• Spring Festival Vacation: Penang (Feb 8 to Feb 11)

    by  • March 7, 2008 • China • 0 Comments

    There are worse things than listening to a two-piece band playing “Girl from Ipanema,” while drinking Tiger beer with friends, on a Malaysian island in what would otherwise be the dead of winter.

    Our visit to the island of Penang was a way for us to accomplish a few things: first, visit with our friend from Seattle, SuJ’n (and her boyfriend Alan), who’s currently teaching English in South Korea and happened to be on vacation in the same area of the world at the same time as us; secondly, see another part of Malaysia – the island of Penang has a distinctly different character from Kuala Lumpur; and thirdly, to sample the world-famous Penang food, particularly the spicy assam laksas and Penang curries at their source.

    Penang is a popular tourist destination (for Malaysians and non), and the fact that we’d ended up there on a 3-day weekend — Chinese New Year being an official Malaysian holiday — compounded things. Long lines for attractions and slow traffic dampened our spirits slightly, but considering that the mission was simply to “relax,” it wasn’t much of a setback. Our first full day, we checked out the Kek Lok Si [see below], Southeast Asia’s largest Buddhist temple, which had some amazing huge statues of some deities we’re not familiar with.

    Joel, Suj’n, and Alan at Kek Lok Si Then we went up the funicular railway (I’ll never get tired of saying that) to Penang Hill, which offers a stunning view of Georgetown (Penang’s capital) and a lot of the island. We sipped fancy juice drinks in front of a geodesic dome and beneath a friendly plant-dwelling snake, enjoying a respite from the insanely hot weather, at the top of the hill. [see below]Sunday, we went to church for the first time in months, and it was pretty great. We went to St. George’s Anglican church [see below], the oldest of its kind in SE Asia. The funny thing is, it was almost exactly like an evangelical service in the US (right down to the awkward teenage kid singing backup vocals because his mom was leading the music), except that the ethnic mix was typically Malaysian. The Rev. Joel Leow informed us in his sermon that the fruit Adam and Eve consumed was not an apple, but durian.

    We also made it to a lazy little beach (after a languid lunch at the Eastern and Oriental, Penang’s swankiest hotel), where we took a dip in the Indian Ocean, which was bathwater warm. Nice. The two pictures below come from the beach.
    Afterwards, a quick trip to the tropical spice garden, where we got many exotic bug bites and smelled a lot of exotic spices. Here, Sarah and Suj’n enjoy a swing strategically located in front of sheer drop to the jungle floor.

    Instant drink: cut a hole in coconut, add ice & straw. Enjoy.
    On our last day in Penang, Suj’n and Alan had departed, and we did something that sounds boring but wasn’t: we took a public bus around almost the entire island. This was a great way to see everything, from the tourist beaches of Georgetown to its grungier industrial district, the idyllic, tiny inland towns like Balik Pulau, and the gorgeous, verdant hills between cities. Our ultimate stop was Penang’s tropical fruit farm [where Sarah holds a custard apple, below], where we took a short guided tour which culminated in a kind of fruit buffet. (Have you tried jackfruit? That stuff is amazing.)

    After the fruit farm, we headed back to our hostel, did a little last-minute shopping (Sarah bought some batik, and a funky hat for me, the latter of which caused a taxi driver to remark “Michael Jackson, nooooo no noooo…”) and got ready for the return trip to KL.

    You know what? I know I’m not done describing it, but this trip was amazing. Writing these installments reminds me how fortunate we are to be able to do this kind of stuff. I remember telling Sarah when we got to KL, “I never thought I’d see this much of the world.” I really didn’t. And I’m glad we have. Coming soon: KL and HK – the sequels!


    Sarah grew up in Colorado but considers herself a Chinese-Malaysian-English-American. Her favorite thing to do is read in bed, or some sunny spot on a couch.

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