Heading Home

Sunday 17 – Monday 18 January 2016

Our little sojourn in Malaysia has come to an end.  This afternoon we are on an Air Asia flight 16:15 from Penang to Kuala Lumpur (1 hour flight) and then continuing on at 21:40 getting into Gold Coast at 07:50 (8 hour flight).  Its going to be a long night.

After a hearty breakfast we check out of our rooms and head to the gardens to spend our last hours relaxing under the palm trees.

Lazing in the garden

Shangri La gardens

The journey is unexceptional and everything goes as one expects from Air Asia, as far as budget carriers go they are pretty good.

Back in Australia and through customs and quarantine we debate how to return to Brisbane.  We are pretty tired after the overnight flight so decide to Uber back to Brisbane.  Luckily we get a roomy Chrysler 300, the driver is quite surprised when we tell her our destination.  After a brief pause she happily says “Oh I’ll have to call my husband and tell him that I’m going to be a while and he will have to catch an Uber to his meeting.”

Georgetown Street Art

Saturday 16 January 2016

For a change, we are up relatively early, breakfasted and down to reception for a shuttle bus into Georgetown.  Dropped off in-front of shopping centre in downtown Penang we immediately head off on foot to the old, old part of Georgetown to look at the famous street art.  Through narrow streets and lanes, we wander viewing the charming shops and admiring the interesting works of art.  Painted by both local and international artists. The murals highlight everyday activities.  Unfortunately, I’m having camera problems and my phone memory capacity is full so I don’t have many photos to share.   But here are a few.

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Temple in the old town

One of the old shop fronts

I carefully navigate us to the CF Food Court, a truly authentic hawker food centre.  I’ve been reading about Asam Laksa.  Unlike other laksa’s which are based on coconut milk the Penang version is fish soup based and has the hot, sweet and sour flavour I love.  OMG – seriously one of the best things I have ever eaten!  When can I have more?

Asam Laksa – OMG!

Asam Laksa Stall

CF Food Court

From here we head down to the port to look around the Fort Cornwallis, built by the English in 1786, in the blazing sun and then to the Indian section of the old town with its bright colours, spicy aromas and blaring music.

Cannon protecting Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown

Indian store in Georgetown

Next on the agenda is a visit to an old Chinese Temple Han Jiang Ancestral Temple, an UNESCO Heritage site dedicated to the Taoist God of the North, a Teochew patron deity

Han Jiang Teochew Temple

Ancestral tablets of deceased Teochews

In desperate need of a cool drink we hit the streets.  Have you ever noticed that when you need a cool, clean café there is none to be found.  After a couple of aborted attempts (not clean or not cool) we find an air-conditioned shopping centre knowing that there will be a food court.  Bingo – on the top floor (always the top floor or basement)

The name says it all

is Magic Kitchen, perhaps not the most authentic food to be found but it is very clean and very cool.

Back to the bus for a slow trip to the resort and then we spend the rest of the day lazing on sun loungers in the expansive gardens until its time to freshen up and hit the Cocktail hour once again.

For dinner we venture out of the resort to a TripAdvisor recommended restaurant close to the resort set in the back streets of Batu Ferringhi called Andrew’s Kampung.  We slog up the 3 flights of stairs of a rather sketchy building to find a packed smallish restaurant.  We will need to wait for a table (standing awkwardly in the middle of the restaurant) or come back.  We opt to come back.  Luckily we find a small Indian Restaurant on a corner and enjoy a very nice vegetarian meal.  The roti is excellent.

Lazing by the Pool

Friday 15 January 2016

We have a late start and head up to Rasa Wing breakfast room.  Its another steaming hot sunny day, conducive to doing nothing, so we head down to the secluded pool and grab two sun lounges under an umbrella.  While relax by the pool we are given ice cold water and chilled fruit kebabs.  I then indulge in a foot massage.

Then it’s back to our room for a soak in the balcony spa and a few in-house drinkies and then down to cocktails and canapes in the lounge.

There is a lovely man serving that makes sure our wine glasses are always topped up.  I don’t know if he has taken a shine to us or he get a commission on how much wine he serves but he seems very keen on getting us drunk.  After about downing about 3 glasses of wine in an hour, I shy away from another top up, he just grins at me a says “Why?  You no drive!”

Happy hour

We get chatting to an English couple that have been here a few times before and are staying at the resort for 3 weeks.  I’m astounded, there is so much to explore, why would you just stay in the one place?  I guess they must really like it here.

After our extremely lazy day we decide to venture back towards Georgetown to a seafood restaurant called Crab & Lobster Seafood Oyster Bay (nows that for a descriptive name?). It’s at Straits Quay Marina Mall, and although there are many people about the marina looks oddly deserted.  After walking around and looking at the boats we return to the restaurant of dinner.  The restaurant is not what we expected and has a fast food feeling about it – grab your drinks from the fridge and order at the counter.  We decide on the Seafood and Corn combo which is poured over the plastic table cloth, we are given plastic gloves and a couple of implements and dig in. Unfortunately, here are only tables outside and I must admit our enjoyment of the meal is tempered by the sultry night.  We just end up feeling like a hot, sticky mess.

Straits Quay Marina

Seafood and Corn Feast

Back on the street we grab a run-down taxi and head back to the resort.

Next Stop – Penang

Thursday 14 January 2016

Today we say goodbye to Ipoh and hello to Penang.  My original plans were to continue on the train north to Penang but the trip involved getting off at Butterworth station, walking to the ferry to get across to the island and then another taxi to the resort and Howard has vetoed me and organised a driver.  It’s a bit more expensive (MYR350 about A$110) but easier, quicker and more comfortable.

So after an early morning walk and breakfast we pack up and check out.  Moorthi our driver – soon loosens up and over the next 2 hours and 20 minutes, with our encouragement, we get a breakdown of the cultural and political issues facing Malaysia (from an Indian point of view).  There are 28M people (legal) in Malaysia.  Muslin Malays make up 50% of the population, other Malays about 10%, Chinese 25% and Indians 10% and the rest a mixture of races and cultures.  The Muslin Malays control the government, the Chinese dominate trade and business and the Indians do all the hard work.

Penang is a real surprise – I’m not sure what we were expecting but its definitely not this.  All along the coast are high rise hotels and apartments – think Gold Coast or Miami.  Its highly developed and much larger than I had anticipated.  It takes us quiet a long time to get through George Town and along the coast to the less built up area of Batu Ferringhi where we are staying for the next 4 nights at The Shangri La.  We have booked the exclusive Rasa Wing.  It takes almost 1 hour to check in but we enjoy afternoon tea while we wait.  The wait is worth it as we are upgraded to a better room.

Our suite at the Shangri La – bedroom

Lounge

Roomy bathroom

There is a weird bath/spa on the balcony that I will have to investigate later.

Balcony bath / spa

To stretch our legs we walk around the resort and stop for a beer (for H) and coconut milk (for me) at a beach bar.

One of the lovely old trees gracing the gardens

Howard relaxing at the beachside bar

A refreshing coconut milk

The resort covers three different hotels – the Shangri La Garden Wing, Rasa Sayang Resort (our hotel) and Golden Sands – each catering to a different demographic.  Outside Golden Sands on the beach we stop to watch a hilarious version of beach volley ball, with water filled balloons in lieu of a ball and beach towels used to throw them around.

A game of beach water balloon volley ball

At 5:30 we head down for cocktail hour – free drinks and canapes to 7:00.  Not knowing the lay of the land dining wise and pretty full from the canape spread we opt to return to our room and order room service – Cha Kway Tow and a movie.

Banjaran’s Many Activities

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Another day, another big breakfast.  The trend of breakfast, skip lunch and feast at dinner continues.  This morning H ops for the conservative eggs and salmon and I’m into the noodle soup, hoping to rediscover the joys of last night.  Pretty good but no prize.

We are going to explore the delights of the resort today.

First stop is the fish pool – where hungry little fish will happily nibble away on the crusty bits of your feet.  H and I are both terribly ticklish and we can’t endure it for it long – both of us squealing, giggling and squirming like a couple of 6 year old girls.

Next is the steam cave – the heat provided is natural from the geothermal springs.  There are wooden platforms built over and around a series of scalding hot pools.  Temperatures vary at different parts of the cave.  Its hot and steamy enough outside (about 30C and its only mid morning) but much hotter inside. Unexpected drops of hot water drip down from the roof hitting us and quietly splashing in the pools.

One of the many natural waterfalls at Banjaran

Next is the meditation cave.  This one involves stepping over a small creek and climbing a set of steps and has a grotto feeling.  The temperature here is much cooler and as the name implies is set up for meditation with mood lighting and soothing mystical music.

Inside the Meditation Cave

Next is the dipping pots – round little pools built into the side of a large pool.  Each one is covered by a little hut and has a overhead shower if the temperature get too much.  The temperature is too much for us and we opt for a dip in the resort pool – which is tepid but still refreshing.

There is a young couple on their honeymoon from KSA – its takes us a while to work out that KSA is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The husband is dressed western style but his bride is covered from head to foot.  She is wearing sneakers and jeans under her black nijab – poor thing must be boiling.

For the rest of the day we relax by our pool.

Our customary spot by the pool

Limestone cliff looming over our villa

Trip Advisor advises that the Tandoor Grill is the best place in town to eat Indian.  Trip Advisor is right.  We make a booking and organise a taxi.  The restaurant is a huge room capable of seating a couple of hundred people.  But there are only a few tables occupied so we get very good service.

Tandoori Grill, Ipoh

We order tandoori chicken, onion pakoras, palak paneer, a eggplant curry, roti and mutton biriyani.  I have a couple of cocktails and beer for Howard.  Too much? Yep we have over ordered again!  But it’s very good and definitely worth it.

Calvin’s Tour of Ipoh, Famous Ipoh Chicken and Kachang

Tuesday 12 January 2016

After a wonderful nights sleep, a lazy morning reading and a dip in the pool we head to Pomelo for breakfast. There is a modest buffet breakfast laid out and a substantial breakfast menu to choose from.  I am not one to shy away from a hot breakfast and encourage H to partake in the breakfast dim sum and chicken curry in lieu of the standard eggs on toast.

Breakfast dumpings

Very good!

Pomelo Restaurant

We have nothing more planned until late afternoon, so after picking up a paperback from the library head back to our pool and chill out for the rest of the day.

Thermal pool – this one is cool with little feet eating fishes

Calvin who was a groom at Kat and Aarons wedding, is from Ipoh and visiting his family, has kindly offered to show us around Ipon and take use for some local street food.  Calvin is a chef in Brisbane so we are confident he knows his stuff.  We meet him as arranged at a shopping centre in Ipoh, where he ushers us into his car and gives us a quick tour of the city.  The Indian section with its little shops with bright colours, the old Chinese section, the train station and then to one of his favourite places to eat.

The grand old train station

Indian flowers in Ipoh

Everyone has been telling me that Ipoh is famous for its chicken noodles – I’m a huge fan of Singapore’s chicken rice so I’m all for trying this dish.  Calvin takes us to Lou Wong’s and quickly orders for us.  I’m not sure if there is a menu or if the dish we have is the only option.  Its an open restaurant (with 2 back walls) on a corner that spills out onto the streets.  Plastic stools and tables, plastic table cloths and plastic plates and plastic chopsticks.  It has that scrubbed clean, worn, honest feeling about it and is very busy.  The all male staff are constantly rushing around, taking orders, delivering plates of steaming food, clearing tables.

Ipoh Chicken

Our host Calvin

Within 5 minutes plate after plate of food are deposited on our table.  We all receive a bowl of rice noodles swimming in chicken stock, in the middle of the table is sliced poached chicken breast, another of chicken balls and another of crisp bean sprouts dressed in a sauce and fresh chilli.  Simple and delicious.

We go for a brief stroll down the street to the night markets but they are just setting up.  At Kat and Aarons wedding we had Kachang and we are keen for more, so its back to the car and across town to a hawker street for a bowl of icy yumminess.   Perfect for a not steamy night. Why we don’t have this is Brisbane is beyond me.

Thanks Calvin that was a treat!

Train to Ipoh – The Banjaran Hot Spring Resort

Monday 11 January 2016

As Howard is into all things trains, we have tickets for the 12:30 pm train from KL to Ipoh.  As there is no rush we sleep in, go downstairs for another big breakfast and then leisurely pack our bags, checkout and catch an Uber to Sentral Station.

The train to Ipoh is a modern electric train that zips along at a fair pace.  We have an interesting view for much of the trip – forest, plantations, mountains, villages.  When we disembark at the old Ipoh train station we immediately feel the difference between busy, modern KL and sleepy, little Ipoh.  But it’s a nice difference.  Ipoh train station is a grand old building dating from the Victorian era.

Getting a taxi seems to be every man for himself sort of event (no Uber in Ipoh).  We are not fast enough and left to a crusty old man in a crusty old car.  When we tell him where we are going I got the feeling that the price doubled.  Just 15 minutes outside town, beneath towering limestone mountains is The Banjaran Hot Springs Hotel.  H found this place and as soon as I saw it I knew we would have to go there.

From the moment we got out of the taxi we are treated like royalty.  The open air reception overlooks a beautiful lily pond and at the reception there is a huge gong that we get to bash as part of the welcome.  Wow its loud.

Reception with limestone mountains in background

As we are escorted to our room through the extensive tropical gardens, the usual features are pointed out to us restaurant, spa, library and pool.  But it is the other features that makes Banjaran special, firstly the whole resort is built around the many thermal springs – we are warned which ones are dangerous (we are talking near boiling) and which ones are hot but bearable.  Then there is a little series of pools where those fish that eat your feet live.  There is also a series of limestone caves – made into a bar, meditation room and even a steam room.

Every which way but loose

Thermal spring – this one is scalding hot

Our private pool villa is lovely – behind the high walls and lockable gate is an outdoor entertainment area including bar, lounge area, good size pool and sun loungers.  Inside is a roomy bedroom with huge ensuite.  Out back is our own thermal springs spa bath.  The scalding water is piped straight in and we only need to regulate the temperature by adding cold water.  There is also an outdoor shower next to the spa bath.  Luxury!

Bedroom

Enjoy ur stay! We will

Thermal spa

Bathroom

Outdoor Lounge

We are warned not to leave any food, drinks or valuables unattended outside as there is a troupe of cheeky monkeys living in the mountains that consider all such items fair game.

It’s a hot and sticky day so as soon as we are alone we strip off and jump in the pool.  Oh its cold!  We spend the rest of the afternoon alternating between the cold pool, the hot spa and lounging around sipping vodka and pineapple juice.  I could get used to this.

At sunset we decide to check out Jeff’s Cellar, the bar in the cave.  Its only open to resort guests and I’m surprised at how extensive the caves are.  We order a couple of drinks and relax for a while and enjoy the dark surrounds.  Led lights, down lights and spot lights define low outcrops, walkway edges, textured cave walls and stalactites.  Some areas are roofed by swaths of cloth to prevent drops of water dripping onto the guests.

Jeff’s Cellar

Jeff’s Cellar

We have decided to eat in tonight and head over to the restaurant – Pomelo.  It’s an open air affair with a high pitched roof, with a relaxed atmosphere and great service.  We kick back, relax and pass the night away in this tropical paradise.

Recovery

Sunday 10 January 2016

I had planned on us going to the Batu Caves today but it’s  blistering hot and we are plum tuckered out.  So it’s going to be a lazy day.

After sleeping in we go to the hotel restaurant for breakfast and have a leisurely big breakfast from the banquet.  There is a great variety of hot dishes including curries and noodles – I choose curry!  Who doesn’t want a hot curry in the morning?

Early in the afternoon we catch the mono-rail to Sentral Station to buy train tickets to Ipoh tomorrow.  Then back to Jalan Bukit Bintang for a bit of shopping – I snag 2 pairs of shorts for RM 120 and then we get a foot rub.  For dinner we have Din Tai Fung – yum.

Din Tai Fung – waiting for a table

Kat’s Wedding

Saturday 9 January 2016

The reason for our trip to KL is to attend my workmate Kathryn’s wedding.  Kat, as she is known in the office, is a truly lovely soul and marrying her sweetheart Aaron today.  We have been lucky enough to be invited to celebrate their special day.

I had planned on having a leisurely day (you know – sleep in, a touch of shopping, maybe a foot rub) before the ceremony at 3:00 this afternoon.  However, a late night phone call has changed everything.  Kat has organised a driver to pick us up at 7:15 in the morning so we can join in on the days many ceremonies.

I won’t go into the full intricacies of a modern Chinese/Malaysia traditional ceremony mixed with a Christian ceremony but its time consuming, fascinating and waist line ruining experience.  From the bridesmaid’s tricks on the groom and his posy, the tea ceremony at both the brides home and grooms home, the breakfast banquet (complete with suckling pig), the lunch banquet (my first introduction to Kachang – where have you been all my life?), the church ceremony, the reception with 600 plus guests, the toasts, the costume/gown changes and all the travel between, Howard and I get a wonderful insight into another culture.  It’s a magical mixture of Chinese tradition, Christian tradition and western culture.  Thank you Kat and Aaron for a wonderful experience and inviting us to celebrate this wonderful day with you.

Sucking Pig – breakfast anyone?

The bridesmaids testing the groom and his men

Tea ceremony with Kat’s parents

Kat’s and her lovely maids

Cutting of the cake at the church

We are finally dropped off at our hotel at 1.00 am – we are both bushed.

No Disrespect Meant

Friday 8 January 2016

It boots and saddles early, we have to get to the Gold Coast airport for our 9:05 Air Asia flight to KL.  That means a 4:30am alarm and 6:00am limo pick up.  The money we saved flying Air Asia is reallocated for the limo.

It’s a long flight 8hrs 20 mins in fact and although we have exit row seats for the extra leg room it’s not a particularly comfortable one. The seats are tiny. But it’s a day flight I can bear it.

Although we have been to KL before this is the first time into the new airport, where AirAsia lands and we are surprised how long it takes us to talk from the gate to passport control.  No kidding about 40 mins and we are not dawdling either.

At passport control there is the age old dilemma of picking the fast moving (or at least not the slowest one).  I definitely picked the wrong line.  I try to wait patiently, enviously watching everyone else get processed while my line slowly progresses at a snail’s pace.  By the time I get to the front of the line I’m more than keen to get going, I know H will be worrying on the other side, waiting for me.  Then I commit the 11th unforgivable sin – I step forward before I am asked and dropped by passport on the counter with a little too much vigour (I know shocking right?).  The Malay official then proceeds to have a conniption, threatening to have me taken away for disrespecting him and raving about lord knows what.  He then sends me back into the line and calls the next person through.  Once he has finally processed that person he ignored me for 5 mins in petty punishment before he dines to wiggle a finger at me to step forward. I then get a second dressing down, followed by an interrogation on my planned activities in Malaysia.  Seriously?  This dude has a serious problem.  I’m torn between shock at the verbal attack, anger that I’m being treated that way and terror on the nightmare he could create if I accidentally provoke him further (me thinks there’s some male Muslim, “lets put the female in her place” going on here!) Wow!  Welcome to Malaysia!

With a final glare he dismisses me and I’m free!  When I finally make it to baggage collection Howard is beside himself.  “What the hell have I been doing?”  Where do I start?

Eventually after finding an ATM to get some cash, required to buy a taxi voucher, then find the taxi line and get a taxi ride into KL, we can relax.  New record Gate to Taxi about 2½ hours.  Now it’s another 1 hour in the taxi to KL.

Our room at The Grand Millennium

By the time we get to check into The Grand Millennium on Jalan Bukit Bintang it time for dinner.  Knowing the area we immediately walk to Jalan Alor, the frantic hawker street. We select a semi respectable establishment called Sai Woo and order Nyonya Style Prawns, fried rice, noodles, a green vege dish (I love my greens but this dish was just nasty) and beers.

Just what we need – a couple of cold brews on a hot night

Sai Woo on Jalan Alor

At the table next to us is a funny Korean girl, we find out that she has been in Australia for a working holiday for 12 months, she loves Australia, she is on her way home and is treating herself with one last feast before returning to the sub zero temperatures in Korea.

Its great to be back in this crazy city but the heat, pollution, long day and stress has taken its toll and we are ready to crash.  It’s all I can do to drag my feet back to the hotel.