Final thoughts on Malaysia (2018)

It is weird doing final thoughts on a country we visited in 2015 (and will no doubt visit again), but here goes….

P1170038

The orangutan we saw outside of Kuching

  • We visited Malaysia in 2015 and, as some of you may recall, really did not like it.  See here.    In fact, we were so miserable in Malaysia that we left much earlier than planned and fled back to Thailand.  So, we kind of thought we were crazy when we decided to visit Malaysia again this year.  But, we really, really wanted to visit Borneo.  And, we had just spent three months in Indonesia, so couldn’t go to Indonesian Borneo without visiting some other country first.  And you know what?  It was a fantastic decision!  We loved our visit to Malaysia this time (well, except for our stay in Kuala Lumpur — more on that below) and are already talking about a return visit to see more of Borneo and maybe some other bits of Malaysia we haven’t yet seen.
P1180245

A stork at the KL bird park

  • We absolutely loved Kuching.  Seeing proboscis monkeys and an orangutan were both amazing experiences.  And, the city is really easy to navigate by foot or using Grab (the Asian equivalent of Uber).  And, the food was to die for.  We definitely want to go back, rent an apartment, and just hang out for a month or so.
  • Georgetown was a highlight for us in 2015 and we still like it.  Interesting architecture, cool street art, and amazing food.  What is not to like (other than the insane heat and humidity).  However, it was sad to see the changes in Georgetown since 2015.  There are so many more homeless people now.  And, unlike in 2015, we saw numerous prostitutes walking the streets.  Perhaps we just didn’t notice them in 2015, but we definitely noticed them this time.  And, while they were all dressed as women, at least some of them had a little something extra in their skirts….
P1170599

A butterfly at the butterfly park in Penang

  • Melaka is a great little city.  Lots to do and see and eat.  But all hell breaks loose on the weekends.  Apparently, it is an easy weekend trip for Singaporeans and the city gets absolutely slammed with people.  Cute little places that you can walk right into during the week turn into madhouses with lines out the door on the weekends.  Our advice is to do all your sightseeing during the week and then have a relaxing weekend reading a book until the night market opens.
DSC01547

Orchid park in Kuching

  • We really, really tried to like Kuala Lumpur this time.  We explored the city on foot, via cab, on buses, on trains, and even on a monorail.  But, we still don’t love it.  It is a big city and there is construction going on everywhere.  We didn’t have the best food.  We hated our hotel.  We weren’t interested in most of the sights.  Plus, we had a bit of a problem with a few men staring at me in a really creepy manner (even though I was with Robert and dressed fairly conservatively).  However, we did experience the perfect mall organizational structure at a mall in Kuala Lumpur.  All the stores were organized by category.  So, all the electronics stores were clustered together, all the shoe stores were clustered together, etc.  What a fantastic idea!  And, we found another branch of Paradise Dynasty and their famous Xiao Long Bao at another mall so it wasn’t all bad…
P1180214

KL bird park

  • Almost every restaurant we went to in Malaysia had garlic bread.  I ordered it almost every time we were in a restaurant (as opposed to a hawker center or eating street food).  It was almost all bad.  Except for the garlic nan.  That was almost all yummy.  I don’t understand why restaurants in Malaysia can’t make garlic bread and I don’t understand why I kept ordering it even though I knew it would be bad….
  • Malaysia just might turn me into a girl who likes condiments.  People who know me well know I have always been a no condiments kind of girl — ketchup, mustard, mayo, and salad dressing are all disgusting as far as I’m concerned.  But garlic chili sauce on steamed or roasted chicken and rice?  I think I might be in love….
P1170775

Georgetown street art

  • Soda water is incredibly hard to find in Malaysia.  You want A&W Root Beer?  No problem.  You want cream soda?  No problem.  Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite or 7-Up?  No problem.  Weird blueberry and strawberry flavored pop?  No problem.  But plain old soda water?  No dice most of the time.  And, the few stores that do carry it often jack up the price.

 

  • McDonald’s in Malaysia sells a durian milkshake.  Sadly, try as I might, I could not convince Robert to try one….
P1170292

A mom and baby in Bako

  • Speaking of fast food, we have discovered it is bad everywhere.  Ever heard of the chain Marrybrown?  It is a Malaysian fast-food chain that serves halal food and, after getting stuck in an airport for hours with nothing else open, we can confirm, it is just as bad as American fast food.
  • We will never understand Malaysia’s apparent love of porridge….Even the Kentucky Fried Chicken serves porridge.  No, we didn’t try it.  (We did eat at a KFC one day because I was craving chicken breast.  It turns out the chicken tenders were made from dark meat.  Gross.)
P1160931

One of the cat statues in Kuching

  • We were in Malaysia for the World Cup.  Definitely bad planning on our part, as many of the matches started at 1 or 2 in the morning.  But….the semi-final was on at a more reasonable hour and we were very excited to watch.  Except the bar we picked chose to play bad 50’s music instead of the sound.  Something we will never understand…. (We ended up watching in our hotel room.)
P1170702

Relaxing at Kek Lok Si

  • After all the bad cover music we heard in Indonesia, it was nice to hear originals again.  Of course, most of the music was from decades ago, but at least it was largely originals!  (Or so bad they are good covers like Mike Patton singing Easy).
P1170488

Robert and a friend in Georgetown

  • I’m pretty sure there were no French people in France this July.  They were all in Malaysia.  Seriously, nearly everyone we ran into was French.
  • Public transportation is a bit different in Malaysia.  Ever been on a city bus that pulls into a gas station and fills up?  We have now….. (Tour buses do the same thing.)
P1170696

Kek Lok Si

  • We saw quite a few movies in Malaysia.  They are dirt cheap (we are talking like $3 or $4 per person) and a perfect way to spend an afternoon when it is 100 degrees outside.  Every theater we visited had assigned seats.  And, they all sold popcorn.  But generally only caramel corn — no hot buttered popcorn.  How strange is that?
  • We are pretty sure that drivers intentionally try to mess with pedestrians (or at least pedestrian tourists).  Don’t look at an oncoming car and think “oh, he is far away, I can cross the street.”  Nope, don’t think like that because we pretty much guarantee that the car will see you start to cross and then hit the gas as hard as possible to try to hit you.  And don’t think “oh, that car is in the far lane, I can cross halfway and then cross after the car passes.”  Nope, don’t think like that because we pretty much guarantee that the car will intentionally change lanes and force you to hurry back to the curb.  And it wasn’t just happening to us — we saw it happen over and over to everyone.
P1170632

Another butterfly in Penang

  • We found it hilarious that Robert’s coffee habit cost more than our food habit.  Day after day, we would grab a meal for pennies and then spend twice as much (or more) at the coffee shop.
  • Make sure you have napkins in your bag when you travel in Malaysia.  The vast majority of restaurants — even sit-down restaurants — don’t supply napkins.  And, some that do provide wet wipes will charge extra for them.
P1170748

Georgetown street art

  • Restaurant workers apparently have a much better work/life balance in Malaysia than in the U.S.  Many restaurants were open for lunch or for dinner, but not both.   A cute little ice cream shop that we liked closed before sundown each day.  Good for them, but bad for us.
P1170416

A proboscis in Bako

 

  • We saw very few pet dogs in Malaysia.  We miss dogs….
  • Malaysia is where we pretty much completely stopped worrying about food safety.  If it looked good and fresh and locals were eating it, we ate it.  Raw cucumbers at a hawker stand?  Bring them on!  Barely cooked bean sprouts at a hawker stand?  Bring them on!  Pre-cooked food sitting in a buffet in the heat?  Bring it on!  And, it worked out for us.  We didn’t get sick once.  We should have measured our gut flora before we left so we could see how it changed over time….
P1170885

A monitor lizard in Melaka

  • It was impossible to find a cheap hotel in Malaysia with a pool.  Come on Malaysian hotels, you really need pools!
  • All-in-all, we really enjoyed our visit to Malaysia this time.  We honestly don’t know why we had such a different reaction this time, but we are glad we did.  We will be back.

 

Posted in Uncategorized, Malaysia | Leave a comment

The Kuala Lumpur bird park was a resounding success

Neither one of us got pooped on.  And some of the birds took really big, yucky poos so that was quite the accomplishment.  Yeah!  (I can’t believe I just wrote that….)

P1180267

Check out those colors!

If you spend any time in Malaysia, odds are pretty darn good you will fly in or out of the Kuala Lumpur (“KL”) airport.

P1180254

I’ve never seen a bird sit like this before.

When we booked a flight out of KL, my one “must do” for our time in KL was to visit the bird park.  I had read amazing things about how wonderful the bird park was and how it was a “must do” for anyone, like me, who loves birds.  Robert wasn’t nearly as excited about it, but he was willing to humor me.

P1180231

More pretty colors!

 

The KL bird park is one of the largest free-flying aviaries in the world.  (It might be the largest, but I’ve also read that one in South Africa is the largest, so who knows???)  And, they apparently have been quite successful at breeding some endangered species of birds, which is wonderful.

P1180211

They were pinker in person.

But, I have to say, it was a tad disappointing.

P1180197

This guy was brighter in person too.

There were some beautiful birds.

P1180190

Have you ever seen a bird this red?

But, it felt like there were very few different species in the open aviaries.   And, it felt like there were too many of the same species of bird.  We saw so many peacocks, and there were probably well over one hundred of these guys alone.

P1180167

Looking for fish.

And, it was cheesy to walk along and then find out you had to pay more to take photos of some of the more colorful and interesting birds (we declined to pay extra to take photos).

P1180147

Twins?

And, it was disappointing that they sold food to feed the birds, causing certain birds to follow us around looking for food.

P1180132

Check out the head on this guy!

And, it was really sad that they had to put up signs telling people not to throw things at the birds.

P1180122

The inspiration for the ood?

But, we did see some really cool birds and we were able to get really close to them.  And, I’m glad we went.

DSC01916

This guy loved posing for photos.

But, I think we both agree the aviary in Hong Kong is much better.  So, if you have to pick between the two, pick the Hong Kong aviary.

 

 

Posted in Malaysia | Leave a comment

A week in Melaka

We’ve spent the last week in Melaka (sometimes spelled Malacca).  Melaka is about 2 hours south of Kuala Lumpur.  Because we are cheap, we chose not to fly and instead took a local bus to get here.  Of course, because we have really bad luck with buses, it took us nine hours (instead of the advertised six hours) to get here from Georgetown.  And, the highlight of the bus trip was when the driver actually complimented me on the fact that I didn’t use a bathroom once the entire nine hour trip!  “Fantastic!  Great job.”  I don’t think I’ve ever been complimented for not using the bathroom before….and I don’t even want to think about why the driver noticed that I hadn’t used the bathroom.

P1170976

A bit of Dutch Square

Melaka was “founded” in 1377 by a guy named Parameswara (it isn’t clear to me if there were already people here then or not).  Parameswara was either a pirate or a Sumatran prince, depending on which summary you read.  He fled his country due to fear of some invaders.  He found himself in what is now Singapore, killed the local ruler, and established himself as a Raja.  But, then Thai invaders came and he fled once again.  He somehow found himself in what is now Melaka and he was resting under a tree one day during a hunt when his hunting dogs cornered a mouse deer.  The mouse deer, in turn, kicked a dog and pushed it right into the river.  Parameswara was impressed by the courage of the deer and took it as an omen that the weak could overcome the powerful and decided to found an empire right then and there.  I’m not sure why the weak overcoming the powerful was something good in his eyes, because I’m assuming anyone who was a pirate and/or a prince, a Raja, and founded a town considered himself powerful…. (although if he fled every time someone invaded, I guess that explains things).

Anyway, Melaka became a major trading port for traders from China, India, and Arabia.  By most accounts we read, things were going swimmingly.

Then, in 1511, Melaka was conquered by the Portuguese.  Apparently, things did not go so well with the Portuguese in charge — they were all about the money and Melaka’s reputation as a fair trading post plummeted.  The Dutch soon started attacking and conquered Melaka in 1641 after starving the local population (there are rumors of cannibalism….).  Then, Melaka was ceded to the Brits in the 1800’s.  Then, the Japanese controlled it during WWII.  After the war, it became part of Malaysia.  So, to say the cultural history is diverse is putting it mildly.

Our days in Melaka were nothing if not relaxing.  We slept in every single day we were here (Robert even slept until 11 one day which is just plain crazy).  Then, most days we made our way to one of the myriad places selling chicken rice balls for lunch.

P1170902Chicken rice balls are a local specialty and people wait in long lines to eat them.  Depending on the shop, you might get steamed chicken or you might be able to substitute roasted chicken.  We generally got half a chicken, so we had both white and dark meat, but today we got gizzards as well.  Yuck!  In the above picture, the steamed chicken is resting on a plate of sesame oil, which makes it even better.  The rice balls are cooked in chicken broth, typically served warm, and you dip them in chili sauce.  The chili sauce tastes different at every shop, but the best are not too full of vinegar.  This is a delicious meal and generally only cost $5 for the two of us (with soft drinks).

After our lunch, we generally wandered into a coffee shop so Robert could get his caffeine fix (the Nescafe served in the hotels just doesn’t cut it, go figure) and I could get a lime juice or something sweet.  We were always surprised that our coffee shop visits cost more than our lunch!

After coffee, it was time for sightseeing.  We saw some cool street art.

DSC01863

Not sure who these women are….

P1170853

The famous mouse deer

 

We loved the local transportation option (although we never took one).  These bikes are everywhere.  Most of them are covered in Hello Kitty or Pikachu gear, but a few have a super hero theme and a few are decked out in Frozen gear.  And, the bikes blast the loudest music.  If a bunch of them drive by, you probably want to plug your ears.  Plus, they light up at night.

DSC01847P1170923

We also saw some temples during our sightseeing.

P1170903And some old mansions.  Unfortunately, this one was not open to visitors.

DSC01845We also ran across this tribute to a former Mr. Universe.

P1170904We even went to some museums, which is pretty rare for us.  We were unimpressed with the history and ethnography museum, especially because we affirmatively wanted to understand more about the history of the area and the displays just weren’t very good, although we did learn about traditional Malay weddings in excruciating detail.  (There was quite a bit of obvious bias in the displays, which was unfortunate.)

But the Baba-Nyona Heritage Museum was fantastic.  The Baba are the male descendants of Malay-Chinese couples and the Nyonas are the female descendants.  The museum is in a set of three houses owned by one family and shows how that family lived — we would highly recommended visiting this museum and doing the guided tour.

Plus, we saw these flip-flops during our sightseeing.  I’m guessing they are intended to be highly offensive, as feet are generally considered to be lowly in many Asian cultures.

P1170981 Once the sightseeing was done for the day, it was time to head to a pub on the river for drinks.  Robert was thrilled to learn he could get a gin and tonic for less than the price of a beer.  I was crushed to learn that sometimes a chardonnay is better than a sauvignon blanc.  While sitting in the pub, we watched the river boats ride by and, most days, we got to see a water monitor or two.  One day, we even got to watch a water monitor eat a dead fish.  It was gone in three gulps.

P1170883

We also had a nice view of an old defensive structure from one of our favorite pubs (Sid’s).

P1170886And, we even got to see Jack Sparrow one day.  I swear, really, that is him.

P1170954But, the best part of every day was dinner.  The food here is amazing.  One of the Melaka specialties is satay celup and, luckily Capital Satay was right around the corner from our hotel.  This is basically a meal where you pick your own skewer and boil it in peanut satay sauce.  Most skewers cost about 27 cents, but things like tiger shrimp are more.  Messy, but delicious.  The waitstaff brings out peanuts and spices and makes satay sauce at your table.  Then, as it gets used up in the cooking process, they come around with pre-made sauce and fill up your container.  We aren’t even going to think about whether the pre-made satay sauce is reused leftovers or not….

Another of our favorite dinner spots was Pak Putra Tandoori and Nan.  This place only opens for dinner.  They set up tables in a parking lot and serve the best tandoori chicken and the fluffiest nan we have ever had.  Yum!

P1170947And, on Friday and Saturday nights, Jonker Street turns into a night market.  You know Robert was in heaven.  There were quail eggs with different toppings, like sausages and crab stick.

P1170955And, little omelet sandwiches with various fillings like octopus.

P1170958And grilled oysters and scallops.

P1170987I even tried the local dessert, called cendol (pronounced chen doll).  This is a mound of shaved ice (they shave the ice to order) topped with jelly-like noodles flavored with pandan leaf, coconut milk, a palm sugar syrup, and kidney beans.  I have absolutely no idea why anyone thinks kidney beans belong in dessert.  Trust me, they don’t.  I have to say though, the cendol tastes far better than it looks — although I didn’t order it a second time… (I also didn’t order the kind that includes durian because I honestly don’t understand how anyone can enjoy durian.)

P1170974Bottom line, we adored Melaka.  Next stop Kuala Lumpur for just a couple of days.  Fingers crossed we like it better than we did in 2015…

Posted in Malaysia | Leave a comment

A week in Georgetown

P1170769

I can so get on board with this

We spent the week in Georgetown.  No, we weren’t back in the U.S., and we definitely weren’t anywhere near the mess of D.C.  Instead, we were in the Georgetown that is on Penang Island in Malaysia.

Georgetown is a great little town.  We were here in 2015 and liked it so much we decided to return this year.  The old part of town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and frequent readers know how we love UNESCO heritage sites).  The town is littered with cool architecture.  The population is a mix of Malays, Chinese and Indians, so the town is also littered with mosques, temples and churches and Malaysian, Chinese and Indian restaurants.   There is even the occasional cow — we found the lady below just standing on the street one night all nicely decorated along with one of her friends — no idea why.

P1170791

A pretty cow

And, there is art all around town.  Some of it is wrought iron sculptures — I’m not a huge fan of that art because, while it is fun, it often creates a bunch of shadows that make it hard to really see.  Instead, my favorite street art is the various paintings found on various buildings.

The bottom line is that walking around Georgetown is a complete joy for the eyes (although not so much for the body as the heat combined with the humidity leaves you soaking wet after about 5 minutes).

DSC01819

One of the street art paintings

But, it was one of those weeks where we made a ton of rookie mistakes (no worries, even with the mistakes, we still had a good time).

Things started off on the wrong foot when we flew here from Sarawak.  Literally everything we had read when preparing for our flight said that Sarawak is a semi-autonomous state that issues its own visas.  Literally everything we read said that, when leaving Sarawak to fly to peninsular Malaysia, you go through immigration in Sarawak and then go through immigration again in peninsular Malaysia.

P1170827

Colorful transport

And, in fact, we did go through immigration when we left Sarawak.  They fingerprinted us and everything.  So, when we landed in Kuala Lumpur to transfer to our flight to Georgetown, we looked for the transfer desk and the immigration counters.  Instead, we were told to just go directly to the gate for our next flight.  But what about our Malaysian visa we asked?  After looking at us like we were complete idiots, the transfer counter people kindly explained to us that the visa we got in Sarawak was, in fact, a Malaysian visa too.  URGH!!!!!!  Life lesson boys and girls:  don’t believe everything you read on the internet.  (After our experience, we found a website indicating that if you fly from peninsular Malaysia to Sarawak, you do need a separate visa to enter Sarawak.  But, who knows at this point??)  In retrospect, we could have had a much shorter layover in Kuala Lumpur if we had known we didn’t need to go through immigration….

P1170547

This guy likes butterflies for lunch

After not nearly enough sleep we were up bright and early on Tuesday to go to one of my least favorite places — the dentist.  I had broken a crown while we were in Sarawak and had made an appointment to get it fixed here in Georgetown.  Unfortunately, the dentist took one look and said “oh, wow, I don’t know how you did that, you must have eaten something very, very hot.”  (I didn’t.  It broke while eating — wait for it — pizza.)  Even more unfortunately, he said there wasn’t time to fix it given we were leaving town in under a week.  So, now I’m desperately looking for a good dentist in Thailand.  URGH!!!!!  Oh well, the dentist here put in a temporary filling to hold me until Thailand and the whole visit only cost $30 (just try to get a filling in Chicago for that price….).  And, it didn’t even require Novocaine.

DSC01825

Playing with the street art

After the dentist, we decided to go to Fort Cornwallis, a fort built by the British East India Company back in the 1700’s.  Now, this fort is billed as “one of the most interesting historical landmarks” in Georgetown.  We would seriously beg to differ.  There is pretty much nothing there except some old walls, some cannons, a building where gunpowder was stored, and an overpriced cafe.  And, it wasn’t cheap to enter.  And, about 5 minutes after we entered (you know, long enough to see the walls, the cannons and the gunpowder building), a storm rolled in.  And, we didn’t have umbrellas.  So, off to the overpriced cafe we went.   URHG!!!!!

P1170522

Check out the colors on this guy

Wednesday we decided to go to the butterfly park.  We did all our research beforehand and knew that three city buses went to the park:  the 101, the 102 and the 501.  The brochure we had snagged even said so.  The 101 looked like the best option because it came every 15 minutes, so off we went to the bus station.  As we were waiting, an extremely weird old man started talking to us.  He told us that the 102 was a better option.  We didn’t blindly trust him.  But we jumped on the internet and it looked like he was right — Google Maps said the 102 got much closer to the park than the 101 (although both were within walking distance).  Because walking in Georgetown is like stepping into a sauna fully clothed, we decided to wait for the 102.  And, we let three — count them three — 101 buses pass by.  Finally, the 102 arrived and we rode it for over an hour around the island, viewing parts of the island we had never seen before.  Only to find out the 102 bus actually didn’t go to the butterfly park.  So, after riding the bus back to the stop closest to the park, we started hoofing it.  And, soon enough, a 101 bus came by and dropped people off about a block from the butterfly farm.  (You better believe there were some choice words being uttered.)  URGH!!!!!  What was that I was saying about not believing everything you read on the internet?

P1170557

And this guy

In any event, the butterfly farm was quite interesting.  The butterflies were beautiful and many of them were unlike anything we have back in the U.S.  Plus, there were cool lizards — one of which had escaped from its enclosure and was eating butterflies.  Nature in action, I guess.  But can we talk about the group of school kids on a field trip?  Wow — pretty sure we’ve never seen kids that out of control.  Running into people and screaming non-stop.  URGH!!!!

P1170717

A very small bit of the temple

Thursday we had great plans to get up early and ride the funicular up Penang Hill.  Well, when the alarm went off, Robert didn’t even wake up and I decided to put the kibosh on the get up early plan.  Once we finally dragged ourselves out of bed (this retirement business is hard work…), we made our way to the bus station where yet another old man told us our plan sucked.  “The day is too hot to go up Penang Hill.  There is nothing to do there.  It is better at night.  You should go to Kek Lok Si temple instead.” (He also wanted to know what we thought of Trump.  I’m pretty sure he was happy when he heard our response.)

The day was really, really hot and really, really humid (just like every single day while we were in Georgetown), and we had planned on visiting Kek Lok Si temple anyway.  So, once again, we changed plans based at least partly on the advice of a complete stranger.

P1170688

On the funicular

The temple is one of SE Asia’s largest Chinese Buddhist temples and the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.  It is also known as the “Temple of Supreme Bliss,” although I’m not sure anything that full of souvenir stands and stairs can be blissful.  Thankfully, there were two funiculars to get to the top as I’m not sure we would have made it otherwise (although we did walk down).  The temple was pretty cool, but — because we hadn’t planned on visiting it that day and hadn’t researched it the night before — it appears we actually missed some interesting aspects of the temple because after an hour or so we were so hot and sweaty we just wanted to leave.  URGH!!!!

DSC01830

Even some of the street art is about food

Friday we decided to just have a mellow day bumming around the heritage portion of Georgetown and spotting street art.

We started our day with roti canai from a street stall right near our hotel.  Fried bread, curry sauce and a chicken leg.   Yum!.  (Although the vendor did yell at us because we didn’t realize the protocol at that particular stand was to sit down and wait for someone to take your order.  URGH!!!!)

After breakfast, we walked around and saw some interesting art.  Some of it we had seen before and some of it was new to us.  Sadly, some of the art we saw in 2015 is fading away.  All was going well.  Was this going to be the day that we didn’t make a rookie mistake?  Of course not!  Soon enough, I was on the verge of heat stroke.  It took every ounce of energy in me to put one foot in front of the other without passing out.  Thankfully, we were headed to the movie theater for an afternoon showing of Mission Impossible (entertaining but completely stupid) and thankfully the theater was cold.  So, I lived to tell the tale, but URGH!!!

P1170806

Coconut tarts.  Yum!  The one on the right was the better of the two.

We have, however, consistently done one thing correctly while we were in Georgetown — EAT!  (Ok, we are so not going to talk about the completely asinine decision to have dinner at a Western/Indian fusion restaurant best known for the great 80’s music it plays.  Nope, we are never, ever talking about that.  There is no way we were that stupid….)

The island of Penang is often known as the food capital of Malaysia. Most of the best food is at what they call “hawker centers,” which are basically big sheds filled with small little carts where each chef makes one or two dishes, or at little roadside stands (many of which only set up for certain hours of the day and then disappear). We’ve tried all sorts of things, like won ton mee (a noodle soup in pork broth with pork won tons and pork slices), char koay teow (stir fried noodles with shrimp, cockles and Chinese sausage), chicken briyani (a flavorful chicken and rice dish), and curry mee (noodles in a curry broth with fish, shrimp and cockles). Today we did a taste testing of different coconut tarts. We’ve pretty much given up on worrying about food safety (raw cucumbers at a hawker center?  why not?) and eat anything and everything that looks good.

 

IMG_20180727_133012816

Yummy fried noodles

My own personal favorite Penang food is the apom manis. This is like a crunchy crepe and comes with all sorts of fillings — so far peanut butter and white sugar is my favorite filling, but we’ve also tried one with coconut and sugar and one with chocolate.  (Oh, how I miss peanut butter….)  I have been very good about trying nearly everything Robert orders (even if I do pick around some of the bits and pieces like the disgusting cockles).  I even tried his Black Jack — a mix of espresso and soda water (on the theory that everything is better with soda water) and trying it was a huge mistake on my part.

 

But, I put my foot down over a bowl of white curry mee.  Yes, those square like blobs are blobs of blood.  Seriously, there were cubes of coagulated blood in the soup.  And those two weird looking things at about 3 o’clock are cockles.  And, we are pretty sure the raw fish looking stuff at 12 o’clock is cuttlefish.  Yuck!  Robert, of course, loved every bite of it.  He is beyond weird sometimes.

IMG_20180728_122656159

Our next stop is Melaka, another UNESCO heritage site and another town that is supposed to have fantastic food (we’ve already got a list of things to try).  Hopefully, the rookie mistakes are over…

Posted in Malaysia | 2 Comments

Finally! Proboscis monkeys!

One of our goals for our trip to Borneo was to see proboscis monkeys, otherwise known as long nose monkeys.  (Also supposedly known as Dutchmen by the locals because of the big bellies and big, red noses.  I guess Dutch colonizers were a little different than the Dutch who travel today who universally seem to be the picture of health and fitness….)  I’m pretty sure — but don’t quote me on this — that these monkeys are found only in Borneo.  I do know they are endangered and really, really cool looking (Robert thinks they are creepy looking).

As some of you know, we initially went to Bako Park to see these critters, and that was a complete bust.  We saw something, but it was so far away that we couldn’t even tell it was a proboscis.  Based on conversations with other tourists, sounds like we were pretty unlucky at Bako.

So…in a last ditch effort to see the monkeys, we booked a wildlife river cruise for our second to last night in Borneo.  And then the rain came.  Sheets of rain, buckets of rain, apocalypse levels of rain — you name it, it was coming down.  Lightening even took down a tree not to far from our hotel — I’m pretty sure we heard the strike as we were running home in the rain and getting absolutely drenched.  Believe it or not, our tour company nonetheless insisted that the tour would go on and drove us an hour out of town, no doubt in the hope the weather would be better out there.  The whole way I was thinking “there is no way I’m getting on a boat.”  And, when I saw the whitecaps on the water, it just reinforced that view.  Thankfully, the boat captain agreed that it wasn’t safe to go out and cancelled the tour.

So, off we went again today.  Without rain.  The first part of the tour we were supposed to see Irrawaddy dolphins.  Although we put-putted along for what seemed like forever, we didn’t even see a fin.

The next step was to cruise along the shore in a search for monkeys.  Success!  We probably saw about 20 different monkeys — old, young and in between.  It was so cool!

(Note, once again, we inserted these photos as a slide show so if you are reading this via email you will need to visit the website to see them).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We also spotted a bunch of blue crabs while searching for monkeys.

P1170374

Then, we cruised down a river looking for salt water crocodiles.  Can you make out the teeth on this guy?  I have no idea how our boat driver spotted him, because he was pretty far from shore and all we could see was his head.  Honestly, that is about as close as I want to get to a salt water croc anyway.

DSC01764

Finally, after a dinner of chicken rice, we got to see a tree lit up with fireflies.  A pretty good last night in Borneo!

Posted in Malaysia | 1 Comment

Kicking around Kuching

We have spent the last week in Kuching, which is the capital of Sarawak in the Borneo region of Malaysia.  Kuching is situated right on the Sarawak river, which divides the town into North and South.  There are even city halls on both sides of the river.  Back in the early 1800’s, Kuching was part of Brunei.  However, Brunei ceded control to an Englishman named James Brooks back in 1941 after he helped crush a rebellion.  According to a museum we visited, James Brooks was the owner of a “private gunship.”  I’m pretty sure that means he was a pirate, right?  Anyway… the Brooks family ruled Kuching until 1942 when it was invaded by the Japanese.  After the war, it became ruled by England and then became part of Malaysia in 1963.  Suffice it to say, Kuching has quite an interesting history and, as a result, some interesting old buildings, like this old prison.

DSC01530

Kuching means “cat” in Malay, and the city is crazy for cats.  There are cat statues scattered around town, some of which border on creepy.

P1160894DSC01216P1170153P1160898P1160910

There are real cats lounging around (although not as many as you might think).

P1170343And, if you look closely, there are even cats on the sewer covers.

P1170249In addition to the cat statues, there are also quite a few interesting pieces of street art scattered around town (some of which also involves cats).

P1160906DSC01203DSC01204P1160922DSC01219P1160934DSC01231P1170135It is a great city for just walking around.  But, fair warning, you are going to want to do your walking early in the day because it gets very, very hot.  We looked at a weather app one day and it said it was 94 but “felt like 107”!  Suffice it to say we quickly learned to spend our afternoons in air conditioning.

We particularly enjoyed walking along the river.  In the evenings, vendors set up shop and sell soft drinks and food.  Small little boats will ferry you across the river for about 25 cents.  And, there is a brand new pedestrian bridge that crosses the river.  It is so new it doesn’t even show up on google maps yet.

P1170172Across the river is the old fort, with a great museum explaining the history of Kuching.  Kind of weird to see that gaudy gold building (the Senate, as we understand it), right next to the fort, right?

P1160952Across the river is also a pretty interesting (and free) orchid garden with some amazing orchids (and lots of mosquitoes).

DSC01546P1170191P1170195P1170199P1170205Kuching is culturally very diverse, with the majority of the people being either Malay or Chinese, but there are also various other ethnic groups, including the Iban, who are descendants of actual head hunters.  There are Chinese, Buddhist and Hindu temples scattered around town, along with multiple mosques.

But, the absolute best thing about Kuching is the food.  We have had dinner multiple nights at a place called Top Spot.  It is the top floor of a parking garage and it comes alive every night with various vendors selling seafood.  You pick your vendor, pick your seafood (multiple types of fish, crabs, shrimps, clams, snails, oysters, etc.) and how you want it cooked, pick your vegetables and how you want them cooked, and ask for anything else you might want  that happens to be on their menu (e.g., lemon chicken).  Then, sit down, order some rice and drinks, and wait for an amazing meal.

P1170252We ate here 4 nights!  And, it was dirt cheap.  One night, we got half of a red snapper (grilled), 300 grams of prawns (grilled), pea pods fried with garlic, rice, a big beer, and water and it came to under $20.  Another night we had the famous Sarawak vegetable called midin.  It is a fern (kind of looks like a fiddlehead) and it is cooked with garlic and shrimp paste.  Delicious!  We also tried something called an oyster omelet.  It was huge!  I ate around the oysters, but the crispy bits were fantastic.

P1160987

Other restaurants were equally good (and even cheaper).  We loved a cute little place called Chinese BBQ Specialist.  A bowl of kolo mee (a pork noodle dish) for under $1?  Yes please.  And a plate of pork rice was only $1.50.  And don’t get Robert started about the Sarawak Laksa (noodle soup with shrimp) available around town.

Kuching is also known for its kek lapis, which is basically a layer cake on steroids.  The cakes have very thin layers and come in all sorts of colors and flavors.  We tried two (Oreo and chocolate/vanilla).  Sadly, I have to say we weren’t overly impressed — it was good, but not outrageously good.  But, cake is cake, right?

I’m guessing we will be back sooner rather than later….

Posted in Malaysia | Leave a comment

Bako Bust

When we were planning out our time in Kuching, everything we read said we absolutely had to go to Bako National Park.  Seriously, people raved about it so much we were kicking ourselves for not getting our act together and booking an overnight stay.  We were actually talking about returning to Kuching in the future so we could overnight in Bako.  (As a side note, we are loving Kuching so much we are seriously considering coming back and renting an apartment here for a month some day).

Now that we have been to Bako, though, we have just one thing to say.  `We. Don’t. Get. It.  Seriously.  We don’t understand the love.

Now, don’t get us wrong.  The area is beautiful.

P1170272

You can see jungle and mangroves and beaches (and maybe even more than that).  There was no swimming while we visited though, as saltwater crocodiles had been spotted in the area.

You can see some cool animals, like this bearded pig.  Apparently, people often see several of these pigs, which are supposedly quite curious, but we only spotted this one and, even then, just for a few seconds.

P1170270You can see other cool animals like this mud skipper.  These are fish that can live out of the water.  And they can literally skip across the water.  I saw one do it and it was very cool.  (And, do you see the little snail next to the mud skipper?)

P1170328

You might catch a water monitor or two.

P1170282

You can also see bright blue crabs (we missed those) and snakes and flying lemurs (we saw one but it was nearly indistinguishable from the tree bark so couldn’t get a photo) and numerous other critters.

There are, of course, macaque monkeys.  One (not any of these guys) even tried to block our path in the hopes of getting food.  Thankfully, some guides came along and scared it out of the way.

And, you might even be able to see a lizard eating a snack.

P1170307What Bako is really known for is its proboscis monkeys.  You know, those monkeys with the long, phallic looking nose.  And that is what we were there to see.  And, I guess you can say we saw a couple.  If you count seeing something from so far away that we could barely tell they were monkeys.  But guides in the area swore what we saw were proboscis monkeys so I guess we have to put them on our “seen” list.

So, the wildlife is pretty cool.

But, can I tell you something?  The trails are really, really difficult.  Don’t look at the picture of the water monitor and see that nice wooden walkway and think that is what the trails are like.  That is only a very small portion of the trails.  And, even then, the boards are broken — Robert nearly died when he stepped on a loose board that turned into a teeter-tooter.  Good thing for his cat-like reflexes, which kept him from falling on his ass!  Instead, the majority of the trails (at least the ones we tried) are dirt with lots of very steep (albeit short) ups and downs and the trails are covered with tree roots.  Literally crisscrossed with roots.  Trying to figure out where to put our feet around all of those roots was a challenge and my foot got stuck more than once.  (It didn’t help that we weren’t wearing hiking shoes — although we weren’t wearing flip-flops either — because we had been warned we might have to wade to shore.)  And, after reading about the snakes that are in the park (thankfully, we didn’t see any until the very end of the day), I was afraid to grab onto anything other than Robert for support.  I’m honestly surprised I didn’t break an ankle.  And, it was brutally hot.  Like stepping into a sauna fully clothed hot.  And, the available food was really, really grim.  And, we should have hired a guide because the guides wouldn’t help anyone who hadn’t paid them spot anything.  And, the trails were really packed with lots of loud hikers who didn’t seem to understand that talking is not conducive to wildlife spotting.  And, getting there and back was far more difficult than we had been led to believe.  (How come none of the websites that said the bus runs every hour told us there was no bus at 1:30????  How come our boat driver didn’t tell us he would pick us up from the beach, instead of from the pier where he dropped us off).

Bottom line, we are glad we went.  If nothing else, it was a weight loss opportunity because I’m pretty sure we both lost about 10 pounds of water weight from the amount of sweat we produced.  And we don’t have to worry about high blood pressure because we are probably both salt deficient at this point.  But, we are no longer in a mad rush to go back.

 

Posted in Malaysia | Leave a comment