Category Archives: Travel Guide

Travel Guide: Penang

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I accepted a job here in Malaysia, but then Mitch and I spent the weekend in Penang’s largest city, the UNESCO World Heritage Site George Town, and I found what I’d been hoping to find here – neighborhoods to explore, streets to walk, cafes to sit and eat and drink, bars with really good food, places to visit, and a multicultural, historical society. We had a wonderful weekend and I can’t wait to go back! (In fact, I’d rather like to relocate, but I don’t think there are many opportunities for Mitch there. Actually, I don’t know if there are any opportunities for me there. Anyway, we’re not relocating. At least, not to Penang.)

An example of what I thought I'd see in Malaysia
An example of what I thought I’d see in Malaysia

Part of the reason our weekend was so special is because we stayed in a perfectly comfortable, simple bed and breakfast in the heart of George Town. Steven, the proprietor of the Pedal Inn (I highly, highly, highly recommend it), told us what to do, where to go, and, most importantly, what to eat. Penang is famous for its seafood-based street food, most of which I can’t eat, but there are multiple vegetarian places, too! It really is a wonderful place.

We arrived late Friday night and began exploring on Saturday. Street art is both common and famous in Penang, so we spent a good bit of Saturday just wandering around the various historic neighborhoods and looking for it. There are maps to follow, but that would have been too easy. Some of the pieces were funky and fun and others were rather informative about the history of Penang. Still others, my favorites, made excellent use of the space around them.

China Town is a great place to see where real locals buy food. Literally all kids of food. I made it past 3 stalls selling various meats and fish and had to backtrack through a maze of people. The smell. . . . But there were others places to look around!

P1040127 P1040124 P1040130 P1040131

We bumped into a batik-painting museum in China Town that we quite enjoyed. I didn’t know batik is only around 60 years old!

The third floor of the batik-painting museum
The third floor of the batik-painting museum

Since Deepavali (also spelled Divali or Diwali) is this coming week, Little India was a hopping place, too. We ended up eating lunch there at a banana leaf place, much like No. 1 Top Curry, my favorite restaurant in Seremban.

P1040134 P1040136 P1040137 P1040138

We walked down to the waterfront and passed some British colonial buildings along the way. My favorite feature was this post box:

Why yes, Malaysia is a former British colony
Why yes, Malaysia is a former British colony

It was also really neat to see people driving their cars off of the ferry. The mainland is rather close by – right across the Straits of Malacca – and you can see it without trying too hard.

P1040142
Dear Rochester, this is what the fast ferry was supposed to do

Other wanderings took us past various religious buildings that are everywhere. Penang has more churches than I’ve seen elsewhere in Malaysia, even in Malacca. It also had mosques, Buddhist temples, and Hindu temples.

P1040155 P1040156

P1040165

P1040166

We also wandered around Fort Cornwallis, which is one of the most depressing historical sites I’ve seen. This former British fort has not been particularly well maintained and contains very little historical information. It feels a bit stale and cost RM2 per person for a reason.

Statue of Lord Cornwallis
Statue of Lord Cornwallis

It started to rain (we’re in the rainy season now so that’s a daily event) so we headed to the Blue Mansion for a tour. The Blue Mansion is iconic in Penang because it’s, well, blue. It was designed, built, and lived in by Cheong Fatt Tze, a Chinese immigrant to Malaysia in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, most of it is a hotel now so we weren’t able to see much. The 45-minute tour is mostly about what the architects found when restoring the house in the 1990s. Not worth RM16 per person.

Cool Blue Mansion windows
Cool Blue Mansion windows

P1040175P1040180

We went to a British-style pub called SoHo for a while to get out of the rain, wandered in the rain to find dinner, and ended up back at said pub. Great food, not impressed with the drinks, pleased that a cocktail menu existed.

On Sunday we explored Penang Hill and Itam, an open air market neighborhood. It was cloudy (rainy season) when we went up the hill, but it got brighter the longer we were there. We seem to have poor luck with hills. It’s hard to see anything in the fog! When the clouds cleared for a moment, though, it was really beautiful.

P1040198P1040199


P1040219

P1040200
P1040205

Looking down on Georgetown
Looking down on Georgetown
Looking at another hill in the area
Looking at another hill in the area
Looking at Penang Hill
Looking at Penang Hill

We drove through Itam by bus on the way to Penang Hill and much of it had cleared out by the time we went back there to eat, but that didn’t stop us from sampling various vegetarian foods, durian ice cream, and a coconut tart at various stands! When we drove through originally, Itam was swarming with both people and cars. I’m not exactly sorry that we were there at a quieter time.

P1040224

P1040228

P1040235

Our visit ended with a trip to the heavily commercialized Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple, which combines Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architecture. It opened in 1905 and renovations and additions took place in the 1930 and early 2000s. There were hawkers everywhere, which was weird, but the architecture was beautiful.

Take-home message: Visit Penang!

Travel Guide: Langkawi

This weekend was the first of our three consecutive weekends of travel. As I’m sure you gathered from my last post, I’m not 100% delighted with life here and Mitch and I decided it was high time to begin exploring Malaysia. We chose the island of Langkawi because it has beaches and we wanted to spend some time in clean mountain air, which one can find everywhere in Malaysia except in cities.

Our trip started Friday evening on a pretty amazing AirAsia plane. These are iPhone photos so they’re not the best quality, but I guess AirAsia loves Taylor Swift as much as I do!

IMG_0541 IMG_0542

I’ve never flown AirAsia before and got a good laugh out of just how “budget” the airline is.

Poor Mitch's legs hardly fit!
Poor Mitch’s legs hardly fit!

Our plane arrived about an hour late but the Seaview Guest House where we were staying is pretty close to the airport. Lesson learned: You get what you pay for. We paid $12 a night and had a room with two double beds and use of a shared bathroom located at the bottom of a very steep staircase. It was not pretty and I wouldn’t stay there again. (We do, however, plan to return to Langkawi.) Seaview Guest House isn’t exactly conveniently located (again, you get what you pay for) and we needed to take taxis everywhere we went. Since Langkawi is a very touristy island, each taxi ride cost RM20. It’s only about RM50 to rent a car for the day, so we learned after the fact, so that’s what I’d recommend to other travellers. We will definitely do that on our next trip.

The best part about Seaview Guest House, though, is that it’s attached to a bar so we were able to have our first cocktails since coming to Malaysia. Like the room, the drinks were cheap; unlike the room, they were amazing. There were a handful of people hanging out at the bar when we got in Friday night so we joined two guys from Sri Lanka and had a lot of fun talking to them. We exchanged contact information via Facebook (oh, Facebook, how useful you are) and spent quite a bit of time with them last night, too. Meeting new people is a lot of fun, especially when everyone is brand new to an area and when everyone is on holiday and therefore pretty happy!

We woke up pretty late on Saturday and then ventured to an area called Oriental Village, which is very pretty but also very touristy. Langkawi is famous for a cable car ride from Oriental Village to the closest mountain and we really wanted to go. There’s also a bridge that connects the mountain to its neighbor that adventurous people can walk along. We totally planned on doing that but the bridge was closed for maintenance, another reason we have to go back.

It was sunny when we got to Oriental Village, rained, and got sunny again, which you can see in the photos:

P1040036 P1040037 P1040039 P1040041 P1040046P1040045P1040043

Not only was it beautiful, but we also found recycling!

Recycling?! In Malaysia?! What????
Recycling?! In Malaysia?! What????
Happy recycler
Happy recycler

Thanks to the weather, our cable car excursion perhaps was not as thrilling as it might have been. Visibility gradually decreased as we went up the mountain, which reminded both of us of skiing out West in the US. On a clear day, one should be able to see the entire island, but this was not a clear day. It was beautiful, though, in a very different way. At times, it honestly looked like the fog was creeping up around us. It was rather sobering to be so small and insignificant and hidden in a cloud when we knew there were mountains around us. The air smelled fantastic, too. If we were going to be in Langkawi longer, we would have waited to see if the weather cleared up but we didn’t have that option. That’s the drawback of short trips, I guess, but it’s better than not going at all. I’d definitely go again on a clear day.

P1040048 P1040049 P1040053 P1040054 P1040056 P1040057 P1040058 P1040059 P1040061

In sharp contrast to Seremban, Langkawi has wildlife! It also has cats and dogs everywhere, but so do we. We passed multiple groups of crab-eating macaques searching for food, picking bugs off each other, and, in the case of this one, pursuing mates.

Macaque on a mission
Macaque on a mission
There were also groups of buffalo and cows grazing in just about every open field (and some not so open fields)
There were also groups of buffalo and cows grazing in just about every open field (and some not so open fields)

The afternoon remained cloudy but we went to the beach anyway and walked up and down for long enough to watch the beginning of the sunset. We passed a creek of little fishing boats on the way there, which I just loved.

P1040071 P1040072

The beach had some of the softest sand that I’ve ever felt, but we had to go pretty far into the water to find it. Otherwise it was rather rocky. There’s a marina in Langkawi that we passed on the way to the beach and a lot of the boats are fishing boats, so it was fun to watch them move around very slowly and then finally head back to the marina with their catch for the day.

P1040076 P1040078 P1040081 P1040083 P1040084 P1040085

As the sun began to set, it also managed to break through the clouds so we had a spectacular sunset when we got back to Seaview.

I have a thing for pictures of rooftops. I took this as soon as we got back from the beach and I love the way the light from the setting suns reflects on the roofs.
I have a thing for pictures of rooftops. I took this as soon as we got back from the beach and I love the way the light from the setting suns reflects on the roofs.

IMG_0543 IMG_0546

Our Sri Lankan friends introduced us to a new arrival at Seaview, a guy from Japan taking a year off from university to practice his English. We all had a few drinks and then we all went to Cenang Beach late Saturday night, once the tide had gone out. The sand was soft and the waves were larger and louder, which I love. We didn’t going into the water because it was 10pm by that point, but next time we visit Langkawi, I’d love to stay at Cenang Beach because that’s where all the action is – restaurants, shops, places to book island tours, etc. Next time, we also plan to visit the city of Kuah and hike up to Seven Wells Waterfall, which we could see from the cable car.

Lessons learned from this trip:

  • In terms of accommodation, you get what you pay for
  • Stay in the city where the action is
  • Taxis are expensive and renting a car is not; therefore, rent a car
  • Be friendly and you’ll make friends

It was a really great weekend. We were very glad to get away from the city, breathe clean air, spend time outside and in nature, meet cool people, and just be somewhere else. Hopefully we’ll return to Langkawi before leaving Malaysia because there’s definitely more to see and do!

Travel Guide: St. Louis, MO

“Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, meet me at the fair . . .”

Reference? Get it? Get it? Yes? No? Look it up.

Teehee.

Last weekend, my friend Lucas and I visited Ally, another friend, in St. Louis, Missouri. Ally has lived in St. Louis since we started college many moons ago, and now that we’ve been out of college for a few years, we decided that it was high time to visit her. Lucas lives in California now and I’m moving to Malaysia in August, so it was a “now or never” kind of trip. Ally was an excellent tour guide for the four days that we were there. She took us to fun places and great restaurants and introduced us to her life in the Midwest. There’s a LOT to do there and I would definitely go back.

I wasn’t entirely responsible with taking pictures when we were away; Lucas took on most of that responsibility. Here’s a little taste, though:

Thursday night Cardinals game
Thursday night Cardinals game
St. Louis Arch
St. Louis Arch
Did you know it's as wide as it is tall?
Did you know it’s as wide as it is tall?
Delicious, refreshing, summery beverages
Delicious, refreshing, summery beverages
The outdoor area of the City Museum, a magical place where people of all ages can run, jump, climb, and exlplore
The outdoor area of the City Museum, a magical place where people of all ages can run, jump, climb, and explore
One last hurrah
One last hurrah

If you’re intrigued, here’s a list of places we went (in the order that we went to them):

  • Cardinals Game
  • Kemper Gallery at Washington University
  • Washington University
  • St. Louis Arch
  • Missouri Botanical Gardens
  • Climb So Ill (this is the climbing gym where Ally belongs – LOVED THIS)
  • City Museum

And for those inclined in the food direction, here’s where we ate and drank (in the order that we tried them):

  • Broadway Oyster Bar
  • Hartford Coffee Company
  • Cafe Osage
  • The Royale
  • Pi Pizzeria
  • Rise Coffee
  • Sassy Jack’s
  • Cafe Mochi
  • HandleBar
  • Oceano Bistro