Monday, January 30, 2012

Day two Langkawi

Continuing our Langkawi wildlife theme, look what I found in our outdoor bathroom last night! Rob gently tried to "move him on" and this is where he moved to, until Rob found a better place for him. It was a good lesson to us that in an outdoor bathroom always make sure the toilet seat is closed!!

Our hotel arranged a hire car for us today so we could explore the island (it cost us AUS$27 for the day and was delivered to our hotel for us - we paid an extra AUS$10 for a half a tank of petrol which proved to be a bit excessive). We headed north up the coast first (looking for a petrol station) and then onto the famous Langkawi Cable Car base station.

The crowds were light this morning so we were in our cable car very quickly, on our way to the first viewing platforms at 625metres, high enough that the air even felt a lot cooler.

Although cloudy and hazy today we had amazing views from this level of the whole island/s that comprise Langkawi. This view is looking SSW down towards where we are staying at Pantai (beach) Cenang.

The photo below shows how tiny this island is. In this one shot you can see the north coastline, the south coastline, and if you look hard enough you can even see the east coast too. That's how small it is!

This gaggle of girls befriended us. They were our excitable cable car companions, who were all from Nanjing China. We initially thought they were Japanese; they were so refined and stylishly dressed, with such white skin ('scuse the stereotyping!). They wanted their picture taken with us???!!

This suspended walkway from the 652m level was an eye opening experience - quite an engineering marvel. Rob and I both remarked that there is no way you would find engineering marvels like this in Indonesia (and if you did you would NEVER be game to use them).

We went up to the highest level (700mts) and really enjoyed the whole experience. Even with all the haze today you could still see north far enough to see the landmass of Thailand over the sea and though the haze. It's that close!

Then it was back down to nearby Telaga Harbour for lunch overlooking the gorgeous yachts moored below us. That's "Sassy Bikini" in the left of the picture, a very opulent new looking yacht flying the Australian flag.

Rob always assumes any ritzy looking Australian yacht we see belongs to our Russel (Crowe).

But we forgot about the concerns of rich yacht owners when lunch arrived: garlic prawns (a salad), green chicken curry, beef rendang and a bok choy dish. Everything so fresh and flavoursome - we have not had one bad meal here in Malaysia!

We set off on our driving adventure again This time to the furthest NW you can go, to the 5+++ Andaman, Langkawi. Unfortunately we'd just had lunch so we couldn't even fit in a drink at the Andaman today. I did like the look of its reception area though.

This gentleman (could it be George Clooney?) was seen arriving at the Andaman in his gleaming black "sports car".

A little further on the NW coast we stopped at Pasir Tengkorak Beach, very popular with local people but looking disgusting today with mounds of rubbish everywhere and ugly metal shade structures in the "park" fronting the beach.

From Teluk (bay) Ewa on the mid north coast we got a great view of the massive Langkawi cement factory and along the road we got great views of the rubber tree forests which also provide a good living for many Langkawi locals.

But this was my favourite beach that I saw today: Tanjung Rhu on the far NE coast of the island. White sand, very clean, uncrowded, blue blue water, pretty limestone outcrops like in North Vietnam's Halong Bay.

Typical of Asia most of this beach was fenced off for the express enjoyment of the guests of the Tanjung Rhu resort. There were no adequate change facilities or stylish restaurants or cafes on this public section of the beach, making it quite difficult for tourists wanting to spend a day at a lovely beach. Although we found the ice coffees (kopi ais) very nice at this little local cafe (and only AUS 65c each).

It was very easy driving on the quiet roads of Langkawi today. It only takes two hours to drive right around the island (if you don't make any stops). It's an island of small (fairly unattractive) villages scattered with funny little tourist "attractions" and mostly charmless hotel developments (with some exceptions of course). You would have to be very careful where you chose to stay here. It would make all the difference.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I can sitted on teh compooteh

We were amused to find Big Bob sitting on the laptop last night. Rob reckons he was looking for his picture on Purple fig. He seemed to be finding Purple fig rather soporific going by the look on his face.

Not a lot to report on Langkawi today - breakfast provided to each villa, eaten at a time of our choosing, on the verandah - three hours lazing by (and in) the pool having cool drinks brought to us - 2 minute taxi drive to Pentai Cenang for a very late, very long lunch at Jimmy's Padi Cafe (Indian/Malay) - eyes tested and frames chosen for new reading glasses from Pentai Cenang upmarket optician (yes I have lost ANOTHER pair of reading glasses) - taxi back to Bon Ton and time for a beer on the verandah as rain starts falling (no sunset tonight). Big Bob has not left our villa all day. He really likes us a lot.

This was the view from Jimmy's Padi Cafe. Because we ate at such a weird hour (3.30pm) the restaurant was empty except for us so it was good fun keeping tabs on the water buffalo, the bird life and the astounding monitor lizard we had a few sightings of in the padi.

We enjoyed another wonderful meal : samosas, chicken rendang, a beef "salad" and super flavoursome hand made icecream. Yellow watermelons are also in season on Langkawi; a first for us.

We've discussed at length how Langkawi differs from (Ubud) Bali - far less crowded, far less developed, better infrastructure, higher standard of living. The food is just as beautiful in Malaysia (it's amazingly good) BUT it is no where near as beautiful. In Bali even the rice paddies look like they were designed by a landscape architect and the simplest village buildings are built with great artistry. We're lucky to have the chance to compare!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Penang - Langkawi

We took a taxi to Gurney, on the outer rim of George Town, on our last afternoon in Penang. It was a complete change from the ancient melting pot of old George Town; all prosperous high rise apartments and glitzy shopping malls.

We went for a walk along the esplanade and found some great food for an early meal before entering the upmarket Plaza Gurney. We headed straight for Birkenstock and each of us bought another pair of shoes - can't resist those AUS $70 Birkies. It must make the Malaysians wonder - why buy such ugly shoes when we could be spending our money on designer handbags or a Rolex watch studded with gold and diamonds. The shopping malls are full of great food outlets too. The young people are looking pretty solid to us - no wonder, all they do is eat.

We enjoyed a beer in the front courtyard of the Yeng Keng on our last night. We have loved staying at this hotel so much!

The flight over to Langkawi early this afternoon went like clockwork and by around 3.00pm we were already settled into our gorgeous Yellow Orchid villa at the Bon Ton Resort. This is quite a small resort. Guests have their own villas (there are only 8 villas) which are genuine old Malay country houses - very rustic, with outdoor bathrooms and very stylishly decorated. We both love it!

This is the front verandah of our villa.

And this is the view from the veranda towards the swimming pool and wetland/lake beyond.

And this is the view back towards our villa from the swimming pool.

And we have a cat to keep us company during our stay. He's on our verandah snoozing all day. Rob has christened him Big Bob. Bon Ton Resort supports a cat and dog sanctuary which is quite near the resort and a lot of the cats roam freely around the resort. They are fed properly and very well cared for so they are not a nuisance to guests. They provide decorative interest for those of us who quite like their cats. Big Bob even came inside our villa tonight and was a very refined and exemplary guest for the time he was allowed in.

Feeling very hungry by around 5.00pm we took a AUS$3.50 taxi ride into nearby Pentai Cenang (Langkawi's main beach village - only a 15 min walk away from our resort but way too hot to walk at this time of the day!). We quickly found a beach side restaurant (The Beach Garden Restaurant) that was prepared to serve us a delicious meal and drinks at this awkward time of the afternoon.

White clean sand, palm trees, blue clean sea, uncrowded beach, beautiful food, cold beer and fresh fruit drinks - perfect. I even ordered dessert, mango and cashew strudel with coconut icecream.

The tourists here seem to be mainly English and German. The wealthy looking Middle Eastern couples we saw on the plane coming over are probably staying at the really ritzy resorts in the secluded north of the island.

Our first sunset back at the Bon Ton Resort was just perfect. This villa, built over the wetlands, is the games room and library for the resort and a beautiful area to sit and read or play scrabble(?) with an afternoon beer or G&T.

Or stroke a cat or two or three.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day four Penang

We waited until around 4.00pm yesterday to make our way (by taxi) to Air Itam, about 30 minutes SW of Georgetown, the site of the Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddhist Temple in all of SE Asia.

The temple complex is built into the East face of Penang Hill and is quite a drawcard on the island for Buddhists and tourists alike. During Chinese New Year the temple is lit up with over 200,000 festive lights from sundown, which is a truly remarkable sight.

Even at this time of the afternoon, only an hour or so off closing time, the whole temple complex was a madhouse: thousands of people, floors and floors of exuberantly coloured and decorated Buddhist religious objects for sale and set up shopping mall style. In the actual prayer spaces there was more smoke than you could poke a joss stick at. No surface has been left uncoloured or undecorated. We found it absolutely OTT.

But being so high it gave us a wonderful view NE towards George Town and the sea beyond.

This 7 storey pagoda of ten thousand Buddhas was completed in 1930 (forty years after the main temple was started).

...... And I did see a great idea for growing pumpkin vines!

The temple was a wonderful showcase for religious commercialism. One of the most popular items for sale were the roof tiles(?) hand painted with meaningful symbols by the Buddhist monks (this painter was a female monk).

At the highest point of the temple was the 30.2m bronze Kuan Yin statue completed in 2002. The current project is the construction of an octagonal based dome for it. The temple does not appear to be short of cash!

But this (below) would have to be my shot of the day/trip I think. The young girl was dropping a coin into every pot around the base of the Kuan Yin statue. Her younger brother and her mother were following just behind her. I was able to get her mother's permission (just by gesture) in time to get this magic shot! I didn't even need to crop it or anything!

It was all so mad at Kek Lok Si Temple that we couldn't stand to wait around another 2 hours in the Air Itam township for the temple lights to come on so we cut our losses and caught a 201 Rapid bus back to George Town at temple closing time (6.00pm). We are so lucky that this modern efficient bus service has so many runs that are close to our hotel.

This morning we caught up with the wonderful Joann Khaw (our guide from the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion tour the other day). She had agreed to take Rob and I for a private walking tour around the local area, focussing on food and markets and local culture. Two other lovely Australian women staying at the hotel also joined us (by our invitation).

First food related stop was at the Chowrasta Morning Market, off Penang Road where Joann showed us freshly picked nutmeg. The red outer part of the nutmeg seed is what mace is made from (I didn't know that).

The outer husk of the nutmeg seed is dried and preserved with a dusting of sugar(?) and sold as a snack food. We found it delicious; tasted just like preserved ginger.

It was very exciting to try "century eggs" for the first time (eggs preserved by soaking in brine for 100 days).

They're eaten in Penang with ginger pickles, which we found a delicious combination. It would be a great addition to an antipasti platter!

Further down the laneway Joann found us a spring roll wrapper maker. That's a springy ball of dough in that girl's right hand. She wipes it lightly over the hot griddle creating the finest disc of dough which the other girl lifts off as it cooks. They're making two at a time over two griddles, very fast. Other market sellers buy their spring roll wrappers from this shop, fresh every day. They would fill them with their own fillings and (usually) deep fry them.

The people in this shop make up a sweet rolled biscuit flavoured with ground peanuts (and more sugar no doubt) out of their wrappers. They were delicious too.

Fancy some jellyfish or some pork tendons (bowl on the right) anyone?

Joann bought us some local dishes to sample at a little food market off Chowrasta Lane: curry mee (what we think of as laksa), dim sum and fish balls and a variation on char kway teoh. We also loved the local favourite: kopi ping (iced coffee).

Joann spent over four and a half hours with us (cost us AUS$20 each with all the food and tastings included!!). We learnt so much more than just about the food - local politics, sociology, architecture, heritage area development challenges, professional challenges and much more about her own passion for the Chinese principles of Yin and Yang and the benefits of a daily dose of coconut oil!

Rob took this shot of another building on Campbell Street that he loved the colour of. It turned out to be George Town's best textiles (fabric) shop!