A wander around Georgetown

Georgetown in Penang is full of contrasts, sounds, smells and sights.

We are here for 8 days before heading to Cambodia and back to our original schedule. Last time we were in Penang, we stayed outside Georgetown but this time we’re at the very heart of it all.

Georgetown is busy, but we’re on a very quiet street with just the squawking of birds. It is full of lovely old colonial mansions that sit right next to some not so pretty high-rise flats & hotels. There is a finely designed Tao Chinese temple in the same street as a mosque, a buddhist temple and a church. There is street-art everywhere.

This is the place to stuff your face with spectacular Chinese, Malay, Japanese, Indian and Western food. We have had a delicious local speciality, Laksa, that cost us less than £2 each at the lovely Laksalicious. We’ve treated ourselves (at only £12 each) to huge amounts of fresh sashimi, sushi and perfect tempura prawns at Zanmai. There are places selling Wagu steak for £50 upwards and, for those craving a taste of home, there’s even highly-rated bangers & mash available at the nearby Irish pub.

There are fantastic clothes markets tempting Allan to buy shirts for less than £3, but also air-conditioned huge shopping malls that have high-end shops (Rolex etc.) that successfully tempted Chloe to a pedicure. The mall we went to today was hosting a competition where, as part of Penang Food Week, 30 competitors raced against the clock to create the best artwork on top of a café latté for a prize of £500.

Underneath this tourist friendly place is other serious businesses. Penang is known as “the other silicon valley” where, amongst other tech, almost all microchips for Intel are manufactured.

We are here for eight days and doubt whether we’ll run out of things to do in this most fascinating of places.

From tropical to arctic, and back, in one day

A one night layover in Kuala Lumpur and we were off to Penang on the new super fast train. It now takes a mere four hours to reach the Penang ferry terminal, but it’s a journey of extremes.

Random impressions include: lugging rucksacks through a hot and humid KL; blessed cool in a seven storey shopping mall; confusion at Sentral Station as platforms are changed without warning; a bright and modern train carriage that transmogrified into a moving freezer as the air con blasted us at temperatures we haven’t experienced since New Zealand; a kid with a yell that liquefies our frontal lobes; the baking, fume-soaked, dusty maze of footways that connects Butterworth Station with the ferry; blessed breeze on our ten minute crossing; relief at the decision to get a taxi to our hotel; gratitude that, though on the fourth floor, we can at least send up our bags in a lift; the excitement of real vegetables for dinner (Java was surprisingly short on veggie options); overheating on the ten minute walk home, even at 8pm; lying under the fan in our room in our pants to cool down (this is our diary and you read it at your own risk!)

Too hot for more. That is all.

Is Malaysia the rudest country in the world?

Back in the 70s, before brand consultants were paid vast sums to ensure that every product name was globally acceptable, it wasn’t unusual to find Swedish washing powder called ‘Poo’ or Brazilian sweets called ‘Arse’. In fact, Chris Tarrant fronted an entire TV show about it.

In 5 months, though, we hadn’t come across a single example of rude branding…until we hit Malaysia. Ladies and gentlemen, we offer you one chocolate covered peanut treat and one men’s outfitters. Enjoy.

Hot dog? Jumping frog? Al eats prawn mee

The Viva Food Court sits opposite our hotel, a frenzy of smells, colours, people, steam and shouting.

While lightning flashed and thunder rolled out at sea, big screens played FA Cup highlights and Chinese soap operas, and at over a hundred plastic tables people tucked into every foodstuff known to humanity. Well, a lot of them anyway.

The idea is you grab your table, remember the number and then begin your grand tour of the stalls that line the massive warehouse-type space. When you see something you fancy, order it and it is delivered to your table within 5 minutes. Dried squid? Pizza? Noodles? Sushi? Frog porridge? The choice is yours.

frog porridge stallAllan couldn’t resist fresh rice noodles with giant prawns (of course), but Chloe decided that frog with ginger and spring onions was too good to miss. Luckily it was.

And the frog porridge? Although, she loves rice porridge (think of a savoury broth flavoured with ginger and fish sauce full of floating rice) and likes frog, it was just too hot last night to go for soup.

We rounded off the meal with a plate of beef and chicken satay – delicious.

A question for our vegetarian but fish-eating readers – can you eat frog? Come on Dave, Kev, Darren – an ethical dilemma for you…

We hail Georgetown! We hail Georgetown!

We arrived in our last new place yesterday with the shortest flight of the holiday. It took a mere 25 minutes to get to Penang from Langkawi. The Air Asia flight left 20 minutes early, so it nearly arrived before it was due to leave. Not too sure what would have happened if that had occurred, the space time continuum probably would have transported us back to 8 October; we would still have money in the bank, still would be single and still have nearly 6 months’ holiday to look forward to.

Explored a little of the very historic capital today by visiting the Penang State Museum, which gave us an insight into this strategically important island. It also showed us a little of what life was like for our neighbour, Robert, who spent a lot of time in Penang a few decades ago.

Allan's Lunch

After this cultural episode, there was only one thing for it, a drink and snacks at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel. Previously famous for its Raffles-like architecture (actually Raffles was build later as a sister hotel) and guests including Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward etc, it will now be famous for our most expensive beer of the holiday – £11 for 1 1/2 pints – but in the hot midday sun, the beer was very cold and welcome.

OK, now for what could be our last quiz question of the holiday: what is the connection between House MD i.e. the esteemed actor/writer/musical genius/previous comedy partner of Stephen Fry – and the city we visited today?

Answers win a prize of a pint of the fizzy at the Eastern and Oriental (flights, taxes, transport, service charges and government taxes not included).

Cable can’t

Finally, we took ourselves out of the resort and decided to go to the Langkawi cable car. It looked like it was worth the 60 ringetts round taxi fare and the same again for 2 tickets to the top.

Apparently it is 1700m long, apparently it rises 65om in height. We say apparently, as we arrived with at least a 2 hour wait to buy tickets and another 2 hours wait to get on a cable car. Although we do have the time, the idea of sitting around for 4 hours in the blazing sun didn’t really appeal!

Maybe next time our planning may avoid the busiest time of the day, not going on a weekend and not going when the kids are on half-term break. With this quality of planning, I’m surprised we managed to get to South East England never mind South East Asia for 6 months.

So instead, a picture of Chloe at the sunset. Yes, it really is Chloe and it is another sunset photo but it beats “Cat in SW8”.

It’s our last day in Langkawi and tomorrow a flight to Penang for us to explore for a few days. In a mere 7 days, we’ll be in the cold of London, so we are determined to enjoy our last week of holiday!

Still lazing around in Langkawi

This photo may explain to our dear readers why we have been a little slack on the posts in the past week. This is the view at breakfast from the very nice Sunset Beach Resort we have moved to. Aaahhhhhh…. although just watch out for the jellyfish.

We did manage to walk the 400m to Langkawi aquarium today. Aquarium was a little misleading as it included turtles, a slightly scary hissing otter, plenty of reptiles and insects and even a rainforest zone.

Chloe saw a trigger fish that she’d wanted to see since the age of 5 and Allan saw some sharks that may have to be his best attempt at the Dave Taylor chALLANge as the diving hasn’t produced the goods (yet).

Overall, it was a mix of spectacular, educational and well presented although on the odd occasion, quite sad, including a lonely seal looking a bit stir crazy and a massive ray in too small a tank. Still, we’ve seen a lot worse on this holiday and elsewhere. In the meantime, a photo of a box fish, possibly one of the strangest of some very strange aquatic beasts on offer.

Lazing around in Langkawi

It’s been a few days since the last time our blog was updated. Nothing to do with the Internet connection being dodgy at our place we’re staying at – although it is pretty poor – but it’s all down to our total sloth induced by sitting in the very hot sun in the Island of Langkawi. Allan hasn’t even taken a photo in the last few four days!

We’ve just made our last hotel reservations of the holiday; another 5 nights here in Langkawi, 3 nights in Penang, 2 nights in Singapore and, last but not least, 1 very very luxurious night in the Singapore Hilton courtesy of Allan’s mum as a wedding prezzy (thanks Geordie Mum!).

Our impression of Langkawi is that it is in the mainstream of tourist territory as you can tell from the places to eat, shops and, even though it is meant to be a tax-free island, definitely the prices. Allan paid £4 for a hot dog for lunch, nice, but same price as a massive prawn feast elsewhere on the holiday!

But the sun is out, people friendly and happy to be enjoying our last two weeks away from home.

Prophets and peacocks

We have another one day stopover in Kuala Lumpur. Last time it was all about Mammon – towers and high end shopping – so this time we opt to feed our spirits and intellects (only for a morning, we’re not THAT ambitious).

We first head for Masjid Negara, Malaysia’s national mosque. A stunning. modern complex, it was built in 1965 to mark Malaysia’s independence (gained in 1957). It is to the previous national mosque (a confection of minarets and domes) what Liverpool Cathedral is to Salisbury Cathedral. Think South Bank Centre in white marble under a blazing sun and you’ve got a feel.

Tourists are required to dress appropriately. Allan was acceptable in his long trousers and t-shirt, but Chloe was asked to don a fetching lilac robe with hood. Vanity is not supposed to have any sway in such a place, but she did look like she had joined a Demis Roussos cult. There is a photo. It shall never been seen.

The mosque itself is a beautiful building, with a folded blue-green roof designed to resemble a partially folded parasol. The central prayer area is surrounded by large, open-sided spaces which, when full, allow 15,000 men to worship together. It is a very appropriate way to mark the foundation of a new Muslim country, and the welcome offered to tourists reflects Malaysia’s multi-faith ambition.

Then on to the Bird Park, which claims to be the largest aviary in the world. It sits in a large bowl and contains over 5,000 species of bird, mostly native to SE Asia.

We saw ridiculously brightly coloured pheasants, something that looked like a cross between a peacock and a dodo and spectacular birds of prey.

Yes, we would rather see them in the wild, but conditions here were among the best we’ve seen in this kind of establishment. Many of the birds live out in the large netted enclosure – not free but with more space than most captive animals.

And, finally…aaaah, ducklings!

Sabah thanks and photos

Back in Kuala Lumpur now, but we wanted to do a special post just on Sabah (Borneo). On arrival at the very odd Nak hotel in Sandakan, a week seemed like it was going to be a long time in Borneo.

However, after staying at the great Paganakan Dii hotel down the road in Sepilok and seeing some of the fauna and flora Borneo has to offer, seven days felt too short a time to spend in this spectacular part of Malaysia.

We didn’t go on a day or night river safari, we didn’t climb Mt. Kinabalu, we didn’t see the main town of Kota Kinabalu and we didn’t go diving around the picture perfect islands off Borneo. However, we did see a LOT and created a photo gallery for viewing. Click here for our photographic efforts.

In conclusion, we saw loads but plenty more to see at a future time. We just hope there’s still rainforest in Borneo when we come back (especially since Chloe forgot herself and had a Kit Kat whilst there, and if you don’t know why she’ll burn for this, watch the Greenpeace spoof Kit Kat commercial and find out!)