Food Glorious Food!!

Trip Start Sep 26, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  , Pinang,
Monday, October 1, 2012

Today saw us up at 6am and in a taxi by 7am as we were catching our flight to Penang at 9:55!
We had asked at reception the night before whether they would be able to call us a taxi in the morning as normally we just wander up to the main road and hail a passing one! They had said no problem so imagine our surprise when we asked them to call us said taxi and their response was to send the young bellboy out up to the main road to hail us one!!! We felt rather guilty as we easily could have done that ourselves!! Going to the airport by taxi rather than the train gave us the chance to see more of Kuala Lumpur and the outskirts. To our surprise passing the Malaysian national football stadium and the formula 1 circuit.
After keeping our fingers and toes crossed we wouldn't be over the weight allowance (we were allowed 40kg and had 39.8kg!!!) we passed through a very simple check in process and waited patiently in the departure lounge! The flight was relatively short (about an hour) but we were quite delayed taking off as there had been a fault detected so were much later leaving than anticipated! Eventually we were up in the air and happily reading our magazines! We had preordered food: a chicken panini for me and chicken satay & fried rice for Matt, without going in to detail, we won't be ordering Air Asia's inflight food again!!!
Once off the flight we followed the crowds through customs, on to baggage reclaim and finally into an airport taxi to take us to our hotel (Chulia Heritage Hotel) in the UNESCO World Heritage area of Georgetown. We couldn't believe we were at the right hotel when we pulled up, it was absolutely stunning!!! All white with big orange drapes and gold leaf detail. It was open fronted so you could see the check in desk and the rooms leading off the main area! Some added joy as we got a free up grade to a deluxe suite. We dropped off our bags in our beautiful white room and headed straight out into the town to explore! Matt had picked up a map of the area in the airport and had clearly been studying it in the taxi as he led me on a very detailed walking tour of Georgetown complete with fascinating facts!!
After a long walk we were feeling peckish so, having heard that Penang is the food capital of Malaysia, we stopped at a Hawker Food Court called Sri Weld. After walking up and down a few times trying to decipher the dishes available and work out what we had to do to order, we opted for Tom Yam Fried Rice and Sambal Fried Rice - still not knowing what this was we were extremely pleased when it was absolutely delicious & so cheap!!!! Finally, we had succeeded in eating like the locals!! Even if it was just fancy rice! =) These two lovely dishes and two drinks cost RM12 which is about 3 and we were full.
We continued on our walk around the town, stopping for refreshments along the way at Yeng Keng Hotel then headed back to the hotel for a nap!
2 hours later (!!!!!!) feeling much better we went for a nighttime walk around the other half of the town and grabbed dinner at a nearby hotel (Banana Boutique) - after the delicious local food at lunch we were actually a bit disappointed with this meal and made the decision to, whenever possible, stick to the food courts rather than the tourist places!!
Our walk back to the hotel opened our eyes to the unexpected nighttime activities of some of the locals and gave us the opportunity to begin our new favourite game: Count the number of prostitutes! Most of whom, by the way, we are convinced have once been men!!!!

After treating ourselves to a bit of a lay in, we got a taxi to Batu Ferringhi on the north side of the island. Our taxi driver was lovely, he used to work in the oil and gas industry so had lots to chat with Matt about and his wife is an English teacher on the mainland! He seemed to enjoy telling us all about Penang and pointing out interesting things along the way. He never stopped talking the whole journey which was lovely but even involved inviting us along to his spiritual well being group as his master (who happens to be an American millionaire) was in town tomorrow night. So after a good lesson in postive thinking, he dropped us off behind a restaurant called 'The Ship', an appropriate name as it is shaped like a giant ship!!, and from there we were able to walk down to the beach.
We were greeted by a litter of gorgeous Labrador pups who were relaxing and trying to keep cool but couldn't resist cuddles and an opportunity to play! Neither could we!!!!!
It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day so we walked along the beach right next to the water (the sand was so hot it burnt your feet if you walked further up!) It was so picturesque - these were the moments we had wished for. We then stopped for some much needed food and drinks at the Pinang Beach Bar behind the Shangri-la Hotel! I treated myself to my first cocktail of the trip, a Hawaiian Delight!! Yum!!
Feeling full, we walked back along the beach and found somewhere to sunbathe - the only downside to this beach is a lack of shade so I struggled a bit and could feel myself getting very red despite using Factor 50 sun cream!!!! Matt on the other hand was lapping it up!!! We stayed on the beach for a while then went for a walk around the town where I managed to get some flip flops for about 4! So much more comfy!!!! Then we headed back to the beach to watch the sunset where Matt made friends with a lovely but slightly crazy drunk man who let Matt try his whiskey and decided to serenade him with a few songs: a new version of Santa Claus is coming to town (not got a clue what his lyrics were but they weren't the same as Matt's) and a traditional Japanese song (we'll have to take his word for that!!!!)
The girls in the hotel had raved about the night markets and food courts in this area so we walked along to Long Beach Food Court and enjoyed more local dishes - we are getting used to how these work now!! Then had a wander around the night market before jumping in a taxi and heading back to the hotel.

Matt woke up feeling very adventurous and decided that rather than using the Funicular railway to get to the top of Penang Hill (approx 830 metres above sea level) we were going to take the hiking trail! So walking shoes on, we got a taxi to take us to the bottom of Penang Hill! Unfortunately, what Matt didn't realise was that the hiking trail actually starts at the Botanic Gardens not the Hill train station and, as we hadn't mentioned our plan to walk it to anyone, the taxi automatically took us there!!! The Botanic Gardens are in fact a long way from the station so that idea went out the window and I almost sprinted to the ticket counter before he could change his mind! Once on the train it was only a short journey to the top! It was an extremely steep hill and even Matt was relieved we had used the train! Once at the top, the views of the island were spectacular, despite it being rather misty, including the Penang bridge which links it to the mainland and the partially completed second bridge!
We had a good look round the area before stopping for a drinks break near a temple and children's play area. A local school were on a day trip there and found us fascinating! One cheeky young lad even came and took a less than subtle picture of me on his mobile!! We decided to venture further up the hill to the Monkey Cup Gardens, a small enterprise growing a number of different varieties of carnivorous Monkey Cup plants! For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about (we'd never heard of them until today!) they are similar to a Venus Fly Trap except they don't close when an insect, or even animal in the case of big ones, enters instead the delicious smelling liquid that had attracted them dissolves and digests them! The tour guide (who is also the main gardener) was extremely passionate about his work/a bit nuts and was really keen to share all his knowledge - a fascinating man!
On our way out of the Gardens we got chatting to 3 locals, Samantha, her husband Wymond and their friend Mac. During our conversation we discovered it was Sam's birthday and they were out celebrating! They invited us to join them for lunch and treated us some of their favourite dishes: laksa (fish noodles), Indian mee goring (spicy noodles), muahchee and pasembur (one of these is a salad and the other doughy peanuts but I'm not sure which is which!), along with a glass of sugar cane juice each! Mac even taught us how to use chopsticks properly although I think it will take a bit more practise yet! They then offered to drive us to the Botanic Gardens as we had mentioned we were going to head there next and showed us some other places of interest along the way including the Youth Gardens. I cannot explain how genuine and lovely they were, we were very lucky to meet them!
The Botanic Gardens were beautiful, we particularly enjoyed the Japanese gardens with a stunning waterfall which gave the area a refreshing breeze and an section with huge cages that look suitable for deadly animals but were actually just for growing plants and trees but it still all looked just like the set of Jurassic Park complete with squawking birds that could easily have been passed off as dinosaurs!!
From here we got a taxi back to the hotel and picked up the laundry we had dropped off earlier that morning, it cost RM10.60 - about 3 - for 2 and a bit kilos, all beautifully ironed and folded and back within 12 hours - nearly as good as my Mum!!! We freshened up then headed to Upper Penang Street to get some Roti Canai as recommended by Emma & Graham - delicious!! And some other lovely food at the Red Garden food court where we were entertained by a keyboard player with his own take on classics such as 'Sway'!! He certainly wasn't a very good keyboard player but his singing was alright, if you ignored his accent - everything sounds so funny with an Asian twist!
Prostitute Count: 7

Today we decided to visit the Penang National Park, we had heard so many wonderful things it had become a 'must see'! We were up bright and early with our beach bags packed and after posting some postcards, jumped on the 101 bus just outside our hotel! After about an hour long journey, we arrived at the entrance to the park where we registered to say we were entering and grabbed some fried rice with dall for breakfast. This turned out to be one of the best meals we'd had - absolutely delicious and all served by such a happy, friendly local lady who didn't seem satisfied until you were full! Looking back now to what the day was gonna bring this meal was far more crucial than we realised at the time.
There were 2 trail options and I decided I wanted to head for Pantai Kerachut which was the less walked of the two but led you to the most beautiful secluded beach! At first our walk was nice and gentle with sea views and concrete path ways. Oh how it soon changed. Suddenly we were scaling up steep broken steps and ducking under trees and canopies. This was brilliant and exactly what Matt had hoped yesterday at Penang Hill would be like, even if the bug radar was working in over drive! We got deeper and deeper in the forest thinking it would never end, it took us nearly 2 hours to complete the hike and was much more hard going than we had anticipated! The people we met en route were wearing proper hiking shoes whereas I was in flip flops and Matt was wearing his white plimsolls! Nevertheless, we carried on as apart from a few areas where steps were broken and puddles from an earlier shower it wasn't really that bad! We were a bit disappointed not to see very much wildlife on our way there, just a couple of armies of ants carrying food in a long line, a butterfly and a monkey! Luckily, only one massive flying bug which made us run for our lives. Along the way we met some friendly Scandinavian lads and an Australian couple who assured us the beach was well worth the trek and we would love it when we got there! They weren't wrong, eventually the jungle area cleared and, after crossing a short suspension bridge, we were rewarded with the view of a gorgeous white sandy beach with barely a person in sight! We walked along the water's edge and took some photos then noticed the big black clouds that were quickly coming onto shore and just managed to dash into a large wooden hut before it absolutely poured with rain!!!! In our hideaway, we were accompanied by a French couple and a real life Robinson Crusoe, complete with tatty clothes and shoes that were hanging out to dry on a makeshift washing line! He was reading an English newspaper but wasn't the friendly sort so we didn't find out where he was actually from and what he was doing!
After about 20 minutes, the rain seemed to have eased a little so we ventured out and back onto the trail for the return journey!! This time we saw a lizard!! By now the path was very muddy and slippery, Matt's plimsolls were no longer white and I was really struggling to keep my flip flops on!!! But we persevered (we didn't really have a lot of choice!) and, with our legs getting shaky from so many steps and climbing, getting back to the entrance couldn't come quickly enough. So with our muddy feet and legs, wet clothes and drenched messy hair we climbed on the bus home. Joy!!!!! Public bus mind you so we were the only ones looking like this. I had tried to clean up a little by using the rain water falling from a canopy (think meeting Mr. Crusoe inspired me!) but it wasn't hugely successful!! Still, I was enjoying rocking the explorer look!! :-)
An exhausting and painful, yet exhilarating and satisfying hike and an important lesson in footwear learnt!!
We stopped for dinner at the Red Garden Food court before heading back to the hotel at 8:30pm to freshen up, knowing once we were showered and sat down there was no getting us out again so we had a well earned rest, only moving to enjoy the tropical rain storm that arrived at about midnight, complete with thunder and lightning!!
Prostitute Count: 5

We were both seriously struggling this morning after yesterday's trek so we treated ourselves to a bit of a lay in then got up to pack our bags and check out of the Chulia Heritage Hotel as unfortunately they don't have room for us tonight. Instead we will be staying at Cocoa Mews Hostel in Little India, it's only a 10 minute walk up the road so we decided to leave our heavy backpacks at Chulia and just take overnight bags to Cocoa Mews. We couldn't check in until 5pm so we decided to spend our last day in Penang taking photos of Georgetown and seeing the last couple of tourist attractions on our 'To Do' List!
We walked (very slowly with our rather stiff legs) through Little India to do a rekkie for later on & despite complaints on about how you had to ask locals to find it, we found Cocoa Mews with no problem at all!! Then on to find City Hall, Town Hall, the Esplanade, Fort Cornwallis and the Queen Victoria Clock Tower! After all that we decided it was time for food so we headed back to the Sri Weld Food Court and ordered our now favourite dishes: Pattaya Fried Rice, Samball Fried Rice & Chapati with dall. We got chatting to one of the stall holders, a lovely man who has been running his business for 3 years after spending time travelling! He is a big football fan who supported Chelsea, Spurs and Birmingham. =$ So Matt enjoyed chatting to him about some of the teams in the Premier League and about some local dishes.
After lunch we went in search of the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, it looked really easy to find on the map but after about 30 mins wandering about under an ever darkening sky we decided to give up and move on to the next sight on our agenda!!
This involved catching a bus from a big bus terminal called Quay Weld, sounds simple but as is becoming a bit of a trend we couldn't find it and after walking for 10mins in the completely wrong direction, we decided our best bet was to follow the buses that said they were going to the jetty and we should come across it! Amazingly this plan worked and a short walk later we were on the 101 bus to Wat Chayamangkalaram or Sleeping Buddha to you and me! Matt soon regretted not getting a taxi when, upon pulling into Komtar Bus Terminal, 2 bus loads of people decided to pile onto our already pretty full bus!!! Not the most comfortable journey which prompted Matt to announce we were definitely getting a taxi back when we were done!!
The Sleeping Buddha & Dharmikarama Burmese Temple (across the road) were well worth the hassle and provided us with lots of photo opportunities! Fascinating facts we learnt... The Sleeping Buddha is completely gold plated and is 33 metres long!!! Also all along the back walls it looks like you can buy a space to have your or a loved one's ashes kept there in fancy urns.
By now it was almost 4pm and our energy levels had hit rock bottom so we jumped in a taxi back to Chulia Hotel to chill on their sofas until check in time at Cocoa Mews! At about 5:30 we collected our things and wandered up the road to check in, only a couple of minutes into our journey a man riding a trishaw stopped to offer Matt RM100 (25) for his hiking boots (they were hanging off his backpack!) as you can't buy them in Malaysia apparently! Still needing them and the fact there worth far more than that Matt declined nicely but there's defo a gap in the market here if anyone is of a mind to set up a business!!
We checked in to the hostel which turned out to be basically a bed in a spare room with a communal bath room. We expected this so was fine and we paid next to nothing for it. The added delight was a very used mattress which had big body dips in so you were always trying not to roll to the middle of the bed. We headed out to explore Little India - this area is so colourful, with the smell of curries, incense burning and sounds of Indian music blasting out! It really was lovely to wander about! We stopped at a food hall that was filled with locals (we figured this was a good sign!) and ordered ourselves some local variations of Indian dishes - absolutely delicious!!! We decided to go for a walk after eating to see the town at night and stumbled across a huge opening party complete with band for a new restaurant. There must have been some pretty impressive people there based on the cars parked outside! matt was particularly excited by a stunning black Lambourghini!! Can you believe on our walk back to the hostel we finally came across the Mansion we were looking for earlier!!! It was huge and green, how we missed it before I'll never know!!! Then we headed back to the hostel for an early(ish) night ready to be up at 6.45 and go get the ferry to Langkawi at 8:30am!!
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