Malaysia Trip Part 2: Penang and Langkawi

I’m back in Perth now after a whirlwind trip to Malaysia. I had hoped to post this article in Malaysia but internet quality and reliability in my last few days was poor.

From Kuala Lumpur I flew north west to Penang Island, just across from Butterworth on the Malaysian Peninsula. The island is connected to the peninsula by a bridge with a second bridge almost complete.

My flight arrived arrived late at night and instead of paying MYR 38 (~AUD 13) for a taxi to George Town, I waited and paid MYR 2 to be the only passenger on the final bus at 11:30pm. I left the bus at Komtar and walked the remaining kilometre or so to my accommodation at Ryokan Muntri. On my walk I was surprised at how many people were sleeping on benches. The pro edition of offline map application Maps.me was a great help on my trip, enabling me to find my way around using GPS, without requiring internet access.

The Ryokan Muntri hostel is perfectly located. Not only is the hostel right in the heart of George Town’s world heritage listed old town, it is also directly across the street from Muntri Mews Cafe, a stone’s throw from Passion Heart Cafe and a short walk from Red Garden Food Paradise hawker centre. I came to Penang for its food and I wasn’t disappointed!

George Town, Penang street art

George Town, Penang, is famous for both its old architecture and modern street art

Lee Jetty, Weld Quay, George Town, Penang

Lee Jetty is one of George Town’s Weld Quay clan jetties

Cat stalking rabbit in grounds of Kapitan Keling Mosque, George Town, Penang

Rabbit stalked by a cat in the grounds of the Kapitan Keling Mosque

Pinang Peranakan Mansion, George Town, Penang

Pinang Peranakan Mansion, George Town

Pinang Peranakan Mansion, the former home of a rich Baba is ornately decorated and furnished and well worth visiting. Many of the materials and furnishings came from Europe.

Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum, Pinang Peranakan Mansion, George Town, Penang

A beaded mattress runner containing approximately 250,000 to 500,000(!) beads, Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum

The Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum adjoins Pinang Peranakan Mansion and contains traditional jewellery and accessories much of it highly elaborate and made from gold, beads and other materials.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion, George Town, Penang

The second floor entrance hall, Pinang Peranakan Mansion, George Town

Hindu ceremony, Little India, George Town, Penang

A Hindu ceremony, Little India, George Town, Penang

George Town has significant Chinese, Malay, Indian and European influences. While walking through the old town’s Little India district, I came across a Hindu ceremony being performed.

Metal Street Art, George Town, Penang

Metal sculpture, Love Lane, George Town, Penang

Besides paintings on buildings, George Town’s public artwork includes metal rod sculptures depicting images and descriptions.

Looking down while going up Penang Hill on the funicular railway

Going up Penang Hill on the funicular railway (hand model identities unknown)

On Thursday fellow hostel guest Stanley and I caught a bus (MYR 2) to the base of Penang Hill. Well, we were meant to get off at Penang Hill but instead got off near Kek Lok Si, a major Buddhist temple. Our goal was Penang Hill so we walked the remaining distance to the start of Penang Hill Railway where we caught the funicular train to the top (MYR 30).

Very large pitcher plant at Monkey Cup garden and cafe, Penang Hill

A very large monkey cup (pitcher plant of the Nepenthes genus), Monkey Cup Garden, Penang Hill (hand model identity known)

Penang Hill Railway is a major tourist attraction and the top terminal station contained the usual cafes, lookouts and LOVE sign photo opportunities as well as an owl museum! From the top we hiked the kilometre or so to Monkey Cup Garden and Cafe. Along the way were monkeys and, on haze-free days, great views.

Monkey Cup Garden contains over 100 varieties of Monkey Cup or pitcher plants of the Nepenthes genus. Wikipedia informs me that they are named Monkey Cup because monkeys have been seen to drink out of them. It is an impressive location and collection and the manager is passionate about the plants. As a bonus, Monkey Cup customers received free rides back to the railway terminal.

Monkey Cup Garden, Penang Hill

Monkey Cup Garden, Penang Hill

Red Garden hawker centre is indeed food paradise, George Town, Penang

Red Garden Food Paradise hawker centre, George Town, Penang

The bus back to George Town dropped us off at the Red Garden Food Paradise hawker centre where I had the have the highly regarded Kimpo Famous Roasted’s crispy skin duck. The duck did not let me down!

Kimpo Famous Roasted's crispy skin duck, Red Garden, George Town, Penang

Kimpo Famous Roasted’s crispy skin duck accompanied by dumpling soup, noodles with pork and vegetables and Royal Stout

Cakes at Passion Heart, George Town, Penang

One of Passion Heart Cafe’s two cake cabinets

As it was my last night in Penang, I decided to go out with a bang and finish with not one but two serves of cake from Passion Heart Cafe: Cempedak (jackfruit) Cake (not the cheesecake in the photo) and Black Forest Cake with Red Wine. Both were delicious and the red wine added a nice touch to the latter, although my Mum’s black forest cake still beats it. Speaking with the cafe manager, it was clear she is passionate about her cakes and the creative process behind them and was proud she makes them on the premises.Kerabu Beehoon, Muntri Mews, George Town, PenangKerabu Beehoon (spicy rice noodle salad) and Fresh Mix Tropical Fruit Frappe, Muntri Mews Cafe, George Town, Penang

After checking out of the hostel Friday, my final Penang meal was a second visit to Muntri Mews Cafe. As I had eaten enough rich food, I opted for a lighter and healthier meal. The Kerabu Beehoon (spicy rice noodle salad) and mango, pineapple and papaya Fresh Mix Tropical Frappe provided a delicious finale to three days of wonderful food. A taxi back to the airport (MYR 40) and my time in Penang was over; at least for this visit!

View from my room, Butterfly Guest House, LangkawiThe view from my Butterfly Guest House room, Langkawi

My second visit to Langkawi included my first night on the island. As Monday’s taxi driver Yusoff was waiting for his van’s air conditioning to be fixed, I took another taxi (MYR 30) to Butterfly Guest House.

Butterfly Guest House is located up a hill, outside a village and 10 minutes walk from the coast. It is run by a family of two adults and four children, including their playful five year old son Aslan. The peaceful location is a great get away from city traffic, noise, concrete and bitumen. The loudest sound while there was the squawking of the family’s geese.

The accommodation is located on the building’s upper level and consists of several mattresses on the ground with mosquito nets (the ‘dorm’) and 3 cordoned off rooms. I splurged and booked one of the private rooms for MYR 80 (AUD 26).

My room, Butterfly Guest House, Langkawi

My room with the mosquito net over the bed, Butterfly Guest House, Langkawi

Staying at the Butterfly, one almost feels a part of the family. When I realised I didn’t have enough ringgit left, the father was generous enough to give me a ride on his motorbike to the airport to change money. On the way back we stopped at two large supermarkets to buy supplies for the hostel along with drinks and peanuts. Langkawi is a duty free island and alcohol is very cheap. Cans of Royal Stout were only MYR 2.20 (AUD 0.70). Back at the guest house I watched a karaoke DVD with the family.

Also staying at the guest house were Germans, Dutch and a New Zealander who has spent over a year travelling abroad.

Butterfly on flower, Butterfly Guest House, Langkawi

A butterfly at the Butterfly Guest House, Langkawi

Saturday included a walk to the coast, an iced coffee at a cafe and delicious chicken rice with a fresh carrot/orange juice at Cafe Nelayan Kak Zah. The coast in this area of Langkawi has mudflats with lots of small crabs running around, reminding me of Broome, Western Australia. On my return, I visited a spa for a soothing upper body massage (MYR 59) away from the heat of the early afternoon.

That evening Yousoff’s taxi was fixed, I said goodbye to my hosts and travelled to the airport for the late night flight to Kuala Lumpur. I spent my last night in Malaysia at the Plaza Premium Lounge, where I ate, slept and waited before going to the gate for my seventh and final AirAsia flight to Perth.

My seven flights and seven nights of accommodation cost approximately AUD 240, making the trip not only great fun but also great value.

A major purpose of this trip was to test out clothes and gear in preparation for my trip to South America and beyond this November. For Malaysia I only used a carry-on bag, making travel far easier. For South America I also intend to only take carry-on, hence the criticality of carefully choosing every single item I pack.

Malaysia Trip Part 1: Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi

Greetings from a hazy Kuala Lumpur. It’s my third visit to this airport in less than 48 hours! I’m writing this from the Plaza Premium Lounge, landside at KLIA2, my first ever visit to an airport lounge!

I first arrived to KL Sunday night after a 5+ hour AirAsia flight from Perth. As my flight to Langkawi was early the next morning, I stayed the night in Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s modern Terminal 2 (KLIA2). With its shopping centre, facilities and KL Express rail link, KLIA2 is dramatically better than its predecessor, the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT).

My accommodation for ~7 hours at KLIA2 was part of a shipping container at the Capsule By Container Hotel. The place was noisy and crowded but the sleep and shower were much appreciated.

My 'room' at KLIA2

My ‘room’ at KLIA2

Langkawi, a Malaysian island is not far from Thailand and less than 1 hour by air from KL. At the airport I paid MYR 120 (~AUD 40) for 4 hours of taxi and was directed to Yousoff and his taxi van, my companions for the next 6&1/2 hours (I paid Yousoff for the extra time at the end). First stop was a restaurant for breakfast. Yousoff’s choice was excellent with Soto (soup with rice cubes, chicken and peanuts with spicy sambal) accompanied by ginger tea with condensed milk being both delicious and excellent value at less than 3 AUD.

Soto in Langkawi

Soto with a side plate of sambal

Next we headed north to a really nice beach which I wandered along, observing the shells and flotsam including two cowries, my favourite shell from childhood. Langkawi is surrounded by smaller islands which reminded me of the islands in Vietnam’s Halong Bay. Thailand is visible on the horizon and Langkawi has some Thai influence. At the beach I bought a coconut from a cafe run by Thais.

Beach at Langkawi

The beach, north Langkawi. The darker blue on the horizon is Thailand

Cockle shell, Langkawi

This cockle was one of many shells lying on the beach

After the beach Yousoff drove me to Seven Wells where I climbed hundreds of stairs to get to the waterfalls. The waterfalls at the top were placid and small compared to the impressive waterfall off a side track further down.Monkey sign, Seven Wells, Langkawi

Monkey sign, Seven Wells. Monkeys are common on Langkawi and I saw several during the day.

Waterfall, Seven Wells, Langkawi

The larger waterfall part way down the Seven Wells track

Seven Wells is close to my next destination and Langkawi’s biggest tourist attraction, the Langkawi cable car, otherwise known as SkyCab. Along with Izmirli Ozgur and Russian Anna I paid 85 MYR (about AUD29) for a glass-bottomed gondola and skipped ahead of the queue lining up for normal gondolas. The ride and views are impressive and I recommend paying the extra for the glass bottom and to skip the line up. I also skipped the first stop part way up the mountain.

View down mountain from cable car, Langkawi

View down the mountain from the cable car

Getting to the suspension bridge (SkyBridge; 5 MYR) at the top of SkyCab involved taking many more stairs. When I first arrived it was shrouded in rainy mist, reducing visibility.

SkyBridge, Langkawi The suspension bridge at the end of the cable car ride

A blooming tree at the viewing platform on the opposite side of the bridge was a big hit with butterflies.

Butterflies, Langkawi

Butterflies at the top of SkyCab

Butterflies, Langkawi

The flowering tree covered in butterflies

View up mountain from cable car, Langkawi The view back up the mountain with the mist visible at the top

I had enough time remaining before my flight for a meal and Yousoff took me to another excellent choice, Jom Ikan Bakar, where I ate delicious fish and cockles.

Meal at Jom Ikam Bakar, Langkawi

Clockwise from the left: rice, cockles, whole fish, pineapple, fried chicken, fried fish pieces

The AirAsia flight back to KL was delayed slightly. At KLIA2 I took the KLIA Ekspres train (MYR 35) to Sentral before the LRT train two stops to Masjid Jamek (MYR 1.30) from where I walked to my accommodation, the funky BackHome Hostel. It’s great to be hostelling again!

In KL I’ve had a fantastic time catching up with friends Kim (last night, Pappa Rich), Christine (lunch today, Indian restaurant) and Yin Li (tea at Starbucks, Sunway Pyramid).

South Indian meal, Kuala Lumpur

Today’s lunch on a banana leaf (no prizes this was at an Indian restaurant – great choice Christine)

Flight number four to Penang is due to leave in two hours’ time at 10pm. I’m looking forward to seeing George Town’s architecture and, more importantly, eating its food!

Two months to go in my Half Ironman Quest

On the 8th of November I will participate in the Mandurah Half Ironman. A half ironman is a triathlon which consists of the following legs in order:

  1. Swim: 1.9 kilometres
  2. Bike: 90 kilometres
  3. Run: 21.1 kilometres (half marathon distance)

Swim

My primary motivation for entering the half ironman was to learn to swim efficiently, something I’ve desired for a long time.

In May, to understand how to improve my technique, I took a coaching lesson from Sally Scaffidi of Swim Smooth. Sally videoed my stroke and her post-swim advice, recommending stroke-specific training drills.

For the last 3 months I have swum laps in my local aquatic centre’s outdoor 50 metre pool up to 6 times a week. On most occasions I rewarded myself with a sauna and spa for slogging it out and drinking chlorinated water in the winter weather.

My stroke has improved massively although I still have a fair way to go. Last week Sally gave me a follow-up coaching lesson. My primary element to correct is bending my elbow in the ‘pull’ instead of using a straight arm. Other improvements required are looking further forward instead of directly below and lifting my head out slightly when breathing instead of a long way. To assist with my drills, I have a pull-buoy, fins and hand paddles.

Going forward, after more training sessions in the pool, I will focus on swimming in the sea using a triathlon wetsuit to mimic race conditions. The wetsuit and the sea water will improve buoyancy and the wetsuit will also reduce drag. The sea also provides variable conditions with waves, currents and creatures.

Bike

Last week I revisited Andrew Budge of Trysport to fit the aero bars and other parts ordered at his request and adjust the bike to suit my dimensions. This week I set up my CycleOps Fluid 2 bike trainer in the lounge room and undertook my first cycle session assisted by the awesomeness of the Pearl Jam Twenty 3-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD. I’m less concerned about the bike part of the triathlon as long as I put in the training hours.

Run

Having completed 3 half marathons this year, one may think I’m ready for this leg of the triathlon. However, this is not the case. Running immediately after a bike ride is very different to running independently and is requires specific practise.

A bike ride followed by a run is called a ‘brick’ session and these are extremely important when training for a triathlon. My peak training aim is a 3 hour bike ride followed by a 1.5 to 2 hour run.

Fantastic fitness will be a positive side-effect of the triathlon training and I’m looking forward to that. Two months to go!