Penang National Park and Environmental Observances

On our last day on the island we took the bus to Penang National Park, about an hour ride from central Georgetown.  There were several possible hikes but the Canopy Walkway was under renovation so we settled on the hike to Monkey Beach. 

Here is a short video of our adventure.  Make sure to check out 1:25 for some angry monkeys.

Penang National Park
Jungle ground in Penang National Park
Penang National Park Jelly Fish
A giant jellyfish in Penang National Park

We spent over an hour walking the jungle path until we came to the beach.  We sipped coconuts and had the usual arguments with the monkeys.

Penang National Park - Monkey Beach
Monkey Beach

They never like me very much and it never fails that we end up screeching at each other.  There were a lot of the little buggers and they had big teeth so we let them win this time.  We didn’t eat enough breakfast for such a long hike and were super hungry by the end (having only eaten like twice before leaving).  So we got some roti (fried folded delicious bread) while waiting for the bus back.

Penang National Park
Penang National Park

We were upset with the amount of trash in Penang National Park and saw quite a few Malaysian hikers throw their empty bottles right onto the beach.  Several people on Monkey Beach were selling a variety of drinks, all in small plastic bottles but there were no trash bins and it was obviously too much work for people to just carry it out.  A group of 20-30 middle school students passed us, each with their own small plastic bottle of water.  We talked while hiking out about how they could clean up all the trash in a few days with just a few people.  Near the entrance we came upon five park employees sweeping leaves off the path.   Yes that’s right, FIVE PEOPLE.  SWEEPING. LEAVES. OFF. A. PATH. IN. THE. JUNGLE.  I was really frustrated by the whole system and I tried to calmly explain this to the Park Ranger at the front gate on our way out.

Me: “Why do so many people throw trash on the beach?”

His response, waving his hands as if it’s hopeless: “They are local people.”

Me: “Do you tell them not to do it?”

He smiled and said, “Have a nice day!”

Well, that was that.  Non-confrontational Malaysian culture for the win!  Reflecting upon it, I don’t blame the people anymore.  Yes, we all need to be more conscious of the products we buy and the waste we produce but I blame the governments for not educating their people better and most of all the companies that produce the bottles.  If I were Supreme Dictator of The World, the Coca-Cola company would no longer exist.

Want to read more about Penang? Check it out here!

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Street Food Heaven – Penang, Malaysia

georgetown
Shophouses in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Buddhist ceremony in Georgetown

Penang, Malaysia had been on our bucket list since before we even knew what country it was in (😳embarrassing)!  One sleepy afternoon years ago, we were watching Anthony Bourdain on “Parts Unknown” stuff his face at Line Clear in Georgetown and decided then and there that any trip to Asia would have to include Penang.  After all, it was street food heaven right? We had five nights planned!  We decided to stay at the Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel because everyone on the backpacker trail was talking about it.  The price was kind of high at 40 Ringgit for a dorm bed but included was free breakfast, all-day coffee and water, and two strong drinks at the bar.  The bar area closes at 11 after the nightly beer pong tournament then everyone goes on a pub crawl down the street to Love Lane where you can continue the party as late as your heart desires.

most popular new hostel in malaysia
Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel
Tipsy Tiger Hostel Party
The Bar At Tipsy Tiger
love lane party street
Love Lane – Party Street Penang

The Tispy Tiger was a good time but after two nights of craziness we were ready for something more chill.  Our second accommodation, The Frame Guesthouse, a very zen/minimalist place with cedar ceilings and antique stairways.  We really liked our private room here and stayed for three nights enjoying the AC and waterfall showers.

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The Frame lobby — a minimalist hostel in an old framemaker’s shop

The highlight of Penang for us was the street food.  Every corner had different stuff and you could really experience the fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines.  We tried to eat as much as possible, always opting for fourth and sometimes fifth meal.  It was a hard life.  Most of the food vendors have a few tables where you can sit and eat, and most require you to buy a bevarage- beer, soda or fresh-squeezed juice- if you use the table.  It really was a street food heaven.  Here are our favorites!

street food heaven
Laksa noodles- get in my belly
street food heaven
Pohpiah – like a large spring roll stuffed with tofu, veggies, and chili sauce!
street food heaven
Biggest Indian Meal Ever!
street food heaven
Obama Vegetarian Spring Rolls from Red Garden Food Paradise
street food heaven
Fermented pork belly noodles
street food heaven
Cendol – Icy Bean Dessert
street food heaven
More laksa bowls, yum!
penang food
Banana Leaf Indian
vegan food malaysia
In a healthy turn of events, we got vegan food from Wholey Wonder.  Yum!  The unicorn “cheesecake” is naturally-colored from the different superfruits in the layers.  So awesome!

One of the best places to eat is the famous Red Garden Food Paradise.  They usually have some singers and dancers in the center stage and around the edges there are so many different food vendors selling dishes from all over the world.  It has a very classic feel with red plastic chairs and happy families sharing tables stacked with food.  It’s always busy and opens at 6pm nightly.

red garden food stalls
Red Garden

My favorite late night spot was the 24-hour joint Line Clear.  Always a line and barely a menu, they kind of yell “What do you want?” when you get to the front then they slop it on a plate with rice and you get a scoop of sauce from each of the curries.  The food they sell is called nasi kandar, which pretty much means “country rice.”  It’s simple and everything you ever wanted after having a few beers on Love Lane.  Street Food Heaven indeed!

line clear nasi kandar
Line Clean 24hr Nasi Kandar.  Surprisingly they even had some vegetarian options for Carrie!

24 hour nasi kandar

Georgetown is unique in Asia because it largely avoided the bombings of World War II and the following wars.  Only a few bombs were dropped there so the old architecture has remained, giving the city a whole lot of character.   The only negative is the lack of sidewalks; you basically just walk along the side of the road and hope you don’t get clobbered by a drunk, texting motorbiker.  There was a lot of unique street art, most memorable of which were the cartoon wire sculptures depicting life in Penang throughout the years.

Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art
Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

Georgetown Street Art

As in the rest of Malaysia, the mishmash of cultures and religious blends peacefully and beautifully in Penang.  So, I’ll leave you with a sunset over the downtown mosque and Hindu temple.

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque in Georgetown

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple in Georgetown
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

 

The Perhentian Islands – Paradise in Malaysia

From the Cameron Highlands we left early in a van headed east, our destination was the  Perhentian Islands, Malaysia’s diving paradise.  Down the hill we drove super fast through heavy rain.  We passed some amazing rock walls that I hoped to come back to climb someday.  The culture became more and more Islamic with most signs written in Arabic and few women without hijab.  In Kuala Besut we were left at the jetty where the boats to the islands leave.  Our boat was included in the transportation price but we had to pay 30 Ringgit each to enter the islands, a conservation fee.  We loaded our stuff onto a boat after about an hour of waiting then moved everyone’s stuff around again a couple more times because no one took charge of telling us where on the boat to put the luggage.  (Culture=no one likes to show authority.). The boat ride was overloaded and a little sketchy but we made it just fine.  There are two islands, one with the resorts and an older crowd (Pulau Besar) and one a little smaller with the backpacker/diver folks (Pulau Kecil).   We chose Long Beach on Kecil Island, a paradise with white sands and blue blue water.  We stayed in a bungalow seconds from the water at the Lemongrass Guesthouse.  The friendly owner explained the snorkeling options and we were excited to see some sea life.  The area was a mecca for divers with amazing coral and sharks and sea turtles but we haven’t gotten into that whole scene yet – we are still stoked about snorkeling (for now).

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From Long Beach you can hike to many other beaches on the island, the closest of which being Coral Beach, not as nice but having some cheaper (better?) food options.  When we find decent food we usually will go there a bunch of times over a few days.  Our spot was Ewan’s Cafe, midway on the trail from Long Beach to Coral Beach.  They had a large menu of cheap Malaysian food and western favorites.  We ate there maybe 6-7 times and it was all pretty good.  Our absolute favorite spot though was at the end of the trail just onto Coral Beach, a guy with a sign Fatimah’s “Best Roti Canai” and it really was the best.  Roti canai is a folded flat bread with bananas or egg or tuna inside and is served with curry sauce for dipping.  You had to get there at the right time though because they would sell out rather quickly when the bread was ready.

Malaysia-88Roti Canai

The island was pretty relaxed during the day but at night several beach bars would open up and after 11 there was always a DJ playing electronic music that turned pretty clubby.  The highlight was the fire spinners who would post up in front of each of the popular places.   They were really talented, rivaling the best spinners we’ve scene at Burning Man.  We watched them for hours and I talked to them about how they built their sticks, looking forward to making one myself.  The beach was the only spot to be at night besides in bed under your mosquito net as the bugs got bad the further you strayed from the sea breeze.

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Snorkeling was definitely the best thing we did on the Perhentian Islands.  We payed for a tour through the Lemongrass where we were staying and left a little after 11am on a boat with another American, one French girl, and a group of Malaysians.  They took us to several spots around the island – Shark Point, Turtle Bay, and a few others.  I saw a two foot shark at Shark Point, small but cool, and at every spot there was amazing coral of all sorts.  We saw beautiful schools of parrot fish, a green and blue sting ray, and the star of the show was a giant sea turtle.  The turtle was so impressive and I was able to swim underneath it when it surfaced for air.

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We took a pit stop for lunch at a local village near the Silver Mosque which was in the middle of the call to prayer when we arrived.  The scene seemed surreal with the beautiful shining building and the village and the perfect blue sky reflecting in the water.

Silver Mosque Malaysia
Silver Mosque

The sad part about snorkeling in the Perhentian Islands was the lack of education that the guides gave the tourists.  Many of the local people couldn’t swim and would stand on top of the coral, breaking it with their fins.  It was heartbreaking to watch, mainly because of how avoidable it was.  With coral dying all over the world, it is more important than ever to take care of what remains.   Elsewhere in Malaysia, we had started yelling at people when they threw trash on the ground because it ruins my world and your world and everyone’s world.  I think just having the fear that some white dude is going to come yelling at them might keep them from doing it again.  However, I didn’t feel right trying to tell the snorkeling guides that they needed to instruct these coral standers, and I don’t think it would have changed anything.  Like I said before, in Malaysian culture no one likes to give directions or show authority over anyone else.  But if I see a western person standing on coral I’m going to show you my scary side and it best be the last time you do it.

Here is a highlights video! Please subscribe to our YouTube channel as there are more videos to come!

Another interesting thing on the island was the giant monitor lizards.  They would eat your kittens if you let them stray and our guesthouse host spent most of his day making sure his little kitties didn’t wander around the wrong corner.

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We spent four lovely days in the Perhenthian Islands and it was a little sad to leave.  But we were headed to Penang and we were so excited for the food.  We carried our backpacks all the way across Long Beach to the pier, passing all the silly kids who had shown up with rolling suitcases.  Seriously, why do so many people bring those things to the beach?  We waiting around the pier watching a young Malaysian couple snorkeling in the water below.  They were so different from us bare-it-all westerners, trying to swim while holding hands, the girl covered in hijab and a head-to-toe conservative swimming outfit.  Even the men were nervous about taking their shirts off, always replacing them for pictures.  Eventually we were shuffled onto a boat and made the rounds collecting people from other beaches before heading back to the main land.

We took a taxi from the pier to the bus station where we got a local bus to Kota Bharu.  We stayed at Zech’s Guesthouse, owned by a super friendly older couple.  Zech, a faithful Muslim, was excited to share a name with me.   As I remembered from Morocco, when people hear my name it brings about many questions.  I feel like there are more Muslim Zecks than Christian Zachs and the name seems to gain me instant respect. We talked a little bit after being shown all the room options and they told us about a great night food market where we got the blue rice which is colored with a flower and famous in the region.  In the morning after his pre-sunrise prayers, Papa Zech drove us to the airport because it was too early for taxis.  He told us of his recent trip to Mecca, a pilgrimage that he was proud to have finally completed.  We arrived early like good travelers but most people didn’t get to the airport until 40 minutes before their flight.  There were only six other passengers and our “private” jet was the easiest flight we have ever taken.  At least it wasn’t Malaysian Airlines, which has a nasty reputation for disappearing into thin air.  Next up… Georgetown, Penang!!!!