the hotel).

The E&O
The E&O

The hotel lobby is extravagant.  The wide hallway corridors of the hotel are lined with prints of Georgetown’s heritage and the wooden floors – well, they make me sound like a pony!  (cue coconuts banging together to produce hoof sound).

Our room, sorry – miniature apartment – is 55 square meters of colonial luxury.  A marble bathroom housing a claw foot bath, flanked by a massive shower with the most awesome shower head I’ve ever seen, beautiful furnishings – a reading chair, a good sized writing desk, a balcony with two wicker seats and views to the Malacca Strait, across past Gurney drive and then glimpses of Georgetown.

View of Georgetown behind the hotel
View of Georgetown behind the hotel
The view from our balcony.
The view from our balcony.

After unpacking though, its time for our daily drinks, so on the way to the Planters Lounge, we stop in to check out the gym, with its horrible view of the ocean, and the infinity pool.  The daily drinks session incudes red or white wine, local beer, vodka, gin, whisky or Bacardi, soft drink, tea, coffee, juice or water washed down with cold meats, cheese, crackers, bread, fruit and a different array of little local snacks – quite a good spread for free.

Given its been such a long day, we opt for a quiet night and decide to walk down the road to see if we can locate a place called Beach Blanket Babylon that I read about.  Its supposed to be right around the corner, but the door men have never heard of it.  We decide to try our luck anyway and are rewarded when we walk right around the corner and there it is.  Just like it was supposed to be.  It’s amazing how advertising can give you a different picture and vibe of the place you are looking at.  BBB is a lot more rustic than the world wide web showed it to be.  But its quaint, the staff are friendly, and the views across the Malacca Strait are gorgeous as the sun goes down.

Taking a table on a little deck overlooking the water, we peruse the menu with its array of local and western dishes and happy hour from 11am to 8pm.  Good opportunity to try out a few of their cocktails I reckon.  We order a couple of dishes to share – char kuey tow and something else I’m sorry to say I can’t remember the name of!  But they are both really good, but really, really spicy.  Its nice to sit here with the breeze blowing against our faces, watching the sunset.  After a quick walk around the streets, we are now good and ready for bed so we can start exploring Penang tomorrow.

KL 2.0 A New Impression?

It was an earlyish start this morning to get to the airport on time for my flight home to Perth.  The airport is a good 45 minutes away from KLCC and we were running late thanks to some people we picked up at the Shangri La who didn’t seem to care that others may be waiting – after emerging from the hotel about 20 minutes late, the “gentleman” proceeded to light up a cigarette.  Glad he wasn’t in a hurry, but his tardiness meant I didn’t get any time to check out the duty free shopping before departing from KLIA.

So what did I take in about Kuala Lumpur this time?  Did my feelings change?  Or do I now know that I gave it my best shot, and I really won’t come back to KL?  Well I still think some of the people are quite rude – but I guess you get that in every city – which reminds me I forgot to tell you about when I was shopping in Top Shop the other day – I was going through the racks an arms length in front of me, when a Chinese woman decided it was too much trouble to walk around me and preceded to walk straight between my and my arms which were outstretched to the rack in front of me.  I looked at her, she looked at me and said ‘Sorry’ and then kept going!  How rude!

Anyway, rudeness aside, I’m happy to say that I’m sure my state of mind probably had a lot to do with how I felt about KL last time I visited.  A lot has happened in the last year of my life and things have changed.  I think I really needed this revisit to KL and am glad I made the trip.  Of course, it was certainly made a lot nicer trip but the fact that I got to see the smiling faces of my friend and her family.