From Cameron Highlands, we took a minibus to Penang Island. Penang is a state in northern Malaysia, and also the name of an island with a rich history. It is also known as a foodie town, so you know we’ll like it!
In the late 1700’s the British East India company essentially took control of Penang Island. It quickly became a base of trade and was made one of the “Presidencies” like Bombay and Madras. Under British colonial rule the Chinese presence in Penang grew. During WWII, Penang was heavily bombed and occupied by Japanese forces. After the war, there were movements for Penang Independence, and to join Penang with Singapore, but in the end it became part of Malaysia.
One the eastern side of the island is Georgetown, a colonial gem and UNESCO World Heritage City. It is full of great architecture and great food. We spent our first few nights in an old shophouse converted into an apartment.
The outside of our pad in Georgetown
Some great art deco era shops
Cute streets and cafes
Old-ish and new
We spent spent about 4 days in Georgetown just exploring all its nooks and crannies and of course, its food. There were some fantastic restaurants, and the street food is great too. Here’s an example of a little alley that by day is full of hardware shops. By night the gates go down on the shops and the street food vendors set up.
Alleyway food stalls. In the morning this will all be gone and the hardware shops will open again.
Delicious little treats
There’s a hardware shop behind that old green gate.
Our little animal lover found a “cat cafe” so one afternoon we checked it out. Jette had fun playing with the cats, and we met some nice people (Hi Molly!).
Grumpy? Not me.
Hello up there
Leaving a note on the wall. I wanted to write one that said, “Yum! Cats taste good!” but I restrained myself.
One of the popular street food dishes is a fried noodle dish called Char Kway Teow. We ate our fair share of that all over town.
Having some Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow
We also found a yummy local Dim Sum joint
Leong Kee Dim Sum
sum a dim Dim Sum
We did do much and saw so much, it’s hard to summarize.
Here are some random photos of Georgetown:
Another bicycle rickshaw
Yep, 7-Eleven is in Georgetown too
Tourists on bikes
Funbrellas on the street
Incense drying in the sun
Minions on the loose!!!!
More street art
More street art
More street art
More street art
Old Chinese buildings at dusk
Most of the local shops and shophouses have tiled sidewalks, and typically each one is different…
Food vendors hit the streets at night
I wonder what she’s thinking? Not sure what was going on here.
Cows getting decorated for Hindu festival
OK, who the heck spray painted my hooves?!
Watch your head on these sidewalks
In colonial times, Penang was part of the “Straits Settlements” of Singapore, Malacca, and Penang. In these settlements there were a large number of ethnic Chinese who developed their own culture. They are known as Peranakan or “Straits Chinese.” In Georgetown, there is a large mansion – The Blue Mansion – built at the end of the 19th century by a wealthy Peranakan named Cheong Fatt Tze. Cheong Fatt Tze was a wealthy and powerful merchant, and under British rule was the de facto “mayor” of the local Chinese population. The house was built with the help of a feng shui master, and is built in the Chinese “courtyard mansion” style. It is one of the largest mansions of this type outside of China. Some of the scenes in the movie “Indochine” were filmed here. Anyway, it was really interesting to see, and woman giving the tour around the interior was very knowledgable and gave us some great insights into the history of the building, the feng shui principles that dictated the design, and the history of Cheong Fatt Tze, who was quite an interesting character.
The entry of the Blue Mansion
Looking down into the main courtyard. The courtyard is designed on feung shui principles to gather and control the flow of rainwater and wealth!
Exterior view of the Blue Mansion
Waiting patiently in the waiting area. The floors are Italian marble.
Our tour guide spinning yarns
After our days in Georgetown, we moved just bit up and around the NE part of the island to Tanjung Tokong, an upscale neighborhood with lots of high-rise condos and shopping. It’s a popular neighborhood with expats and local alike.
We found a great apartment in one of the high-rises through airbnb, and settled in. There was a great supermarket in the building, so Jette was able to do some cooking and satisfy her cravings for Tex-Mex! Many bean burritos were made and consumed.
View from our apartment
We made a trip up to Batu Ferrenghi, a popular beach town on the North side of the island. It is also a popular expat and tourist area, but we found it to be a bit grungy. We spent an afternoon at a Starbucks on the beach doing some work, and took a stroll down the beach.
Beach at Batu Ferringhi
Some of the local beachwear
We went back into Georgetown to explore some fun shops, cafes, and restaurants. We also went to the Sunday street fair where Jette rented a hoverboard and Segway-type thing.
Sunday street fair
Getting her caricature made
Does it look like Jette?
We had lots of fun in Penang. It’s an interesting place with a great mix of cultures.
At a local cafe
As in so much of Asia and the rest of the world, malls are a big draw. There are two big malls in Tanjung Tokong. Plaza Gourney has lots of restaurants, a big supermarket, movie theaters, and of course tons of shops. It is a popular place for locals to hang out.
We also visited a local botanical garden – The Tropical Spice Garden.
Waterfall in the Tropical Spice Garden
Listening to the audio tour.
Crossing the stream
Don’t touch me!
Lots of information about the local flora
Taking a swing break
Walking on the acupressure path
Cacao – chocolate, baby!
We didn’t swim, but while we were waiting for the bus, we checked out the beach across the street from the garden.
Handstand on the beach across from Tropical Spice Garden
Penang is a melting pot of cultures, and a very cosmopolitan place. We enjoyed our time here, and can see why it draws so many visitors and expats. I could go on, but we are way behind on blog posts, so I will cut it short (this is short?!) and simply leave you with a few more photos.
Gurney night food market
Curry mee (curry noodles)
Our bowl of curry mee
Yes, please curry me! Noodles down the hatch
Jette attacks her fish and chips at Muntri Mews
My yummy curry at Muntri Mews
The dessert spread at China House
The circular doorway to the lounge and live music area at China House
Oh, I have to mention Roti Cani – crispy, chewy flat bread served with curry. One of my favorite dishes and one of the things that I remember most from my previous visit to Penang decades ago. There aren’t nearly as many roti shops/stands as I remember, but we found a couple decent ones. Yum!
Still playing catch-up, so this post is a “flashback” to more than a month ago and our visit to the Cameron Highlands area in Malaysia.
Tea plantation gymnastics
From Taman Negara, we took a “minibus” to the Cameron Highlands area in central Malaysia. It is mountainous, highlands area and the “breadbasket” of Malaysia. In colonial times it was a hill-station for the British ruling class – a cool retreat from the unending heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown. The British established tea plantations. It’s climate is excellent both for tea and other produce and it remains one of the most productive agricultural areas in Malaysia, with many vegetable farms, orchards, apiaries, and of course tea plantations. One of the most popular activities besides scenic walks through the tea plantations is picking strawberries. Yum!
There are a number of small towns or villages sprinkled through the area. Tanah Rata is the biggest and really the commercial center. All of the towns are a bit on the grungy side – they are working agricultural towns – and many of the smaller towns or villages are really nothing more than a collection of agricultural and industrial suppliers. The “supply chain” here is quite visible, in a way that you would never see in the West. The open storefronts have truck tires, pipes, concrete, gravel, lumber, and all kinds of supplies and equipment spilling out onto the street. The narrow roads are jammed not just with tour busses and cars, but also with giant, overloaded, under-maintained trucks and heavy equipment. As you drive through the mountain roads you see vast tea plantations, terraced vegetable farms, orchards, and miles and miles of plastic sheets in the form of greenhouses. In a couple of areas, there are quarries – whole mountainsides that have been blasted raw, and once pristine, now shockingly polluted lakes. You have the sense that the earth all around is being torn, ripped, and molded to man’s will in a fairly brutal way and you are right in the middle of the chaos. At the same time, there are many areas of untouched forest. From distance it is all quite beautiful. Up close sometimes less so.
There are four main ethnic groups in Malaysia: muslim Malays, Chinese, Indians, and the aboriginal people – called “Orang Asli.” The Orang Asli are jungle dwellers and the original inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula. Like many native peoples, they have fallen victim to conquering peoples and more recently, “modern” life. Here’s a snippet of Orang Asli history from Wikipedia:
Slave raids into Orang Asli settlements were also quite common feature back in the 18th and 19th centuries. These slave-raiders were mainly local Malays and Bataks, who considered the Orang Asli as ‘kafirs’, ‘non-humans’, ‘savages’ and ‘jungle-beasts. The modus operandi was basically to swoop down a settlement and then kill off all the adult men. Women and children were captured alive as they are ‘easier to tame.’ The captives Orang Asli slaves were sold off or given to local rulers and chieftains to gain their favour. Slaves trade soon developed and even continued into the present century despite the official abolition of all forms of slavery in 1884. The derogatory term “Sakai” is used to refer to the Orang Asli until the middle of the 20th century meant slave or dependent.
Today, the forests that have housed and fed them for generations have largely been destroyed or repurposed, and they have been pushed to limited tracts of land and the margins of a new society.
When we looked for accommodation online we found a place called the Rain Forest Inn that had really good reviews. We booked it and it turned out to be a fantastic experience. It was started by two partners – an Orang Asli man named John and his Chinese friend. It is on Orang Asli lands, and is a series of mostly-traditional bamboo huts built on a hillside, next to a beautiful stream with a waterfall.
View across the valley at the base of the property
Testing the bed
Exploring the stream
Navigating the rocks
Up to the waterfall
The lower falls
Bamboo pipes make for a fun shower in the stream
The lower part of the stream is wide and calm and feeds into a nearby creek
Exploring the adjoining creek
Hey! What’s this?
We had lots of fun playing in the stream, exploring the creek, and climbing the waterfall – there’s a upper falls area with a small pool that is perfect for a relaxing soak. But watch out! The rocks are slippery. At dinner, we were treated to a big spread of traditional Orang Asli cooking. It was simple but very delicious and many of the things we ate were grown or gathered on the property.
Dinner being prepared
The dining room
Traditional dishes at dinner
That night Jette got really sick. She had a headache and was vomiting. After throwing up a few times she fell asleep. She slept through the night and in the morning she felt fine. We think it may have been something she ate at lunch, but we’re not sure. It could have been something at dinner, but no one else was sick, and we ate a similar dinner on our second night with no ill effects. Both Mila and Jette have had similar episodes a couple of times on our travels – a sudden headache followed by vomiting, then a quick recovery. We’re thinking that they are allergic or sensitive to some ingredient we have yet to identify, perhaps MSG. We’ve found that we all get headaches if there is too much MSG in our food. Luckily we’ve been very healthy overall and have managed to avoid the typical “travellers tummy” that has struck so many of our fellow travellers.
John, one of the owners of Rain Forest Inn, is quite a character and has interesting background. Unlike most Orang Asli, he is educated. He studied mechanical engineering and joined the military. He was “Seal” in the Malaysian Special Forces and saw combat in places like the Philippines and Somalia. He lost part of one foot to a mine, and has a large, vertical scar down one cheek where a islamic extremist in the Southern Philippines stabbed him with a knife. After 15 years, he retired from the service and came back to his village. He spent a couple of years lobbying the local government to build a road to the village (it was a two-day walk to the nearest town). After he succeeded in getting the road built, he built a grocery store in the village. He had the idea for the guesthouse, and the Rain Forest Inn was born.
A traditional puzzle made from rattan and string
John showing us how to solve the puzzle
After breakfast one day, John and the village chief showed us how to make a variety of traditional snare traps, and also how to shoot a blowgun. The Orang Asli hunt and fight with blowguns and poison darts. Different poisons are used for hunting different animals (they eat everything, even the local monkeys) and there are special poisons for dispatching people. Firearms are not easy to get in Malaysia, so the Orang Asli still use blowguns for self-defense. Given John’s past line of work, he is very security conscious. I would hate to be the hapless criminal who happens to look for mischief in this village. Let’s just say that the Rain Forest Inn is a very safe place to stay, LOL.
Jette and the blowgun
At least I didn’t swallow the dart. Also, Look at how big I am compared to the village chief!
John and the village chief showing us how to make snare traps
Detail of the snare on one of the traps. The rattan is actually quite stiff and has a sharp edge by design. It is connected to a small tree bent over as a powerful spring.
There is always time for a swing in a hammock
We did a day tour of the tea plantations and various sights around Cameron Highlands. My photos are rotten and really don’t do justice to the beautiful, undulating hills covered in tea bushes.
Tea bushes and the valley
Climbing up to a scenic overlook
Walking through the BOH tea plantation
We also toured the BOH factory where tea is processed. To make black tea, the tea leaves are rolled, fermented, dried and sorted in a very simple process using equipment that dates back to 1928.
The BOH tea factory
The sorting machine sorts leaves by size and drops them into large sacks.
Different grades of tea
More tea bushes
Note the people in the scene for scale
Am I really doing this?!
Pretty place for gymnastics
Visit to a bee farm
Looking for the queen in the hive
Hives on the hillside
Photos in the shop
The highest view point in Cameron Highlands
Climbing the rusty old tower
View from the tower
Jette with a kid at a local farm
At a strawberry farm
The guys working at this farm were from Bangladesh. They obviously get a lot of tourists, as they really had their schtick down. One of them insisted on taking photos of us, so Mila gave him her phone. He proceeded to pose Jette and snap some hilariously cheesy photos.
The crazy photo session begins. Note the pose and the strawberry in the foreground.
The resulting photo
It went on, and on. Mila and I were called in to pose too.
Clearly, this was our moment of glory.The bangladeshi with the camera wanted us to do more kissing and his pose suggestions got more and more “interesting.” I think he was trying to recreate Bollywood movie posters with posed gringos and fruit. We’d had enough and called it quits. We do have our limits.
All in all, our visit to Cameron Highlands was great. Staying at Rain Forest Inn and getting a peek into Orang Asli life was definitely the highlight.
The past month has been a whirlwind trip through Malaysia and Sumatra. We’ve visited the disappearing rainforests of both, trekked through the jungle, climbed an active volcano, met orangutans in the wild, and stayed on a beautiful island in a giant lake, in the crater of yet another volcano.
In Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Rainforest ants are BIG!
We promise we to blog about it soon, but not tonight.
Tonight we are back in Kuala Lumpur. It’s getting close to midnight and we have to be up before the sun tomorrow for a flight to SRI LANKA!
We promise more updates soon, but in the meantime here is a short video of our climb of Gunung Sibayak in Sumatra. I wish you could smell the sulphur and feel the heat. It was awesome!
We continue with a bit of internet luck, so another update! Today, we’re at Danau Toba (Lake Toba), a peaceful and absolutely beautiful natural lake surrounding a volcanic island, here in Sumatra. This post is about our trip to Taman Negara, Malaysia some weeks ago. Taman Negara National Park is one of the oldest rainforest ecosystems on earth. It is older than the Amazon.
Before sunrise, we boarded a minivan in Kuala Lumpur with a small group of other travellers and drove a few hours to Kuala Tembeling jetty on the Sungai Pahang River. Kuala Tembeling was the transfer point where we all had to fill out paperwork for rainforest permits and board the longboat for a two and a half hour ride down the river to the park. The scene below is quite representative typical lack of order we have come to enjoy.
Queue? What queue?
We were sent across the street to a strangely empty building to pay for our park permits
There was a cafe a few feet from the ticketing area, ready to monopolize on all passing through the area. Jette enjoyed some of their noodle soup.
Tasty, but we think there was too much MSG in the food here.
Local cats getting Jette’s attention
Welcome to the jungle
After some lunch, we walked another short distance down to the river to board our boat.
Boarding the boat
Away we go…
Blue skies & muddy waters
It was relaxing to be on a boat in these calm, if polluted, waters
The vegetation and puffy clouds were so nice
Most travellers were couples; since we are 3, we were a bit squished in our seats
Our co-passengers were kind enough to get this shot of us on the boat
The area was quite peaceful and a welcome break away from the craziness and traffic in Kuala Lumpur.
The ride was quite lovely and peaceful, but really cramped and we were all happy to “disembark” into this little floating restaurant cum information station.
So happy to be off the boat
This was poor Jette trying to catch some “zzz’s” on the boat just before we landed
Our guesthouse was a little out-of-the-way place called Park Lodge, run by a former park ranger with a vast knowledge of the population of rhinoceros. He and his brother were running a fledgling little place, while care-taking for their elderly mother.
Entry to Park Lodge
Our host gave us a warm welcome and walked us through his property, showing us an amazing variety of plants and trees that his mother had planted decades earlier.
Our host cutting open a cacao pod that had dropped
Excited to see the inside of a cacao pod for the first time
The source of all things chocolate
A pretty lemongrass plant
Picking a kaffir lime leaf
Coconut palms everywhere
Another lovely little flowering plant
Partially constructed building being overtaken by the jungle on site
Our little cabin was through the left side door
Abandoned steps at Park Lodge
The beautiful environment next to the river involved a sweaty hike of a few kilometers into and back out of town up and down some pretty steep hills.
Walking into town
You’d get fit walking this every day
Most people had cars or scooters; we had our feet
A view of the countryside along our walk to town
Downhill from here
The road to town with a frozen treat to cool off
Hot sun, lush plants and lots and lots of trash
Getting lost in a little village
Walking down to dinner
This is a view from Taman Negara looking towards town
Floating restaurants on the river with Taman Negara about a minute boat ride just across the river
Another view from town down to the river
The floating restaurant dining choices were simple
Walking home after dinner catching this sunset was great
Sun setting as we walked back to Park Lodge
The day we decided to explore Taman Negara started off great. We crossed the river and found the walkway in, crossing massive jungle vines along our way. The entrance to the Taman Negara national park is through a resort hotel called Mutiara.
Entry to the Mutiara resort property
More of the Mutiara property
Mutiara resort, simple, yet the most developed spot in town
Look at the scale of this vine!
Nice walkway path into the jungle
Always looking up
An oldie and a goodie
Such plant variety
We love these old roots
As we continued to walk and walk, we were having a great, carefree time (foreshadowing).
So much energy
It was hot, hot, hot and humid, humid, humid. We were sweaty within minutes, but the rainforest was so green, so lush and so beautiful. We continued on, admiring our green environment as we walked and walked and walked.
Notice anything besides the massive bamboo stand? Red faces and sweaty people.
Another bamboo stand that dwarfs mere humans
The path felt longer and longer
I offered to carry Waco’s heavy, heavy bag for a bit so he could stretch
Is there really a forest canopy walk somewhere around here?
Wait up, guys!
Oldest rainforest in the world
Intense sunlight filtering through
Jette taking the lead
The walkway system was extensive
Finally, finally, finally, we made it to the beginning of the forest canopy walkway. We had no idea that it would take us so long to get there. It was one of those instances where we had underestimated the power of the heat and humidity; the few kilometers to the walkway nearly depleted our energy. We were ecstatic to see the walkway.
We are delirious (and possibly have heat exhaustion)
So high up there
Worth the hike to get here
Way way up
Hello up there
Skinny suspended path in the treetops
Please be careful!!!
The walkway is 45 meters high above the 130 million year old rainforest, and constructed quite simply. It’s actually several long sections of walkways that wind this way and that, under the jungle canopy for 510 meters. We took photos on several sections of the walkway while it swung and swayed. After we finished walking across, we decided that it would be fun to continue our hike up to the highest part of the rainforest, where we were told there was a nice viewing area. We were already hot, tired and thirsty, so what could possibly go wrong?
On we journeyed, making a few friends along the way.
He/she was relaxing on a stair railing
We also found mass groups of ants that we could hear as they crunched and worked.
We walked and walked seeing some signs here and there to help us navigate a bit. The quality of way-finding signage varies greatly from country to country and place to place. Let’s just say that we have a bit of constructive criticism for Taman Negara in this regard.
Leaving the shade for intense sun
Admiring huge vines
Impressive old trees
Yes, there were signs
We were happiest to see this one back to “town” just 600 meters
Note the handwritten distance
Hmmm, 1km or are there some missing zeros?
If the trail is missing, does it count in the km hiked?
This one isn’t completely obscured by foliage
Watch out for missing handrails!
Fallen tree? Just chainsaw a hunk out of it and move along
We had to sit down several times on our hike up to the viewing area
But, after several hours and bucketfuls of sweat (and one poor tired girl on the verge of tears), we made it.
Can we please get some water now?
Fluffy clouds and green mountains
We were all so happy to have made it. We were all also dehydrated and tired and hot and oh, so sweaty. Have I mentioned we were sweaty? The only thing we could think of was water. Precious water. We had run out of water hours into our foray and desperately needed more. We got downhill as fast as we could with the little energy we had left. We made a beeline for the Mutiara Hotel Restaurant that was conveniently located adjacent to the National Park.
We had been to the restaurant on another occasion and others in town. They all seemed to share one characteristic, sloth-like service. We decided that slow service was just something to chalk up to cultural differences and had accrued patience points for dealing with it. But today was different. Today, we needed water and we needed it now.
We must have looked pretty rough when we made our way into the poshest place around for miles. Rather than the usual calm, collected game of waiting for someone to bring us menus, we sat down and immediately gave hand gestures and motions to the group of disinterested waiters and busboys standing around chatting. We need water (pouring water hand signs), water please (drinking out of a pretend glass), water (more gestures). To our surprise, we received action!
Oh, you precious glass of ice, cold life-giving water. We love you so so much.
This young lady is a tough sweetie!
Jette enjoyed a “fancy” re-energyzing salmon lunch after hydrating
We love the round banana leaf plating aesthetic at Mutiara’s restaurant
Mutiara resort restaurant
The jungle is not to be underestimated; it will zap every ounce of energy and moisture from your body. We all recovered just fine, and walked back to our little cabin for a restful sleep that night.
Jette was wanting more though, so on our last day, we walked a different direction, to a calm, little swimming spot.
Willing to hike again if it means swimming, too!
Getting toes nibbled by fish
Pure nature (and some litter of course)
This was such a picturesque spot and we’re really glad we made the effort to see it. We arrived in the late afternoon, enjoyed dusk here and then a very dark, early evening walk back through the jungle, just coming to life with nocturnal sounds and sights. A beautiful bat made his way across our path; he was illuminated by our phone light as he flew in and out of a hollowed log. We stood still in the darkness for a while to observe and reflect how very far and away from home we were.
Our final treat of the evening came in the form of a tapir that wandered up to the Mutiara Resort’s restaurant, where we had decided to have dinner again. When the restaurant manager saw the tapir, he brought out watermelon rinds and other fruit peelings for him. The vegetarian tapir was happy and so were all of the restaurant guests who came out with their cameras and snapped away as the tapir feasted. We were thrilled to be able to see the beautiful animal, but of course, saddened simultaneously. The fact that this tapir was dependent upon the food provided by the restaurant could only mean he does not have enough food in the remaining bit of his natural jungle, or that he has lost the ability to forage for his own sustenance. It possibly means some combination of both; either way, it is disheartening, indeed.
This dinner was happily interrupted by a tapir
This curry was really good, but checking out a giant tapir was better
Well, hello there
I think I’ll wander a bit
Jette thought the tapir was “adorable”
The next morning, we were back on the road, passing through Kuala Tembeling and its MSG-packed cafe.
Hi again! We’re still in Berastagi, Indonesia. We decided to stay in this little town for two extra days to utilize our hosts’ WiFi for photo uploads. The process has taken many, many, many hours and has been interrupted repeatedly with power outages (typical in Indonesia, so we were told). But, we’re happy to finally be able to share a bit from our time in Kuala Lumpur.
We arrived Kuala Lumpur (KL) in early January, withdrew some Malaysian ringgit (aka plastic money) and jumped into a taxi directly to our hotel.
Malaysian Ringgit is made of plastic. Note the clear windows at the top of the bills.
The drive into town was eye-opening. Really, the shock started in the air, as we descended low enough to see what appeared like the entire country covered in palm oil plantations as far as the eye could see. From the property boundary of the airport, all the way to the beginning of commercially booming KL, it was the same fields of green oil palms as far as we could see. On the one hand, it was lovely to see the lush vegetation, but we know the deeper story about palm oil. Without getting too political or preachy, our family has chosen to avoid packaged products whose ingredients include palm oil and it’s not easy. Nearly 60% of packaged crackers, cookies, cereals, etc. contain palm oil, sometimes misleadingly and innocently labelled “vegetable oil”. Palm oil plantations are responsible for a very long list of global issues. Not only is palm oil not a healthy oil, but the manner in which the plantations soils have to be prepared is criminal. We’ve all heard about the haze in Southeast Asia and the draining/burning of centuries old rainforest peat soils is the culprit. The smoke from burning rainforest lands has affected us personally while we were in Singapore. Our week in Singapore included daily headaches, fits of coughing and the necessity of face masks to block some of the smoke. I got a bit sick and that was during just one week of exposure. The people who have no choice but to live where fires burn for months on end suffer a plethora of medical conditions as a result. Further, hundreds, maybe thousands of species of birds, mammals and plants have become (or will soon be) threatened due to the damage to the ecosystems from palm oil plantations. The tree canopy and fertile, rich soil that provided habitats and food have disappeared. Palm oil plantations provide sustenance for a teeny tiny percentage of all original rainforest life. Ok, so, please get informed & avoid palm oil, if possible. We’re certainly not perfect global citizens, but this is one issue we experienced ourselves and wanted to share. Getting off my soapbox now.
We chose a large-ish hotel in KL with a swimming pool so that Jette could have a fun place to cool off since the climate is so hot and sticky. We checked into a large room whereupon Jette decided she finally had enough space to do some gymnastics.
Gorgeous backlit onyx concierge area at our hotel
The view out of our room’s window was quite telling. You could see almost step-by-step how the city was being transformed. Blocks of small independently owned properties were being slowly demolished to make way for large hotels and office buildings. There was a construction project adjacent to our hotel and we could watch the laborers each day. We remarked that large buildings still used very basic labor. That is not always the case, but we did observe concrete being poured by the bucketful on several different properties.
New building being erected as seen from our hotel room
Another view from our room. Notice how the “airy courtyards” of the buildings in the middle of the photo have been filled in!
Once we were settled, we took a stroll in the neighborhood to check things out. We ended up having a pretty decent lunch at a pretty nice sidewalk cafe and explored, yes, another mall. This one left us unimpressed.
First meal in Malaysia did not disappoint
The next evening, we had dinner at Wong Ah Wah in KL’s Chinatown, known for their chicken wings. Jette ordered a lime juice which is usually fresh lime, water, a bit of sugar and ice. This time, it was quite different. This restaurant added salt and a pickled plum. Holy wow. This was a VERY strong taste! We all dutifully sampled it, but cannot say it went further than that.
Ready for dinner at Wong Ah Wah
“Famous” chicken wings
Ready for dinner
Salted pickled plum lime juice
Reaction to sampling the lime juice and passing the plum
Not my favorite
Jette had a similar reaction
And there goes the plum
Waco and Jette as we make our way home from KL’s Chinatown
One day, it poured buckets of rain on us while we were out and about. We took shelter in a covered walkway bridge for a while.
Waiting for the rain to end
We did have a great time at the 20+ acre, free flight Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. There were some fabulous exotic birds and we caught a show with some trained birds.
Strolling in the Bird Park
A pretty bridge with flamingos
A bit of rain provided this pretty, misty view for us
Love this guy’s face
Feeding ducks after the bird show
This one was quite spectacular
Duck feeding chaos
Can’t ignore this Muslim mode of dress in the extreme KL heat and humidity
This guy was entertaining
Gazing at all the fishies
The Bird Park had a lovely restaurant in a gorgeous setting, so we had lunch there after our walk.
A beautiful hornbill landed right next to us
Posed? No, this just “happened”
We saw these signs everywhere throughout KL. Apparently, purse-swipe crime is a big enough issue to warrant these types of warnings. Even though we did not have any issues, downtown KL is not a place I would feel comfortable walking around by myself late at night.
Thanks for keeping us alert, KL
Intuition plays a significant role in our daily lives, and even more so on our travels to new places. We rely on our sensibilities and if a situation, place or person doesn’t seem quite right, we “go with our gut” and usually move along. After several “sketchy” circumstances, and some odd characters, the three of us decided that the downtown KL neighborhood we were staying in was not for us. We decided to spend more time in KL, but chose to move to a different neighborhood.
We moved to an apartment in the Bangsar neighborhood. Bangsar is known as an affluent area with some diverse food options, good cafes, and a more relaxed sensibility. We found all of those descriptions to be quite true. We feasted on comfort foods, fancy lattes (as I’ve started to call them), and even did some fresh fruit and vegetable shopping at the local grocery. We stayed directly across the street from a mosque and were awoken at 5am each morning with the first call to prayer. That part wasn’t our idea of a good time, but it was certainly a common, real life experience for us in KL, the city we had come to explore.
The mosque responsible for our groggy mornings
The graffiti in Bangsar was quite artistic
One of my favorite pieces of street art
Several times, we commented that the neighborhood reminded us of Los Angeles. The scale, street parking and palm trees all contribute to the similar feel of the both. Bangsar was a comfortable and “just enough”. Just different enough, yet familiar enough for us to feel really happy being there.
Cute sidewalk cafe
The Los Angeles of Malaysia?
Check out this local girl in her new Ray Bans! L.A. or Bangsar?
Taking a stroll
I thought these woven bamboo pineapples were spectacular
Our favorite breakfast spot, Ted Boy
Jette in “comfort-food heaven”
So happy to be in air conditioning in a cafe with baked treats
A slice of Ted Boy’s cheesecake
Ted Boy was the perfect place to work on some math
Full of coffee (me) and baked treats (both of us!)
Bangsar even had a Mexican restaurant. We had dinner there one night. Jette ate a HUGE plate of cheesy nachos (and nothing else the next day).
Oh, nachos, how I love thee
Jette thought these tiny Mexican pottery pitchers were cute
Acme South restaurant was a terrific fusion restaurant
Acme South’s incredible garlic wedge fries
There were two really excellent “banana leaf” restaurants in the Bangsar area. One was Raj’s Banana Leaf and the other was Devi’s Corner. They both serve small portions of vegetables on, you guessed it, a banana leaf. They pile on some rice and there are optional meat dishes too. The idea is to eat with your right hand. It’s fun, messy and delicious!
Raj’s Banana Leaf Restaurant
Devi’s Corner Restaurant
Jette’s fresh banana leaf just before we are served lunch
Waiting for my rice before digging in
We love banana leaf restaurants!
Not sure how this looks to you, but it was SO GOOD
Waco enjoying his lunch
Jette’s perfected three-finger technique
Banana leaf restaurants will continue to bring more rice and vegetables until a diner is satisfied. The way to properly indicate that you do not care for more servings is to fold your banana leaf over.
After almost a week in KL, we made arrangements to travel to Taman Negara National Park, the oldest rainforest in the world, at 130 million years.
Jette, waiting for our minivan to Teman Negara just before sunrise
A mapped summary of our most recent travels since the beginning of 2016.
We’re nearly six weeks behind real time posts, and delays in our posts will likely continue. We simply haven’t been able to upload photos and videos in Malaysia and Indonesia. Internet connections are usually very slow and sometimes, just barely functional. We haven’t found anywhere (for weeks!) where we have enough upload speed for our growing collection of photos and videos. We experienced slow connections in Thailand, too, but managed to find one or two dependable locations with enough bandwidth (in hindsight, what a luxury!).
Here are a few maps that show our recent travel. We left Bangkok at the start of the New Year, January 2016. We flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then, we took a minivan with a few other passengers to the Jetty in Kuala Tembeling where we boarded a small wood longboat-style river boat to Taman Negara, a 130 million year old rainforest and national park about 240km northeast of Kuala Lumpur. From there, we drove about 250km west, to Cameron Highlands, one of Malaysia’s most extensive hill stations, with blissfully cool temperatures and altitudes that ranged from 3,600ft to 5,200ft above sea level.
After Cameron Highlands, we had a minivan to ourselves for the entire 260km drive to Pulau Pinang, an island that sits on the west coast of Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca within the Malaysian state of Penang. We spent most of our time in Georgetown, a UNESCOWorld Heritage site, one of the most commercially and economically developed cities in Malaysia, and a charming historic city all rolled into one.
From Penang, we flew to Medan, Indonesia, the third largest city in the country.
From Medan, we had a private car drive us the short 70km to Bukit Lawang, a small village adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park. The park is part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra which is part of a UNESCOWorld Heritage site. We are writing from Bukit Lawang now, and have departure plans tomorrow morning for Berastagi, known for cooler temperatures (yay!), a couple of volcanoes and some hot springs.
For scale, consider that “little” volcanic island (Samosir) you see sitting southeast of Bukit Lawang in the middle of a natural lake (Danau Toba/Lake Toba). Samosir island is the size of Singapore.