#111 - Langkawi, Malaysia - Thursday, 17 January 2019

Writing at sunrise at Beach Brassiere restaurant on Burau Bay at Berjaya Langkawi Beach Resort. It is our second morning on Langkawi Island and I am sitting at the same table where I sat yesterday after a predawn beach walk among the crabs out to a natural rock breakwater at the eastern end of the white sand Berjaya beach. I set up my tripod and did some long exposure photography as the sun rose over some early fishing boats.

Yesterday we arrived on the island after a thirty minute flight from Penang and were greeted after baggage claim by two drivers from Berjaya. Twenty minutes later we were receiving a VIP welcome in the resort lobby with cold Tiger beer. This is Mark’s second home, but even on only my third visit there was something familiar and comforting. I was assigned chalet #2112, which is very fitting for a lifelong Rush fan. After getting settled into our lodging we donned our swimwear and I was first to arrive in the sunken pool par, set up to my waist and drinking another Tiger.

Our resort is on the southwestern shore of the island, away from the population center of Kuah Town in the northeast. The climate immediately seemed a bit warmer and muggier than on Penang, and the two lane road running along the coast a contrast to the busy roads near our Penang hotel. The roadside was populated by macaques, who even sit on the pavement oblivious to the vehicles crossing the center line to avoid them. Langkawi is actually an archipelago made up of 99 islands off peninsular Malaysia's west coast straddling its northern border with Thailand. Surrounded by turquoise sea, the interior of the main island that we visit is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills.

After yesterday’s breakfast I spotted a colugo on a tree trunk during the short walk from the pool and beach to my chalet. I set up my camera on a tripod and while I was photographing it I noticed a larger colugo closer to me and only about eight feet up the trunk of its tree. Popularly and incorrectly called “flying lemur”, the Sunda Colugo is certainly not a lemur and does not fly like a bat. It is an arboreal and nocturnal mammal that belongs to its own Order and glides from tree to tree at night searching for soft plant food like tender young leaves, shoots, flowers and fruits. The resort has a large population of these amazing mammals, which by day can be seen still and camouflaged on palm and other tree trunks, and also hosts large populations of long-tailed macaques and dusky leaf monkeys, the latter also called spectacled langurs. In truth, the dusky leaf monkey is not a true langur, but rather a lutung—but I’ve never heard anyone use that term. The macaques are pesky and rowdy and will go after your food and drink and require some caution, whereas the “langurs” are peaceful and gentle leaf-eaters that always seem contemplative or meditating.

After a day in the pool, our first evening we all convened for dinner in the same Beach Brassiere where we have our daily breakfast and then it was off to the resort’s lobby bar where there is live entertainment. The hotel in Penang also had the standard Malaysia evening bar experience - Muzak version of Western songs performed most often by a guy with a laptop playing backing tracks while he adds guitar or keyboard while two or three women in matching skintight dresses sing and move to some limited choreography. Rock and roll it ain’t.

As I wrote, I rose before the sun and did some landscape photography yesterday before breakfast and my after meal colugo photography. Later Mark, Norm and I walked around the expansive jungle grounds of the hotel looking for spiders and such. I had my entire 30 pound camera pack on so I suffered even more than them and they were quite hot and sweaty by the time we completed our walk up the steep network of paved roads that access the almost 500 rainforest chalets. We grabbed our trunks and hit the pool and spent midday drinking Tiger and enjoying some scenery. Later Mark and I went to Oriental Village, a complex of shops, restaurants and tourist recreation on the road into Berjaya. You can walk ten minutes (we did on the return) or take one of the Berjaya open air shuttles (as we did for the ride down). With a resort so huge and steep, there is a fleet of these shuttle buses that take you between lobby and chalet, but they also go down the road to Oriental Village.

Our evening meal was at Perdana Quay, known informally as “Harbor Park”. It’s about ten or fifteen minutes by taxi from Berjaya and has a handful of restaurants with Malay imitations of Western food and other cuisine. It is where many yachts are moored and ferries launch for Thailand and nearby islands. Half our group including me took a van taxi back towards the airport to visit a “supermarket” that is the only place you can buy takeaway liquor. The duty free shops in Oriental Village used to sell it, but there was a strict licensing change here in this liberal yet largely Muslim country. Our group ate at Mare Blue, an “Italian” restaurant and the other half of our group of fourteen chose Tapas.

After returning to the hotel I believe that everyone went straight back to the room for a good nights rest. I sure did. And after sleeping in a little past sunrise this morning, I have not had my breakfast, photographed another colugo, and am planning what to do with the day. I know that some of our party plan to go to Oriental Village, where you can the Sky Cab take a half of the mountain as I did two years ago. I don’t think I need to do it again, but the views are incredible. I’ll probably rest and do a little riding, and then walk the grounds again looking for bugs and reptiles.

#110 - Penang, Malaysia - Tuesday, 15 January 2019

This morning we are off to Langkawi. Our group of fourteen, which will later be joined on Langkawi Island by two more, will board a 78-seater prop plane (ATR 72-500) for a thirty minute puddle jump north to the Thailand/Malaysia border. I type this from my final pre-dawn breakfast feast at the Hotel Equatorial Penang.

Yesteday our entire herd visited Penang Botanical Garden and then Penang Hill. We had the same driver with his large van and his service over two days was excellent. Today at 10 a.m. he’ll pick us up along with a smaller van that will transport our luggage. Our flight leaves Penang at 12:25. One of the advantages of a larger group is splitting costs. We paid 80RM per hour to have a private driver take us where we chose and wait as we explored our destinations. Yesterday’s 6.5 hours was 520 ringgits or $127, which split among 14 becomes a very reasonable 9 bucks for a day’s chauffeur service.

A thirty minute Monday morning traffic ride from Hotel Equatorial ended at the gates for Penang Botanical Garden, a free park that appeared popular with both locals and tourists. It was our first encounter with monkeys of the trip as long-tailed macaques were seen immediately. On Langkawi you see macaques everywhere and they are even along the road from the airport to our resort. The resort itself has both macaques and dusky leaf monkeys or langurs in abundance. Here on Penang they aren’t seen in the heavily populated area we are staying or in the even more urban George Town.

The Penang Botanic Gardens, also known as the "Waterfall Gardens" because of the cascading waterfall nearby, is a public park situated on Jalan Air Terjun in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Unfortunately, it’s fenced greenhouses are closed on Monday. I mostly wandered the grounds alone looking for macro photography subjects and was able to photograph a land planarian (“hammerhead worm”), dragonfly, etc. See Instagram/Facebook feed. The park was a bit less interesting than I had hoped and about an hour after arrival we paid for the “Jeep” ride up to Penang Hill. There is a funicular that also climbs the mountain, but the extremely steep private road (“Jeep track”) starts right at the botanic garden gate. 160RM per vehicle of 4 gets you a round trip to the highest peaks on the island. The three mile or so road was one of the steeper I’ve ever been up and among the most windy. The drivers don’t really have jeeps, but rather small pickup trucks that most have tricked out with some off-road gear even though the road is paved. They drive up as quickly as possible, whipping around the hairpin turns while blaring their horns to warn oncoming traffic.

As soon as we arrived at the touristy Upper Station we sought cold beers and I ordered a dozen chicken satay to share with Mark and Kim. We were surprised that even though it is a tourist complex the food choices were inexpensive. The stalls were much nicer looking than those at the hawkers centers we had visited the previous two days, but you could still get laksa or Char kway teow for about two bucks. A dozen skewers of satay was $4.

Mark and his brother-in-law Alan and I left our group after our refreshments. Our goal was to look for the two species of tarantula - the terrestrial Coremiocnemis cunicularia and the arboreal Omothymus schioedtei. We walked up a steep perimeter road looking for one of the three trail routes you can take on top the hill. There are “by paths” that are paved trails that lead into the tropical forest. We stopped at a scenic overlook and continued away from the crowd until we found a path. Not long after our walk away from the road began Mark spied the first tarantula burrow on the hill embankment. Rather than having its tunnel entrance covered with silk, he immediately saw the spider visible at the opening. We quickly found other burrows, all also open and with their resident spiders in partial view. Mark moved up the path a short distance and found a larger spider while I tried to extract the first. It ended up deep within the trail side almost vertical embankment and I dug at the very wet clay/dirt. I exposed about two feet of silk lined tunnel, but lost track of the burrow while Mark worked at extracting the other spider and Alan found a few others. We ended up getting the largest spider out for photographs, tickling smaller spiders into view and, later, walked back up the path to try digging the one I had been working on out of its lair to no avail. We were unsuccessful in locating the arboreal tarantula, but saw at least six of the terrestrial species. The path ended up at another road below the Upper Station and we faced a brutally steep walk up the hillside in oppressive heat and humidity. I had expected the temperature to be cooler on Penang Hill but it’s only an elevation of 2500 feet. The Botanic Garden below is 200 feet above sea level and after descending the crazy road and seeing one driver coming up have a tire blowout, our driver took us back through George Town to the hotel. Ten minutes after our return the Pennels and I were in the cool water of the hotel pool and were soon joined by the rest of the party.

i enjoyed a couple of Singapore Slings with Mark and ordered a steak sandwich for an early dinner. Many of our group planned to go into George Town again for dinner, but the rest of us stayed behind and my poolside dinner ended with a vodka and tonic at the pool bar with Mark before I retired to my room to pack and kick back and watch a movie in the air conditioned comfort. Now with breakfast complete I am waiting for the sun to rise a bit before taking a swim.

#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.

#107 - Penang, Malaysia - Saturday, 12 Jan 2019

2 a.m. at the Hotel Equatorial on Penang Island. Time travel to the other side of the globe is exhausting but I am not going to whine about it here. Suffice it to say that I’m now 14 hours in the future from Chicago where I had spent the last few weeks before flying out of O’Hare International Airport, and I’m 16 hours ahead of Arizona where I was a month ago. 16 hours is also how long the flight to Hong Kong was. I had a 12 hour plus layover there and had hoped, optimistically I suppose, that I might leave the airport and do some night photography of Hong Kong cityscapes. That didn’t happen both from being wrecked and due to poor visibility in the notoriously air polluted country where the haze was combined with heavy fog.

i left Chicago Wednesday afternoon, arrived in Hong Kong Thursday evening and then finally arrived on Penang on Friday morning. Passing through Penang,s airport was speedy and I stepped out into heat and humidity that I hadn’t experienced since I was last in Malaysia two years ago. Heat, I know. I spend summers in the Arizona and New Mexico deserts. But the warm bath air is not something I am used to or enjoy much. A hotel shuttle never materialized, and I turned down the guys offering rides outside of the system to get an official taxi. The ride to the business hotel where I am booked for four nights was only about ten minutes. I checked in quickly to my “upgraded” room and changed out of my sweaty clothes into swim trunks and soon was submerged in the refreshing waters of the pool with a cold Tiger lager waiting.

i was the only one at the pool, which has a waterfall in front of a cove with a jacuzzi, koi pond adjacent, etc. It was odd to have the whole place to myself and the staff quickly replaced my empty Tiger glass with the first Singapore Sling of this holiday, which I later followed up with another Tiger and a steak sandwich before finally heading back to my room and crashing.

Meanwhile , a whole herd of mad Nutters from the West Country of England was en route on their own flight to join me midday tomorrow, which is actually today since it is 2 am, and, which is Saturday here. Mark Pennell’s and family and friends should be at the hotel about 24 hours after I arrived.

i said I would blog her every day, keeping a daily diary trip log during our short adventure here on Penang before our group return to Langkawi Island on Tuesday. I hope to be able to make good on that promise. I will have to type these entries on my iPad as I didn’t bring a laptop. Sadly, my MacBook Pro was knocked off a TV table by my stepdad Joel’s almost one year old miniature Dachshund “Buddy” and the monitor no longer works. I have been using an external monitor back in Chicago but obviously couldn’t travel with it. What that means besides typing on a tablet is that I won’t be processing my dslr images until I return to Chicagoland. The images I will post within my blog posts will all be iPhone snapshots and those who use Instagram and/or Facebook are invited to check out my story on both as I’ll be posted many snapshots each day. My actual Instagram feed, which duplicated on Facebook, is reserved for “fine” photography so the feed won’t change until end of the month.

BUT …. 😡 So far the functionality of this Squarespace blog is being problematic when used on the iPad. The normal way I insert photos is not working and I don’t have the patience right now to try to remedy. I was going to add a hotel view photo looking out over mountain bay and maybe a shot of the pool but I am having difficulty. Until after breakfast …