Monthly Archives: February 2015

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.


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!


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!


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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Leaving Thailand xxx Lanta & Krabi part 2

We spent quite a long time trying to figure out the best way to make it down into Malaysia. Initially we planned to travel all the way to Lang Ka Wi by ferry, but it was looking expensive. Instead we looked at flying from Krabi to Penang, a single ticket was about £42, whereas the ferries had been looking more like £150 per person. Decision made.

To get back to Krabi involved a ferry to Lanta (from Kradan), with a night stop-over. We stayed at the pier in a really budget place – shared bathroom, no window etc. etc… I swear the room was about ten degrees hotter than it was outside! It was just the one night though so we went for a bit of a wander then got our heads down. Early the next morning we were on a ferry to Krabi. We enjoyed the old town so much we decided to go back, and we returned to the same hotel. There was a walking street/night-market that only runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – something we didn’t get the chance to see before. So that evening we headed off to find it. It was the busiest market we’ve been to, literally it was so hectic, it was brilliant! There were food stalls, BBQs, jewellery stands, juice vendors, handbags, clothes, electric goods, trinkets… there was just so much going on and hardly room to move – you just sort of shuffle along with the crowd! The next night Jamie took me to a lovely little Italian restaurant called Chilitas where we had a quiet evening and an early night, ready to fly to Penang in the morning. Below are some of my favourite pics from the market x










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Beautiful Koh Kradan…

Kradan has been my favourite destination in Thailand!! Almost everyone we spoke to, both travellers and locals, agreed that Kradan is widely regarded as Thailand’s most beautiful island. The beaches are perfect white sands and crystal clear waters, hemmed in by an amazing coral reef and a drop-off to about 8 metres – teeming with fish and bright healthy corals.



We arrived in Kradan on a ferry from Lanta, costing about £10 each. We approached the island from the north and carried on about two-thirds of the way down to where the ferry lands. It only takes about ten minutes and our first glimpses of the island had me really excited. The shallows go out for about 200 metres at the furthest. We both agreed we’d never seen clearer waters, and are almost pure white. It’s like a swimming pool. All along the coast the water is a two-tone blue between the shallows and the drop-off. Even in the deeper area where the ferry chugs the water is so clear you can just about make out the rocks and shapes at the bottom. The ferry arrives at high tide and pulls all the way onto the beach. Jamie got our bags onto the beach and then I climbed down a little ladder, got into the water and waded in. We had to walk about a kilometre north with our backpacks to find where we were staying. We quickly realised when we were trying to book that Kradan is not cheap. You can easily book into a high-end resort and pay £180+ a night. Thankfully though there are cheaper options! We stayed at the Kradan Island Resort for about £30 a night. That’s still expensive for us but it was completely worth it. The bungalow was made entirely out of bamboo, with a little balcony with chairs and a hammock. The best part though – at high-tide we were literally 10 ft from the water! In the mornings we could open our window and see the aqua-blue of the Andaman on an almost deserted beach. I guess that’s what you pay for (and it worth every penny!) other than that it was extremely basic: mattress on the floor, no hot water, semi-outside bathroom. It’s a bit like camping actually – and we loved it!!!

the view from our bed

the view from our bed


beach outside our bungalow

beach outside our bungalow


looking north

looking north

I was desperate to get snorkelling and explore the reef so on the first day we walked south for about 500 metres, the reef isn’t too far out here and it gradually comes inland to almost meet the shore. The shallows are sandy and great for swimming, even 100 metres out you can easily stand. Once we reached the reef it was just amazing. I’ve never seen so many fish. There are hundreds of little flashing reef fish, and shoals of brightly coloured parrot fish chomping away on the corals. In deeper water past the drop-off there a bigger darker looking fish, hundreds of them in a spiral shaped shoal near the bottom. I tried to do some research so I could identify some of the species but there are so so many its a little confusing. I’m pretty sure I saw lots of hump coral, as well as vase, finger and brain. Fish were more complicated but there is one I am sure of – the sergeant major damselfish! They are about 4 inches with blue and yellow stripes. Apparently what happens is that boat day-trippers come out to this reef from nearby islands on snorkelling trips and they feed the fish. So when you snorkel there within minutes you have this cheeky little entourage of the sergeant majors, expecting to be fed, but if you stay too still they will nip at you! Its doesn’t hurt at all and it isn’t dangerous but it freaked me out the first time it happened! After that we just learnt to swish around a lot whenever the got too close or too many!!

sand art x

sand art x


In the evenings the beach exposes a low-tide sand-bar about 100 metres out from the shore. We picked our way out there and it is probably the most stunning beach walk I’ve ever seen. It feels a bit strange to walk on totally dry white sand so far out from shore, and to have the sea either side of you! We walked for a good 45 minutes south and back, but it continues way up past the mangroves to north of the island too.

just playing on a swing hehehe

just playing on a swing hehehe



'J' bar!

‘J’ bar!

That evening I was feeling a bit sunned-out and very happy. Our first day was so much fun. We had a couple of cold Changs on the balcony, me swinging about in the hammock! Later on we went to the Reef Bar and met a couple of divers who suggested we try Scuna, which is sort of in-between snorkelling and scuba diving. You have a machine on the boat that pumps air down a hose to your regulator. You get weighted down but you don’t have the full suit and tanks like in scuba. You can still get down to 15 metres or so if you want to though. its also less than half the rice of a trial scuba dive. It isn’t Jamie’s kind of thing but I guess he could tell that I really wanted to try it, so he surprised me and booked us both in for the morning!!! Unfortunately we got so caught up chatting that we didn’t realise all of the restaurants on the island shut down by 9pm, so we had to go a little hungry and make do with a nice and healthy crisp dinner!

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rainbow over Koh Muk

rainbow over Koh Muk

I was a little nervous about Scuna the next morning. We met the guy at 10am, he loaded up the long-tail boat and we set off about 10:20. He was a really friendly Jamaican guy, but to be honest the whole thing seemed pretty disorganised, like not having the boat ready to go and stuff. Plus he told us he’d only gotten out of bed 15 minutes ago! We stopped at a good place and he talked us through the safety bits, how to purge the regulator etc…. it feels pretty weird to begin with, especially because it’s harder to breath on the surface than 2 metres under (no idea why). After a few minutes though I was enjoying it, and we both took to it pretty quickly. We got the weighted belts and we were off! I didn’t have any problems equalising on the way down, which I’d been worried about. We got down to about 8 metres, seeing the reef up close and being able to stay down there was a great experience and its given me the confidence to try a scuba dive.

The next day we walked all the way down to the Southern tip of the island. I’d read online that the best snorkelling was to be found down there. We packed our bags and headed off. The walk took us about 45 minutes but we were stopped half way by a rocky headland and we had to wait for the tide to go out some more. There was a lovely spot of beach there. We went for a swim then had a sunbathe. After about an hour the water was low enough for Jamie to take both bags and wade around. I’m too short so I swam 🙂 At this end of the island there is only one resort and restaurant- the Ao Niang. There was a channel through the coral and the tide was still high enough that we could swim out over the rocks. The coral here was much brighter and more varied than on the house reef, and there were different kinds of fish to the ones we’d seen before, and bigger in size. Territorial white damsel fish charge at you nose-on as you swim past their homes. It’s funny. There were enormous conches too. Pairs of bright yellow fish that looked the same shape as the angelfish were some of my favourites. So pretty. We had a very reasonable lunch at the restaurant afterwards, then headed back.

snapping a selfie while we wait for the tide

snapping a selfie while we wait for the tide


On the west coast of the island is Sunset Beach. We walked there on a tiny little trail through the jungle. It was seriously hot and sweaty in there, the path was really overgrown and twisty. We made it just as the light was fading. The beach itself was pretty, with a few fishing boats dotted in the bay. Sadly though there is quite a lot of litter, there’s hundreds of washed up flip flops. I guess they just don’t maintain it because there are no bars or resorts or anything here. On the east coast we saw people tidying up the beach every morning and evening. It’s such a beautiful place and I hope that in the future the west coast gets tidied up. Kradan has no villages or roads, it’s really just the tourism that pulls in the money so I suppose the conservation of the island is in everyone’s interest. I really hope so.

walk to Sunset Beach

walk to Sunset Beach

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In short I just couldn’t recommend Kradan enough. It is the quintessential paradise island that I’d been hoping for. While we were there I really felt like I was away from the rest of the world – I didn’t care that we had no wifi and no hot water. It’s so beautiful and we just sat back, chilled out and felt happy that we were so lucky xxxx


Koh Lanta… Sunsets and Beach Parties

We left Koh Jum as we arrived, knee deep in water, hopping onto a long-tail boat that took us out to the ferry. The ferry ride that day was really hot and crowded and I was glad to arrive in Lanta. We had our first two nights at Long Beach, it was busy but very beautiful. After that we went south to Khlong Khong beach. I’d read that it had more of a backpacker, beach party vibe. I also read that the snorkelling here was supposed to be pretty good at low tide, but unfortunately it wasn’t. Most of the restaurants and bars are lined up on the beach, which weirdly is kind of deserted during the daytime. It’s busy at night though, there are BBQs and happy hours galore! The first night we arrived there was a half-moon party which was so much fun. There was a really impressive fire dancing show, and we maybe had a beer too many!

We stayed at the Green Chilli Bungalows for about £14 a night. They’ve been the best quality bungalows we’ve stayed in yet, and we had a nice big balcony that we could sit and watch the sunsets on, and a Seven Eleven a couple of minutes walk away. We discovered that the restaurants on the road behind the beach are much cheaper. Tuna or chicken salads for about £2, pad thai about the same. We went to a BBQ place one night called Lanta Sure, and had an amazing whole fish for just £5.

We had some brilliant news while we were here – Jamie’s mum Ruth is planning on meeting us in Vietnam around the end of March. We’re so excited! Can’t wait to show her around Saigon and Nha Trang! It’ll be a perfect way to end the trip!

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Peace and Quiet in Koh Jum…

The first stop on our Andaman island hop was Koh Jum (also called Koh Pu). We got a ferry from Krabi to Jum for about £8 each. The journey was actually quite good fun. The ferry stops offshore and a rush of longboats come out to meet it, taking passengers to various resorts along the island. Its a little bit hairy as you hand over your bags and then hop over the boats to get to your one, but it all seemed fairly well organised and we got to shore (with our bags) without a problem. Once the boat had reached the beach we threw our shoes onto the sand and jumped in! its only about a foot deep, and Jamie’s easily tall enough to take our bags without any danger of an accidental dip.

waiting for the ferry at Krabi...

waiting for the ferry at Krabi…


selfie on the ferry!

selfie on the ferry!

longboats coming out to meet us

longboats coming out to meet us


We stayed at the Coral Bay for £14 a night. We had our own little bungalow with a private shower/toilet,  and an area to sit outside. It was basic but cosy and perfectly comfortable. Electricity is turned off during the day (!) but it really wasn’t a problem as we spent our days on the beach, sunning and swimming. The generator gets turned on about 4, and we only really wanted it for the fan. I got stung by a jellyfish on the first day, but it was nothing serious, just felt like a bad nettle sting and it was gone by the morning.


The beach directly out the front of us was a little rocky but we explored down to the right and found a lovely sandy cove, with lots of big trees for shade. We settled for the day and it felt like having our own private beach. We maybe saw 5 other people all day. The sand is really fine and soft, the water is clear, and there are dozens of these funny little sand crabs that have little dramas (claws up and swagger on) – fun to watch while you sunbathe.




going for a dip

going for a dip

beach taxi

beach taxi

sunset x

sunset x

We booked in for two more nights because we were loving the peace and quiet after Bangkok and Phuket! The sunsets were beautiful to watch with a nice cold Chang before dinner. Only criticism might be that things were quite expensive to buy on the island (but we had expected as much). Water was double what you would normally pay. Having said that the food was very good and the staff really friendly. We met a German guy called Steve who said he’d seen phosphorescence on the beach a couple of nights before. We weren’t lucky enough to see any though. We also met a really nice English couple who were also travelling- we hope we convinced them to visit Vietnam! Koh Jum is such a peaceful and laid-back island, makes me excited to see more! Next stop Koh Lanta….