Archive for October, 2012


Selamat Tinggal Malaysia

After nearly four weeks in Malaysia, we bid farewell to Penang a couple of days ago and had a quick two-night peak at Kuala Lumpur.

Highlights from the last couple of weeks:

-Tropical Spice Farm visit:  Enjoyed a scrumptious lunch on an outdoor terrace overlooking the sea while monkeys frolicked on the branches overhead.  Afterwards we toured the lush and mosquito-laden gardens on the site of a former rubber plantation.  Zara’s highlight was a real-life version of chutes and ladders.

-Suffolk House: Restored mansion of the former founder of Penang, Francis Light.   Not a popular stop on a tour of Penang’s must see sights (we were the only visitors during our tour), but Jonathan was intrigued by the promise of a colonial mansion. I was less confident that it would be entertaining to a 5-year old, but I was hoping it would offer a tasty snack as we had skipped lunch.  Both our hopes were satisfied.  The mansion tour was happily self-guided and an interesting look at Penang’s colonial styles (especially for the 2 1/2 Brits with me) and the proper (and filling) English Tea in the garden afterwards put grins on all of our faces.  Until the mosquitos hit with precision on all exposed body parts.

-Cameron Highlands: We waffled a bit on whether to make the 4+ hour car journey to the Cameron Highlands for just one night, as Z and I are prone to car sickness.   I finally booked a room at Hotel De La Ferns in Tanah Rata for Sunday night, and then we spent two days debating the best way to get there, as the prospect of being stuck on a bus with carsick child didn’t appeal (see below for why).  We ended up hiring a guide, Gary, an extremely chatty but affable Penangite of Chinese descent who was fluent in at least four languages.  We didn’t plan to hire a guide as we thought we were simply hiring a minibus driver to take us to the Highlands and back but, as I noted, Gary had a way with words.   It turned out to be a wise decision, as Z was struck by severe stomach cramps towards the end of our tour of the Boh Plantations.  Some kids get quiet, needy and cuddly when sick. Ours gets loud, dramatic and angry.  The anger tends to then spread like a contagion through the family as we all turn on each other trying to calm her down.  Fortunately, Gary proffered up a Chinese herbal concoction that seemed to do the trick within a couple of hours.  Still, that scuppered our dinner plans.  The next morning we hunted for Jim Thompson’s “Moonlight” bungalow, which proved to be surprisingly difficult to find and (once again) we were thankful for Gary’s resourcefulness.  Jim Thompson (in case you are as uninformed about him as I was) was an American business, former spy and successful silk trader who mysteriously disappeared in the Cameron Highlands in 1967 while staying at the Moonlight bungalow.  His disappearance has never been solved and has spawned many conspiracy theories due to the odd circumstances of his disappearance (including the murder of his 74-year old sister a few weeks after his disappearance).  Our visit ended at the most incongruously-located Starbucks I’ve visited to date in Tana Ratah.

Mary’s visit: We all thoroughly enjoyed playing host to Zara’s granny for the past two weeks.

Kuala Lumpur:  Our visit was far too short as there was so much on offer at this impressively modern and clean city.  The Petronus Towers were spectacular, especially at night.  We happily (but unintentionally) crashed the free appetizers and drinks offered for hotel guests (we were staying elsewhere) at the lounge of the 32nd floor of the Traders Hotel.  Zara enjoyed cooling off in the water park on the KLCC after our aquarium visit.

What I’ll miss most about Malaysia: The food, especially the roti canai.   I don’t think we experienced a single bad meal and several were superb (and incredibly cheap).

What Zara will miss most: Being “famous”.  She has quickly taken to having her photos taken with strangers wherever we go.

What I won’t miss:

Burqas.  I never got accustomed to the sight of the full burqa, worn by the Arab visitors who frequented the streets, restaurants and beaches of Batu Ferringhi.

Unexpected experiences:

At least 10 mall visits.  I despise America’s mall culture, but something about the air-conditioned interiors in the stifling heat and English bookstores proved very alluring as we made our frequent trips to top up our SIM data plans.

Getting far too inebriated with the owners of our apartment rental at Bora Bora beach bar as Jonathan kept pace with a former London cop who outweighed him by at last 50 pounds.

Penang Sights

Glasses…her newest accessory.

Sunset on Miami Beach

David Brown’s – Penang Hill

Z on Monkey Beach

Coffee Owl

Butterfly Farm with Friend

Drinks at Bora Bora with Mum

Butterfly Farm with Granny

Penang Sights

We’ve had a full apartment the last few days.  Jonathan’s mum, Mary, has been visiting from England, and an Aussie friend of his from Japan popped on down from a conference in KL.  We’d held off on hitting some of Penang’s must-see sights until they arrived, so we eagerly headed to Penang Hill one afternoon.  The cloud-laden skies and smattering of raindrops as we stood in line for tickets up the funicular offered an inauspicious start to the day, but we’ve learned quickly that the weather here is mercurial and the skies cleared quickly enough (or maybe we just got above the rain clouds).  At 834 meters above sea level, Penang Hill offers wide-sweeping view and a welcome escape from the humid heat and was one of the first hill stations founded by the British in the late 1700s.  We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the gardens of David Brown, a British-colonial style restaurant.  Afterwards, we walked along a meandering path while Z was periodically grabbed by other tourists for photos.  She’s become well-accustomed to this in the last two weeks and now smiles obligingly for the photos while the photographers shove me out of the frame.  Doesn’t do much for my confidence, but Z thinks she is a star!  We then hit up the Owl Museum which sounded promising for an animal-lover like Z.  We paid the entrance fee and only then did they open the door to the museum and reveal that it was a museum of owl pictures, china and other art involving owls.  Not a live owl to be seen.  Somehow, we still enjoyed our quick visit.
After that we grabbed a buggy (known in other parts as a golf cart) for a lovely little ride along a road that could have been mistaken for the English country-side to Monkey Cup Garden.  Despite its misleading name (no monkeys!), this proved to be a highlight of Penang Hill.  Monkey Cups are carnivorous plants, also known as pitcher plants, and it was fascinating to learn about how they trap their prey (including rats)!  Z was brave enough to hold an enormous millipede but she drew the line at holding the scorpion–as a mom, I was happy about this display of commonsense. As the lush gardens were unleashing their mosquitos on us, we wrapped up our visit there and headed for a quick look at a Hindu temple and mosque, although the adjacent playground proved more of a draw to Z.
The following day we headed by bus to Penang National Park where we purchased tickets for the short boat ride to Monkey Beach.  I was eager to visit one of the few jellyfish-free beaches in Penang.  Although the water wasn’t as clear as I had hoped and the shoreline was busy with fume-spewing jet skies, we all enjoyed a worry-free swim in the sea and had a lovely picnic on the beach.  Jonathan kept warning us that we needed to keep watch so that the monkeys didn’t steal our lunch, but while on his watch a bold monkey stole our bunch of bananas and efforts to recover them were unsuccessful.  (Don’t mess with hungry monkeys.)   Monkey Beach also offered some other novel sights.  As Malaysia is a Muslim country (and appears to be a popular destination for more conservative Arab-Muslims), our beach experience offered burka-clad women taking ATV rides into the jungle and groups of Muslim teenage girls clothed head-to-toe wading in the ocean and taking banana boat rides.  Sunburns and mosquitos obviously aren’t a threat.  The highlight of the day though was when we decided to forego our boat ride back and take the jungle walk back instead.  It involved slippery scrambles up rocks, rope-assisted stream crossings and dense jungle brush to climb through, and Z couldn’t have had more fun.  Mary was the real trooper, however, as she hadn’t planned for a jungle scramble and had shoes that had no traction and wouldn’t stay on her feet.
The Butterfly Farm was our final visit.  Zara fortuitously happened to be wearing a flowered dress and one butterfly attached itself to her and wouldn’t fly away.  This is a girl who at lunch the other day found a quarter inch worm on the ground, nicknamed it Squishy and played with it for over an hour.  Obviously, the butterfly was a step up.  We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the farm and I can see going back.
Last night we also finally visited the Batu Ferringi night markets where I picked up a much-needed pair of “designer” sunglasses for three US dollars and Z found a much-coveted pair of “reading” glasses (without the pesky addition of prescription lenses).  She’s been obsessed with wanting glasses for the last couple of months.  Odds are she will need glasses in a few years anyway, but am hoping this is as close as she gets to the real thing for at least a couple of more years!

Kismet

I wrote earlier about a chance encounter in Hong Kong.  The streak continues and has me wondering if there is some greater hand at play.  A few days ago Zara and I were reading and relaxing in our Penang recovering from our energy-sapping colds when shouts and peals of laughter wafted up to our balcony and I saw that the pool had been overrun by masses of kids who looked like they were having too much fun to resist.  We hurried downstairs and Zara quickly befriended an outgoing Australian girl.  When the skies suddenly opened up we made a mad dash for shelter and were lucky enough to be invited to the group of families’ party.  It turns out that they were a group of family travel bloggers meeting up in Penang and included several families whose blogs I have been following for several years!  They are an amazing group of people who are living inspirational lives and I feel so lucky to have met them in person!  Without their stories to inspire me, I wouldn’t be writing my own right now.

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