Exploring Penang

Credit: Papers by Sepia Lane; Elements and embellishments by SFJ CT

The streets of Georgetown, Penang’s capital, is filled with mouth-watering street food, artistic murals, and gorgeous heritage architecture.

If in season, the durian (in this case the musang– the king of durian) is sweet and creamy
A plate of oyster omelette can be found in many food hawker in the island.

An absolute feast to the eyes, the soul and the taste buds.

A city somehow frozen in time yet woven with today’s modern lifestyle caprices, Georgetown easily caters to history buffs, photographers, shopaholic and foodie fanatics.

Once an important trading hub, the British East India Company established spice farms throughout the island. The export of these spices helped cover the administrative cost of Penang in its early years.

The influence of Asia and Europe have endowed this city with a unique multicultural heritage and with all the astounding history around, Georgetown was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2008.

Pedestrian-friendly, the well-planned series of roads and paths will reveal an exciting, vibrant city with eye-catching street art caricatures, colorful heritage houses, atmospheric temples, beautiful mosques, and bustling food hawkers.

Highlights of our exploration:

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

One of Penang’s most prominent attraction and one of the only 3 UNESCO Heritage award-winning buildings, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as The Blue Mansion is a stately 1880 manor that stands out because of its indigo blue façade.

The Guestrooms

Designed in traditional Hakka – Teochew Style, the mansion was restored into a Boutique Heritage Hotel by a conservation project that went on to win numerous architectural awards.

A tour of the estate will reveal the lifestyle of Cheong Fatt Tze, his family and the cream of Penang society in the era it was in.

Penang Hill

Dominating the Georgetown landscape, Penang Hill was the 1st colonial hill station developed in Peninsular Malaysia. The top of the hill is accessible by a good hike or the Penang Hill Funicular Railway (which, by the way, is the steepest tunnel track in the world) from its base station at Jalan Bukit Bendara, Air Itam.

The hill is a community of attractions that include food and drink options set 821 meters above Penang’s capital. It is the last piece of tropical rainforest in Penang, so flora and fauna have been protected since 1960.

The Habitat on Penang Hill

For the ultimate Malaysian rainforest experience, a visit to this part of the hill is a must.

When you walk through the gateway of the Habitat, you enter a magical kingdom of a 130-million-year-old rainforest.

This world-class ecotourism site is the first of its kind in Malaysia. It aims to promote environmental consciousness and conservation awareness.

Walk on the new world-class Stressed Ribbon Bridge named the Langur Way Canopy Walk 
The Tree Top Walk

Clan Jetties

Along the pier are villages on stilts that house descendants of Chinese immigrants. Constructed over a century ago, the jetty has developed into a town propped up over the sea.

Planks create paths linking houses on stilts, owned by families of fishers creating a rustic and peculiar impression. We found ourselves at the Chew Jetty, but in total, there are 8 different clans still residing there.

The Chew Jetty Café is a good stop for lunch or refreshments. Though the White Curry is what the café is famous for, we were too late. Here’s what we had instead — also quite good and worthy of my recommendation.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

The mansion allows you a glimpse back in time as to how the wealthy Straits Chinese settlers once lived. The Peranakan, also known as the Babas and Nonyas, was a prominent community of acculturated Chinese unique to this part of the world.

Adopting selected ways of the local Malays, and later, the colonial British, the Peranakan lifestyle and customs had not only left a rich legacy of antiques but its cuisine and languages as well.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is one of the best surviving examples of the lavish lifestyle of this prominent community containing an extensive collection of furniture, silverware, dresses, decorations, collectibles, and appliances.

Nyonya Cuisine

A feast we devoured in Kebaya

A must-try! It echoes the cultural identity of the Peranakans. Nyonya cuisine is as exotic as their east meets west architecture, their beautiful fashion, and their elaborate pottery. It is mostly traditional Chinese food altered to suit the local palate and to augment the limited ingredients found in their new homeland.

Some of the signature ingredients used in Peranakan cooking include coconut milk, laksa leaves, lemongrass, and tamarind. The result is an extraordinary cuisine that is altogether tangy, sweet, sour and spicy.

Little India

A few steps away from the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is Little India.

Wander around and experience a whole new world. Its culture and food adventure is definitely worth the exploration.

48 Hours in Ipoh

 

CollageThough still pretty much under the radar, this sleepy town is fast becoming a foodie and adventure destination. On our way to Penang, we stopped by Ipoh in Perak to see what some travel enthusiasts are raving about. We arrived on a Sunday and lo and behold, half of Ipoh was indeed asleep. Shops and quite a few restaurants were closed.

sleepy-town

Steep limestone cliffs flank the capital of Perak, some with cave temples pocketed in the limestone. The state of Perak has much to offer regarding outdoor activities such as white water rafting and jungle treks. Although we skipped that as a previous injury prevented such activities, for now, we will perhaps go back one of these days to explore that part of Perak.

traditional-eatery

We spent the two days centered on the food and exploring the old town with a side trip to Batuh Gajah, just 30 minutes out of Ipoh.

Ipoh is shaped by the 1920s tin-mining boom, its wealth and population however ebbed away after the mine’s closure. It is now better known for its excellent food. Perak’s most beautiful colonial architecture stands side by side with shabby coffee shops.

Old-Town-White-Coffee-shop

We had a blast sampling their food specialties and discovering some fine street arts that scatter around town.

Nga Choy Kai

The first thing we did was to sample Ipoh’s quintessential dish that is bean sprout chicken or Tauge Ayam.

kway-teow-noodle-soup

It is essentially kway teow (flat rice noodle) soup,

Steamed-Chicken

poached juicy and tasty chicken and the most delicious beansprout I’ve had.

beansprout

Lou Wong’s, as recommended by the hotel and some reviews, serves one of the best. As with many of the traditional eateries in Ipoh, Lou Wong was unpretentious with round tables and stools and no aircon. We were there early, but the place was packed not long after we were seated.

Street Art

wall-art-in-market-Lane

Wandering through the lanes of Ipoh’s old town reveals a scattering of stencil art murals. Some quirky and easily spotted while others are subtly woven into the streetscape.

mural

A few were done to decorate establishments. While there are some pieces done by Zacharevic, the mural artist that started Penang’s street art scene, other artists have joined in the scene as well.

Han Chin Pet Soo Museum

A guided tour of the museum will provide a good insight into the history of the Chinese in Ipoh. Originally the house of the Hakka Tin Mining Club founded in 1893.

gambling-set

The unique museum has on display artifacts, collectibles, and photographs from the 19th and 20th century. This gives you a chance to step back in time and see how the Hakka tin miners were tempted and tormented by the 4 evils, which were Opium, Gambling, Prostitution, and Triad.

mural-han-chin-pet-soo

The founder, Leong Fun, arrived in Penang penniless in 1876. With a lot of luck and hard work, he found success in the tin mining industry. Since “Towkay” Leong Fu found the exclusive membership club, it has always been a place of mystery to non-members. Although it has opened its doors to the public now, the entry remains to be special as it is by appointment only.

Appointments can be made via the website or by queuing at the door.

Ho Yan Hor Museum

Ho-Yan-Hor-and-Hand-Chin-Pet-Soo

This two-story shophouse is right beside the Han Chin Pet Soo Museum and belongs to the Ho Family of the famous Chinese Herbal tea brand, Ho Yan Hor. Following the successful restoration of next door neighbor, Han Chin Pet Soo, the family decided to open the shop after it was left vacant for so many years and had ipohWorld run its tours.

ho-yan-hor-owner

Also steeped in history, the visit will reveal the brand’s rise to popularity. Complimentary teas for tasting cap the end of the tour.

Concubine Lane

Concubine-Lane-from-Han-Chin-Pet-SooConcubine Lane in between the two structures as seen from the balcony of Han Chin Pet Soo.

The same “towkays,” mining tycoon Yao Tet Shin, in particular, said to have given away 3 lanes as gifts to his 3 wives. These are Wife lane, Concubine Lane, Second Concubine Lane.

concubine-lane

Concubine Lane or the 1st Concubine Lane is the one that has transformed into a hip street in Ipoh with cafes, boutique hotels, food, and souvenir stalls.

hip-street

Kellie’s Castle

Kellie's-Castle

Two days is really not enough to explore all of Perak. With the limited time that we had, we decided to pay Kellie’s Castle a visit.

Kellie's-castle-ruins-2

The unfinished ruined mansion built by a Scottish rubber plantation owner named William Kellie Smith is located just 30 minutes away from Ipoh. The castle has Scottish, Moorish, and Indian influences and had multiple passageways.

Kellies-Castle-living-room-reolicaA replica of what the living could have been.

It was intriguing and eerie to wander around the ruins. It was never completed because Smith suddenly died of pneumonia in Lisbon. His wife, Agnes later packed up and left Malaysia with her children and never returned.

Kellie's-Castle-ruins

She sold the castle to a British company. The only thing left of the home is the covered walkway, an open courtyard, and part of a crumbling wall. Kellie’s castle has been refurbished and was even used as a set in the 1999 film Anna and the King.

A friend mentioned that a foodie will always find their way to Ipoh and Penang, but I say that a non-foodie who loves adventure and history will find Ipoh to be worth a visit. But definitely go for the food.

New Year Cruising

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” — Ashely Montagu

 New-Years-at-High-SeaCredits: JSprague Digi in Deeper course materials

This year, 68 of my family members from all over flew to Singapore for a grand reunion. For the first time, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins took the time and effort to fly from all over and spent New Year holidays together, on the high seas to boot.

mariner's-of-the-seaInside Royal Caribbean’s Mariners of the Seas

A perfect venue, truth to tell, as none of us could go very far—not saying though that the ship isn’t big and off-shore excursions aren’t aplenty. It was contained enough to allow us to catch up.  Some met each other for the first time.

new-year-in-patongFireworks before the New Year in Patong Beach

It was an experience I surprisingly enjoyed. Being the traveler that I am, I thought that this was merely something I had to do, an obligation of some sort. The destinations were nothing to rave about but the togetherness was awesome. It was something unexpected… Which are usually the best, yes? You know what they say— “the things you don’t see coming tickles you the most.”

Port Klang

So the destinations weren’t great, they weren’t total disappointments either. Our first port of call was Port Klang. What is there to see in Port Klang, the principal port in Selangor state of Malaysia? Nothing much though we heard that it is a haven for local foodies—good enough for us (by us I mean my immediate family).

bak-kut-teh

Seafood aside, Klang is famous for its Bak Kut Teh, in fact they say that this pork rib soup which has become a staple in Malaysia, Singapore and some parts of Indonesia started here. Considered a breakfast food, BKT, as locals call it, is pork ribs (or other parts of the pork meat) slowly simmered in an herbal broth.

restoran-bak-kut-teh-facade

Across the AEON Bukit Tinggi Shopping Center, about 30 minutes away from the Star Cruises Terminal, we randomly chose Restoran Bak Kut Teh. A small shop sans the fanfare – open air and round tables and stools to sit that serves (in my opinion) quite a good and (I assume) authentic BKT.

restoran-bak-kut-tehFood tripping with the family

The Bak Kut Teh has an herbal taste (of course), salty with the hint of sweetness; meat was falling off the bone. Extremely enjoyable with soy sauce, garlic and a bit of chopped chili.

Phuket

Next port of call was an overnight in Phuket. Arriving Phuket at 11AM, it was too late to do much so we decided on a late lunch in Old Phuket Town and a massage after. We took the tender to Patong Beach and haggled with one of the many vans peddling their services to take us to town.

old-shop-house

Old Phuket town shines with personality with its rich history. In this old quarter, you will see beautifully ornate old shophouses, quaint cafes, Buddhist and Chinese temples, and some grandiose Sino-Colonial mansions once occupied by Phuket’s tin barons of years ago.

Raya

In the middle of town, on New Dibuk Road is a two-storey Sino-Portuguese house converted into a restaurant.

green-tint-windows

Tinted glass windows and wooden shutters, hard to find Machuca floor tiles,

Raya-interior

stairs

rustic ceiling fans, vintage posters, a wooden staircase,

old-bar

and an antique bar, this old house exudes old colonial.

raya-dishesL-R: Pork with Kafir Leaves; Deep Fried Sea Bass with Shallots and red chilli in Tamarind-Lemongrass Sauce; Green Mango with Dried Squid Salad

The food, known to be THE Thai restaurant in Phuket; its specialty is said to be the Crabmeat Curry served with rice vermicelli. Being a sucker for all things crab, this was a definite winner. Big chunks of crabmeat and the strong curry muted by the addition of coconut milk produced a subtle creamy curry dish. The deep-fried sea bass with shallots and red chilies in tamarind-lemongrass sauce and the pork with Kafir leaves were fantastic too. When in town, do visit Raya Restaurant if you can.

We could and should have walked around town, but we opted instead for a massage. We could and should have gone to the spa just around the corner from Raya. On a previous  trip (a post I still owe) the boutique hotel I stayed in offered a discount at The Raintree Spa when booked through them.

RainTree-Spa

It was most satisfying, in all the right ways—service, skills, and ambiance. I should have known better than to indulge our driver but, hindsight is always 20/20, so yeah… We could have saved the 30-minute drive to the spa he recommended (name and place I won’t even bother to tell) and used it to walk around the charming old town instead. And to think, I convinced my whole family to that massage.

Koh Phi Phi

Thank goodness for Phi Phi Islands.

Phi-Phi

Praised as one of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia, thanks to the film “The Beach”.

white-sand-beach

A 45-minute bumpy (because we decided to sit in front) speed boat ride from Phuket, the Phi Phi archipelago comprises 6 islands boasting of white sand beaches, stunning limestone cliff and turquoise water, many parts ideal for snorkelling.

snorkling

tourists

Popular with backpackers even before the movie, but the world seemed to have flocked here after the film was shot in 1999. In spite the crowd, the limestone outcrops that swept the archipelago still impressed.

phi-phi-2

Random Travel Snaps: The Orangutans of Borneo

orangutan

Threatened by logging and captivity, their population dwindles through the years.  These so-called “men of the forest” are estimated to be as few as 10,000 still in the wild.

In 2007, I followed the path of a boardwalk that led me to a viewing gallery and a feeding platform.  There were a few orangutans on site but slowly, more emerged from the rainforest lured by milk and bananas.  Feeding time is twice a day – once in the morning and another in the afternoon.

No longer held in captivity (by various people and for various reasons), they are free to roam as they please around the 4,300 hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve.  This is so they get used to their own natural habitat once more and this –in the meantime – is their sanctuary.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre aims to return orphaned, injured and displaced orangutans back into the wild, back to the jungle of Borneo.  Orangutans are natives of Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia.  The Borneo orangutans however, are only found in Borneo, and the centre affords a rare opportunity to see these endangered species up close.

The orangutans may be the star, but pig tailed and long-tailed macaques share a bit of the stage at the time of feeding.  They have learned that there is an easy meal available and show up too at feeding time.

A day trip to Sepilok is not possible from Kota Kinabalu but if you find yourself in Sandakan, a trip to Sepilok Sanctuary is a must.

Useful Info:

Getting There


If you are not on any tour, public buses and taxis are available from Sandakan town. The Labuk Road Bus Company vehicles leave from the front of the Sandakan Town Council (Majlis Perbandaran Sandakan or MPS) from 6.00 am onwards.

The Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan bus can also drop you at junction Jalan Sepilok, around 2.5km from the Center. Journey about 5 hours from KK.

You can hire a taxi for a return trip for about RM100.00 negotiable. The distance between town and the Centre is about 23km.

Opening Hours: 
Daily from 8.00am till 5.00pm

Exhibition Hall: Daily (except Fridays) from 9.00am till 4.30pm

Centre: Daily from 9.00am till 12.00pm and 2.00pm till 4.00pm Fridays 9.00am till 11.00am, 2.00pm till 4.00pm 

 
Address:
Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan Sabah,
WDT200, 9009 Sandakan Sabah

Budget Traveling

“You see that?” a friend pointed out to a showcase of a tiny, tiny room that was labeled Tune Hotel.  “That’s exactly the size of your room”, she said as we walked pass it at the arrival hall of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Maybe it’s the penny pincher in me or me just being practical that led me to save wherever and whenever I can since I got lured into traveling.  Oftentimes traveling on a budget.  Whatever savings I get, I throw back into my travel fund and splurge on other things like food, keepsakes or tours.  This is where budget airlines and hostels come in very handy.

Air Asia – one of my favorite airlines – the low-fare, no frills airline with a route network that spans through more than 20 countries, mostly but not limited to Asia. They had been shuttling many Filipinos since 2005, when they started offering flights to Kota Kinabalu (KK) and Kuala Lumpur (KL) out of Clark’s Diosdado Macapagal International Airport.

And the good news is: Air Asia Philippines is the newest kid on the block; launched only last February 28, becoming the 13th regional hub of the Air Asia Group.  Future destinations are said to be HK, Macau, Inchon, Singapore, Japan, Bangkok…

Yes – it may be a bit of a hassle to travel all the way to Pampanga but the cheap fare makes it worth the effort, me thinks.

My first trip to KK in 2007 (en route to a diving expedition in Sipadan) was with this airline and many more followed since.  A satisfied customer is what I am – if you look at it as a no-frills, budget airline that it is, without expecting much in the service and perks department, then there really is nothing much to complain about.  The flights are almost always on time; the seats are comfortable enough but are first come first served.  If, however, you pay a little extra and go for the hot seats, you get to choose your seat online and board first – definitely worth the extra shell out.  I always pick the 1st row seats for the leg room. The food… well really, who needs to eat on a 4-hour flight anyway?  We normally just have our meals at any of the gas stations along the expressway before reaching the airport.

The downside here is that Kuala Lumpur, being their main hub, has most flights flying out of there.  It doesn’t help that their flights often need an overnight stay as well.  Sometimes having to pay for a room in nearby Sepang defeats the savings on the airfare – so what’s the point, right?

That’s where Tune Hotel comes in.  Just a stone’s throw away from LCCT, in fact you can spot it from the arrival terminal.  Although a shuttle is provided for just MYR 1, its schedule seemed unreliable (or maybe we were just impatient).

We waited until we realized that it takes less than 10 minutes by foot to get there, cutting through the parking lot by way of a walkway.  You can even take the trolley all the way to the hotel.

This hotel follows the same no-frills concept of its partner airline and is the answer to travelers who just need a few hours to sleep and shower.  We booked a 12-hour package for MYR 129 (that’s about US$ 40).

This came with a package of 1 towel, soap, shampoo and conditioner.  Slipping the key into a key holder turns on the power and the 12-hour countdown starts.  It stops when you take out the key.  So if you’re out most of the time, 12 hours is more than enough. US$ 40 for half a day is not exactly cheap when you think about it but it is a brilliant concept, don’t you think?

The room is exactly as seen at the airport.  It is practically the size of the bed with a bit of extra space to walk around albeit one at a time.  The bathroom is similarly as tiny and can likewise only fit one person at a time.  It is relatively clean and the bed is quite comfortable.  Oh and make sure you don’t bring a huge luggage as there is no space for that.  We brought backpacks so that worked well for us.

The upside to this is that it is conveniently located without having the need to wake up earlier than needed as flights are often scheduled early in the morning.

It has a nice courtyard just outside the hotel lobby with enough tables and chairs to hang around with a nice cold beer or coffee.  Decanter, the restaurant there, serves decent food and if budget is a concern, there is a 7-Eleven right beside and a coffee shop that is open 24 hours.

For a few hours, Tune Hotel serves its purpose of providing “reasonable” comfort and convenience for less.

The Waiting Game

The-waiting-gameCredits-  Templates:  Katy Larson 365 template o3;  Papers:  Oscraps Moonlight papers ninascrap 2 and suec3.

Each day we’d set out to search for hammerheads.  They were the reason we spent 5 days in Layang Layang, off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia where hammerheads (schools of them) supposedly swim this part of the ocean from February to May.

Layang-2-resort

They were however seemingly elusive and hard to find.  Heard that the last sighting was almost 2 weeks prior to our arrival.  Have we caught the tail end of the season?  Perhaps.  Hammerhead sightings have been dwindling every year, according to our dive masters and they believe that it is because of 2 things, global warming and lack of conservation efforts.  The hammerheads like the cold and as the water temperature rises, they go deeper.  Another very serious issue is conservation; most of the sharks (hammerheads included) are targeted (read: killed) for their fins to use as ingredient for the popular Shark Fin’s soup, a delicacy that is served in many Chinese restaurants all over the world. 

shark's-fintaken at the KK airport – no wonder we can’t find ’em!!

This cruel “finning” is the cause for the declining population.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says 100 million sharks, skates and rays are killed every year.  The cruel finning refers to the practice of cutting off fins only and discarding the body.  When thrown back into the sea, they either bleed to death or drown as sharks need their fins to swim and they need to go forward to get oxygen.

A brief sighting was already a cause for celebration and a right to brag.  We saw a silhouette of ONE.  That didn’t count (at first); we were expecting schools in clear water, not a shadow of it.  In the end, it mattered that we at least saw ONE!  Others were completely deprived of a sighting.  4 days diving in Layang Layang is equal to 12 dives, mostly out in the blue.  Quite frustrating, if you ask me.

Layang-2nd-day-012

We waited patiently and were hopeful till the very end that maybe, just maybe our luck would change… it didn’t.  A school of Devil Rays highlights this trip with no pix to boast, I’m afraid.  So maybe, this too does not count, eh?

But basking in the nightly sunsets as glorious as these,

sunset-3

 

sunset-4

 

sunset-5

 

sunset

watching these dolphins, tons of them, swimming along our boat’s bow,

dolphin-leap

 

dolphins

and viewing these migratory birds finding refuge at a bird island sanctuary off the shores of Layang Layang… 

bird-4

 

bird1

 

bird3

these certainly made up for the trip sans the hammerheads.  Yes.. it certainly did!

This is a big part of my world, our world.  We’ve only got one, so let’s do our share in keeping it alive and healthy.  To explore more of our amazing world, hop on to That’s My World.

WS #15: A Day in KK

 

logs-shangrilaborderline

Bordering along the South China Sea with the majestic Mt. Kinabalu watching over this capital city of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu (fondly called KK) is no doubt the gateway to a wealth of adventure from diving to hiking and many more in between. 

 En route to Layang Layang, Borneo’s last frontier as far as diving is concerned (as some claimed), we had one day to explore KK. 

orangutanOrang-utans from Sepilok (from a trip 2 years ago)

It was a toss between Orangutans or Shangri-la.  The group settled for a lazy afternoon at Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort and we missed out on the Oragutan sighting due to a leisurey lunch.

beach-shangrila

Char-Kwey-Teaw

After lunch and a failed attempt to catch a glimpse of some orangutans feeding near the resort, we headed back to the city,

city-mosque-2

 

city-mosque

 

children-3

passing by this beautiful city mosque sprawling above a man-made lagoon.

children-2

 

children

With our getup, we were not allowed inside so we mingled with some happy bunch of kids hanging around the mosque.

boardwalk

 beer

 

sunset

Back in city proper, we headed to the waterfront for some happy hour while watching the sun set over the horizon capped with delicious Chicken Rice for dinner.

 chicken

No rush, no pressure… savoring the day as it unfolds is sometimes a marvelous way to enjoy a place.  

Have a nice week ahead!