The final weeks – and then home xxx

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We had a beautiful ride back into Nha Trang today – down the mountain road from Dalat in perfect conditions. We are SO excited for Ruth’s arrival in two days time!

We secretly plan to meet her at the airport, but she has no idea… We ride Jamie’s bike there, surprise her (there are tears and a million hugs!), then he gets a taxi back and I’ll ride home… and would you believe it? I get a puncture, so typical!! – no big deal though, as per usual there are a dozen places road side that can fix it and I’m back on my way within twenty minutes.

We spent four gorgeous days showing Ruth all of our favourite places in the city. We celebrated my birthday at the Sailing Club and we had a cheese board: I literally cannot explain how exciting that was! Plus, we did a fabulous tour around the local Cham towers, a river boat cruise, a visit to a noodle makers shop, a bakery, a spot of fishing, and an ancient pagoda! All finished off with cocktails at the Sheraton, overlooking the bay at sunset x perfect.

We took Ruth up to Doc Let for a few days; for a bit of luxury, and to show her the location of Jamie’s snakebite. Apparently he is now affectionately known there as ‘snakeman’!

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We leave Nha Trang today for Saigon. Mixed emotions, I’m sad but I’m really, really excited at the thought of seeing everyone back home. I just hope the cats don’t hate me too much!!

Its honestly been a life changing experience, and I’ve been lucky enough to share it with the most amazing person that I know.

I love you so much Jamie. Here’s to our next adventure x

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The Mui Ne Backpackers Village – The Best Hostel/Hotel in Vietnam

We Love This Place!!! So much so that we planned our second trip specifically around a return visit. The Mui Ne Backpackers really has it all x Excellent value for money, gorgeous pool, great food, cheap beer and the kindest owners – thank you John and Twee, it really was a pleasure to have met you, you’re truly lovely people and we felt so welcome.

For many newbies entering Vietnam, Mui Ne is likely the first destination after the insanity of Saigon. From there its about 7hours on a bus. Thankfully we had bikes so we could get ourselves there. The other option is to fly into Cam Ranh (which takes about 45 minutes), and head into Nha Trang further north, from there you can get a bus down to Mui Ne, its a bit of a hassle either way but I really think you’d be missing out if you skipped Mui Ne. Once there, there is a big kite-surfing scene and everything that’s going on is really all around the one long road that hugs the coastline.

We arrived back at the Backpackers Village on the 10th of March and received such a warm welcome from John (even though we’d only been there the once before!) – he sat with us and chatted for most of the night, next to the pool in the evening with plenty of ice cold Bia Saigon — it felt so good to back. We had five nights booked there, and spent the next few days just completely relaxing. We had a private room, although there is also the option of shared dorms. The pool is crystal clear and has a really friendly vibe. Really good quality food served all day, both Vietnamese and Western, and at backpacker prices… plus, you wont find Bia Saigon any cheaper anywhere else!

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In the evenings we liked to eat at the Sailing Club which is just opposite, or head out to the seafood places up the road. I really loved the fact that the pool at the backpackers stayed open until 11pm: so after supper we could come back, get a couple of gin and tonics and float around in the pool – perfect! On many of the evenings John joined us for a beer (or two!) and it was really nice getting to know his wife Twee, such a lovely couple! I really couldn’t rate this place highly enough, its perfect for backpackers and for couples like us. There was no where else we stayed that we think of so fondly. John and Twee are such genuine people. Thank you both again, you made our trip so much more special and we will never forget you… the next time we’re in Vietnam we will most definitely be making our way down to see you xxx

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Back to Vietnam – part two… our last road trip x

On the 9th of March we set off on our last road trip. We had rented two 125cc Nouvos, bought bungees, filled up with fuel, stopped at the Cam Do market to pick up two proper helmets and we were set to go! We were going to take nine days to ride to Phan Rang, Mui Ne, Dalat and then back down that stunning mountain road into Nha Trang.

Our first ride was into Phan Rang. There is little to see or do there but to ride from Nha Trang to Mui Ne in one go is a little too optimistic, especially if you were to have a puncture or any other set back. That evening we had a few beers, a low-key supper and an early night.

On the 10th of March we rode to Mui Ne. Nearly all of the journey was on Highway 1 (oh – how we’ve missed you!). Although, the ride only took us two and a half hours so we made good progress. We headed straight for the Me Nui Backpackers – quite possibly one of our favourite places to stay in Vietnam. We fell so much in love with the place the first time around, and its wonderful owners John and Twee, that we’d planned our last little road trip around a return visit there – I hope I can do the place justice in a separate post of its own after this one.

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After five days of sunning ourselves and relaxing by the pool we were back on the road again. This time we were headed back into the Highlands and to the pretty little city of Dalat. The ride up was spectacular, its everything we love about riding in Vietnam; empty winding roads and breath-taking scenery. As we’d come to expect though the journey wasn’t all plain sailing. There was a short spell on Highway 20 that was ridiculously dangerous (we saw a nasty crash involving a motorcyclist and a small lorry). Thankfully however, we arrived safely in Dalat shortly afterwards. Desperate for a shower we checked in and cleaned up. The room was huge, more like a self-catering apartment than a hotel and we were very happy. After showering we headed into town for some supper.

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I felt it was important to revisit Dalat because the first time around Jamie had been bedridden with his snakebite. It was as much the ride up there and down again that was as important as exploring. On our first day we rode around the city and ended up a the Crazy House; its a three storey building designed by an extremely eccentric architect that doubles up as a tourist attraction and a hotel. I’m not sure I’d really want to stay there though, and have people peering in at me in my room like I was in some kind of zoo! All in all it was pretty impressive, it felt like a huge climbing frame for adults and definitely breached one or two health and safety rules! Lovely views though.

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Afterwards we headed to the Big C supermarket and bought some lunch which we took down to the lakeside and had a picnic.

On the 17th March we did our last ride down the mountain into Nha Trang. We knew the road was good and we’re not disappointed, the weather was perfectly clear and our journey went without a hiccup.

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I think by this stage we both felt ready to end our biking adventure in Vietnam, that last little trip worked to get the last little bit of aching for it out of our systems. Its an experience I know we’ll never forget and also something we’ll never try to replicate. Its beautiful and life-changing, stupidly dangerous and incredibly exciting. I’ll never forget how it feels to be chewing on dust on a non-existent road whilst trying to hold my own against forty tonne work vehicles, trying to keep up with Jamie in the traffic, or how much you wouldn’t believe how much your bum, neck, shoulders and back can ache after a hard ride… or how it feels to turn the corner of the road and discover a waterfall, or a herd of wild water buffalo, or the most beautiful turquoise-blue bay stretched out as far as you can see… I’ll never forget laughing at how filthy we got with dirt and sweat and how amazing it felt to get into a cool shower and see the water run black as I got clean again. A quick thank you here to Jamie here for always letting me have the first shower, and without whom I never would have done any of this. We have learned so much on this journey and I’m glad it wasn’t always easy, and that we never had to sit like luggage on a bus, we went wherever we fancied and lingered as long as we wanted to.

Vietnam is a beautiful, diverse and fascinating country and the memories we have there are so precious. Thank you Jamie x

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Back to Vietnam… the final month of our travels – part 1 x

Its been along time since my last post. We’ve been back in the UK now for five months, but I wanted to finish the story of our trip. Our last month away seemed to fly by so quickly I guess I stopped writing the blog to take in every minute. Luckily I kept a diary. It feels strange sat here now, at home flicking through it, and although in a sense it seems a world away, the memories still feel fresh.

On the 28th of February 2015 we went for a final long swim along Tekek House Reef. The was perfectly clear that day and three big cuttlefish came out to play. I was sad to leave the island but really excited to be heading back to Vietnam, especially as Jamie’s mum Ruth was coming to meet us. Needless to say the ferry back to Mersing was just as chaotic as our first experience. We stayed at the Riverside Hotel again, had a cheeky KFC for a late supper and went to bed. The next day was the dreaded bus journey back to KL, although at least this time there was no delay! Even though the journey to and from Tioman was awful, we haven’t been put off. We’re actually planning a return trip next year, hopefully with Jamie’s sister Kirsty who’s a keen diver. Getting there sucks, there’s no getting around it, but it really is worth it.

We stayed at the Younique hotel, next to the airport, and on the 2nd of March we flew back to Saigon. Returning to Vietnam felt a little like coming home. We did a visa on arrival this time and were pleasantly surprised at how easy and organised the whole process was. We were cleared and through in about 25 minutes. After all of the horror stories we’d read online, it was almost hassle free. We were like two over-excited kids coming out of the airport. Saigon is such an incredible place, I don’t feel I can do it justice. That city has my heart. We were headed back to District 1 and back to the same hotel. A quick turn around and out onto Bui Vien for beers at our favourite bar. We met a group of guys and got chatting, one of them had ridden his bicycle from the Netherlands! so, one beer became two or three…

The next evening Jamie took me to the Ichiban sushi restaurant, followed by a bottle of Malborough sauvignon at the Pullman Sky Bar. The terrace looks out over the city, so high up out of the traffic and the noise it looks almost peaceful! having said that, I think its the chaos that I love about Saigon!

On the 5th of March we flew to Cam Ranh. The flight only takes about 40 minutes, unfortunately we were 4 and a half hours delayed due to bad weather… what can you do? sit. wait. get over it. Nha Trang is worth the wait, and sitting in an airport is definitely better than sitting on a bus on HIghway1!

It felt so good to get back to our old haunts – the Watering Hole, The Louisiane Brewhouse, The Booze Cruise, our little lady on the corner cooking the best street-food in the city. I think we could almost live here. Our plan was to rent a couple of bikes and do one last road trip, just to get it finally out of our systems. We both really wanted to return to the Mui Ne Backpackers Village, and the last time we were in Dalat was just after Jamie’s snakebite and he still couldn’t walk so I wanted to return now we could explore the area together. Plus the ride down the mountain to Nha Trang is absolutely stunning and (again because of the snakebite) Jamie had had to do it on the coach before.

We had a couple of days just relaxing in Nha Trang and rented two motorbikes on the 8th. On the morning of the 9th we were strapping the rucksacks onto our bikes and ready to get back on the road!….

 

 

Tioman Island… Swimming with Sharks and Chasing Turtles xxx

To make it to Palau Tioman was our ultimate goal in Malaysia. The island sits off the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the South China Sea, (I found out later that it was where the musical South Pacific was filmed!)… Tioman is covered with lush triple canopy jungle, but it was under the sea that I was the most excited about. I’d read that you could swim with turtles and sharks, and that the coral reefs were world-class! The journey wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely worth it!! What a beautiful place, the things we saw there blew all of my expectations, it was just incredible. Tioman was a once in a lifetime experience, I know I’m so lucky to have done it, Jamie made it happen, and I’ll never ever forget that stunning little island.

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I’m afraid I can’t be as enthusiastic about the journey there, actually its a trip we’d probably rather forget! To begin with we had a five hour bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Mersing. From there we would catch the ferry to Tioman. We booked it online for £30 each for a return ticket. The bus station in KL is called TBS and it looks and feels more like an airport: great first impressions! there are souvenier stands, food courts, departure gates, chemists, clothing outlets, perfumes etc. etc… it’s enormous. Unfortunately though we were off to a bad start, our departure time came and there was no bus. Our schedule disappeared from all of the information displays and when I went to ask a member of staff I just got told to ‘sit down, sit down!’…. We had no idea how long we would wait or if the bus was coming at all. In the end we sat there for four and a half hours, not once were we told what was going on, then were finally bundled onto a bus. Being careful as we are, naturally we’d arrived an hour and a half early, so we were actually sat there for six hours, with a five hour journey to look forward to! The driver shouted the whole way there, mostly to someone on his mobile, I had my earphones in on max volume and I still couldn’t drown him out. Urg… it was the crappiest journey, zero organisation or communication and if I never see TBS bus station again I’ll be all the happier for it!!

The Riverside Hotel at Mersing was fine once we found it, pretty tired, hungry and fed up. We got a pot noodle from the 7/11 opposite us and crashed out – we had an early start the next morning to catch the ferry.

We were up and out at 05:30, it was still dark. We walked about fifteen minutes to the ferry port. We’d already purchased our tickets online: £28 each for a return ticket. Poor Jamie queued for about forty minutes at the desk that the confirmation email said to collect the tickets from, only to get to the front and be told that he was in the wrong place. Another desk with only a handful of people milling around it was the place to collect pre-purchased tickets. There was still a sort-of queue as you had to write out your passport numbers first. Both queues kind of blur and people just edge and push their way forward, it’s extremely disorganised! So after the scramble we had our tickets and the staff kept announcing things that we couldn’t understand, then more queues would form to board a ferry but we had no idea which ferry or to where it was going. There’s no timetable, no signage, no-one really looks like they know what’s going on. The Malaysian tourists were looking as confused as we were feeling, its chaotic. Seeing other people with boarding passes that looked like ours get up to queue, we followed them. As the queue splits to the right or left someone checks your tickets and points at a ferry. At this point at least we felt pretty confident we had gotten on the right one! Goodbye Mersing and onward to Tioman xxx

We stayed at Tekek, the capital ‘village’ of the island. There are a few restaurants, a couple of shops, an airport and an ATM. For most of the island there are no roads, there are resorts but they are the kinds of places where everything is self-contained. Tekek is really the only place where you have the option to venture out of the hotel. We stayed at the ‘Swiss Cottage Tioman’, it was the only place in the island with any availability for our dates plus it has really good reviews on tripadvisor. We had a bungalow on the beach, and it was gorgeous! Much more spacious than any other we’d had through Thailand, and not as basic – we had hot water for a start!! There was a small seating area inside, and a large balcony with chairs, table and a hammock. They have a bit of a strange system in place – if you want to buy anything at the restaurant/reception you just help yourself and tab it on a board. It was really laidback and come evening the place felt shut, no-one was there to stock the fridges (which was fine because we went out and found a shop but it felt a bit of a ghost town). I think the place could have a really good vibe in the evening, the food (when they served it, some days they did and some days they didn’t) was really good, and the staff were all very friendly. Just a shame they were absent half of they time, it feels weird to sit in a dark empty restaurant and I think that might of been why people staying there didn’t use it very much in the evenings. It didn’t matter so much because we found other places to go for dinner, or we sat on our balcony with a bit of music and white wine and had our own little party!

chilling in our hammock..

chilling in our hammock..

The Tekek House reef was on our doorstep, and runs parallel to the beach for as far as we could swim in either direction. As soon as you put your face in the water there are fish around you, silvery and pale in the sandy areas then more colourful and strange as you begin to reach the reef. The first day I went in the water I saw a large cuttlefish, it was flashing white and brown and it swam right passed me – so cool! The amount of fish, the colours, the corals; the entire sea-scape is just so incredibly beautiful!! I thought I’d only gone for a short swim but I think I was out there for about an hour. I found several clown fish in their anemone home and I couldn’t wait to show Jamie! We both swam again that afternoon.

cuttlefish!

  cuttlefish!

clown fish!

clown fish!

There wasn’t much going on up in the village but we did find a very reasonable restaurant that also did a barbeque every night. All the swimming works up a good appetite! As we walked down the road we saw a tree full of fruit bats and monkeys climbing along the telephone lines then raiding the bins. After dinner we took a walk down the beach and sat on some rocks to star-gaze for a while. There is virtually no light pollution at Tioman, and that night there was no moon either so the stars were very clear. The Milky Way was a distinctive streak of light, we could see hundreds and hundreds of stars. We could even see the fuzzy glow around the nebula at Orion’s Sword. It was spectacular We didn’t know it yet but we were in for an even better surprise later in the week!…

I spent some of the mornings walking up and down the beach collecting shells. If we weren’t snorkelling we were sat chilling; reading our books in the hammock or playing silly games! They had a slack line there but I was utterly hopeless at it. We were generally swimming for an hour and half each morning and afternoon. On our second day we saw our first stingray! I looked it up afterwards and it was a ‘blue-spotted ray’, it has a green body and bright blue spots.It was really exciting and we were both very pleased!

ray!

ray!

We’d seen so much so soon and had our fingers tightly-tightly crossed that we would be lucky enough to see a turtle and a shark. In the evenings we walked down the beach and climbed up onto some boulders to sit and watch the sun go down before heading off for dinner.

the rocks where we watched the sunset

the rocks where we watched the sunset

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That night was one of the most special experiences we had throughout our whole trip- there was still no moon and we’d been told that we might see phosphorescence further down the beach. We walked out of the light and waded in and it was there!! We couldn’t believe it! We waded into the pitch black water, which was still lovely and warm, and it was literally glowing bright blues and greens. There were dozens of small spots of light floating around near wherever we agitated the water. When we were swimming our feet were glowing beneath us, it was really beautiful. We splashed and swam for ages and we didn’t see it as brightly on any other night, although we almost always went looking for it. Just extremely lucky I guess.

About a week in we decided to go on a half day boat trip to four snorkelling hot-spots. Our first stop was coral island. I jumped off the boat and put my mask on and squealed a little when I put my face in the water because all around me was thick with fish, ten times the amount we’d seen at Kradan, there must have been a thousand at least and they nipped at you (very gently) if you stayed still enough. I think the tourist boats tend to feed them so they swarm in whenever one arrives… At our second stop we paused at a rocky outcropping about 300 metres from shore. The fish were bigger out at this depth and the coral dropped like a wall all the way to the seabed. Jamie started shouting and waving so I swam over and there was a green turtle!!! It was pretty deep and swimming slowly around grazing on the rocks. We could still see it perfectly and we swam with it for fifteen minutes or so. We were so excited because we’d been hoping to see one since we’d arrived. There were also big schools of juvenile barracuda schooling just below the surface, and they had huge sets of teeth and let us get pretty close to them before they swam away…. Our third stop was a small beach with white sands and clear waters, literally the picture perfect little cove you see in all the travel mags… we floated around in the surf and had a gentle swim. Even there we found little schools of fish and tiny tiny sergeant majors – less than a centimetre big!

third stop on our boat trip

third stop on our boat trip

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beautiful blue waters

beautiful blue waters

Our final stop was a place called Renghis Island, a small rocky outcropping that sits about a couple of miles out from Tekek Beach. We could see it from our resort but it was just that bit too far to swim, plus it can get a little busy with boats. We swam all the way around the island it although the current was pretty strong at times. We saw another green turtle! this one was much larger and fairly close up this time. The corals were bright and healthy and there were plenty of little caves and corners to explore. We were being followed by the standard entourage of reef fish that expect you to feed them, we swished them away as they got too close. On the shore side of the island there are large coral gardens, about 5 metres deep, plenty of fish and gorgeous colours. We were quietly swimming around and then, out of the corner of my eye I saw something big and silver: a black tipped reef shark!!! I’ll be honest I was scared at first and I yelled for Jamie to come and see. I’d read that these sharks are not aggressive and we could see right away that it wasn’t interested. It was so graceful but it swam away from us and it was too quick to keep up with for very long. It was amazing, I’m so glad that we went on that boat trip!

shark!

shark!

turtle!

turtle!

Tioman is an incredible place, take-your-breath-away beautiful, gorgeous beaches, lush jungle, fantastic snorkelling!! and we’d seen so much more than we’d hoped for: a shark, turtles, cuttlefish, stingrays, clownfish, puffer-fish, and all the other hundreds of kinds of fish and corals I can’t even begin name.  The journey there wasn’t the easiest but it was all a part of the adventure and it was completely worth it xxx

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Kuala Lumpur

A city that Jamie has never been to! Exciting!!! The flight from Penang was easy, only about an hour and around £30 each. From the airport we hopped onto the KLIA Express into Central, then Bukit Bintang by taxi to our hotel – The Dorset Regency. Our hotel was so nice! It’s opposite the Ritz so we knew it’d be in a nice area. A short walk away there are some high-end shopping malls, some with the kinds of shops I know I can’t really afford to even browse in! Our room looked out over the city and we had a view of the Patronus Towers and the KL tower. We headed out that evening but as we turned the corner the heavens opened and it rained for hours. We stopped in a bar at the end of the road and didn’t get any further! They gave us free tapas all evening but we quickly learned that KL is super expensive… Alcohol prices are on a par with London, perhaps even higher.
Kuala Lumpur is a very beautiful city, the architecture is interesting and really varied, it reminded us a little of Hong Kong. Also, if I wasn’t on a travellers budget I could have spent a couple of days at least in the huge shopping malls!
The day after we arrived was Valentines day and we ordered a room service breakfast. We sat in our window looking out over the city. It was lovely! I’ve never had room service before but I think I could get used to it!!

valentine's breakfast...

valentine’s breakfast…

That evening we ventured out to find the night market at Masjid Jamek. The journey in itself was quite an experience. We did two stops South-West on the sky train, then two stops North on the MRT. To be fair it was early evening on a Saturday, but the train out of Bukit Bintang was absolute chaos, it makes the underground system at Hong Kong seem practically space age. The information displays seem to be stuck on ‘2 minutes until the next train’… Believe that and you’ll believe anything. Buying a ticket took over twenty minutes, even the locals seem a little confused and flustered. It really isn’t an easy system. Plus, the ticket machine at Bukit said the station we wanted was closed, so we had to get off a stop early and walk. What we did was walk passed the station – fully open and in service, we used it in the return trip. When a train does arrive it’s pretty hectic, it’s just a free for all, you literally fight your way on. When we boarded a lady was shouting and banging the door as it closed and the rest of her family were left standing on the platform. She was pretty upset. The MRT was slightly better than the sky train, but anyway, it’s all part of the fun right?

getting onto the skytrain...

getting onto the skytrain…

The night market was interesting, maybe not as good as some we’ve been to in Bangkok or Krabi but it’s always fun to wander around the little stalls. We bought a USB stick that never worked 🙂
For dinner we found a little food court full of locals, there was no English menu but we succeeded in getting a couple of plates of noodles that were very good. I think we’ve both been pretty impressed with the quality of the food in Malaysia so far, it’s different to Thai or Vietnamese, I think there’s generally more choice, not just with different dishes but also lots of different cuisines to choose from.

It hasn’t been often whilst we’ve been travelling that we’ve had a hankering for Western food, but Jamie found a restaurant near to us called the Albion, that claimed to offer the best roast dinner in the city. We had a long leisurely lunch – always the best kind – with a yummy bottle of Bordeaux. Jamie had a generous portion of rare Australian sirloin and I went for a lamb shank. So good! That evening we had a quiet night in and an early night.

Sunday lunch at the Albion...

Sunday lunch at the Albion…

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I’d felt a bit funny the day before and the next morning I woke up with a really sore throat and generally feeling yuck…. I came down with a horrible head cold and didn’t leave the hotel all day. It was unfortunate because it meant we didn’t do a couple of the sightseeing things we’d had planned, but on the other hand our hotel room was really lovely so I guess also that I was very lucky to have somewhere so comfortable to relax in and try to get better. We had room service again, I had long hot baths and slept a lot. It was unlucky but it could have been much worse and Jamie looked after me so well. He went out to Lot 10 and brought me home a takeaway dinner because I was too sick to go out, and throughout the day he kept me well stocked with iced-teas and medicines. I wish we’d gone up the KL tower but I wasn’t up to it so it’ll have to wait for another time.

our room at the Dorset xxx

our room at the Dorset xxx

Overall we both enjoyed Kuala Lumpur, anyway, on our way to Mersing it was a necessary stop. Perhaps budget-wise it’s not the best destination for backpackers, its an expensive city with lots to offer – if you have the money to burn!

 

Penang – the Artwork and the Fabulous Street-Food!

We flew into Penang on February 10th.  It was our first taste of Malaysia. We stayed in Georgetown, recently listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, and as if we needed anything else to sell it to us Penang is also considered the street- food capital of Malaysia. To say that Penang is culturally diverse feels somewhat of an understatement, the languages vary, the foods, the smells and sounds, the ‘dress-codes’…. I could literally sit and people-watch here all day! But, perhaps the best consequence of Penang’s multiracial populace is the amazing range of cuisines on offer: Indian, Malay, Chinese, Thai and Arab influences, flavours and fusions can be tasted at any one of the hundreds of food vendors on the streets of Georgetown. 24 hour curry houses waft out deliciously spicy aromas, at the Char Koay Teow stalls flat rice-noodles are fiercely stir-fried over intensely hot woks, served with huge prawns, clams and a sticky dark glaze, then there’s Penang’s famous Laksa, Wan Tan Mee, Roti Canai and even Dim Sum! I wish we could have eaten six meals a day just to try everything! Exploring the streets of Georgetown has another surprise, the city streets showcase some incredible street-art, from huge twenty-foot high murals to cartoon-like sketches. Also dotted around the city are the steel-rod sculptures, depicting scenes of daily life in Penang and marking its history. It was good fun searching out the art work, it felt like we were on a treasure hunt!

Bruce Lee kung-fu cat...

Bruce Lee kung-fu cat…

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Our first taste of Penang’s street-food was a Wan Tan Mee lunch. The dishes are cooked on stalls on the side of the street, and tables and chairs are set up inside. Each place has independent merchants selling particular things, for example, you buy your noodles from one guy, sit down and then another guy will be selling the drinks. Not only that but there’ll be one seller in the morning doing breakfast, then another for lunch, and another for supper! They work side by side and your kind of expected to buy a drink from the drinks guy as that’s all he’s selling. If you bring in your own drink you’ll get charged, but its only pennies. Wan Tan Mee is a dish that consists of springy egg noodles, Chinese won tons, barbecued sliced pork, and some spring onions and greens. It comes in two ways, either dry noodles with a clear broth and won tons on the side, or with a soy dressing and all mixed up in one bowl. I think we paid about 4.5 ringgit each (that’s about 80p!).

wan tan mee lunch stop...

wan tan mee lunch stop…

all your eggs in one basket?...

all your eggs in one basket?…

That evening we ventured out looking for a somewhere to have a couple of drinks before dinner. Alcohol in Penang is really expensive compared with Thailand or Vietnam. Its still cheap by Western standards, we were paying about £2.50 for a bottle of beer down Chulia road which is more of a backpacker scene. I’d imagine you could pay a lot more if you wanted to drink in a posher kind of bar. We walked through an area called ‘Little India’ (pretty much self-explanatory), the smell of spice here is fantastic, and people sit eating dishes right off a banana leaf with no cutlery. There is traditional Indian music, and loads of shops and stalls selling vibrant silks and sarees. The colours, aromas and sounds are really full on, it was certainly an interesting place, and nothing like we’d seen before.

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Throughout our trip we’ve been trying to hunt down certain venues that Rick Stein visits on his Far Eastern Odyssey series. Its become a bit of a pilgrimage which I hope we can one day complete with a trip to Padstow. From the Dai Pai Dongs in Hong Kong, through Vietnam and Thailand we’ve searched out these random little places on his recommendations and not yet been disappointed. That morning we were trying to find a certain hawker stand at 56 Transfer Road for a Roti Canai breakfast. This guy has been in operation for decades, and there are claims that he sells the ‘best roti canai in the world’ (that’s a pretty big claim right?). The set-up looks nothing special and to be honest unless you’re looking for it, it’s entirely missable. We almost didn’t spot it but for how busy it was, and I’d say it was all locals. We were shown where to sit and made welcome. The drinks man came up and we ordered two iced teas, they come super sweetened with condensed milk, bit weird but actually rather nice! Breakfast was delicious! A roti canai is an Indian-Muslim style flat bread, soft on the inside but crispy and flaky on the outside. They are made freshly to order by a guy who stands there furiously kneading, tossing, spinning and slapping the dough down before banging it on a hot iron skillet where another guy flips and folds it until its done. It so quick and looks very skilful. Its traditionally served with some kind of curry. That morning for us it was a rich tomato based curry with chicken. It was so good, and we pretty much sat in the exact spot that we’d seen Rick Stein sat in! All-in breakfast and tea cost us less than £4!

Famous Roti Canai stall...

Famous Roti Canai stall…

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We were very happy and extremely stuffed so we headed off in search of some street-art to walk it off. We walked all the way down to the harbour where we were lucky enough to see the Queen Mary 2 at dock. We went into the Cornwallis Fort for a look around, and to be honest it was a bit underwhelming. I thought that a bit more info could have made it more interesting.

old fisherman...

old fisherman…

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steel rod-sculptures...

steel rod-sculptures…

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Later on that evening we did some research and planned to find the stall regarded as the ‘best Char Koay Teow noodle stand in Penang’, located at 83 Kimberly road. The area is more like a food court with seven or eight different vendors all sharing the same dining area. They’re all independent and again you have a different person again to sell you drinks. We sat down, ordered a coke and a water and got given a big bottle of Tiger beer instead! Well, what can you do?! It was a little bit early for a beer but needless to say we struggled through! Char Koay Teow is a flat rice-noodle dish that apparently relies on the heat of the wok- the higher the heat, the better the noodles! The dish doesn’t seem too far removed from a Pad Thai, but not as sweet, and a slightly smokier flavour. Again this was super cheap, about 60p a dish, and luckily for us the portions sizes were small, a guy next to us had one dish directly followed by another! Its good because it allowed us to try all the dishes we wanted too without feeling too full, and with all the walking around hunting down street-art and sculptures we were working up quite an appetite anyway. I think it may be impossible not to in Penang, all of the hawker stalls just make the streets just smell so good! The ingredients are all so fresh and the dishes so healthy and appetising!

Char Koay Teow!

Char Koay Teow!

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little arches ,no good for Jamie! (I'm 5"4!)

little arches , no good for Jamie! (I’m 5″4!)

old lady mural

old lady mural

hahaha... I had to include this!

hahaha… I had to include this!

kung fu girl...

kung fu girl…

There were only two more dishes we wanted to tick off the list and this time we weren’t quite so lucky. We tried the famous Penang Assam Laksa and a dish of Chee Cheong Fun. I read that the Penang Laksa is famous as having been ranked 7th in CNN’s ‘World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods’. It is a noodle dish served in a tangy fish broth made from mackerel, lemongrass, chilli and tamarind. It comes served with fresh mint, sliced onion, cucumber, lettuce, chilli and a thick paste called ‘Hae Ko’ (or prawn paste). Now, I don’t think I’ve ever been what you could describe as a fussy eater, and the Laksa wasn’t unpleasant, it just wasn’t particularly pleasant either. Let’s put it this way, we both agreed we’d never have another! I guess it just comes down to personal taste. I think the prawn paste is what killed it for me, it was really sweet and earthy and I didn’t like it, (although I do like the shrimp paste you get in Thailand, it wasn’t like this at all). The fishy broth was quite nice but the mint in it seemed an odd combination of flavour. To be able to say it’s the first dish I’ve tried and not liked in 6 months worth of travelling isn’t really bad going! We also ordered a plate of Chee Cheong Fun, I thought this would be like the Chinese Cheung Fun that my mum and I always order when we have Dim Sum (one of my most favourite Dim Sum dishes). Despite the similarity in the name it wasn’t like it all, and there was that strong prawn paste again! Oh well, live and learn I guess!

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Penang Laksa...

Penang Laksa…

Penang was such an interesting experience, I felt like there was so much to learn and discover. If we come back to Malaysia in the future Penang will definitely be on the list!

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