#109 - Penang, Malaysia - Monday, 14 January 2019

Once again I am up before the dawn and typing. This time because at dinner time when I went up to my room to prepare for the evening I crashed all night. During the day our entire group had traveled to northwest Penang Island to visit Entopia Butterfly Garden. It was well worth the trip and on the return our driver took us to a food court close to the hotel in Bayan Lepas. Super Tanker, a large covered open-air building, was bustling on a Sunday afternoon and about two dozen individual stalls offered Malay, Chinese and Pan-Asian food. One was even called “Frozen Frogs Westeen Food”, which one member of our party enjoyed Black Pepper Steak from. The rest of us all opted to sample the local cuisine. Like our previous day’s adventure at New Lane Market in George Town, here you grab yourself a numbered table and then cold beers from the drinks vendor before touring the varied offerings cooked fresh upon order. I enjoyed the Char Kway Teow so much at New Lane and headed straight to a vendor stir-frying the flat rice strips in a big wok. I asked for a big plate prepared with duck egg and prawns that I asked be made spicy and five minutes later was satiating my butterfly garden walk hunger with the delicious dish. It didn’t contain the lovely flat bits of sausage that the cook added at New Lane, but I enjoyed this spicier version even more. Mark and Elli had chosen Curry Mee from a different stall and it Looks so good that after I finished my plate I had a second entrée. The Curry Mee was a brothy bowl of both fine white rice noodles and thicker spaghetti-like yellow noodles and contained both tofu and these gelatinous “pork” cubes. On top was a spoon of chili paste and adding the entire thing made it an amazing spicy “ramen”. The first plate was 7RM - less than $2 x and the bowl was 4RM, just under $1! Two cans of Tiger washed down the delicious meal and they were 8RM each so I spent a total of 27RM, currently $6.59. Yep, two entrees and two beers for less than $7. By contrast, the burger and one beer at the hotel is almost 80RM, about 20 bucks. Chicago prices. Local fare is so superior both in flavor and experience and the price amazing. It’s the way to enjoy culture and holiday and not eat substandard and overpriced fascimiles of Western food.

Before our 10 am departure for Entopia yesterday, I practiced using my Macro Diffuser on the hotel’s nature trail with excellent results. Then I took a quick cold shower as any movement in this hot and humid climate makes me a sweaty mess, and met the group in the lobby. When we returned to the lobby five and a half hours later after our outing we all quickly changed to pool attire and cooled off in the refreshing pool. Pools aren’t heated in hot tropical climates as the sun does all the work, but it has been mostly overcast during our stay so the initial leap into our pool’s waters is a bit of a shock. But then it the cool water soothes. Of course, after 8 ringgits for a beer paying four times the price is another shock. The entire beer and cocktail menu is basically 30-35RM so Mark and I opted for two rounds of Singapore Slings (34 ringgits each, $8.31). Then the skies finally broke. As I sipped my cocktails I had been watching the dark skies moving in and a drizzle quickly shifted to torrential downpour with poolside umbrellas being knocked down and displaced. We moved out of the rain for a couple more drinks before everyone went to shower for dinner. That’s when I crashed and didn’t join the group for the evening. Next thing I knew it was 2 a.m. 😴

Our same Indian driver and his van that fits thirteen crazy Brits and one mad American will be picking us up this morning at 9 a.m. I am about to head to breakfast — I’ve been the first one in when it opens at 6 a.m. each morning — and then will visit the hotel nature trail again. I collected a beautiful metallic green male jumping spider yesterday that I haven’t been able to photograph yet. I may have to slow him down with an hour or so in my hotel room mini bar as he frustrated me during yesterday’s photo shoot attempts. Then I’ll shower and meet the group at nine. I’m really looking forward to visiting Penang Botanical Garden and Penang Hill today. Penang Hill is also known as Bukit Bendera, although that technically refers specifically to Flagstaff Hill, it’s highest peak. I’ll describe both destinations in detail during my next blog entry.

#108 - Penang, Malaysia - Sunday, 13 January 2018

4:30 a.m., Hotel Equatorial Penang

Pulau Pinang (Penang Island) is off the northwestern coast of Malaysia and connects to the mainland via a long bridge. Penang is a state of Malaysia and includes both the island and adjacent mainland area. George Town, here on the island, is the state capital and home to landmarks such as colonial Fort Cornwallis, the ornate Chinese clan house Khoo Kongsi and the Kapitan Keling Mosque, all testaments to centuries of foreign influence. To the west, a funicular ascends Bukit Bendera, more commonly called Penang Hill, with its trails, flower gardens and panoramic views. Our group will visit the Hill tomorrow.

Readers of yesterday’s first trip log will know that I was up at 1 a.m. after crashing hard after my brutal time travel. Followers of my Instagram story, which is duplicated on Facebook, will know that I spent the morning wandering around the grounds of this fabulous hotel complex atop Bukit Jambul (Jambul Hill). As I explored, thirteen friends from England were experiencing their own time travel, which was only a little less daunting than my own.

Before I go further I should mention that I still haven’t figure out how to imbed images into this text. I tried both Chrome and Safari and the same thing occurs. Where on my laptop I easily click to add a content block like Image, when I do so on the iPad something funky occurs. I’ll spare you the details.

Anyway, the breakfast buffet here is nothing short of spectacular. The hotel has a number of nice restaurants, but breakfast is part of Nadaba, which includes poolside beverage and food service, patio dining set farther off the pool and an indoor restaurant. Nadaba is Spanish for “swimming”, which makes sense, even if the fact that this is Malaysia and while Penang is ethnically diverse it is primarily made up of Malays and Chinese, with Indians being a small minority. It was also once part of the British Empire, but that hardly explains a Spanish restaurant name. Regardless, what is truly multiethnic is the cuisine at breakfast. The Western dishes are numerous and good, but the Malay and Chinese options are overwhelming. Breakfast opens at 6 am so I must type faster and go enjoy it again.

Breakfast, morning exploration with social media image postings and then it was lounge at the pool yesterday morning as Mark Pennell and family and friends made it to Kuala Lumpur and finally flew here to Penang. When I knew they were about to arrive I waited in the lobby and after they checked in, dumped their luggage in their rooms, and changed into pool attire, we all spent the next hours at the pool. The water is cool and refreshing, the food and drink good even if not inexpensive. Then we all retired to our rooms mid afternoon to prepare for a trip into George Town. Of our group of 14, 9 of us decided to hire a driver with a coach to take us into the city center.

From Wiki: George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, is located at the north-eastern tip of Penang Island. It is Malaysia's second largest city, with 708,127 inhabitants as of 2010, while Greater Penang is the nation's second biggest conurbation with a population of 2,412,616. The historical core of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.

North-eastern tip” understates it a bit as it as George Town dominates the island and is densely populated. Ethnically, Chinese are in the majority, but as we drove through the area we saw so much Malay culture and certainly a Western flavor to the more touristy areas. But our destination was the New Lane Hawkers Market deep in the heart of George Town. My pre-trip reading of tour guides highlighted a number of these open-air food markets, but New Lane aka Lorong Baru was highly rated and it was within about ten blocks of a camera shop I had planned to pick up a flash diffuser for macro photography that I discovered via connecting with its maker on Facebook. So, the food stalls that dominate the area after 4 pm every day and HIKE Enterprise camera shop were destinations of mine for months. We were not disappointed.

It took about thirty minutes for our van driver to get us from Hotel Equatorial north to New Lane and then we disembarked and strolled the vibrant area. Of course, the ride itself was interesting, but I’ve become accustomed to a zillion maniacs on small motorbikes weaving in and out of lanes, driving right down the middle between two proper vehicles and otherwise moving about in some sort of controlled chaotic dance. I’m used to seeing two small children sitting across the gas tank, even if you certainly never see three people and a chicken on a motorcycle in the United States.

We checked out the offerings and I knew already from my tour guide recommendations that I was after one of the local delicacies. Char kway teow, literally "stir-fried ricecake strips", is a popular noodle dish in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. It is a Penang specialty. Basically, they stir fry these flat noodles in pork fat and soy sauces, adding belachan (shrimp paste), bean sprouts, chilies, Chinese chives, and fried egg (in my case duck egg upgrade!) with deshelled cockles, prawns, sausages or whatever. Those in our group that didn’t want the seafood opted for chicken or something. It is served atop a banana leaf that enhances the flavor of the noodle dish. 9 ringgits my dinner cost me, which is about $2.25. The beer cost more.

After finishing my food, I walked to the camera shop alone and picked up a Macro Diffuser by Alex Goh. I won’t bore the non-photographers with details. Those interested can search for him and his product on Facebook. I look forward to trying it out later. Our group then popped into a store for takeaway cans of Tiger, snacks, ice cream, etc. We met back up with our driver after about two hours in the market area and he then gave us a driving tour of George Town on our return trip to Hotel Equatorial. Chai was our driver’s name, but he wasn’t as lovely as the tea. Actually he was a fine man, but his English was horrible (He was Chinese) and he basically would give us the names of hotels and streets and landmarks as we passed, and then repeat the heavily accented name five or six times as if practicing the pronunciation for himself. His slow driving didn’t seem to match the chaos of the streets, but he navigated past everything of interest and got us back to the hotel at 8 pm. Three hours for 9 people was only about $40 US so it was a bargain. The hotel has a complimentary shuttle but hours are limited and we wouldn’t have been dropped off right where we wanted and had someone waiting to whisk us away when we were ready.

We all went right to our rooms upon return. I climbed directly into bed and was in the shower early this morning. I now finish this writing from breakfast. I expect my friends won’t be around for a few hours so I’ll construct the Macro diffuser and go look for subjects, and then lounge by the pool. I don’t know what anyone plans for today. I really want to go to Penang Hill and the nearby Penang Botanical Gardens, but we are going to make a day of that tomorrow. Monday seems like a better choice than the weekend and today may be spent around the hotel. It’s a wonderful place and yesterday I photographed a Clouded Monitor lizard right next to the pool and I want to try to get an image of the Black-napped Orioles that streak overhead. Tuesday morning we head to Langkawi and Berjaya resort. It will be my third visit to this magical place.