Hawkers, Underwater Paradise and the Nicholsons

Trip Start Oct 01, 2011
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Trip End Dec 22, 2011


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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Monday, October 24, 2011

Hello from Malaysia,

After boarding a 4:00 AM mini bus from our losmen on Nias, we experienced likely our worst Indo mini bus ride yet with all the usual factors plus the added bonus of almost running over a family of chickens and some pigs (there was no almost for at least one of the pigs). We were sad to be leaving Indonesia but more than ready to forget the mini bus rides. As such we decided to fly back to Medan from Nias and connect strait to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Malaysia was a refreshing change from rural Indonesia with clean taxis, somewhat civilized driving and most noticeably, plenty of English speaking individuals. 

Kuala Lumpur
On our first night in KL we dropped our bags off, downed some great hawker stall curry, and went to see the Petronas twin towers which were spectacularly lit up at night. The tower are absolutely stunning and a national symbol for Malaysia's future. On one side of the towers are some amazing fountains and the other side has a large park with great walking trails. Like many urban highlights, this is definitely a site to see in both the day and night. 

Day two was a big walking day exploring Chinatown and little India. Chinatown has some of the best markets and nock offs that we (audrey) have ever seen and little India was filled with great street food and Indian sweet treats. The culture and atmosphere of both areas was extremely vibrant and full of great hawkers (food stalls - often grouped together into large food court configurations).

Day three started off with a hectic visit to the Vietnamese embassy to apply for our Visas followed by some mellow relaxation, shopping (taking advantage of the air conditioned shopping malls) and updating our blog and pictures. We took an afternoon and went to see the Batu Caves (large Hindu temples just outside the city) which were very impressive in size. On our way up the long flight of stairs there are lots of monkeys and we spent most of our time taking picture of them (as the baby monkeys were extremely cute). On our way back into town we got our first experience of the monsoon rains. We got stuck in a huge downpour and were soaked from head to toe.  Air conditioning is not very nice when your soaking wet so our bus ride back into the city felt much longer then the ride out. 

On to the Perhentians 
Malaysia long distance buses are MUCH different than Indonesian. We took a coach style bus with nice reclining seats on an overnight bus ride up to the Perhentian Islands. The only down side to the buses is that they are kept at frigid temperatures.  It was the only time we wished we had our winter coats, scarves and mits from Canada. We have learned our lesson and the buses we have taken since, we came prepared with our warmest cloths.

The  Pehentian Islands consist of two islands off the north east coast of Malaysia (almost at the Thailand border). The big island (Besar) is typically upscale resorts and the little island (Kecil) is more catered to backpackers. Since we did not book anything ahead of time, we stayed on Long Beach on the little island which has the most accommodation options. We knew that we were getting close to monsoon season (officially starts in November) but what we didn't expect was that the heavy rains would creeps into late October. On our half hour boat ride to the islands we were hit with a huge downpour and all our stuff, including ourselves got completely soaked. To compound this problem, since South East Asian weather is very humid, it takes very long for things to dry completely.

The rain held off on our second day, so we decided to go for a day snorkeling trip around the islands. The Perhentians are particularly well known for their crystal clear waters and beautiful marine life making them a major diving destination in South East Asia. The snorkeling was phenomenal with colorful corals, swimming with sea turtles, tracking down sharks and lots of Nemos (clown fish) spottings.

With the coming of monsoon season, all the beach restaurants, our hotel restaurant and most of the shops started closing up. This made it very difficult to order food as they were out of most ingredients. Regardless of this, they still made us go through the full menu every night just to find out that only a few dishes were being serves which was always very humorous. With most of the island shutting down for monsoon season in November, and the travelers and workers alike leaving the island, the Monkey Beach Bar decided to host a "Monsoon Party" to see everyone off. There was no way we could miss this and decided to join in on the festivities. With great live music, a huge bonfire (that consisted mainly of old beach signs used during the season) and a fantastic group of locals and other travelers, the monsoon party was a great way to end our stay. Everyone we have met here have been so friendly and we would definitely recommend the Perhentians as the premier beach destination in Malaysia (maybe not close to monsoons season). With beautiful beaches and reefs its a great place to do diving certificates, snorkeling, or just lounge on the beach.

On our last morning the sun came out and we were able to see the full beauty of the area. A clear sunny day takes these islands from beautiful to absolute paradise and we soaked as much of this up as we could playing in the waves on our last day (Audrey especially enjoys this and can spend hours in the surf!). Unfortunately, by the time we boarded the boat back to the mainland, it was raining again (hard). After our wet ride over, we came prepared with electronic dry sacs, garbage bags and strategic seats at the back of the boat!

Penang - Rendezvous #1 with the Nicholsons
After a day of traveling from the east to west coast of Malaysia, we arrived in Penang to rendezvous with Steve's sister Dawn and brother in law Paul and their incredible children, Ella, Gavin and Miles (henceforth referred to as the Nicholsons). For our birthdays back in September, Dawn and Paul treated us to this weekends stay at Hotel Penaga, a beautiful boutique hotel in Penang owned by a well known Malaysian Architect. Though the room was spectacular (see photos) and a great break from our traditional cheaper accommodation, the best part of our stay was having family at the other end of the hall!

We spent the weekend getting an awesome personalized tour around Penang with the family (including free mini van shuttles with the little ones). For those that don't know, the Nicholson family have been living in Malaysia now for just under one year where Paul took a two year transfer with his job. Although they live in Ipoh, Penang is where Dawn and Paul lived for a month and gave birth to their youngest child Miles and are very well acquainted with the city. We spent some time exploring the city's highlights including Penang hill, the surrounding beaches, little India, fort Cornwallis and of course indulging in the amazing Penang Hawker stall food. This can be an adventure with even the most adventurous eaters and it is amazing to see how adaptable Ella (four) and Gavin (two) have been to Asian food. Although Penang is a beautiful city, the real focus of the weekend was to catch up with Dawn, Paul and our three nieces and nephews. It was so great to get to visit with them this weekend and we are so excited to get to see them again for two more rendezvous before our trip is over. 

Malaysia Highlights
- Ella, Gavin and Miles (and of course Dawn and Paul too!)
- Hawker stalls - incredible street food everywhere (Chinese, Indian & Malay). Some of our favorites included Roti Canai, Wan Tan Mee, Curie Mee, Tandoori Chicken, Banana Leaf meals, Milo and fresh fruit shakes.
- Swimming with sea turtles - this was an Audrey bucket list item!
- Monsoon Parties - definitely not something we have in Canada

Today (Oct 24th) we are back in Kuala Lumpur to pick up our Vietnam Visas and fly to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam for the next leg of our journey.

For a full set of photos, click HERE or copy the following link:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.968802755577.2413779.122605004&type=1&l=ec62516ca9

Hope everyone is enjoying the updates,
Steve and Audrey
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