Day 403 – 7 April, 2016
Because I can sometimes be a travel dictator, when I like everything that I do to be my choice and my decision, Martyn was incredibly agreeable and accommodating in my chosen itinerary. For starters, he met me in Malaysia, which I highly doubt was in his Top 5 of desired travel destinations. Then we started in Langkawi, which was a very nice island, but kind of in the mediocre range as far as islands go. Next, I wanted to take a ferry to Penang rather than fly. I’m on a budget, you remember! Martyn graciously accepted all of these choices with a smile, which I now know may have just been a consequence of the code of English conduct where politeness rules. Nevertheless, I found it super easy to travel with him and it wasn’t long before we realized how similar our interests were anyway.
Penang is some distance south of Langkawi. It has a few nice beaches, but they have more of a city feel rather than a tropical island. We stayed in Georgetown, which is known for a rich food culture. The melting pot of Chinese and Indian immigrants, plus Malay natives, has birthed a really impressive food scene. After a few lackluster meals in Langkawi, both Martyn and I couldn’t wait to gorge ourselves on local fare. Some highlights were Mews Cafe, a Malaysian restaurant where I had traditional Ikan Sambal, white fish steamed in a banana leaf and served with a salted egg and blue rice. Martyn chose Ayam Perchik, a flavorful grilled chicken with peanuts and yellow rice. Both were outstanding and gave me the false impression that future Malaysian food would also be so delicious.
Other standout meals included breakfast at Wheelers Coffee for a concoction of smashed pumpkin toast topped with poached eggs and crispy pancetta, and the Chinese restaurant, Tek Sen, where we shared bowls of steamed marinated squid, chili chicken, and spicy broccoli. Tek Sen was a strong favorite for us both. It was packed to the gills with people waiting in a Chinese-style queue. A European woman was sitting alone and we were instructed to awkwardly join her at her table, none of us given much of a choice. I thought of how many times I’ve eaten alone in the last year and how I enjoy that time to write this blog or read my book. And while I know I might be in the minority of solo travelers, rarely do I look at a couple and wish they would join me at my table. Anyway, it was fine. She gave us some tips on nightlife in Penang, which to clarify, refers to activities that go on well past my bed time.
We also patronized the night markets for satay and juice in a bag. We had cake and ice cream and real coffee. (Real coffee can be oh so difficult to find!) It was truly a party for the tastebuds and a welcome break from my default Asian meal of fried rice.
We explored the clan jetties, which date back to the early 19th century when Chinese immigrants were coming in droves and the maritime trade was booming. It was only natural that they establish their homes close to the primary economy at the time. The heritage is so important to the Chinese culture in Malaysia that the jetties are still thriving neighborhoods still today with modern conveniences like running water and cable television. Alas, the sewage still flows to the sea while the residents spend countless hours replacing rotten wood beams and planks to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood.
We ventured further inland and took the funicular to Penang Hill, which was a little disappointing (due to the haze and the underwhelming nature of the whole complex) and barely warrants a mention here except that it was one of the most blatant displays of monkey-feeding I saw outside of Bali. It’s no wonder these creatures are so aggressive!
I adored Penang for it’s authenticity (and the food, of course). The historic old town of Georgetown is a protected site so even when buildings have been abandoned, they can’t be razed, leaving a bit of a ghost town behind. This contributed to the charm and romance of such a special city and Martyn and I enjoyed getting lost in the past. I even tried to introduce Martyn to the art of sitting, a pastime I have grown to excel at in the last 13 months. Just sitting and watching the world go by takes some practice and Martyn has a long way to go, but I think Georgetown was an ideal place for a beginner. Side note: can I add sitting as a skill on my resume?