Trip Report by James Rock November 2001
Thought I had better post at least the first part of the report - getting a bit old now! Trip Report here is the first part of our Trip Report. Second part to follow in the not too distant future! Nyree and myself left for Malaysia on 3 September. Planned itinerary was 3 Nights in KL staying at the Federal Hotel and then 12 nights in Penang staying at Casuarina Beach Hotel in Batu Ferringhi.
We flew Malaysia airlines and thought the service was great. It was quite empty so we had the row to ourselves and kept ourselves occupied on the 11 hour flight by reading, playing on our own little TV screen in each seat and eating the vast amounts of yummy food that we were served. The new airport at KL is absolutely huge! And you need to catch a train from your airplane to customs etc. The airport is also quite far from the city and takes around an hour to get to the city centre.
We both enjoyed the Federal, nice staff and rooms and in an excellent location. We were in walking distance to all the gigantic shopping malls and just down the road from BB plaza. We indulged in a swim in the hotel pool and gorged ourselves in the magnificent breakfast on offer, plenty of food and a good range especially of Malaysian food. It was a bit strange eating Halal food, turkey bacon, chicken ham and beef sausages but we soon got used to it! We did the usual sightseeing (and did I mention shopping?) in our time there.
Getting around on foot could be a bit tricky sometimes but taxis are cheap (if you can find one that uses the meter) and we loved the subway. Fast, cheap and efficient. As a note on taxis in KL, every taxi driver we encountered initially refused to turn the meter on and instead quoted us an outrageous price for our destination. Some just flatly refused to turn it on no matter what we said. We just moved on to the next taxi in the rank (luckily there are no shortages of taxis in KL!). sometimes it took us a couple of tries to get a taxi driver that would turn his meter on but it was all part of the fun. We started catching the taxis from outside our hotel. The security guard took the licence number of every taxi that picked up or dropped off guests so there was never a problem having the meter turned on.
Our highlights in KL were shopping. Bukit Bintang Plaza for her, many a handbag was bought. I couldn't be dragged away from Imbi Plaza. 6 floors of computer hardware and software. Software ranged from 5-8 RM and there were some good prices on hardware. Outside Low Yat Plaza is Beetles Bar, where many a drink and cocktail was had. It was our favourite drinking spot and we loved the fans that sprayed water on you while you drank. Food, we thought the best food could be found in China Town night market, BB Park and the food court in BB Plaza. China Town was very busy and we were a bit disappointed with the shopping, expensive compared to Penang. There were also a large number of beggars in Chinatown, which was a bit off putting. Merdeka Square - well worth a look and a really nice part of town
Petronas Twin Towers! These are absolutely HUGE! We tried to go up to the viewing deck between the buildings but were too late to get a ticket. You need to be there by around 9am to get a ticket for the 12pm assent. The shopping malls within the giant structures are quite bewildering because of their sheer vastness (did I mention the towers were big?)
Penang. It was still light when we flew into Penang so we were able to get a nice birdseye view of the island with its mountainous bush clad interior, developed coast and of course the enormous bridge to the mainland. The trip from the airport to Batu Ferringhi takes about an hour, mainly because the road is so windy and that traffic can be quite heavy. We were staying at the Casuarina Beach Hotel and we liked the location and facilities. The are friendly and helpful and all the rooms have a sea view. There is a pool area that seems a bit small for the size of the hotel but we had no problems, as the hotel wasn't very crowded.
Mainly an older crowd at the Casuarina, lots of British and the occasional Aussie and Kiwi like myself. The pool bar has a good happy hour from 6-9pm where drinks are on a two-for-one basis and an excellent 3-piece band plays. Beware of drinking in the hotel however, liquor pieces are at least double those charged outside the hotel. Breakfast (which we had included in our package) was good and plenty of it although I was a bit disappointed with the range of Malaysian food on offer, it was definitely geared to the western palate.
All the rooms have a good sized balcony which we made good use of, sipping ice cold beer and taking in the fantastic view. Word of warning, watch out for the evil looking crows that hover around! Beer and other supplies like milk etc. can easily be replenished at a number of minmarts along the main strip. We shopped at the minimart nearest the Casuarina that we found to have the best prices of anywhere. We used the hotel to book ourselves a massage (he was good - no-pain-no-gain he told me) and a go on a jetski. It was my first time on one and I absolutely loved it! Cost 70 Rm. for 40 minutes if I remember rightly.
The beach certainly looked nice but we didn't venture in for a swim. There were signs up warning of jellyfish and the sea looked quite polluted.
Restaurants. What would a trip report on Penang be like without a mention of food! There are an enormous number of eating and drinking places along Batu Ferringhi and all the big hotels have their own bars and restaurants. We tried quite a few but by no means all of them. Here is a list of the ones that we really enjoyed, in no particular order: Fantasy, mainly seafood (which I have to admit I don't like) with excellent service and good food. Bit on the pricey side. Jasmine's Kitchen. One of our top favourites. They have an open kitchen so you can watch them cook while you eat. Service is good and their food (especially the Indian) is fantastic. Prices are moderate-to high Moghul Arch. They have an extensive Indian menu with very reasonable prices. The place is quite hard to find however despite the 2-meter high illuminated sign which is why it was deserted the time we went. They are down an alleyway and next to the only ATM in Batu Ferringhi. It certainly deserves more business than it gets. Atap Leaf. We liked this place for lunch. Pleasant surroundings, cheap food but a somewhat limited menu Boatman Seafood - not the flashiest of places but good food for lunch or a snack. Cheap prices especially for beer (under 4 RM a bottle). We had an excellent Captain curry and Beef Rendang (my favourite!). Anthony's Place. More a bar that serves food this place is a great late night hangout, cold beer and really friendly staff. Long Beach Cafe, last but not least. This place was by far and away our favourite eating place! Not a single cafe as such, it consists of a number of food stalls grouped around a shared seating area. The seating is under cover and has an extensive array of ceiling fans to keep you cool. Waiters\waitresses come to your table to take your drink orders and there are even big screen TVs to keep you occupied! To order food all you need to do is go to the stall that takes your fancy, tell them where you are sitting and they will bring it to you when ready. You can try any number of dishes - Indian, Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, seafood, Italian and others. Try and experiment - the food is so cheap you can always get something else if you don't like it! All the stallholders are most helpful in explaining their dishes and the standard of the food is extremely high. I could stuff myself silly for under 10RM! There is a similar food court next door but we found this one to be the best and you must try it! This is by no means an extensive list just some of our favourite places. There were many other places we liked and many we definitely didn't like! If anyone wants more details they are most welcome to contact me through the forum or by email.
Part Two Here it is - the final part of our trip report, hope you enjoy it! Part II Sightseeing. We did the usual tourist thing and tried to take in the sites. Butterfly farm- we caught a taxi from our hotel that cost us 10 RM - what a rip off! We caught a bus back that stopped right outside our hotel for 1.40 RM! The ticket price is 10RM but if you want to bring a camera in it will cost extra! We enjoyed this place. Tons of butterflies and moths. I am not a butterfly expert (quite the opposite in fact) but I was impressed. There are also cages full of centipedes, lizards and scorpions (my favourite). Warning though, this place is hot and humid and it was a relief to go indoors to the air-conditioning. Inside were a zoo and insect display including the beautiful and the truly hideous. The highlight for me was the Tarantulas, giant roaches and weird lizards. There is also a good tourist shop where we purchased a few insect-based souvenirs, and an art gallery/antique store. Certainly a worthwhile visit.
Just down the road is an Orchid farm which is open for viewing, It cost 2 RM per person entrance fee but that does not include any guidance on the varieties of orchids present, and there we numerous! I had had enough of the heat by that time and flowers aren't really my thing, although Nyree took a few photos of the more spectacular specimens.
Tropical Fruit Farm - this costs 30RM per person but does include transport to and from your hotel in the "fruit bus" so it was good value we thought (the farm is quite a distance form Batu Ferringhi). Bookings are essential so make sure you give them a call the day before. The farm is situated on a hill and you are driven to the top and slowly make your way down. We were all issued with huge fruit farm hats and introduced to our guide called "double-oh-one". The top of the hill is a more temperate climate and has fruit from those climes growing there e.g. apples and pears. As you make your way down the hill the temperature becomes hotter and the fruit more exotic. We got to see various species of figs, coffee, bananas, cacti and all kinds of fruit we had never seen nor heard of before Ð fantastic. Our guide was brilliant, informative and highly amusing at the same time. He had just come back from a two-week holiday in New Zealand so we had a lot to talk about. Our group consisted on my- self and Nyree, an Australian couple and a Saudi couple and we all appreciated our guides humour and vast knowledge. At the end of the trip (which takes a couple of hours) each person gets to eat a huge plate of tropical fruit, including the more exotic varieties we had just seen on our tour, like the yummy "dragon fruit". There is also a shop were we purchased a few papayas and mangoes for later.
Like all good tourists we chose to go to Penang Hill. Unfortunately for us, the local school holidays had started and both times we tried to catch the train the queues of school children stretched for miles. In the end we gave up, a shame as I had read so much about Penang Hill through this forum.
Kek Lok Si temple. We were both very impressed and took heaps of photos. The splendour and grandeur of this place makes it a "must see". We climbed the pagoda of 10000 Buddhas and took in the magnificent view. By the end of the tour we were hot and tired (it takes quite a while to get through the entire complex) but thoroughly impressed.
Botanical Gardens. The first thing that struck us was the sheer number of monkeys around! We expected to see some but not quite this many! As it was school holidays and the park was crowded with children and we were entertained by the sight of the monkeys stealing their ice creams and creating havoc - most amusing! The plants and flowers we attractive but they were all locked away in cages which made viewing them difficult, I guess that had to be because of those pesky monkeys! Georgetown - We took advantage of our hotel shuttle for a few visits to the "big smoke".
We went to KOMTAR which was pretty run down but in the middle of renovations while we were there. We enjoyed the shopping in the malls, especially for clothing (and computer games of course!). In general the prices and range was better than that available in Batu Ferringhi, which I guess is no surprise. We visited Little India and Chinatown that were amazing just to look at. Each little side street had a unique feel about it and there were numerous tiny shops selling all kinds of weird and wonderful clothes, food and trinkets. We found an entire mall/alleyway that sold nothing but cloth, I can't remember the name of it, sorry - Kayes maybe able to help. The place was teeming with huge bolts of cloth especially silk. After some lengthy bargaining Nyree purchased some beautiful lengths of silk for a fantastic price which she later had made into skirts.
It was very hot walking around town (I even got sunburnt for my first and only time Penang) and we headed for the waterfront for an iced tea and a bowl of noodles at a stall near Fort Cornwallis. We investigated the fort that can be reached through a side door in the wall, not actually that easy to find. I am a history buff so I enjoyed looking around, although there isn't actually that much to see.
Then we took a trishaw ride. I wanted to go all the way to KOMTAR, but before we got their Nyree made us get out. She didn't like all the traffic and was concerned the poor driver might die of heart attack! He was pretty old and making wheezing sounds at the effort of pushing my vast bulk (I had to squat up on top, as I couldn't fit into the seat - how embarrassing!). As we had agreed on the trip to KOMTAR we felt obliged to pay him the full amount even though we exited early - oh well! On one of our last nights in Penang we went into George Town for dinner at Gurney Drive. George Town certainly comes alive at night and Gurney drive was absolutely humming with people, lights and activity. The food was spectacular - hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of food and at really cheap prices. I had the best satays I have ever tasted, magnificent laksa and for dessert an enormous number of banana pancakes with coconut. The standard of the stalls was extremely high and we spent ages just wondering round and taking in the sights and smells, we also took some excellent photos. A couple of hours later, stuffed, satisfied and well watered (with beer) we took a taxi back to Batu Ferringhi.
Next time we are in Penang (and there will be a next time) we might stay some of the time in Georgetown rather than going straight to Batu Ferringhi. We felt we didn't really explore all that George Town had to offer and it was inconvenient to travel there all the time from Batu Ferringhi. One night we came back from dinner and switched the TV on in time to see two aeroplanes crash into the World Trade Centre! A number of the hotel guests had their travel plans upset and we closely followed the crisis in the Malaysian press. Further chaos was caused with the announcement that Ansett Australia had gone bankrupt and would no longer operate! Our hotel had large contingent of Australians and many of them suddenly found themselves with no connecting flight for their trip back. The hotel posted news reports on their notice board to keep everyone informed, even the story that The New Zealand Prime Minister had been blockaded at an Australian airport and had to escape from the angry Ansett workers by helicopter! (Ansett Australian was New Zealand owned). Thankfully our flight plans were uninterrupted, although we expected tight security checks.
Penang airport seemed to be business as usual, which was just as well as I left my newly made suit in the back of the airport shuttle! Luckily the driver turned around and delivered it to us just as we finished checking in! Huge thanks goes to that Tour East staff member - I was most grateful for his effort! KL Airport was a different story. Our flight had been delayed in Penang and was further delayed by a couple of hours in KL due to new security measures. Although we were sad to leave we were pleased to finally get on the plane and in the air! We were more fortunate than the English couple we befriended while in Penang. They had to fly out at 4:30am and they hadn't finished drinking with us until after 1am! They forgot to pick up their photos in the rush and we had collect them ourselves and put them in the post. That is enough ranting from me.
All I can say is that Penang was our best holiday ever. The people were remarkably friendly, the shopping was good, the food amazing and the beer was cold. What more could you want? If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask via this forum or by email. Cheers James Rock