Catch ups, kopi, tea plantations and George Town
Trip Start Aug 14, 2013
21Trip End Feb 01, 2014
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We didn't stop long in KL, knowing that we'd no doubt travel through again to fly back to Oz, but the time we did spend was surprisingly enjoyable (we were there 10 years ago and couldn't wait to leave!!). When not catching up over food and beer at Jalan Alor - the butter prawns are to die for, we were drinking kopi and eating kaya toast at Central Market, so far this part of the trip has become an eat-a-thon! We didn't get in much of the sites, but did catch the awesome GO-KL around town taking in the city in airconditioned comfort.
From KL we caught a tourist bus to Tana Rata, the Cameron Highlands. With rose tinted glasses I was expecting a quiet hill station, with a local restaurants and a few guest houses dotted around the town. I couldn't have been more wrong, firstly there is a Starbucks in the centre - that looks like a Starbucks anywhere else in the world, secondly we arrived on the weekend with the hundreds of local tourists, making getting anywhere outside of the town a nightmare due to the traffic jams - to go 8km took close to 1 hour.
That aside we had a good time, although it was far colder than we thought (having sent our jumpers and sleeping bags back to Oz only 2 days earlier). We visited the Boh Tea Plantation and watched the tea drying and sorting process, which was interesting. We visited local markets and tried some of their yummy chocolate covered strawberries - heaven; and we went jungle trekking, on one of the numerous self guided paths, walking from Sam Po temple back into Tana Rata.
Not overawed with the Cameron Highlands we only stayed a couple of days, and then headed for Georgetown, Penang.
We ventured to George town with no expectations, as we didn't want to be disappointed. Well what can I say, we loved it and ended up staying for a week!!! We stayed in China Town at the Star Lodge, it took us a while to find accommodation, as it was either overpriced (hostel beds were $10 in up to 16 bed dorms) or it was cheap as chips but the accommodation was very average.
No sooner had we arrived and settled into accommodation did we check out a local bar that our taxi driver had recommended, where beers were $1. You had to set up your own tables and chairs mind you, but it was worth it for how cheap the beers were.
It wasn't hard to find good food in Penang and we found ourselves eating our way around George Town, doing our best to sample some of the Penang Street food; the more unusual being Cendol (a dessert of shaved ice, red beans, syrup and green chewy noodles), Chee Cheong Fun (rice flour steamed and rolled, with chilli and shrimp paste, sweet sauce and sesame seeds) and Fried Oyster Omelette (oysters, tapioca flour batter,chives and eggs).
When not eating, which seems to have become the focus of this leg of the trip, we wandered George Town. We had a guided tour of a Kapitan Keling Mosque, where we had to wear these bright purple overcoats with hood, the grounds of the Mosque were beautiful and the tour really informative.
We spent hours wandering the streets finding the street art (started as part of a project called Mirrors George town) scattered throughout George town, there were some really amazing pieces of art, in particular by a street artist Ernest Zacharevic. We were lucky enough to be in town when Ernest had his first solo exhibition - Art is Rubbish, Rubbish is Art - held in a disused bus depot, he has covered the walls in street art - awesome, awesome exhibition!!
We visited Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion where we were guided through the premises by a brilliant guide named Poh, who kept us enthralled for close to 2 hours telling us stories of the empire Cheong Fatt Tze built up over years through his merchant business; and how in one generation all was but lost by his decendents - the mansion being purchased in 1989 by a group of local people who have spent years restoring it.
Venturing out of George Town for a day, we went to the Tropical Spice Gardens where Peter, Sarah and I were given a guided tour learning about different spices grown in SE Asia and their medicinal purposes, Ant and Birgit decided not to come and they just enjoyed wandering the gardens, which were so beautifully kept; we also visited Kek Lok Si Temple, had it not been for the gaudy souvenir shops and the loud music it could have been a nice place to spend time.
We were also in town for the inaugural Tropfest SE Asia Short Film Festival. As the tickets were free, we couldn't resist spending an evening sitting in a park by the Esplanade, watching short films from SE Asia - there is definitely some amazing film makers out there!!
To ease our achy muscles from days of walking, we booked ourselves in for a blind massage at St Nicholas Home Wellness Centre, my god what an amazing massage, I came out after 1.5 hours feeling better than I had in months. I would go back to Penang just to get a massage!!
With the time now ticking when we will be back in Oz, we decided it was best to get a move on and head to the place I've wanted to visit for years - Sumatra!! Saying farewell to our buddies Peter and Sarah; Ant, Birgit and I headed for Indonesia - just a little bit excited!!