10.3.17 Penang to Kuala Lumpur

You maybe wondering where the 9th is?

Food.Blog.Food.Pack.Food.Bed. There you go. Just like most days.

Our expanding waistlines tell us its time to leave.

The bus is the most comfortable one yet. Three large seats wide and a good reclining level.

About an hour into the journey we pull into a garage. This isn’t expected. The driver tells us we need to change a tyre and we’ll be 20 minutes. We take the opportunity to buy crisps and nuts and pastry products from the garage next door for a healthy buffet breakfast.

An hour later and we’re back off. We listen to music and I’m so comfy and the ride is so smooth I fall asleep. Later, I come round from my slumber and watch Malaysia zoom past the window.

The aircon stops and we start to warm up. We pull over to the hard shoulder. The driver tells us the fan belt has gone and he needs to fix it. He takes his toolkit and goes outside. We start sweating as the temperature in the bus soars. We wait. The bus rocks from side to side as trucks speed past us. A bus pulls up in front. We are told to change and luckily there are exactly the right number of seats free. Another hour and we are in KL. 

A helpful ticketbooth lady explains our tube options and after two short rides we walk to our apartment hotel. This is our last Asian destination and sadly for us our last overland destination so we decided to up our flashpacker credentials and go out in style. We have a double bed, ensuite, fridge, kettle, pool and gym! 

Oh Yes! 

An ensuite!

We head to the local, huge temple of consumerism, Times Square, for food, where an ordinary chicken and chips and noodle dish fills us. Friday night essentials of red wine and chocolate are bought and we luxuriate in our 22nd floor room enjoying the view across KL.

Stadium Negara

8.3.17 Georgetown Dr and Dr Dolittle

The day started with a rat scuttling across our path, but with the open sewers its not suprising. We crossed the road to eat at a food stall our hostel recommended. Wanton mee for me and curry mee for her. Both good.

Delicious iced coffee
Wan Ton Mee

We walked to the bus station at Komtar and caught the number 10 to the botanical gardens. Al saw a cockroach on the bus.

We had chosen a bad day to visit the Botanical gardens as the specialist plant houses were closed. We were able to wander round the outside though to see cacti and bromeliads but sadly the fern house was huge so we couldn’t see everything.

We did see Lizards though, wandering around.

A troup of monkeys too.

It wasn’t top of our botanical gardens list but it was very tranquil to visit after the noise of Georgetown and is a beautiful green space.

Back in the old town I finally get to try Assam laksa, a local sour soup of tamarind, chili, sardine, pineapple and mint. It sounds like fridge leftovers but it works and I really enjoyed it.

Al had kaka on white toast at a street cafe which every morning had a long queue down the pavement. It was white bread, toasted, with coconut jam on. I’m pondering importing toasters to Penang.

Another Rat scuttled across our path.

Then it was Laundry Time! The glamour of travel is endless. Our hostel guy was complaining about the heat and I thought about his words as I sat sweating in the launderette. I melted. It was running down my head. I love the heat and humidity and its great for my psoriasis and sitting in the launderette was possibly the hottest moment of the trip so far. As a puddle of sweat formed under my chair, the lady in charge turned the fans on and the hot, humid air was moved about. I continued to sweat. A lot.

Back in the hostel, our friendly host clearly recognises my Dr Dolittle powers and hands me his pet python.

Another restaurant which always had a queue down the street was the 110 year old Hameediya. We had tried to go twice before but decided not to bother after seeing the queue and being spoilt for choice but as we leave the hostel our host tells us to go now as it will be quiet. We walk straight in. Chicken murtabak, tandori chicken and naan and biriyani rice with beef rendang, curried cabbage and pickled chilli. Each component was of high quality with strong flavours, delicious.

We were stuffed so we had a walk round the block and stopped for a cup of tea. On the way back a cockroach crossed our path and then a rat scuttled past.

Georgetown Part 2 – Architecture and Street Art

Georgetown isn’t easy to walk around. There are few pavements, so you walk in the road and trust the judgment of the speeding scooter drivers who are used to dodging tourists by a hairs breadth.

On top of this, you face the assault course of uneven surfaces, potholes, open sewers, gas meters, raised manholes, lowered manholes and the ends of sawn off street notices which all test your awareness, especially in flip flops. Despite the fear of raising my vision from the ground, I can’t stop staring at Georgetown. It is a film set of quirky detail. A beautiful, visual assault. Its worth the fear and I love the buildings here.

Bin and Door

In the old town, 19th century Straits Chinese architecture  dominates the residential and commercial property. Colonnades shade the main front doors which are flanked by a window on either side. The upstairs floor is a row of wooden shutters. Peranakan (meaning mixed – from Chinese immigrants marrying local Malay) floor tiles create beautiful facades. Muntri street is one of the best places to see examples of this style.

Since Georgetown had UNESCO heritage listing in 2008, some of the buildings have been bought up and carefully redeveloped into boutique cafes and hotels. They retain their original features but now proudly display a bright, clean exterior. For me though, the dilapidated, old exteriors are the most beautiful. Faded glamour is far more romantic than fresh paint.

One of the buildings we were able to enter and look around is China House, a narrow building of over a hundred metres long which stretches between two roads. The interior has had minimal renovation and houses cafe/bar/restaurant/music venue/shops in a retro, vintage Chinese bohemian space. There is a lot of art and I don’t like to use the ‘C’ word but it’s beyond cool. Plus their cakes were the best we’ve  eaten and the house Red was the best we’ve drunk but this post isn’t about food.

Robot Rabbit Waiter

Cake O’clock

Besides the Straits Chinese architecture, there are also fabulous colonial and art deco buildings.

We have been to Georgetown twice before, most recently in 2014 and I can’t remember much street art then but now I see it everywhere (having a map also helps). One of the tourist things to do now is tour the streets snapping art which I’m more than happy to do. Below is a selection of some of the many pictures I took but I don’t want to litter the internet too much.

Penang may not be to everyone’s taste, but with beautiful architecture, varied street art, stylish cafes, fabulous Malay, Chinese and Indian food, WE LOVE IT!

4 Feb – Georgetown, Malaysia to Ko Lanta, Thailand

Up at 7am for our 8.30 bus to Ko Lanta. The company had told us to be in reception at 8am so we grabbed curry and roti for breakfast and checked out. At 8.30 we asked the receptionist to call the number on the bus ticket which she kindly did after charging us. The person on the line said not to worry it was on its way. We had been in this situation before and knew that the buses tour around the hotels picking up passengers and concluded that we were probably the last pickup. We waited and watched Mrs Overall slowly fulfill her duties. At 9.45 the bus arrived. It was empty. We were the first pickup. Thankfully we only had to pick up two Paraguayans and we left. The driver spent no time trying to make up for his lie in and we hurtled towards the Thai border. We changed buses in Hat Yai and again in a car park somewhere for the final leg to our island paradise. We also had two short ferries and we chatted excitedly to our fellow passengers. An Italian couple and an elderly German bloke with a beautiful Thai girl.

The beautiful slim Thai girl in the figure hugging grey dress is and or was a man. I guess its where you drawn the line or where the surgeon draws the knife.

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We were dropped off at the backpacker zone and just like our friends from Nazareth were turned away from many many inns. The sun had dropped and after a slight foot stompy tantrum (me), we got the last room at Dreamy Casa run by a very helpful Italian guy who recommended a restaurant for tea. We headed straight there and shared a seafood green curry and a Tom Ga which was one of the best things we’ve eaten. Sweet and sour coconut fragrant soup. Bloody delicious! We had a beer in a bar far cooler than either of us run by a rasta whose dreads reached his calves and turned in.

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3 Feb – last day in Georgetown, Malaysia

Writing this up with hindsight, today was an odd day. It started well with a free breakfast in the modern cafe underneath the hotel. Noodles for me and curry and roti for Al. We had deluded ourselves that the trip wasn’t just about food so we should do a bit of tourism, so we headed to the bus station to get the number 10 to the botanical gardens.

We dodged the local wiseman who was shouting at the pigeons and found our bus stop. Patiently waiting, we watched a woman chain smoke and twitch her head round every 10 seconds. A slo-mo exorcist. Buses came and went but not the number 10. After an hour we gave up and decided to refocus on food, but first we needed to do a bit of admin. Tomorrow we intended to catch the ferry to the island of Langkawi so we thought we’d get prepared and check the port and buy a ticket. The office informed us that both the ferries were full. “Very unusual, because of Chinese New Year” Oh dear. Plans need to change.

Next to our hotel we had noticed a chinese restaurant serving suckling pig and having failed to get it in Hong Kong and Macau we decided to head there and over a feast of roast pig discuss what we should do next. The restaurant had a table which was a good start as the night before we had been turned away. We were seated and given hot towels, jasmine tea and nuts. We perused the menu and chose suckling pig and roast duck, nothing else appealed. The waiter informed us there was no roast meat. We paid for the towels,tea and nuts and left.

Next door was the cafe where we’d had breakfast and on their menu was a charcoal burger, not cooked over charcoal, but where the bun contained charcoal and was black. As this was unique and close we thought it would be a quick interesting option. Our waiter from breakfast greeted us with a big smile but when we ordered he told us they had no bread at all. “Delivery in two days.” We thanked him and left.

By now we realised things weren’t quite flowing smoothly so it was time to book a bus ticket out. A travel agent told us it wasn’t an auspicious day. We agreed.

We bought a bus ticket for 8.30am the next day to Ko Lanta, an east coast Thai island and finally headed for lunch. Char Kway Teow for me and Mee Goreng for Al.

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We found a street sign for salvation too, but we haven’t tried it yet.

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After a siesta, my sore throat called for honey and lemon tea which was accompanied by a soothing cappuccino cake.

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This raised the appetite so for our last Penang meal we headed for a guardian recommendation of a hawker stall of Char Kway Teow (fried noodles) and also wanton noodle soup. Both were delicious.

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As we were passing and as we are both hopelessly nostalgic, we couldn’t help but have a cold tiger in an iced glass back at Hong Chow, the hotel we had stayed in 15 years ago. The menu and the decoration hasn’t changed and it felt comforting.

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2 February – More Penang food…..

We made the most of our posh hotel room and checked out at 11, and walked 50m in sweltering hot heat to our next hotel, we were both sweaty after that!

A day of food awaited us, so to walk off some calories we wandered down the esplanade, which in usual towns is something lovely, however the part we stared at was not that scenic, overlooking the container ships, we had to dodge the unsecured, uneven concrete pavement, deep smelly drains, and general rubbish that was in our way.  Thankfully we got to the nice bit without any injuries, and saw some tourist sites, see below!

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Obviously, after that short stroll, it was time for more food, and what better than tandoori chicken and naan from Restaurant Kapitan ….oooooh, it was delicious. It was full of locals, some of whom looked a little worse for wear after a heavy Saturday night, which was comforting!

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Today was the day for all the Chinese new year celebrations in Penang, loads of roads had been blocked off, several stages set up for folk stories, dancing and other Chinese NY celebrations.

We did see some massages going on, using meat cleavers!
*please don’t try this at home*

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There wasn’t much else happening so we wandered back to our hotel, stopping at the Chinese hotel we stayed at 15 years ago for an ice cold beer and a reminisce. And watched a couple of pretty feral travellers request a room there , they went to view it, came down and walked out! Our standards must have been pretty low last time!

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We thought we would go and see what was happening for the celebrations, so made it to the closed off area and found it absolutely rammed with Chinese, and other revellers. When you went past the stages they were screaming Chinese into the microphones which was enough to send you deaf! It was so congested, and there were no beer stalls, that we decided to decamp to a bar and take time out!

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Had a couple of beers talking to a New Zealand traveller, who is off to South America next month. 

Guy wasn’t feeling 100%, we are not sure if it is malaria, avian flu,  viles disease or just a slight cough, so we decided to call it a day and walked down the road to our hotel. It must have been about 8pm, and there were some very ‘made up ladies’, obviously feeling the heat as they were scantily dressed, waiting around for a lift or a friend to pick them up for the night, I assume to go home, who knows! They didn’t hassle Guy, so that was good! (Some of them had very masculine features.)

We went for another Indian restaurant for another tandoori chicken for Guy and vegetable murtabak for me!

Guy felt up to watching Liverpool vs baggies, then we had a restless nights sleep due to the karaoke bar across the street which went on til 3am!

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1 February – Happy Lunar New Year of the wooden Horse!

Being meticulous planners for this trip…ahem…..we had decided on going to Penang for Chinese new year on purpose, so we could see all the celebrations and experience it in a fairly Chinese place. However, we soon realised it was a little bit like Christmas day back home (albeit it without the champagne conga ala Si and Gez) whereby everyone is at home with their family, no Chinese businesses are open, meaning all the Chinese – Malay food we had been looking forward to would have to be on hold for a few days.

On the plus side there is a Little India for us to explore, so curry inbound!

Due to having curtains with linings we actually slept in, it also helped that there was a time difference here that we belatedly found out about!

Breakfast was Roti Canai, they had already sold out of Murtabak, it was about 11am so possibly not surprising!

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After a quick look around the shopping malls which were mostly closed we had some lunch at a hawker stall, Guy had Laksa – Penang style with lots of shrimp paste, beef stock, mint and liver balls.

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I had Char Koay Teow, basically noodles, prawns and Chinese liver sausage, the stall was heaving and it took ages to get our food,  but a family from Singapore had a quick chat with us to pass the time of day.

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After this, I went to explore the pool and sauna in the hotel, steam room was mouldy so gave that a miss, was enjoying a sauna until 3 burly northern europeaners turned up, I left soon after!

It was now snack time, so we had a murtabak each from the stall down the road, and chatted to a 76year old who had been here 50 years ago, he now lives in Almeria!

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Next door to the snack place was an English pub we had been in 15 years ago, and after being away for two months, laminated menus, vinegar and pints of ale had made us well up a bit. So for a bit of nostalgia we went in again, this time we had tears of pain when we realised we had just paid £3.50 a pint!

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After a wander around and a few more beers to cool down, and a notice in the gentlemans loo which made me wet myself………( see middle image below)

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…..we ended up in a veggie indian restaurant for lush spinach and cheese curry, jeera rice.

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Then it was back home to watch Iron Man 3. So quite a typical Saturday night, beers, curry and movie!