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.

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.

Why You Should Not Miss Inle Lake

Inle-LakeCredits: Sepia Lane HT Dots and Green Papers; Simply Kelly Christmas Treasure Kit Cream Scalloped paper; Flower, Frame elements and paper 3 from Sus Design Let’s Scrap Kit; Scrap with Brooke polka dot papers; Paper 1 from Studio Tangie All That is Best Kit

This beautiful highland lake, wedge in the valley between two mountain ranges of Central Myanmar, was the reason why we found ourselves in Nyaung Shwe.

farmer

In 2015, UNESCO designated Inle Lake the country’s first biosphere reserve. This sanctuary was established in 1985 to protect and conserve the natural vegetation, wetland birds, and fresh water fishes.

wildlife

Inle Lake is known for water birds and migratory birds and for the floating agriculture farms of the lake. The locals, known as Inthas, learn to fish from the age of 13 and generally continue until they are around 75 years old.

fishermanUsing just one leg to balance on the front of the boat, these skillful fishermen use the other leg to guide their conical nets through the freshwater lake.

Inle Lake has become a popular tourist destination, with visitors flocking to photograph the fishermen who still use an age-old technique for catching fish in the shallow water.

fisherman-posing-for-tourists

Floating Gardens and Fishing Villages

The expansive lake is 116 square kilometers wide and is home to some 70,000 Inthas living in numerous villages along the lake’s shores and on the lake itself.

people-everyday-life-2

The communities are settlements made up of stilted, stationary structures sitting above the water.

Houses-and-Village

They are connected to form channels navigated by long dugout boats.

channels

They grow crops in floating gardens, making use of traditional hydroponic methods. It is a fascinating and unusual technique that showcases Burmese creativity and tenaciousness, as it is not an easy task.

floating-garden

The farmers gather up weeds from the bottom of the lake and make them into floating beds in their garden areas, secured in position using bamboo poles.

flower-floating-farm

Depending on the season, they grow flowers, tomatoes, squash and other fruits and vegetables. You will see farmers paddling up and down between the rows tending to their crops.

Boat Excursion

The tranquil lake is a great way to decompress after the hot and dusty excursions throughout the country, and the best way to explore the lake is to choose a longboat, sit back and float wherever your guide takes you.

long-boat-parking

Never mind that it may seem like a tourist trap to many. The workshop stops along the way, in my opinion, is part of the charm.

umbrella-making-workshop

Some may look too touristy and may have been set up for such, but they are nice breaks to stretch your legs and meet the locals. Having said that, here are some notable stops.

Lotus Weave Workshop

Lotus plants flourish and grow in abundance on the pristine water of Inle Lake, yielding lovely blooms and healthy stems needed to create fibers for lotus weaving. The workshop is set up in such a way that visitors can be guided through the process chronologically –

lotus-fiber

how fibers are extracted from the stem to how the thread is spun using a spindle.

weavers

All done by hand. The process is tedious, a scarf will require 4,000 lotus stems and may take weeks of hard work to complete.

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda

Phaung-Daw-Oo-Pagoda

The holiest religious site in the Inle Lake area houses five old images of the Buddha that are entirely covered in gold leaf.

market-outside-the-pagoda

Surrounding the Pagoda, and in the basement are shops selling traditional Shan and Burmese merchandise. It is usually part of the boat tour.

Shwe Indein Pagoda

One of the 17 small villages of Inle Lake, at the end of the narrow Indein Creek on the western banks, is dotted with stupas dating a few centuries back. There are 2 sets of pagodas, the first set Nyaung Oak Pagodas are the first set behind the village and near the boat landing.

Nyaung-Oak-Monastery

A covered stairway leads to the 2nd set, Shwe Inn Thein. This mysterious, hillside setting is a complex of hundreds of weather-beaten pagodas of many sizes in various state of ruin.

shwe-Indein-weather-beaten

A truly magnificent sight and should not be missed. Some tours will eliminate this village due to its remoteness.

Shwe-Indein-collage

If you have the time and don’t mind an extra hour at the river, do go the extra mile for this reward.

Here’s sharing with you more captures of the beautiful community of Inle Lake.

farming-village

structures-forming-channels

fishermen-at-dawnFishermen caught at dawn
peopleIntha Tribes on market day
fishermen-posing-for-touristsFisherman posing for tourists
people-everyday-lifeGoing about their regular chores

house-details

Useful Info:

Myanmar’s 2nd largest lake, Inle, is best accessed from Nyaung Township. Boat trips can be arranged directly at the docks or through hotels or guesthouses.

boat-dock.jpg

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

Tranquility in the Country Side and A Quiet Resort

Country-Side-and-Mt.-Popa-ResortCredits: Papers by Sus Designs’ Saving Memories kit.

We found ourselves in a quiet street, away from the main road of New Bagan, looking for La Min Thit, a family run restaurant highly recommended by the staff of Yadanarbon Hotel. There we were warmly welcomed by the owner himself, Ko Htwe. He suggested some excellent dishes, which he said are simple home food that his wife cooks.

La-Min-Thit-dishes

While waiting for our food to arrive, we asked for a recommendation on things to do while in Bagan and ended up accepting his offer to drive us to Mt. Popa on New Year’s Day.

Fifty kilometers away from Bagan, passing through the countryside, is an extinct volcano, an iconic postcard sight, and a frighteningly steep cliff that leads to a sacred monastery.

Mt.-Popa

Monasteries and temples can become monotonous after a week in this country so we decided to just admire it from afar.

Resort

Instead, Ko brought us to the Mt. Popa Resort, just 1.5 kilometers away from the pilgrim village.

poolside

Mt-Popa-from-Resort

Mt-Popa-backdrop

The resort offers a breathtaking view of the Taung Kalat Monastery atop Mt. Popa and its lush surroundings.

Organic-garden

It also offers cooking classes in their organic garden.

Organic-garden-and-Ko-HtweKo Htwe enjoying the garden with us.

Resort-2

Mt.-Popa-Resort-dishes

We went continental for lunch, for a change.  The serene and relaxing vibe was a welcome treat.

On our way to Mt Popa, we stopped at a roadside village selling local produce.

Country-life

Local-snacksLocal snacks, which include ingredients to make Tea Leaf Salad.
Making-ThanakaNothing spells more quintessential Burmese than Thanaka.  This girl was making Burmese sunscreen from this bark.

Useful Info:

Mt. Popa Resort: Mount Popa, KyaukPadaung Township, Mandalay Division, Myanmar 
Tel: (+95 9) 402760884, (+95 9) 8600 660. 

La Min Thit: Khat Thet Street, New Bagan Tel: (+95) 6165313

Keeping Ancient Traditions Alive

Spending the New Year abroad is always a treat, no matter what. Some more interesting than the others, I admit. This trip to Myanmar fell right smack on New Year— in Bagan sans the usual fireworks.

new-year-dinner

It was celebrated via a cultural program, which began with a puppet show during dinner.

puppet-show

It was similar but, in my opinion, better than the Mandalay performance.

guests-playing-with-puppets

Since the 15th century, puppet shows were used to entertain the Burmese royalties. Skillfully carved puppets that look like human substitutes were made to move and dance gracefully on stage thanks to the skills of the puppeteer.

The night progressed to a few more exhibits before the countdown. No fireworks, just good old fashion fun.

Chin-Lone

We were asked to move to the garden to watch a group of men kicking a rattan ball – demonstrating what I know as Sepak Takraw.

Chine-Lone-2.jpg

It is known in Myanmar as “Chin Lone” and is considered more of an art (although it is the country’s national sport), as there aren’t any opposing teams but they rather play as one team. Men, women, and children often play together.

elephant.jpg

 

Followed by an elephant dance. Similar to that of the Chinese’s Lion dance, two men together dance in rhythm.   And the most bizarre show I’ve witnessed so far — a snake dance that involved an adult and a kid, which had me worried all throughout. I mean, he is just a kid after all.

snake-dance.jpg

 

 

Yes, it was a unique “end of the year” celebration, so to speak.  But we had fun.

A belated Chinese New Year greetings to all. Here’s to the Year of the Dog.

The Cruise to Bagan

Myanmar’s lifeline, the Irrawaddy River flows from the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas cutting across the country from north to south before emptying into the Andaman Sea. The river is used for commercial transport and is Myanmar’s largest river, about 2,170 kilometers long.

It is a pleasant way to travel between Mandalay and Bagan, two essential cities to be when visiting Myanmar. The former is the country’s most significant and historically most important of all cities, and the latter is its mecca of temples.

A visit to Myanmar was seen as relatively remarkable. Significant changes recently to the political regime has caught the attention of the traveling world, and cruise lines have started to offer multi-day cruises as part of their itinerary.

We flew into Yangon via AirAsia, which had a long layover in Kuala Lumpur. We decided to stay the night so we could have our favorite char siu at Oversea Restaurant in Jalan Imbi. Due to flight delays too, we only spent a night in Yangon.

It was a few days of airports and planes; the day cruise was a pleasant respite – to take it easy, go with the flow (literally), and visit with locals.

The RV Panorama Cruise ship runs between Mandalay and Bagan from October to March. It leaves at dawn at the Gawein Jetty in Mandalay and arrives in Bagan at the Nyaung U Jetty late afternoon just around sunset.

The cruise comes with breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks with a side trip to a town by the river.

The town visit was a nice break from an otherwise uneventful journey. For the most part, we kept ourselves entertained relaxing on the upper deck by the bar.

It is, in my opinion, an excellent way to slow down after a few days of catching flights in different airports. Here’s sharing with you some of the highlights of the day cruise.

Breakfast at dawn
The RV Panoarama docked at a town by the river.
The crew teaching how to wear a longyi.
Traditional house
Curious local folks

 

First Impressions

It started in this guesthouse, my fondness for Mandalay, where we were greeted with grace and elegance.

Big-rooms-at-Mama's

The tastefully built B&B has three floors of spacious rooms and a dining area on the roof deck.

hallway-at-Mama's

Once owned by the mama, Wyn and wife, Sue, now run the place. With her immaculate English and years of experience, mama still plays host and entertains with grace. We asked for a good referral on where to eat, and mama volunteered to prepare our first meal in Mandalay and truth be told, hers was one of the most memorable of our ten days in Myanmar.

Meal-at-Mama's

Talk about first impressions.

With half a day to explore the city, we decided to explore the area on foot. Good idea as we were able to witness every day Mandalay life unfolding walking along 62nd street.

pedestrian

street-food

The 2nd largest city and the last royal capital of Myanmar, Mandalay is not exactly pretty at first sight, but its charm grows on you as it slowly reveals itself.

planter-on-the-side-of-the-roadInnovative plantbox sighted along the roadside.

It’s a relatively new city, built in 1857 when King Mindon was trying to re-establish Burmese prestige after the country’s defeat in the 2nd Anglo-Burmese War. If you take the time to explore, there is much to be enjoyed. You’ll need at least two days.

The 62nd Street led us to the Shwenandaw Monastery.

Shwenandaw-Kyaung-2

Made entirely from teakwood with intricately carved façade, the monastery also known as Shwenandaw Kyaung provides one of the most exceptional examples of traditional 19th-century Burmese architecture.

traditional-19th-century-Burmese-architecture

This is the only surviving structure from Mandalay’s Royal Palace. King Mindon initially used the building as his personal apartment and died here in 1878.

Shwenandaw-Monastery

His son worried that his ghost still resided there dismantled the structure and transported beside the Atumashi Monastery.

Atumashi-Monastery-2.jpg

While most of Mandalay is flat, Mandalay Hill (where the city took its name after) offers a stunning bird’s eye view of the city. We planned to walk up the hill, but we were tired of walking, so we hailed a taxi instead to take us to the lift (one could scale up the 240-meter hill by taking the long stairway up to the summit).

view-from-peak

At the peak is the Su Taung Pyei Pagoda. On its terrace, people stay to wait for the sunset and take in the panoramic view of the Mandalay plains, how expansive the city is.

crowd-waiting-for-sunset

sunset-from-mandalay-hills

The pagoda itself I find gaudy with over the top mirrors that sparkle and shine at every turn and the LED lights that adorned the Buddha shrine.

Su-Taung-Pyei-Pagoda

On our way back, we passed Mandalay Royal Palace, as time prohibited us from entering the palace, we admired it from the road.

Mandalay-Royal-Palace

When the taxi driver dropped us off at the restaurant recommended by the guesthouse, he made us take a photo of his contact details. I found it amusing and very enterprising.

taxi-diver-contact

Traditional dinner and a puppet show after capped our first day in Mandalay.

tea-leaf-saladThe very traditional and iconic Tea Leaf Salad (must try!)

mandalay-beer

Traditional Burmese puppetry, called Marionettes, is an art form using wooden puppets to entertain Burma’s royalty.

puppet-show

It also served to communicate news, stories and moral lessons to its people. Today, as with many cultures, it is a dying art.

Tomorrow, we explore more of the beautiful outskirts and downtown of Mandalay.

 

 

 

 

Mingalaba

I approached the guy holding a sign with my name on it. “Mingalaba (hello),” he greeted and then led us to a Toyota Corolla. The first thing I noticed (aside from it being an old car) was the right-hand steering driving on the right-hand side of the road. Before we even reached the guesthouse, I was already helping him navigate the road (making sure the blind spot is clear of any passing cars – haha!). And that, my friends, was my introduction to the world of Burmese driving.

Burma, also known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, where the landscape scatter with golden pagodas, and where more than 100 ethnic groups live. Under the rule of the oppressive military junta for almost five decades, exploring this nation can feel like you’ve stumbled into a bygone era as it has remained a rural country of traditional ways.

Expect to be dazzled by Myanmar as it steps out of its checkered past. With tradition deeply rooted in the philosophy of Buddhism, Myanmar shimmer with gilded temples and stupas, flourishes with emerald-green landscapes, beautiful lakes, and lush tropical forest but most memorable are the encounters with its gracious people ready with warm smiles and eagerness to introduce their country and culture.

Follow me as I cast my mind back to the beautiful ten days wandering around the different cities of Myanmar.

Chaya and Her Phuket

Apologizing for being a tad late, she led us to her car, which was double-parked in front of our hotel. She is Khun Kritchaya or Chaya for short, founder of Phuket Heritage Trails and a Phuket native.

Chaya-and-team.jpgChaya with my team

Spend a few hours with her and you will learn to appreciate Phuket. She talks about the people, its history and its food with a real passion for her town. In her little sedan, she drove us all over town proudly introducing her Phuket to us. She said she aims to promote the culture and history of her hometown in a responsible and educated manner, to present the essence and beauty of Phuket Town.

Tunk-KaOur first stop was lunch at an excellent local restaurant in Rang Hill overlooking Chalong and a bit of Phuket town. Rang-Hill-ViewTunk Ka Café is perched on the side of the hill and has managed to become an institution in Phuket since it opened sometime in the 1970s. Tunk-Ka-mealIt was an excellent sampling of local food in a beautiful surrounding with a magnificent view to boot.

From authentic Thai cuisine, we then moved on to a Sino-Portuguese house. Baan-ChinprachaAt Baan Chinpracha House, we had a peak on the lifestyle of the wealthy. Built in 1903 during Phuket’s economic boom from the mining industry. It is today a landmark as well as a cultural and historical center. family-photosThe property is still in the family and the current owner, a sixth generation descendant still live upstairs. Although occupied, the owner has opened up certain areas of the house to the public. chinpracha-kitchenThe ground floor somewhat acts as a museum.

Chinpracha-livingroomAs you enter the house, the living room greets with a little table and stools (reminiscent of that from my grandmother’s house, truth to tell). The main attraction and the most striking in the room, however, is the inner courtyard that opens to the sky for light and ventilation. chinpracha-courtyardA beautiful fish pond decorated with plants around it added to its charm. And I must say that it had me at the sight of the Machuca floor tiles.

Blue-ElephantNext door and another outstanding Sino-Portuguese house, the 100-year-old Governor’s Mansion is home to the Blue Elephant Restaurant and Cooking School, a famous cooking school from Bangkok.

Then we drove 6 kilometres out of Phuket town, passed a bridge to Ko Siray.  It is worlds away from the modern and swanky, teeming with sun-baked tourists of Phuket’s west coast beaches. swanky-resortsThis small island with magnificent hilltop views and scenic roads is home to the largest Sea Gypsy Village in Phuket. Sea-GysiesAlso known in Thai as Chao Leh, the sea gypsies are known to be the very first inhabitants of the Andaman coast regions of Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia. Due to their exposure to sun and sand, many of them have reddish colour hair. Facially, their features are quite different from the inhabitants of the lands they pass through. Today only a few thousand remains and only a small portion of them are still nomadic. sea-gypsies-happyThey live a simple life – they fish, they sell and they buy beer and they seem genuinely happy and content.

sea-gypsies-boat-makerI recall Chaya telling us how as sea people, they understand the behavior of the sea. During the 2004 tsunami where Phuket was one of the hardest hit, the sea gypsies were spared.  While the others stopped and observed, they ran straightaway to the hilltop for shelter when they saw the receding sea.

The island of Phuket is ethnically diverse and Thais are relative newcomers here. A flood of ethnic Chinese started coming from Malaysia and Singapore in the 1800s to explore the local tin mines.   Many settled in Phuket to run the mines and, later on, built the town hence the many shophouses in the Sino-Portuguese architecture similar to Penang’s Georgetown.shophouses The town today is a mix of of different ethnic race and scattered around the island are Chinese Taoist Shrines, Thai Buddhist Temples they call Wats and Muslim Mosques.temple Chaya’s itinerary had stops at a Chinese temple, a Buddhist temple and a fascinating nunnery where she temporarily resides at the time of the tour.nunnery

And before returning us to our hotel, we passed by Soi Romanee. This charming little street that connects Thalang and Dibuk Rd. is one of the oldest in Phuket Town. soi-romaneeIt was once stigmatized as a den of brothels and opium houses for the tin miners. Today, it is known as one of the most attractive lanes on the island as it was the first to be renovated. soi-romanee-guesthouseToday’s Romanee is a charming little street full of life and quaint little bars where you can sit and soak up the ambiance.   There’s even a jazz and blues performance that takes place on the last Sunday of each month from November to April.

Though few tourists linger here, the Old Town is one of the more culturally interesting places on the island. It is an intriguing mix of old and new, simple and sophisticated. Phuket Town is an infusion of current art, music, and food attracting a style conscious crowd, mostly Thais. Once reduced to an abandoned shell, shophouses and homes have been refurbished into restaurants, bars, and guesthouses that are worth exploring and discovering.

And with this, I wish you all a Happy Hearts Day!