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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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.

There’s more to Lijiang…

And this is perhaps THE reason to go. It was ours.

Staged outdoors beneath the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain at an incredible elevation of 3,100 meters, Impression Lijiang managed to keep us in awe all throughout its performance.

A cultural show two years in the making, it is the second of nine series of highly sought after productions by Zhang Yimou. In 2003, Zhang, together with 2 of his assistants, Wang Chaoge, and Fan Yue started working on an outdoor production that would later become an ongoing series.

Impressions Liu Sanjie was the first of these productions and found its place on the banks of the Li River in the scenic town of Yangshuo. We saw that too, which actually led us to this Impression series 9 years later.

The show opened with rows of male entertainers in their traditional ethnic costumes shouting in Mandarin, “we are farmers, we are stars.”

Around 500 Naxi, Bai, and Yi ethnic groups from nearby towns and villages were selected to sing and dance. I particularly love the horse scene where they depicted the important tea trading of the province.  It was surreal.

You definitely have to find your way to Lijiang, if only for this.

But not to be missed too is Lijiang’s beautiful canyon and its mighty Jinsha River.

Touted as the world’s most spectacular river canyon is Tiger Leaping Gorge. Its maximum depth is about 3,790 meters from river to mountain peak and is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area of the World Heritage Site.

Legend has it that in ancient times, a tiger, running from a hunter, leaped across the gorge to escape. It jumped at the canyon’s narrowest point.

To trek the upper trail would have been ideal, but due to lack of time, we saw the gorge on a viewing platform at the lower road along with most of the tourist in buses.

But as you can see, it still is a gorgeous sight to see.

Lijiang

jade-dragon-mountain

Nestled at the foot of the Jade Dragon Mountain, Lijiang is blessed with gorgeous natural surroundings.

dayan-alleyway

Infused with cultural flavors owing to the profound ethnic heritage of the region, which consequently has lured both the domestic and foreign tourist for perhaps a decade now.

dayan-entrance-waterwheel

A UNESCO World Heritage Site with Dayan Old Town being the most popular town among a cluster of villages, its history dating back to the Ming Dynasty. A largely Naxi settlement first built some eight centuries ago.  They still live there, and some still make silk embroideries, a trade they practice since the time of the Silk Road. Like Dali, Lijiang was once a confluence for trade along the Old Tea Horse Trail, and Dayan is famous for its waterways and bridges. It is a town south of the Yangtze River, and traffic across the river is made easy by stone bridges.

Of course, now it’s crowded with tourists and the atmosphere of the bygone era is lost somehow.

dayan-tourists-and-guides

mcdonaldsThere’s even a McDonald’s just outside the gates.

Because a peaceful town it is not anymore. Still quite lovely but it has more of a theme park-like atmosphere.

dayan-naxi-dancing

Many are for show, like the Naxi dancing at the central square, not to mention the saturation of souvenir shops.

dayan-shops

I wasn’t sure at first if staying outside of town was a good idea but was quite relieved that I chose to stay in another town four kilometers away from Dayan.

shuhe-alley

Shuhe is absolutely divine. We didn’t stay in town exactly, but the guesthouse was just a short walk away through this attractive tree-lined street.

tree-lined-street

A quiet(er) town, Shuhe is a small village hidden in the forest and is another well-preserved city along the ancient tea-horse route.

shuhe

Nothing as quaint as Shaxi and less hip than Dali but Shuhe has its own charm.

Known to local people as Longquan Village and renowned as a “village of leather,” it was considered as an important part of Lijiang by UNESCO.

shuhe-store-linedThe streets are lined with independent shops and restaurants all built of rocks from the surrounding mountains.

shuhe-creek

The channel and waterways still give water to the houses from 2 crystal clear springs in the northern part of town. They beautifully form part of Shuhe’s landscape.

shuhe-typical-restaurant

Ambling along Sifang Street is like walking back through time. Archaic wooden facades surround the square, mostly restaurants and shops.  Some still dress in traditional attire.

Built entirely with stones, Qinglong Bridge is one sight I particularly love.

qinglong-bridge

It is also the first among the many old stone bridges found in Shuhe. It spans a small river that starts at the Jiuding Dragon Pool with very clear water.

Every day, we walk to Shuhe for lunch stay till dinner. It is still a struggle to order as many do not speak a word of English.

cafe-in-shuheEverything is in Chinese, even the menu boards outside the cafes.

We, however, managed well, as you can see.

food

We even found a well-appointed hotel that we went back to for lunch the next day.

drawing-room-restaurant

Hui Feng Inn served excellent food, Jack of Drawing Room Restaurant (found inside the hotel) is from Beijing but loved the place so much, he stayed.

jack

Even our beautiful guesthouse, Lijiang Wa Jia served exquisite meals.

lijiang-wa-jiaThe courtyard of Lijiang Wa Jia

food-at-lijian-wa-jia

Here’s sharing more of the beautiful town with you.

preservation-ongoingPreservation on going

shuhe-qinglong-bridge

Qinglong Bridge
tree-lined-2Another tree-lined street going to Banyan Tree Resort, also in Shuhe.
banyan-tree-entranceThe Banyan Tree.  On a clear day, the Jade Dragon Mountain serves a its backdrop.
canine-2One of the most gorgeous Labradoodle I’ve seen.  The people of Lijiang love their dogs.

canine

spring-water-winds-through-townA pool that cuts through town, is surrounded by stores and restaurants.
horses-on-qinglongHorses still abound here.  At the Qinglong Bridge.
shuhe-naxi-selling-foodNaxi selling food.
shuhe-vegetable-gardenSpotted a vegetable garden.
shuhe-boardwalkA boardwalk along the creek.
shuhe-town-map-etched-in-woodA map of Shuhe etched on wood found in Sifangd Square.
shuhe-charmThe Shuhe charm.
shuhe-quaint-shopsQuaint Shops found
shuhe-many-bridgesOne of the many stone bridges near the square.

 

Shaxi: Quaintest of Quaint

This must be the quaintest of quaint towns I’ve set foot on in quite a while if not in all of my travels. Found halfway between Dali and Lijiang,

sideng-square-from-trail-cafe

Shaxi is home to beautifully preserved adobe courtyard mansions that offer a glimpse into a forgotten era. It was the most intact trading center for centuries linking Yunnan into Bhutan and Tibet on the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail and this lead to its prosperity during the Tang Dynasty. The network channeled tea, horse, and other valuables among the diverse ethnic groups residing in the eastern Himalayan region. What lead to the trail’s demise was the development of the road transportation and Shaxi became just another village in the 1950s. In 2001, the village was included in the protection list of 101 endangered sites and a Swiss-led team worked for years to restore the deteriorating town.

alleyway

The old town of Shaxi is quite compact and easily explored by foot.

sideng-square

It consists mainly of a few quiet lanes and alleys that radiate from Sideng Square—a fascinating marketplace at the heart of Shaxi where we spent most of that Sunday people watching and just chilling.

chilling

The iconic Sideng Theater seats in the middle of the square.

sideng-theater

The unique 4-storey architectural structure and exquisite craftsmanship are the soul of Shaxi because it is (to this day) where the Bai people perform during celebrations.

Across the theater is the Xingjiao Temple. Both are ancient structures that add character to the square. The temple (now a museum) is one of the best-preserved temples in the entire China because it was sequestered and used as a local government headquarters during the Cultural Revolution.

xingjiao-temple-interior

This ironically saved it from destruction. Coupled with painstaking restoration by the Shaxi Rehabilitation Project (SRP), a visit is worth the while. Original murals can still be seen on the walls of the Hall of the Heavenly King.

hei-hui-river

One alleyway leads to the eastern village gate and outside this gate, the Heihui River meanders from north to south through Shaxi.

yujin-bridge-2

The crescent-shaped Yujin Bridge was the only way for the Bai people go to the fields and do business back in the days. With the towering mountains as a backdrop, this bridge is a sight to behold and is one of the highlights of this leg.

simple-joys

Many find pleasure just to simply lie on the grass and chill.

guesthouse-cafes-and-stores

What used to be tack shops, blacksmiths and caravanserais are now guesthouses and

western-dishes

western-dishes-2

foreigner-friendly cafes (offering English menus and western style dishes), which signals an upcoming tourism boom (read: tourist buses) in this old town.

daytrippers-2

Though its visitors still form a fascinating merge of intrepid and curious travellers, many of its visitors (at the time of my visit) came in groups and spent an hour or so running through the ancient streets taking shots of the temple and theatre.  This tells me that the boom might have started already.

daytrippers

The best time to enjoy the quietness of this old trade post is first thing in the morning or very late at night.

square-at-night

As soon as the last bus headed back to Lijiang, the sanctuary of calm kicks off and we sit in the square savoring the solitude.

night-life

At night, we shared the square with the art students. We sit sipping our cup of coffee while they gather around the plaza playing street games under the moonlight and a few lights illuminating the square.

Scenes of Shaxiearly-morning-in-sideng-square

Sideng Square the day after, during breakfast, before journeying on to Lijiang.
ancient-treeAncient tree scatter around the village.
art-students-on-a-field-tripArt students abound; finding inspiration in this breathtaking old town.
 resort-on-the-riseA resort on the rise.
crystal-clear-waterA crystal clear stream flows through the main street of the ancient village.

resident

funny-english-translationsBastardized English Menu
fried-parametersThe fried parameters look like worms but is a root (perhaps from the ginseng family)
park-by-the-riverThe park by the river, just outside the East gate of the ancient town.
guesthouse-courtyardThe courtyard of our guesthouse (Renjia just off the village entrance) — turned into a drying area.
guesthouse-entranceThe entrance to our guesthouse was through the kitchen.
meal-at-renjiaPerhaps why they serve delicious Yunnan cuisine at our guesthouse.  This was lunch when we arrived.
modern-day-give-awayModern day giveaway — local kids with they games.

knitting

locals

little-girl

A Piece of Heaven

Magical, massive, magnificent—endless terraces in a sea of clouds is a sight to behold. Not foreign to rice terraces, I found myself awed by the vastness and intricacy of the Yuanyang terraces, now the 45th World Heritage Site in China. Breathtaking after breathtaking scenes came before us as we drew closer to the center.

terraces-by-the-road-2

Regarded as the core of the Hani Terraces, where its ancestors settled 2,500 years ago.

hani-people

In its steep mountains and challenging terrain, the Hani people struggled and succeeded in growing rice. Their creativity turned this mountain into one artistic beauty that has placed Yuanyang on the map for impressive rice paddy terracing.

duoyishu-terracesDuoyishu Rice Terraces

With an area of 28,000 acres, it is similar to the Banaue terraces of my country but on a grander scale.

laohuzui-waiting-for-sunset

Three major scenic spots is a must. Scattered in different places, the terraces exhibit different tones and hues depending on the season and time of day. When we were there (in April), the terraces, still filled with water, glows from the sun’s ray.

laohuzui-sunsetLaohuzui Rice Terraces

So different from the one I am familiar with. It is stunning.

Laohuzui. The biggest Hani rice terraces listed in the World Cultural Heritage Site and ideal for sunset shots.

laohuzui-different-view-deck

It has 2 viewing areas, the higher deck closer to the road and a lower one closer to the terraces. Both views are lovely depending on how you want to capture its grandiosity.

laohizui-sunset-2

Bada. It has one of the biggest collections of terraces, and any angle is snap-worthy.

bada-terraces

From top to bottom, the terraces is said to be 3,900 steps.

Duoyishu. Surrounded by mountains on 3 sides and a valley on the east, it makes for a beautiful sunrise scene.

duoyishu-sunrise

The terraces, still filled with water, unveils the reflection of the soft golden sky just coming to light underneath a sea of clouds.

duoyishu-viewing-deck

From our beautiful guesthouse, Flower Residence, it was just t a 20-minute walk to the viewing deck.

pugao-village

And speaking or our guesthouse, we stayed in a charming boutique hotel in a village called Pugao Laozhai.

flower-residence

flower-residence-2

flower-residenceview-from-our-room

flower-residence-meals

Large glass windows to enjoy the fantastic view, wood everywhere, good food, combined with wonderful hosts CC and his uncle (who cooked fabulous meals)

with-hosts-cc

—is a formula sure to impress me, no doubt. A place where one can be happy to just hang out, I wish I had booked more than just a night.

Yuanyang is 2 more hours south from Jianshiu and definitely worth the road trip. A little piece of heaven with spectacular rice terraces so grand it almost guarantees poster-worthy shots at any angle.

duoyishu-terraces-upclose

terraces-by-the-road

laohuzui-changing-season

photograhers-haven-at-laohuzui

Segovia: An immersion in Architecture and Historic Treasures

SegoviaCredits:  Elements by Haynay Designs, Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, Sahlin Studio, Trixie Scarp Designs, Wimpy Chompers; Paper by Wimpy Chompers; Alpha by MissBehaving 2011

A visit to picturesque old city Segovia was an excellent way to cap off this month-long West Mediterranean trip. We spent the day exploring a castle, devouring a roasted suckling pig, taking lots of photographs and people watching.

tourists

This once sleepy Castilian town had a lot to offer and had us in awe at every turn, suffice it to say that we had a fun stroll.

wandering

A UNESCO World Heritage City, visitors fill the twisting alleyways wandering around a multitude of historic buildings, churches, and monuments.

Located just 80 kilometers from Madrid, it is only a 30-minute high-speed train ride away. If you have the time, seize the opportunity and take a trip to the walled old town of Segovia.

town

It is a good way to travel back in time, explore the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage-listed city by foot.

The Aqueduct

aqueduct-2

An impressive aqueduct built sometime in the 1st or 2nd century supplied water to the small town of Segovia, perched on a steep isolated hill and joined by two rivers.

aqueduct

The magnificent aqueduct bridge carried water from the Fuente Frio River traversing about 15km before entering this town.

Aqueduct-4Today its boasts of being one of the most significant and best-preserved works of Roman engineering on the Iberico Peninsula.

Segovia Cathedral

Cathedral

On the highest point in the old town, fronting the historic Plaza Mayor (Segovia’s main square) stands the Cathedral of Segovia, one of the last Gothic Cathedral built in Spain and Europe.

Plaza-Mayor-and-cathedral

The construction began in the early 16th century to replace an earlier cathedral destroyed during the war of the comuneros, a revolt against the King. I am awed by the details of this church.

cathedral-up-close

Alcazar

alcazar-2

Now, this looks like a castle straight out of a Disney fairytale.

alcazar-4

The castle rises out on a rock between the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers, a testament to its original military status. Being the favorite residence for Kings of Castile, the Alcazar was transformed from a small castle into an extraordinary palace.

alcazar-3

It played a crucial role in Spanish history because it was used in various ways throughout history.

alcazar-interior-2

Originally built as a fortress, it had served as home to royals before it became a state prison, a Royal Artillery College, and a military academy. Currently, it is a museum and home to the Spanish General Military Archive.

Lunch at the Meson de Candido Restaurant

Plaza de Azoguejo 5, 40001  +34 921 425911

Meson-de-Candido

An attraction in itself, the restaurant was declared a national monument in 1941. Set in a delightful 18th-century building next to the aqueduct, it is most famous today for its wood-fire roasted suckling pig, cochinillo.

cochinillo-ritual

Served with a short speech and a ceremonial cutting of the pig with a plate,

cochinillo-ritual-2

this famous dish was a delight—crispy skin and flavorful and fork tender meat is hard to beat. Also, worth noting is their Sepulveda-Style Roasted Lamb.

Rich in architecture treasures, it was a joy to wander through this town. Presenting below a few more photos to delight in.

Segovia-CathedralThe Cathedral from afar.
alcazar-interiorStained Glass wall at the Alcazar
view-from-the-alcazarA view from the Alcazar
Aqueduct-3The Aqueduct up close
plaza-medina-del-campoPlaza Medina del Campo
Azoguejo-Square-2The Azoguejo Square with the Aqueduct as backdrop
Plaza-MayorPlaza Mayor of Segovia
from-the-castleA view from the castle
peddlersPeddlers line the periphery of the aqueduct
Iglesia-de-San-Martin-2Iglesia de San Martin
narrow-roadNarrow winding road of Segovia
Iglesia-de-San-MartinIglesia de San Martin
Juan-BravoA statue of Juan Bravo: a leader of the rebel Comuneros in the Castilian Revolt of the Comuneros.