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.

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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.

Taipei: A Quick Visit

Officially the Republic of China (ROC), Taiwan is an island of unexpected beauty with each corner of the isle blessed with its own unique scenery. The capital, Taipei is one of Asia’s most beautiful futuristic cities with Taipei 101, most notable for its feats of engineering, towers majestically on its skyline.

Taipei-101

Eating in Taiwan comes close to Japan or Seoul. It has an incredible food culture with a vast array of Chinese food and local delicacies on offer. Traveling around the island is relatively straightforward albeit the lack of English can be a challenge sometimes.

My recent trip back to Taipei after 8 years was easy-going as I had my parents in tow.   We took things slow and spent most of our time in the capital with only a day trip to nearby Keelung. Here’s sharing with you the highlights of our trip.

Food

Family friends, who are Taiwanese locals, hosted our best meal. Robin’s Teppanyaki at the Regent Hotel in Taipei is, by far, the best meal we had during this trip.

Robin's-Teppanyaki

We were served perfectly grilled fresh lobsters, tiger prawns, and steak. The other best meal we had was not as elaborate and in fact a simple Taiwanese meal. Also recommended by the same friends, Du Hsiao Yueh was an excellent representation of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.

Du-Hsiao-Yueh.jpg

A staple in Taipei well known for its Dan Zai noodles and other conventional everyday dishes. The minced pork used in the noodles also goes well as rice topping as the secret is in the minced pork recipe. Another dish worth mentioning is the fried oysters. More of our Taipei food experience here.

Day Trip

Yehliu-collage

Just an hour away from Taipei, Yehliu Geopark is a pleasant day trip to make especially if your visit is short.

Yehliu-panorama

A park of natural wonders where rocks carved by years and years of wave cutting and weathering forms a stunning geological landscape.

Yehliu-hoodoo-stones

The park is home to some unique formations which were named according to how they look or resemble like the iconic “Queen Head,” Fairy Shoe, Ginger Rock, to name a few.

Queen's-Head

The cape stretches out to Yehliu Village of Wanli District.

After the leisurely walk, we headed to Jiufen for lunch.

Jiufen.jpg

The decommissioned gold mining mountain town initially built by the Japanese is now a maze of lanes and alleyways that run up and down the slope of the hill filled with food stalls and tea houses.

Jiufen-Eats

This Taiwanese village near Keelung has become a food destination known for its Yuyuan (taro balls) dumplings, Fishball soup, and other Taiwanese favorites.

Museums

Not to miss is the National Palace Museum. This award-winning museum has over 700,000 ancient Chinese Imperial artifacts and artworks making it one of the largest of its type in the world. Most of the collections are high-quality prices collected by China emperors. The excellent selection of China art makes it an essential stop to those interested in history and arts. Many of the exhibits were once displayed in Beijing’s Forbidden City and subsequently moved to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War in 1933.

MOCA

Another fascinating museum one might consider while in the city is the Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA is housed in a historical building and is home to some captivating modern art. The building was built during the Japanese rule in 1921 for what later became Jianching Elementary School. At the time of our visit, we caught Steve McCurry’s solo exhibit curated by Leo Chanjen Chen, ‘S Wonderful/Making Pictures.

Steve-McCurry-Exhibit

Useful Information:

Robin’s Teppanyaki – No. 41號2樓, Section 2, Zhongshan N Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei City

Du Hsiao Yueh – No. 12_, Alley 8, Lane 216, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Daan District, Taipei City, +886 2 2773 1244

The National Palace Museum – No. 221 Sec 2, Zishan Rd., Shilin Market, Taipei City

Museum of Contemporary Art – 39 Changian West Road, Datong District, Taipei City

How to get to Yehliu and Juifen: Click here or here or book a day tour here.

Yangon: A Quick Stop-Over

Delays. An annoying reality but unavoidable in today’s world of traveling. And due to this, we didn’t see much of Yangon.

Holy Trinity Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral found on Bogyoke Aung San Road next to Bogyoke Aung San Market. A beautifully preserved church left behind by the British.

Too bad because Yangon is known for its colonial architecture, which although decaying remains an almost unique example of a 19th-century British imperial capital.

Restaurant in Yangon has mushroomed in the last ten years. A combination of British, Burmese, Chinese, and Indian influence means that a delicious host of cuisines can be found here.

With limited time in the former capital, we found ourselves wandering the streets and ended up on 19th Street in Chinatown for a late lunch.   On this street, little restaurants and barbeques stands sit side by side to choose from. We randomly entered a snack bar where there was a Lonely Planet logo that has “appear” below it.

We shared a plate of Roast Myanmar Beef and Fried Chicken Wings at Kosan 19th Street Snack and Bar and downed it really cheap Mojitos. Lonely Planet didn’t really disappoint. It was pretty good for the price.

Dinner, on the other hand, was a platter of charcuterie, cheese and spreads with wonderful homemade bread.

A pleasant surprise, I must say. We went back the next day before heading to the airport and had more of what Sharky had to offer. A Myanmar legend, Sharky’s Restaurant and Deli served artisan food made from locally farmed ingredients. Know more about Sharky’s owner, Ye Htut Win here.

That was how I will remember Yangon, at least for now.  And this ends my series on my travel to Myanmar.

Nyaung Shwe

One look at the sloping and winding road, I am grateful for the decision not to walk or bike. Passing several grapevines,

Outdoor-Seatingwe arrived at the outdoor seating at the top of the hill, overlooking the sprawling vineyard of the estate and Inle Lake shimmering in the distance – a view that could almost pass as Spain, France or Italy.

view.jpg

 

The Red Mountain Estate Vineyard and Winery, lying at 900 meters above sea level, produces Myanmar’s best wines with locally grown grapes imported from France and Spain.  Set up in 2002 its first wines were produced in 2006.

wine-tasting

We opted for the sampler albeit not the best we’ve had, but surprisingly not bad. Along with the wine, they also serve local and international food.

dessert-at-Red-MountainBecause we’ve had lunch already, we got desserts to go with the wine.

It was a fun afternoon and an enjoyable change from the traditional and historical route we have been visiting since the first day in Mandalay.

Nyaung Shwe is the main access point to the Inle Lake and Wetland Sanctuary – also the main reason why we found ourselves there.

Marina

It serves as a marina to the longboats that act as transportation to the lake. A vibrant town with a relaxed vibe, this is Myanmar’s backpacker scene and where a few good international restaurants can be found.

One-Owl-Grill

 

Nestled just off Yone Gyi Road, next to the small canal is One Owl Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant with an eclectic menu.

One-Owl-Grill-tapas

They serve tapa style dishes and offers a range of smoothies, lassies and cocktails and a solid wine list.

The-French-Touch

The French Touch is a neat little French Café that serves terrific cocktails, good food, and great coffee. The French photographer owner of this café has his beautiful photos all over its walls.

Nyaung Shwe is located in the Southern Shan State and to visit, one has to take a flight from Yangon to Heho. The journey from Heho to Nyaung Shwe takes 45 minutes by taxi and costs around K30,000. The cheaper option is to travel by VIP buses. For approx. K24,000 you can travel overnight in a leather reclining seat with a blanket on the 10-hour journey from Yangon to Inle Lake.

More Useful Info:

Red Mountain Estate: Taung Chang Village Group Nyaung Shwe Township, South Shan State 

One Owl Grill 1 Yone Gyi Street, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar +95 9 262 972 841 

The French Touch Kyaung Taw Shayt Street | N0 23, Myo Lac Quater, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar +95 9 525 1365

Asahikawa

Hokkaido’s second largest city is a good base for those exploring the nearby Daisetsu mountain range and the picturesque Biei-Furano. But because we were there in the dead of winter and we don’t ski, we had other things in mind. We were there for the 58th Asahikawa Winter Festival, its zoo, and ramen.

The Asahikawa Fuyu Matsui

Also known as the Asahikawa Winter Festival, it is an enjoyable fusion of lights, music,


A popular stall to warm the body and soul.

ice and snow sculptures, fireworks, kids activities, and food found in 2 venues.

While it may not have the scale of Sapporo’s festival, it can boast of having the largest snow sculpture in the world in the way of its stage, where all performances are held. The massive sculpture can be found overlooking the Ishikari at the Tokiwa Park near the Asahibashi bridge, where the opening and closing ceremonies are held. To build its main snow sculpture for the festival, the town enlisted the help of their country’s Self Defense Force.

Aside from the Asahibashi site, the Heiwa Dori showcases the ice sculpture competition, where teams from all over the world compete for the best ice sculpture.

Asahiyama Zoo

If truth be told, the videos of the penguin parade were enough to get me to Asahikawa. More of them on my next post because not only does the zoo boast of the Penguins, it is a zoological garden that allows visitors to see the animals from various angles.

Highlights include a glass tunnel through the penguin pool that allows the birds to be seen underwater, many arctic animals such as polar bears, seals and a lot more.

Asahikawa Eats

And of course, a visit to this part of Hokkaido will never be complete without enjoying a bowl of its famous ramen. You’ll find this all over Asahikawa, but we had ours at the Ramen Village on our way back to town from the zoo.

It was a perfect cap to the freezing day at the zoo.

And the freezing weather shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this melon flavored soft served ice cream.

Asahikawa is beautiful during the winter providing an excellent base to bask in all things winter. You will not be disappointed.

Yunnan Eats: Cheese, Cured Pork and Fresh Vegetables

On the road, we randomly stopped for lunch. The driver calls me into the kitchen, there we ordered, without a menu but rather from what they have in the kitchen, apparently fresh from the fields. He tries to explain the unfamiliar items while I struggle to decipher what he is telling me. But all is well that ends well.  We had a wonderful food experience throughout the trip.

Vegetables

Fresh vegetables cooked lightly with lots of garlic and some chilies are a staple.   Because Yunnan has a diverse variety of plant species, you’ll find dishes made with ferns, bamboo shoots, flowers, tubers, fungi, herbs and even insects of all kinds.

A kind of root that was actually quite good.
Various types of mushrooms found at the local market in Shuhe.
A typical local restaurant showcasing a variety of vegetables, tubers, flowers and ferns.

Cheese?

Cheese is something you do not expect in China because Chinese as a nation are not keen on dairy products. But in a province that lies on the fringe of China, its mash-up nationalities’ dietary habits are far removed from the mainstream Chinese. The love of dairy products could perhaps be attributed to the mélange of ethnic groups such as Mongolians and Tibetans. The way in which they eat it though is distinctly Chinese.

Called rubing, it is often served with rice, sliced and pan-fried until golden on both sides or cut into cubes and stir fried in a wok.

Another interesting cheese called rushan is grilled and sold by the roadside. It’s crispy and milky in flavor.

Cured Pork

Have you heard of Yunnan ham? We used to get them canned and is an absolute favorite of Anton’s. In Yunnan, we couldn’t find the canned one, but instead, we devoured it in so many other ways.

They love them steamed, boiled, fried… usually to flavor stews and braised dishes as well as soups and broths.

Xuan Wei ham from Xuan Wei City is the most famous. It is to China what Iberian ham is to the Spanish.

Found this in the local market in Shuhe.

And with this, I close my series on Yunnan. Don’t drool too much now. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had re-living it.