A Spontaneous Tour

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
Trip End Nov 24, 2014

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Flag of Malaysia  , Pinang,
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

We started our day today as planned by heading to the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion, also known as "Blue Mansion". This enormous home with 38 rooms, 220 windows, and 5 open air courtyards, once belonged to tycoon Cheong Fatt Tze who was originally from China. As a young boy, he struggled to read due to dyslexia and even by the age of nine, his father and grandfather, both of whom were teachers, could not help him learn to read. At 12 he decided and declared that he would become a businessman and be rich. He started working at a young age and married his very wealthy employer's daughter. From that, he was able to initiate businesses of all sorts and eventually became the richest man in the east. He really enjoyed western things so when he saw that Europeans had fake marbles and fake golds he implemented these things in his home, even though he could have easily afforded real marble panelling. The man had 8 wives and acknowledged having 14 children, the last one being born to his 7th wife of age 24 a year before he passed away at age 74. He was such a prominent man in society at this time in 1916 that when he passed away, the Dutch and British authorities ordered flags to be at half mast. The tour of this mansion only took us through the main courtyard and through some rooms, but our tour guide was great at giving us visuals about what the rest of the house looks like. After Cheong Fatt Tze passed away, this 7th wife decided to rent out the rooms of the house and later on, rented out the corridors as well. This beautiful mansion was rented out by tenants for 15 years and the tenants never cleaned the place since their thinking was that they didn't own it. When the house was sold in 1989, a massive cleaning effort began to remove the thick layer of dirt on the ground and the dirt all over the 24 karat gold paneling on the main courtyard doors. This cleaning did help in the discovery that not cleaning had kept the original tiles intact! It was interesting to be able to read part of this man's will and see that out of his 14 children and 8 wives, only 3 names were mentioned in the entire 9 page will. This was definitely an interesting tour!

As we left the mansion, we were heading back to the hostel so I could change out of flip flops and into shoes since we were planning on walking a lot today. However, when we were outside the mansion, we began speaking with Gary, a local tour guide. After speaking with him for about 10 minutes, we ended up agreeing on a price and itinerary and suddenly we had spontaneously booked a private tour! Gary started out by taking us to eat some terrific street food, since Penang is of course one of the top street food cities in Asia. Jason and I both got our own meals, I had char koay teow (noodles with prawns and spices served on banana leaf) and Jason had asam laksa (sour fish noodle soup) and then we each got desserts called cendol and ice kacang, both are served with ice and jellies. All together, our meals and desserts cost about $5CDN. It all tasted really good and we were grateful to Gary for introducing us to these foods. We had cendol in Melaka too, but they are a little different from each other and Jason preferred this one a lot more. Shortly after we started driving to our first stop, Gary stopped on the side of a road and told us to wait because he was going to get us a surprise. He came back with delicious fresh bread with butter and kaya, a coconut jam. Again, delicious!

Our first stop on this spontaneous tour was Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddha temple in Southeast Asia. We first saw the incredibly large statue of the Goddess of Mercy and took some pictures. We learned that on Chinese New Year, the area around this statue is accessible for 15 days and many people come to drop coins in the bowls placed at the base of the statue. They always bring 111 coins and drop one into each of the bowls and are always left with 2 coins for themselves as the Chinese believe it is good to have leftover money for the next year. We saw the very large pagoda next, which is made up of pagoda tiers from Burma, China, and Thailand. The architectural styles of these tiers are noticeably different, but all look nice together at the same time.

We left the temple and headed to Penang Hill where we took a train up the steep slope of the hill. In the past, it took about half an hour to reach the top of the hill by the train. Today, with the help of the Swiss, the train takes only 5 minutes to bring passengers to the top. This hill was used by the British during the colonial era as a place to cool off as well as a lookout spot over the Melaka Strait. Up at the highest point of Penang Hill, is David Brown's restaurant and venue space. David Brown was a prominent influence in Penang during the British colonial period. His beautiful house (now an event venue) is right at the top of the hill and a little below it, there is a restaurant named for him serving "western food". While living in Penang, David Brown fell ill with a skin disease and after trying many ways to cure it and failing, he agreed to try something untraditional. He headed to the southern part of the state to a small shrine and prayed. It worked! He was so grateful for his recovery that when asked by loyal visitors of the shrine if he could help them build a temple there, he agreed. Brown was a wealthy man who owned a lot of land so he gave permission to cut down the trees in the forest around the shrine to build a temple. This displaced the snakes from the forest and every night they would find their way into the temple. This apparently still happens at nighttime today, hence, the temple is called Snake Temple!

After Penang Hill, we headed to the botanic gardens. There are about 2000 monkeys in these gardens comprised of two species of monkeys: Marquette, which are the cheeky ones looking for food, and Dusky, which are vegetarians and don't bother humans. We took a short tram ride around the garden, driven by Gary since they were understaffed. Gary had never driven this before and does not work for the gardens, but the ticketing guy allowed him to drive us around. I don't think something like this would fly at home, but Gary did a great job! We saw rain trees and cannonball trees throughout the gardens. These botanic gardens are based on the British design, but are free to enter whereas in Britain entry apparently has a fee. We were supposed to visit a spice garden instead today, but we ran out of time to get there. The botanic gardens were a great back up plan.

The next stop on our tour took us to a batik workshop. We were given a tour and explanation with visuals of how batik painting works from the beginning of the process to the finished product. The process can be done by hand or with simple pattern machines and can take a few weeks depending on how quickly everything dries. A wax is placed in a pattern on the fabric to be removed at the very end of the process, revealing the pattern in either white or various colours depending on if the background is painted first or not. We we able to see someone hand painting a large tablecloth with precision and ease. Of course our tour ended in their shop where the products were beautiful, but the prices were more than we were willing to spend.

Before dropping us off at a beach bar to watch the sunset at Batu Ferringhi Beach, Gary had more foods for us to try. First up, we had a soya bean curd dessert, similar to the one we had in Singapore. It's natural soya bean curd with liquid brown sugar on top, which was really nice, as was the soya drink we tried. As we were eating and drinking this, Gary ran to another cart and bought more food for us to try. Jason wouldn't try the pork sandwich, but I really liked it. The last foods Gary insisted on us eating were fried bananas and sweet potatoes and these were some of the best pisang goreng we've had yet!

Bora Bora is a fun bar with tables set up right on the beach. We relaxed on the beach while sipping a beer and watching the sun set above people parasailing, jet skiing, and horseback riding. It was a really great spot to relax for a little while. Our last stop today was the Batu Ferringhi night market, which spans over a couple kilometres. We bought some more DVDs and had dinner in a food court. This market is mostly clothing, gadgets, and art, so we didn't buy too much at all, but we did try a crispy pancake with a filling of nuts and sweet corn, which was okay. We caught the local bus and took it back to Georgetown, ready for sleep after a fun, spontaneous day!
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Sondi and Murray on

Hi, we have loved your blog. We are traveling to Hong Kong and the Vietman and Cambodia and then Rome! I will e mail our info and maybe we can meet somewhere, not sure of your plans . We leave for Rome on April 17 th to see Cindy, Jeff and Tyler and will be there for a week before leving for Hanoi. I will get the proper info to you.

jasonandgaryn on

That would be amazing to hook up. Please send us your itinerary. We head to Thailand tomorrow, so we'll definitely be in the same region! Have a fantastic trip!

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