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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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

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.

Of Snows and Hot Baths

In the middle of Daisetsuzan National Park, nestled in narrow scenic gorge flanked by cliffs,

abundant hot springs, powerful waterfalls,

and fantastic rock formation is a full-scale mountain resort town called Sounkyo.

It has become quite touristy because it is an excellent base for trekking and skiing around the National Park.

From late January to the end of March, the town hosts (you guessed it) the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival (Sounkyo Onsen Hyoubaku Matsuri).

The highlight of this festival is the frozen waterfalls along with the man-made, multi-story high structures that have a maze like tunnels running through them, all built around the Ishikari River.

Snow domes and ice sculptures likewise scatter around the compound.

Heated quarters with warm drinks and food here.

And even if logic tells you to stay indoors due to the severe cold weather, make sure to be there at night


The Ishikari River runs through the festival.

or miss out on the spectacular lights that illuminate the whole place come sundown. On weekends, you’ll be lucky to witness fireworks too.

Us in an ice bar display

The best way to end the evening is to thaw off at one of the many hot springs found in town. At the Sounkyo Kanko Hotel, we went for the spacious outdoor bath at the back of the hotel. Crazy it may seem, but because this open-air bath is unisex, it was wonderful to be sharing this experience with the hubby. Getting ourselves to walk the short distance from the dressing room to the pool in skimpy clothes provided by the hotel was unimaginable, but once in the hot bath, it was nirvana. This being the last stretch of our Hokkaido winter holiday, it seemingly melted away all the frozen kinks in our body, accumulated over the past days.

Ahh… Always a good experience, this bathing in the snow.

Happy Feet At Asahiyama Zoo

Credits: Solid Brown paper and Guess What Tag by Splendid Finn You are awesome kit; Bow, Ribbon Cluster, Staples, Saving Memories word art by Sus Design

Mumble, the penguin character in that animated film, Happy Feet, that cannot sing but tap danced his way to Gloria’s heart. Yes, that same Mumble charmed its way into my heart too.

So the whole reason I was in Asahikawa was to be up close to the likes of Mumble. All these chubby birds had to do was waddle past us, and it made my day.

An icon of winter at the Asahiyama Zoo, the 30-minute Penguin Walk is designed to keep them fit and healthy during the cold months as they hardly get enough exercise by staying indoors especially during winter. They are known to walk as far as 1 kilometer a day towards the sea in a group to catch fish.

A close relative and very similar in looks to Emperor Penguins – what Mumble is – the King Penguins are 2nd only to the Emperor in size. To distinguish, the latter’s orange feathers on the side of their head are colorful and brighter than that of their cousins. Their beaks are also the longest of the whole family of penguins. Though they are known to be the best divers and swim incredibly fast, they, however, saunter on land and are known to slide on their bellies to help them maneuver through the ice and snow.

To survive the severely frigid climate, they are equipped with several unique layers of scale-like feathers to protect them from icy winds and offer a waterproof coat. They also store large amounts of fat that insulate their bodies while also serving as a long-lasting energy source.

What’s interesting is that wild penguins follow the paths between the mountains and during the walk, they were not trained to walk the path, but because they see people like mountains, they automatically follow the path that the people make.

If you happen to be in Hokkaido during the winter, make sure to make your way to Asahiyama Zoo to get a glimpse of these cute chubby birds. It will be worth your while.

Sapporo Snow Festival

On our way to our accommodation from the airport, our cab drove through Susukino to reveal a row of illuminated ice sculpture.  That was our prelude to the Yuki Matsui, internationally known as Sapporo’s Snow Festival.  For seven days every February, Japan’s largest winter event is turned into a winter wonderland of snow stations and ice sculptures.

From a few snow statues created by high school students on its main site, Odori Park in 1950, the festival is now an event visited by millions.  Packed with people walking the slippery path that spans the 1.5km Odori Park showcasing spectacular snow and ice sculptures of different size and shapes from local and international participants.

 

We came across humongous structures such as the Arc de Triumph sculpture and the Taipei Guest House.

 

Some serve as a stage for concerts and other performances.

This giant Cup Noodle that double as a slide is a favorite,

Star War characters R2D2, C3PO and Darth Vader and other cartoon characters make up the fun stuff.

Meanwhile, I am drawn to the smell and the sizzle of beef being grilled on an open barbecue pit, even if we just came from lunch.

Not to be left out are the food stalls of various kinds.  A piece of advice to future attendees, skip lunch that day and head straight to the park.

The row of illuminated ice sculptures that I saw the night before is less dramatic in daylight.

Packed with bars, restaurants, pachinko and red light establishments, Susukino really comes alive upon sundown and so does its displays found on its main street.  We weaved through the sculptures into Ramen Alley for lunch.

The alley has 17 old style ramen shops to choose from.  In a shop randomly selected to fit all 7 of us, we slurped down a bowl of noodles in miso broth topped with seaweed, spring onions, char sou pork, hard-boiled egg, corn and a slice of butter—unique ingredients that make Sapporo’s Ramen worth a try.

The third venue is a multipurpose dome where a variety of events take place inside.  Outside the dome is where the fun is.  Large snow slides and a snow rafting area is set up for the merriment of people of all ages.  Sadly, as the venue is a little away from the city center and is only open until 6 pm.

Useful Info:

Odori Park:  Odori-nishi 1-chome to 12-chome, Chuo-ku

Susukino Venue: Ekimae-dori from Minami 4-Jo to Minami 7-Jo, Chou-ku

Tsudome: Sapporo Sports Facility “Tsudome” Sakaemachi 885-1, Higashi-ku

A Week in Winter Paradise

Credits: Papers by Splendid Finn; border bit by Splendid Finn; Journaling Snippet by Creativity by Crystal; Fresh Glitter Lines by Delicious Scraps; Alpha by Akiloune Designs; Diecut Paper by Creativity by Crystal

Outside the apartment building, snow pile shin high by the sidewalk. The icy ground slippery as hell and the wind bite as we walk to the metro station. From tropical to arctic, my senses went into shock and so did my camera and phone. Anton loves the cold, you see.

Hokkaido is Japan’s largest and northernmost prefecture. With its unspoiled nature, it has attracted many outdoor enthusiasts from skiers and snowboarders in winter to hikers and bikers in summer.  Cold fronts from Siberia dump powdery snow into the island, making Hokkaido a winter paradise for those who love it, like my husband.

This and the stunning natural beauty of the island tend to overshadow the fact the food is excellent

and the history compelling this side of Japan. One of the highlights of this trip was soaking in an open-air onsen amidst the snow.

Come and ogle with me at the ice and snow sculptures that scatter around Hokkaido, take pleasure in some really awesome food, and get in line to catch sight of emperor penguins doing their daily walk — all this we did in a week in Hokkaido, a winter paradise.