Asia, Malaysia, Travel

Magical Melaka

Melaka has recently acquired the joint title of a UNESCO world heritage site with Georgetown, Penang, and wandering through the petite narrow streets of the old town you can see why. The small quirky town exudes calm vibes, it has a colourful history and unique heritage roots. The city itself of Melaka is like any other city in Malaysia, so stick within the walls of the heritage site to be blown away by traditional Melaka.

Steps Chinese Temple

Melaka has been a place which has been continuously conquered by colonizers and it was once a kingdom. Due to its strategic position and its bustling charm of the place, competition has been fierce to keep Melaka under its rightful owners: the Malaysians. Because of its vibrant history, important role in the spice trade and and Malaysian’s already intermingled society, Melaka has many more ethnicities than Penang, like the Baba Nonya and the Eurasians, which makes Melaka an even more of a hybrid melting pot.

Street Art Street Art in MalaccaChinatown is the most scenic area of town. Here you can walk past old men playing chess on rusty chairs, ladies having a natter over a fragrant herbal tea, and old streets titled in Chinese, “Carpenters Lane”, where the shops still sell the same trade, but in a modern nature. Artsy cafes which hang decorative art work on its walls are perfect to sip a coffee in, put your feet up and watch the world wander by. Art galleries are on every corner, selling paintings with Dutch esque houses painted in acrylics all stacked neatly in rows as if dominoes, whilst individual shops sell t-shirts by a national artist with amusing slogans such as “to lah or not to lah”? (Malaysians like to say ‘Lah at the end of every sentence, I am unsure really why). This relationship of houses with open garages selling oddly shaped metal pieces, local’s apartments standing next to traditional Kopitiam’s, with tourists shops selling souvenirs next door, creates an unusual concoction of sights and sounds. Ancient Chinese Temples like the ornamented Cheng Hoon Teng stand next to historic Hindu temples and the ever towering Masjid Kampung Lking, praising Allah for all to hear.

Temple in Malacca Cutie

Take a walk along Jonkers street, famous for its weekend night market which locals tell me with widen eyes that it: “gets busy”. Passing stalls that sell Durian ice cream (I tried it and it tasted like soy sauce mixed with gone off fruit), you reach the Baba Nonya Heritage Museum which provides an interesting perspective on the Nonya culture. Wander along the river side where you pass a numerous amount of street art that highlights Melaka’s individual cultures and ethnicities, standing proudly for all to see, then you reach the neatly structured Dutch Square. Stadthys is the centre point of the Dutch influence on the town, with the architecture of straight edges and oblong shapes surfacing each corner, created by red brick, which contrasts with the crazily decorated rickshaws over filled with flowers, stuffed toys and dance music, that encircle the water fountain- hoping for a customer (whom is most likely deaf, blind or stupid to go in one of those).

Street Art Dutch Square

Walk up to the old romantic ruins of St Paul’s Church perched on a grassy hill and watch the sun set over the horizon of Melaka. Soak in the view of the large ferry port where tankers wait like sitting ducks, impatient to get on with their journey. The view is ruined by the towering complex of the Holiday Inn and the incredibly tacky Menara Taring Sari– which offers a 360 view of a city. Wander through the cobblestones of the church reading Dutch inscriptions on grave stones, making a wish in the well and paying your respects to those in the grave yard. If you walk to the other side, you get a glimpse of the beautiful Porta De Santiago, surrounded by old rusty cannons. A crumbling gate entrance, the inscriptions are delicately carved into stone and are surprisingly intact (after being bombed by the British). Unfortunately this is the only site remaining of the Portuguese influence in Melaka. Bizarrely, this site is opposite a mega mall filled with expensive retailers and air conditioning. I find it strange that the past and the present are placed so close together- a juxtaposition that blows me away.

Portuguese Influence

Melaka also has a Little India area, filled with sari shops and deliciously tasty Indian food, however I didn’t get my tasty tandoori chicken from here, but rather Pak Putra, set in a district just outside of Chinatown and offers superb dishes that you cannot fault with. Popular with both locals and westerners, sit outside to get the entire immense experience. Opposite here is the only internet cafe in Melaka so if like me, you haven’t caught up with present time and present travellers yet- come here to connect with the outside world. Other dishes that are lovely (and I’m happy I had the excuse to try for my food documentary) is Baba Laksa- a chilli coconut broth filled with tofu, meat, noodles, vegetables and a cracker- a delightful combination. I also had Hainese chicken with rice balls, (balls of rice funnily enough) which makes eating rice with chopsticks a lot easier, and after being dipped in sweet chilli, it pleasantly crumbles in your mouth with the succulent chicken. Malaysians like to have bones with their meat and have managed the art of sucking all the meat off, so if you do receive a dish like that- do not complain, that is the traditional style. Here, any of these dishes washed down with a traditional tea tarik (tea with condensed milk which adds a sweet kick to the taste) or a lime ice tea, is pleasantly refreshing. These dishes are popular and are easy to find in Chinatown.

Rice Balls Stuffing my face with Baba Laksa

Melaka is a lovely place to visit, eat your body weight there and browse in shops. There are a few tourist sites but it is more of a place to soak up and breathe in the atmosphere, rather than explore. Try eat as many different dishes as you can- it’ll be worthwhile.

Asia, Malaysia, Travel

Detoxing in the Tioman Island

The Tioman Islands, which are situated on the west coast of Malaysia but south to Singapore, are less of a destination for a backpacker in Malaysia. When telling friends, most of them had not even heard of it before. Ferries are not filled with young backpackers or even young Malaysians, but rather families from both national and international destinations, and western couples. Going on a Sunday in high season, the ferries were jam packed and overflowing. However, as Tioman is a massive island (the size of Ko Lanta) many tourists have a number of options to venture to. Resorts are hidden in secluded beaches, and there are a number of places to choose to make a base. Salang– similar to the party atmosphere of Long beach in the Perhentian Islands, but is intertwined with high rise accommodation- and high rise prices (which made me think of Koh Samui) made me avoid it. Most people head to ABC, a quiet rocky beach that offers a lot of scope in budget accommodation and budget restaurants. I heard Juara beach was the most spectacular, and wanting a detox and long hours of sleep with my bed- I headed there. Sharing a jeep taxi to Jurara from Tekek meant the 30 minute journey was much cheaper than what it would be (and also meant I didn’t have to do the trek recommended for those staying in ABC and wanting to visit Juara), for 25 ringgit. Luckily, I checked into one of the only guest houses on the beach: Juara Mientra Resort.

Tioman IslandsRecommended to me by my new travel companions and not booking, meant that only the most expensive rooms were left. Hmm, sensibility took my head, but my heart took over. I craved the quiet solitude of an empty beach and I wanted a comfortable bed. I decided to make a flash packer, or even tourist move. 150 ringgit later, I had my own air conditioned chalet on the beach facing the sea, with my own sun lounger, minibar and even a bath?! (I hadn’t seen one of those in 5 months!) I squealed with excitement and I knew I had made the right choice. The beach was empty, with white sand only walked on by 4 westerners and 3 locals, and only a volleyball net tied to some swaying palm trees that surrounded me. It was what I had wanted.

I ate at the restaurant adjoining my resort titled imaginatively: Juara Mientra Cafe, where I had deliciously tasting Pattaya (seafood fried rice encased in a fried egg with a dollop of sweet chilli sauce on top): Perfect. The food isn’t as expensive as I thought, actually cheaper than Long Beach- so Tioman is not as overpriced as anticipated, and which is why many backpackers are put off visiting, (although I have heard different things about Salang).

Posing aroundUnfortunately due to low tide and my short time in Malaysia (as well as my urge to try some adventurous food in Melakka) I had to leave Tioman earlier than expected. I could have easily passed days in Juara and those days to weeks in ABC, but alas it is not so. I recommend obviously having more time, but making sure you check ferry times when visiting and coordinating it with bus times, and your travel plans. It is frustrating how less ferries travel than in the Perhentians. However, the Tioman Islands are not to be missed, there is so much choice and variety in the type of place, accommodation (much more than the Perhentians) and it still has that untouched Asian Tropical beauty of an island that many crave to visit.

Asia, Malaysia, Travel

Partying in the Perhentian Islands

Taking a 5am speedy minibus which zipped through the misty Cameron Highlands to Kota Bharu, where even speedier boats took us to the Perhentian Islands– myself and my travelling companions were knackered and exhausted, but the view of the awe inspiring Perhentian Islands immediately excited and awoke us. Choosing the small island rather than the big island meant our island had more of a restriction on the number of inhabitants and a more mellow vibe to the place. Seeing the dazzling turquoise waters with floating boats ashore and with just a few restaurants dotted along the beach, a warmth spread over me as if stepping next to a fire away from the cold crisp winter air, a tingling sensation arose all over my body- I had reached paradise. Asking to be dropped off at the jetty rather than being taken by a water taxi whom was waiting afloat in the sea, means saving yourself a few ringgit- and not being part of their cheeky scam!

Long Beach in Perhentian Islands

We had decided to stay at Long Beach where cheaper accommodation was based and had more of a night life, we were told. We were not disappointed. Long Beach is tiny, a small stretch of sand with various priced guest houses and restaurants that surround the beach. Although the beach has cigarette butts in the sand, the crystal clear waters and the view of the tropical mountainous big island (as well as corners of our island peeking out from either side of us) is magnificent and makes up for the unkempt beach. I thought Koh Tao in Thailand was paradise, I was wrong. Here there are no day time bars with chill out music, but rather simple colourful parasols providing shelter from the searing sun and poky shops selling your essential items. With such a distance from the main land as well, those that visit here become a community, an island filled with essential items, stunning views, mad dancing and a solitude that many crave.

The snorkelling puts Thailand’s islands to shame. Going on a snorkelling trip for 35 ringgit; we were taken to Turtle Point where we held our breath and watched gob smacked at ancient majestic creatures dip and dive underwater, Shark Point where reef sharks encircled terrified beautifully coloured tropical fish leading them to hide away to shelter. The trip also includes lunch at a fishing village (please adhere to local custom and cover up out of respect, remember Malaysia is predominately a Muslim country), Coral Point where you can marvel at fantastically shaped coral that is second only to the Great Barrier Reef- and out stands me that vegetation like that lives underwater?! Light House Point, where brave friends jumped off from a large height, and Romantic Beach, a beach littered with pieces of coral covered in tiny holes which hangs off a tree chiming and tinkling when the wind blows. The snorkelling trip is a wonderful day out and I do advise doing one. If you are more into diving- or are thinking about learning, then Malaysia is the cheapest place to learn how to do your PADI qualification (like in Koh Tao). I was recommended Spice and Panorama Divers.

Sunset at Coral Beach

If lying on the beach, on the sea or in the sea is not your thing, then head to other areas and corners of the island. There are many hikes through the dense jungle where you will be greeted by humongous monitor lizards (I saw some bigger than myself) and plenty of insects. A sweaty trek- although you will be rewarded with serene and empty beaches. A popular beach to visit is Coral Bay– not because of the beach, but for its beautiful sunsets that explode and immerse the sky, transforming the sky into a display of spectacular colours.

Coral Beach

The Perhentian Islands especially Long Beach, is a popular place for backpackers to visit. Not only because of its close proximity to other tourist destinations such as: Taman Negara, Cameron Highlands and Penang, not only for its beauty and perfect snorkelling and diving opportunities, but also its night-life. The tiny beach comes alive at night, and during high season and on the weekend, the population quadruples in size. Groups of local Malaysian men bring speakers, large quantities of booze and crazy dance moves to the island. A roomy dance floor now becomes a mass of topless sweaty bodies with grabby hands. Like most men, alcohol and male bravado becomes greater when in large groups, so solo female travellers should be wary of this. Although, this island is easy to meet people so I doubt you will be alone by nightfall. I recommend heading to Ooh La La for their delicious pizza and drinking a bottle of your chosen spirit- which is cheaper than buying beer, then over to Beach Bar for their fire show and dance floor. There is only one other main happening “club” which is Black Tips, so it will be quite easy to choose where to go, as you just follow the congregation of the crowd. Also, have a seafood BBQ (similar to those in Sihanoukville in Cambodia) in Family Cafe or a fulfilling burger in Panaroma.

Posing in Coral BeachAccommodation is plentiful on Long Beach and each place varies in style of accommodation and price. Myself and my friends went to every single place (in the hot sun with our bags straight off the boat) to find the best deal. We stayed in Tropicana Hostel in the middle of the island which was 20 ringgit for a clean 8 bed dorm with 2 bath rooms attached inside (but with only two small fans!) Rooms can be hired, and vary in price depending on how long your stay is, from 40 to 60 ringgit a night. Lemongrass have nice chalets for 60 ringgit on the beach, and because of their location, price and cleanliness (unlike 3 other chalet places!) they sell out quickly. Panaroma also has a dorm for 40 ringgit a night and Bintang Chalets offer bungalows for 85 ringgit a night that are clean, basic and offer spectacular views (although share quite a disgusting bathroom at that price).

Asia, Malaysia, Travel

Getting Fat in Penang

Penang is known as the “Pearl of the Orient”.

When learning about Penang’s colourful and culturally expansive history, you realise it is aptly named so. Penang was a meeting ground for European settlers- Dutch, Portuguese and British primarily, whom also traded with Arabic merchants for incense, gold and other mystical goods. Penang being situated on an island, means that Penang was a mecca for all kinds of boats men from international waters and cultures, all searching in Penang for entirely different things: prostitutes, opium, gold or trade.

Penang Street Art

Arriving in this modern day pirate town, things have changed somewhat. Settlers whom have emigrated here many years ago, have created and shaped their own lives, culture and religion into Penang and have many influences over the style and architecture. You pass Chinese Malaysian families lighting incense in worship to a temple, Indian Malaysian waiters roasting chicken in tan door clay pits, and other Malaysians becking and calling for you to ride on their tricycle as you walk past, meandering through the dozens of streets. Sections of Georgetown– where all the backpackers stay, are dominated by Chinese stores, writing and infrastructure, others with Indian influences, and other areas highlight the modernization of the town, with garish 7/11s and numerous internet cafes.

Street art Street art

I hired a bicycle from one of the many stores, at 12 ringgit for the entire day. Its useful to travel a far from Penang, however bikes are not really necessary to use in Georgetown itself because of the size of the place. I headed straight to the Penang Museum– a building which used to be a traditional school many years ago, run by the British. The price is only 1 ringgit for entry and you do find out a lot of interesting information about the heritage of the place: the colonizers and colonized; the modern various ethnic groups, and their influence on modern society in Penang. After learning about the “Khangi’s“- clan houses in Chinese, head over to to the most decorated one in Penang: Khoo Kangsi. Taking off your shoes you wander in to what could easily be a temple and you marvel at the living conditions of some of those many years ago, in Penang. Head over to the Jetty to see traditional wooden panelled houses stacked floating above the sea. Stalls of Durian are sold here as well as other tourist knick knacks.

Temple View from the docks

One of my highlights of Penang and what brings a number of tourists flocking here is… the street art. Large murals painted in various styles of art are gloriously swirled onto fading plaster, designed to mystify, inspire and amuse. Each painting is placed next to temples, mosques, restaurants, food stands, abandoned streets and even garbage bins. It feels like street art has multiplied and consumed the walls of Penang. I am a massive fan of street art and enjoy experiencing it decorated on the walls, however in Penang, I feel the constant queuing behind large groups of tourists posing for pictures and crowding around certain pieces lacks the authenticity and individuality of the art, making it less unique. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the art, but I felt I could have enjoyed it more if the streets were empty.

Street art Swinging around Street art on the side

Another aspect of Penang that is known on a global level, is the cuisine. The variation of culture and lifestyles means that the food served in Penang has an extra ordinary diverse array, and is sold on every street corner- at cheap local prices. Passing wafting smells of Nasi Goreng, curries, stir fry and sweets, I headed straight to Red Garden Food Court. This food court is open in the evening and is renowned for its numerous tasty options and its cheap beers.

Making a documentary on food in Malaysia meant I was able to order a number of dishes and not feel guilty about it.

I ate juicy roasted duck and BBQ pork with rice from Kim Po Pork and Duck, which was recommended to me by the Lonely Planet and boy- it did not let me down! The succulent roasted skin with BBQ sauce and tender meat was beautiful and reminded me of the meals I ate in Vietnam of “pork and rice” sitting on kids sized plastic chairs and dining on this dish in My Tho. Next I headed to the Dim Sum stall, ordering crab meat, prawns and garlic scallop dim sum. The garlic scallops exploded in my mouth with goodness that only can be described as a food orgasm- and took me to another level of heaven in taste and texture. My taste buds were mystified, who could create such a fantastic thing and where can I find it at home? I tried the local (and traditional) Hainese chicken and rice, which was tasty, but in no comparison to the other dishes. I decided to try more bizarre dishes, ordering fried bean curd, (I felt like it was a sponge with sweet chilli sauce on top), fried cuttle fish head- which was disgusting, I suffered greatly when I had to film the clip again- and chicken heart. The chicken heart was surprisingly tasty because of the BBQ flavour, however the texture was incredibly rubbery and reminded you of what you were eating- making it much harder to look at, the petite organs speared on a stick- and to digest without throwing up.

Food night market

Food courts are a cheap place to buy a beer, although Penang is filled with many drinking dens down main streets and little alleys. Some bars are expensive in taste like the “Tapas Bar” on the waterfront, others bring a sense of community through acoustic music session and others, offer free drinks for ladies for 5 hours like in Reggae Inn and Reggae mansion (the bar not the hostel bar). I stayed at the Hostel of Reggae Mansion, which was recommended to me by a friend and is the chain of that also in Kuala Lumpur. It is a greatly organised hostel, however- it is a money machine. There is no personal touch or connection I found, and it being expensive (35 ringgit a night)– as well as the bar and restaurant it has, which allows no outside food or drink, makes this place for flash packers. Remember to check your sheets- I got bed bugs from this place!

Street art Messing around

If you do have some time check out Penang Hill, taking a crazily fast cable car up to the top of this prestigious hill to catch a glimpse of a view that shows the whole of Penang, the Botanical Gardens known for its beautiful blooming flowers, and the Kek Lok Si Temple, one of the finest and largest temple complexes in South East Asia.