Travels with John Smith
Chapter 52 year 8 (2019)
Chinese New Year with Pat and Lyle
Penang and Langkawi, Malaysia
-The museum hotel George Town
-Lyle and a new friend
-third eye ceremony
-Captain China’s place
-gigantic reclining Buddha
-a little history
-booking hotels online
-Langkawi beach and a big jellyfish
-night market and Malaysian food
-Langkawi bridge in the sky
-details about the bridge
-foot spa in Oriental village
-Romantic Valentines Dinner
-The giant Eagle
-Island hopping plan
- Sardines in a speedboat
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 52 year 8 (2019)
Chinese New Year with Pat and Lyle
Penang and Langkawi, Malaysia
We catch a taxi from the airport to Georgetown, the capital city of the state of Penang, the oldest part of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We pull up in front of a building on a street that looks like what I imagine New Orleans does. We are staying in the Museum Hotel and outside there are elegant white columns, shutters on the 2nd floor windows and french doors on the street floor.
Inside there is dark, rich wood, 4 poster beds and fans on the ceilings. The walls are dark green and the tile on the lobby floor is elegant and understated. The hotel lobby, hallways and rooms are filled with curiosities; coloured glass, Chinese screen dividers and quirky statues. Beside the dining room, there is a long but small swimming pool.
Part of the reason we booked this place was the fact that it had a swimming pool but it looked a lot bigger in the pictures. We love the vibe of the rest of the hotel so it’s not important.
We open the shutters in the room. There is quite a large Chinese population here and people continue to celebrate the Chinese New Year. There are firecrackers popping right outside the windows and fireworks against the night sky.
Pat wants to have a quiet night so she stays in and Lyle, John and I go out to check out the Old Quarter. We find a lively street with loads of cool little restaurants and we have a tasty meal surrounded by the trendy people of George Town.
On our way back to the hotel, John and I stop to get some ice cream. Lyle says he’ll wait outside and as we go into the shop, John and I see an attractive ‘lady boy’ lingering close by. Lyle takes a seat on one of the chairs right outside the shop and she glides over to where he is sitting. She starts talking to him and as we order our ice cream, John and I watch from inside, wondering if he knows. We come out of the shop and Lyle, still blushing, puts his arm around me and politely says “Good bye” to her. The three of us walk away and we ask Lyle if he had a nice conversation.
Lyle lowers his voice saying, “She said, You want to go have some fun? and I answered her saying, Sorry I have a wife. That’s her inside the shop. She said, You have a woman?” Lyle laughs and wonders why this is so hard to believe.
We hire a driver to drive us around to the interesting spots in Penang. We go to The Queen Street Indian temple in Little India. It is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang and is covered with colourful gods and goddesses in the front and inside.
There are services all day long and we are invited to join in. We stand while a priest places a reddish brown dot on our foreheads. We are told it is like a third eye to give us the ability to see more of the world, to be more in tune with the universe. This seems like such a loving idea. We thank them and move on. The other three wipe them off when we leave the temple but I leave mine on, thinking I will remove it before our next stop.
We hear there are 2 mansions we should see so we ask the driver to take us there. They have both been turned into museums but are rich in Peranakan antiques, collectibles, and customs. They are are both famous for their architecture which combines different cultural styles, including Chinese and colonial British.
The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion or sometimes known as the ‘Blue Mansion’ isn’t open so we take a picture of the outside, which is painted a gorgeous indigo blue colour that was imported from India by the British.
Our driver drops us at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion and when we get out of the car, I forget that I still have the red dot on my forehead. A young man opens the door for me and bows slightly with his hands together in a praying movement. He has a smile on his face. I wonder if it is because of the red dot and feel happy I left it on, if it has allowed for a connection, however brief, with someone.
A guide takes us through the house, explaining it’s history and culture. The word Peranakan refers to people who were the 1st immigrants coming from Southern China to Malaysia and their descendants who are mixed ethnicities; Malay, Thai, Indonesian and Chinese. The Peranakans were known as the King's Chinese as they were more loyal to the British Crown than they were to China.
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion was built by a wealthy man named Chung Keng Quee, who’s nickname was Captain China because he was one of the richest men in Penang in the late 1800’s. There are pictures of him and his descendants on the wall, a gorgeous hybrid of European and Chinese furniture, beautiful silks, jewellery, clothing, dishes, etc. that belonged to people who lived here. Every room is more beautiful than the last and it is almost as if they have just gone out for the day and we are snooping around their private possessions. It is easy to imagine them living here (especially with an imagination like mine) and we happily spend a couple of hours exploring this piece of history.
We drive past a mosque and then a Chinese temple. There is a long line up outside and our driver says that because it is Chinese New Year, anyone that goes there, will be given a red envelope. In China, this is the time when parents give their children red envelopes with money inside. We wonder how much will be in these ones?
We are tired now so we decide to go to the modern part of the city, where we will go shopping and go for dinner. This is near the beach. Our driver suggests a slight detour to a Buddhist temple where there is one of the biggest reclining Buddhas in the world. We can see he thinks we really should see this, so we say yes. There are 2 dragons outside the temple and inside there is a gigantic Buddha, and many smaller ones standing and sitting cross legged buddhas, all clad in golden robes, with long ear lobes and hair black wound upwards like a bee hive. This buddha looks like he has a secret or is thinking about something amusing.
Penang island and port were important for the spice trade for the British from the late 1700’s and they continued to be until World War 2 when the Japanese invaded. The British took it back and then gave them independence after that. We have gotten a hint of the history of George Town and Penang in the architecture, religions and diversity of the the ethnicities living here in Penang today.
I mentioned a book I was reading when we went to Myanmar called ‘The Glass House’. It starts out there and continues to Malaysia and especially Penang so it is good to have been to both those places now. I can imagine everything talked about in the book so much clearer.
Langkawi is a group of 99 islands off the tip of Malaysia known as ‘The jewel of Kedah’. We took a short flight from Penang to Langkawi and are now lounging in our hotel pool, overlooking the sea. The view on the other side of the pool is more urban and from that side, we can see restaurants and other activity down below.
John and I walk to the busy restaurant area where we find a Chinese restaurant, that has lots of fresh seafood on offer. We find our way down to a beach in front of a neighbouring hotel and it’s nice but not really what we were imagining when we came here so we make a mental note to do some research to find a beach tomorrow. We’ve been doing a lot of exploring and not enough relaxing yet.
Normally, when we book a hotel, we spend a lot of time weighing up all the facts and usually choose depending on the comments, whether there is a pool (in case we are far away from the beaches), we like the rooms, it looks clean and is in a good location. Of course the people writing the reviews might have a different idea to us on what is a good location. Our hotel is a little farther away from the action than we would like but we do like the pool and the fact that it is modern and clean. It would be nice to be closer to a beach but it was the best one we saw online in our price range.
We make our way to the white sand and clear water of Pantai Cenang Beach, one of the biggest beaches in Langkawi. It is not too far away by taxi and we find sun loungers and umbrellas and everything else we need for a day in the sun.
I have read about the beautiful beaches in Langkawi but I also read there are quite a few jellyfish which has always put me off of coming here but we thought we’d see for ourselves, after hearing some good comments from a couple of friends. The beach is fairly quiet but there are a few people in the water so we go in too. We wade around and even float on top of the shallow water to cool off for a bit.
I’m back on my sun-lounger reading, and I notice John taking a picture near the edge of the water, right in front of where we have been swimming. I walk over to where he is crouched down, inches away from a huge jellyfish that has washed up on the shore. Only some of the tentacles are visible, most are tucked under it but the bulbous part I can see is twice the size of John’s head. It is a clear kind of colour so there is no way you would see it if you were in the water. Yikes. That’s it for my swimming today.
There are various ‘extreme’ water sports activities on this beach but today we see lots of people renting jet skis. I wonder how they know when to come back as they are rented by the half hour or hour and if it was me, I would be nervous taking my phone out in the middle of the ocean, to look at the time. Just as I am thinking that, I see a guy waving two ragged flags back and forth for a few minutes and I realize he is trying to get the jet ski-ers attention. I guess I have my answer.
It’s a Thursday evening and we are in a taxi on our way to the Temoyong Night Market. As we get closer, we can see the lights and stalls of the vendors and soon a massive crowd of people moving in both directions. The driver stops and lets us out before he gets stuck and we walk the rest of the way in. The market is one long makeshift street and we decide to walk all the way down to the far end, see what’s on offer before deciding what we want to eat. We don’t have any data on our phones so we make a plan in case we lose each other but there are no side roads so we find each other quickly when one of us, stays at a stall longer than the others. There don’t appear to be any places where we can sit so we will eat as we go once we decide what to try. There is lots of local food and snacks, fresh produce, clothes, and all kinds of other stuff.
For food choices, there is grilled seafood, beef and chicken satay, my favourite; green mango salad, lemongrass chicken on sticks, pancake like things with tasty mixtures inside, fried bananas, and lots of variations on dishes with the word nasi in it. I have heard of Nasi Goreng which is a rice dish with lots of other goodies so I imagine thats what’s in the other Nasi dishes that are here too. We try little bits of different kinds of food until we can’t eat any more. It’s colourful and busy and delightful but after not finding anywhere to go to the washroom or sit down, we are tired. We try to find a taxi to go back to the hotel and there are none so we walk, trying to flag one down with no luck. We see a hotel and we ask the concierge there to call us a taxi and he very kindly does, even though he knows we are not staying in the hotel.
We are in a cable car that is meant to be the longest suspension between two stations in the world. We were fine until we heard that! We are on our way to the top of Mount Mat Chinchang, to a place called ‘Oriental Village’, where there is shopping and a restaurant area and a lake. After that we’ll continue upward and take an inclined lift called a Sky Glide to take us to the Langkawi Sky Bridge. The view of the seaside behind us and the mountain in front of us on our way up is incredible. We get to the top and there is a long line up to get on to the Sky Glide. There is meant to be a maximum of 12 people in this and even though it is only a 2 minute ride, there is only one so it takes a while before we can we finally get to go up.
The Sky Bridge is even more amazing than the cable car ride. It is one of the world’s longest suspension, curved bridges. It hangs between 2 platforms, high above the jungle, and appears to be floating like a pedestrian road in the sky, as it is held up by cables from a pylon in the middle but the rest looks like it’s not held up by anything at all. It is level with the mountaintops that it winds around and through, with unique views of the Andaman sea, the mountains and virgin jungle all around. Today is a clear day and we can see Thailand in the distance.
If you are afraid of heights, this might not be the bridge for you as there are sections of glass flooring where we can see the jungle, far down below, which is a bit of a thrill. I read somewhere that the maximum capacity on this bridge is 250 people. It’s getting busier so I hope they are keeping track.
It is 125 metres (or about 400 ft) long, about 660 metres (2,170 ft) above sea level and is the same height as Gunung Mat Cincang (the 2nd highest peak in Langkawi). To build it, they had to construct it in pieces, that were brought in sections by helicopter and put in place.
We are waiting for the Sky Glide to go down again and this time it’s an even longer wait. We see some people taking the cheaper route, walking down some unsafe looking stairs and decide the Sky Glide is a better option.
We get drinks and a snack in the Oriental Village, which is a little touristy but we are grateful for a place to get refreshed. We notice a spa where they have the little fish that nibble your dead skin so John and I go in so our feet can get refreshed too. As usual, it is hideously ticklish at 1st but after a while, it kind of feels good.
We are sitting at a table on the sand, facing the ocean, with our toes in the sand. The table in front of us, is beautifully set, with white tablecloths, candles and red rose petals.The sun is setting on the horizon and as the orange, pinks and blues darkens into night, we see the design of a giant heart with an arrow through it made from candles in the sand to our right. Pat and Lyle have champagne and John and I are drinking raspberry cordial. A serenading band comes around to our table and sings a love song. Yes, it’s Valentine’s day and we are at a 5 star hotel for dinner and romance. We booked our evening at this beautiful resort online and we got here in a taxi from the other side of the island.
When we got to the perimeter of the resort, the guards would not let us in because we are not actually staying here. There was a moment when we started feeling like the uncool kids the bouncer won’t let into the club but after borrowing our taxi drivers phone to make a couple phone calls and lots of explaining, we were let in.
This is an incredible Resort. It sits in-between a 10 million year old rainforest and the lovely serene Datai Bay. If we had thought of it and come earlier, we could of snorkelled the 8,000 year old coral reef but we wanted to dress accordingly for this fantastic restaurant.
There is a giant 12 metre tall statue towering over us. It is an eagle with his wings spread wide open, one of the island of Langkawi’s most recognizable monuments. We are walking around Eagle Square, getting lots of pictures of this sight that greets visitors to the island via ferry.
Tomorrow we will be taking a boat to the Thai border, which is on the island of Kou Lippe, only a couple hours away. When we were planning this trip, we wanted to take Pat and Lyle to some parts of South East Asia we had always wanted to go to (but missed previously), since this might be our last chance, ever! So we planned to do North Vietnam, other parts of Malyasia and a couple islands we hadn’t been to in Thailand.
Pat’s cousin lives on a farm in Phuket and they planned to go stay with them when we go back to work so we thought we would do this leg of the journey on boats. I am very excited that we will now go Island hopping.
We are in an open speedboat, ready to travel across the South Andaman sea, between Langkawi and the Thai island, Kou Lipe. We booked our tickets with a tour agency in our hotel as we have different agendas. All 4 of us will stay in Kou Lipe for a few days, then take the boat to Kou Lanta where we will say goodbye and go our separate ways. Pat and Lyle will continue on in the boat to Phuket.
The speedboat only makes 2 trips a day and we wanted to get away on the early one. It is almost 9:30 am and we have been here for an hour and a half. We give our carryon suitcases to the boat crew who pack them at the front of the boat, we get a good seat and now have our heavy backpacks on our laps and are balancing plastic bags with water and snacks between out feet. The boat has a capacity of 40 people, with 20 short benches, 10 on each side with a small aisle in-between. Each bench is big enough for 2 people so there are 2 life vests on each bench, which we have already put on.
There are still people getting on the boat and soon there are people with no seats so the crew tells them to sit at the ends of the seats already occupied. The result is many disgruntled people as it is already very hot, we are now packed together, skin on skin with strangers and there are not enough life vests for everyone. People start complaining and the atmosphere turns sour very quickly as it doesn’t feel like safety is an issue for this company. On the other hand, we just want to get going. The longer we sit here arguing with them about what they should have done, the longer this day will be. To be continued…