More stressful than grad school

Today was cooking class day. We were picked up from our apartment at 9 am and were taken to a wet market for a tour. We were joined by two women from Hong Kong, a couple from Australia, and two men from England. Our cooking class instructor was Pearly – a member of the Baba Nyona community. This means that she has Chinese-Malay ancestry and her family has been in Penang for many generations. They speak a local language that is a combination of Chinese, Malay and English all mashed together.

At the market Pearly showed us many different items and explained their health benefits according to Chinese medicinal traditions. The British diabetes specialist nodded politely as she explained how eating this particular item would cure diabetes within three days (or something of that nature). Of Asian descent himself, apparently he was very used to hearing these arguments from his older relatives.

After poking at the many varieties of ginger and the black chicken, we tasted some local bananas and stepped outside to try some of the hawker snacks. We nommed on banana leaf rice balls stuffed with shrimp paste, crepe-like sweets full of palm sugar and peanuts, and a mashed-rice-turned-noodle that was steamed, then covered in coconut flakes and palm sugar.

We piled into cars and headed back to Pearly’s house (driven by her very nice husband Chandra). After a quick tour of the herb garden, with lots of sniffs and tastes, it was time to cook.

For those of us unaccustomed to the ‘strict Chinese mother’ attitude, Pearly’s sharp tongue came as a bit of a surprise. “My grandmother would have bonked my head if I made such a mess as you!” “What is this?!” “You do it all wrong! Why you don’t listen to me better?!” Three and a half hours of cooking is a long time if this is not what you’re used to. Only the girls from Hong Kong seemed to anticipate Pearly’s thoughts and were praised for being excellent helpers and good Asians. In the end though, we did apparently succeed in finishing the cooking a half hour ‘early’.



We ate our feast around 1:30 pm, by which time we were fairly starved and exhausted. We had cooked four dishes: deep fried pork rolls, a curried chicken stew, stir fried vegetables, and an egg covered in sautéed aromatics. Our favorites were the curry and the egg.


After Chandra very kindly dropped us off at our doorstep, we immediately crashed. Hard.

Two hours later, we dragged ourselves a few doors down to the Armenian Café for some coffee. The Batik Museum is next to our shop, so we decided to take the opportunity to enjoy the art. The variety of styles within the same technique was fascinating. Next stop – more coffee. This time at the China House. We took some time to decompress, read and doodle on the tablecloth (don’t worry, they ask you to).

Since we hadn’t explored anywhere beyond Georgetown, we grabbed an Uber to Batu Ferringhi, a coastal town north of the city. We wandered the night market – which is mostly filled with stalls selling knock-off products: purses, soccer jerseys, watches, fake Beats headphones. I managed to deter Colin from purchasing a drone.

The Uber drive who took us back to Georgetown recommended a hawker stall not far from our house where we could get good Char Kway Teow – which we promptly devoured. We also shared a bowl of Koay Teow soup before heading home for the night.

As an aside, every time we come home I look for our ‘pet’ gecko who lives on the first floor of the house. I met it in the kitchen by the water cooler, but it has since moved into the jewelry shop. It is missing most of its tail so it’s easy to tell which one it is. So of course I googled it to discover that he’s a “Malaysian House Gecko”. Go figure.


Only a few of the deadly sins

Today got off to a bit of a disjointed start – I’d managed to conflate our food tour with our cooking class. The latter starts at 9am and is on Monday, the former started at 5pm and was today. I had convinced myself that the food tour started at 9am today. Luckily, I realized the mistake around 8:15 this morning, only screwing up a chance to sleep in a bit, but nothing more.

Instead, we left the house in an unstressed manner, and found some roti canai, this time stuffed with onions. As an aside, we’ve just learned that, in spite of seeming like a relatively light breakfast, roti canai, being fried in ghee, is rather terrible for your ability to stay alive. Meh.

Shortly after our roti, we ran into a street fair. We’re actually not sure what this one was celebrating – there’s a confluence of related but independent events going on right now. There’s the month long Georgetown festival, the Malaysian independence day, and a month long Chinese holiday. This particular event may have been related to the latter, as it seemed like it was primarily Chinese-Malaysians in attendance. Regardless, there were people dancing in the streets, booths with things we didn’t need to purchase, and a whole street of games from the Gohkaki Childhood Musuem. The idea was to introduce kids to all the games they don’t play anymore – hop scotch, finger paint, duck duck goose (not grey duck), etc. It was kind of awesome. There was also free cotton candy.


We kept wandering, with a loop past Fort Cornwallis and up to the Penang State Museum. The museum does a nice job of explaining the history of the island, and breaking out all the different ethnic groups. We learned a lot that helped us understand some of the different social divisions we’d observed. Also, the museum was only 1 ringgit (25 cents) to enter, which is the bargain of the century.

As we left the museum, it was raining a bit and we were feeling pretty lethargic. We stopped into Wheelers Cafe for a coffee and a snack. Right about the time we got inside, the skies opened with a torrential downpour – luck was on our side. By the time we were ready to leave, the rain was done, so we walked around the corner to the Hainan Temple. On the way there, we made an unexpected discovery – the Purrfect Cat Cafe.


For those that are unfamiliar, a Cat Cafe is a cafe full of cats. You go in, the cats mostly ignore you, then you leave. As you might expect, these are big in Japan (where there are also rabbit cafes, goat cafes, etc). Unfortunately, the cat cafe was too full to take us, but assured us that if we came back in a little bit, we could come in.


We got some smoked pork rice for lunch, poked down some alleys and sought out some street art for a bit, then circled back to the cafe. And lo, there was space. And lo, we went inside. And lo, there were cats. As cats go, these were very nice cats. They ignored us. We took pictures of them. Everyone squee’d.



Suitable cat’d, we set our sights on the clan jetties, which are, as the name implies, jetties that are divided by Chinese clan. They’re still inhabited – which is pretty amazing when you look a little more closely at how they’re held together. Nature is not on the side of the clan jetties.


On our way back towards the apartment, we hit the next street fair of the day. This one was part of All Things Malaysian which was a subcomponent of Georgetown festival. Whew. More booths, more food, more music, with its epicenter on our street. Awesome! We picked up a comic book by a local artist that illustrates a 7 day tour of the region. We also bought a book from a group called “My Date is a Book.” In an effort to keep you from judging a book by its cover, they had a table full of books wrapped in brown paper. Instead of a title, each book was labeled with a quote from the book. We bought a booked labeled “X never ever marks the spot,” remembering the quote from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It ended up being a neat copy of Treasure Island, which I’ve never read. Score.


By this point, it was actually time for our food tour. We went to the meetup spot and met our guide, along with the other people who would be joining us. Two coworkers from Houston, working in Malaysia on a petrochemical project, along with Pakistani writer/PR person who lives in Hong Kong, in town to cover Georgetown Festival. We got in the van and set out for the tour.

We’re going to try to document the tour, for our own memories, but things got a little hazy as the gluttony really kicked in. Our first stop was for some Assam Laksa and green-noodley-dessert-stuff, which almost certainly has an actual name. The laksa was different from the stuff we had yesterday – less fishy, more fruity. From there, we went down to another clan jetty (not one we’d visited) and had prawn fritters, fried tofu, and some sort of fried pork skin roll. The tide had gone out, which meant we could see all the muck under the jetties – sunken boats and all.



DSC04073 DSC04083

Next, we went to a housing project – a series of identical, Soviet-esq (or Cabrini-Green-esq, take your pick) towers, which act as self contained towns (doctors, schools, etc). The parking lot between the towers becomes a home for food stalls in the evening. We had some sort of fried dough with corn and peanuts, glutinous rice balls with shredded prawn, and an Indian pancake.




Next up was New Lane, a famous hawker market. Here’s where things went into overdrive. We had hokkien mee, curry mee, char kway teow, pork satay, and some sort of steamed fish cake.





Then it was off to a vegetarian Indian place for roti with … something … inside, along with a small volcano of thin fried dough. The idea was to tear off bits and cover it in various curries.


Feeling near death, the next round arrived – the much larger volcano of dough, covered in sweetened condensed milk.


Things wrapped up from there, and we walked back towards our apartment. We detoured to explore the street fair a bit more, exploring some galleries and listening to some of the musical performers. So, a pretty packed day, all things considered.

You can’t spell Funicular without at least 8 different letters

This morning Colin woke up early to unbolt the giant wooden front door to “our” shop. It turns out, our apartment is a traditional Chinese shop – with the store in the front room, and the living quarters upstairs. If a customer walked all the way through the shop, they’d end up in our kitchen (there is a NO ENTRY sign taped to a chair preventing this from happening). The property is owned by a British expat (former interior decorator) and the jewelry is made by a Dutch couple who live in town.


For first breakfast, we stopped into a hipster coffee shop called China House for some fancy cakes and coffee. They have a theater in the back of their shop and seem to be very active in the local art scene. As an aside, street art is a big deal here. The most famous of which are by Ernest Zacharevic, however a cat-themed collection by Natthapon Muangkliang, Louise Low and Tang Yeok Khang is also really charming. There are a bazillion more of course and I keep asking Colin to take pictures whenever I spot something new.





OK, so second breakfast – Roti Telur at a street stall about 15 minutes walk from our place. We sat in an alley next to a table full of Harley Davidson guys. Apparently we manage to find a Harley gang in every country we visit. It was a delightful spicy street food breakfast.



We then happened upon a collection of papier-mâché tapirs… which led us to the book launch for “The Mystery of the Missing Tapirs”. Kids were playing a giant board game on the street and a local silversmith created a stunning tapir-themed line of jewelry for the occasion. The author, Patricia G.I. Chew, and the illustrator Ong Lyn-Hui were extremely passionate about the project and I’m excited to read the book.



A quick uber ride later and we found ourselves at Kek Lok Si, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. It’s a sprawling complex, built on a hill (with its own mini-funicular). We poked around the complex and admired the elaborate architecture (those roofs!!).




Below the temple, we wandered along a street to a Laksa stall Colin had bookmarked. Some website had tagged it as the “Best laksa in Penang.” It turned out to be the same stall that Bourdain went to on his No Reservations episode in Penang. We ordered two bowls and shared a table with some local girls. Through some careful creeping, we observed the right way to eat our noodles (piling them onto the spoon with the chopsticks) and devoured our soup.


A 15 minute walk brought us to the base of Penang Hill. We rode the funicular up to the top (quite steep – over a mile of funicular track). The top offers great views of the whole city and on clear days, views to the mainland. It was cool and pleasant up there. There are also all sorts of attractions – a temple, an owl museum, etc. We didn’t linger too long though, as we decided we wanted to try the hike to the botanic gardens.

The map said it was roughly 5 kilometers to the garden, via a road. Everyone said it would take about three hours. Those two numbers don’t really agree, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We started on the road, which drops steeply from the top of the hill through a series of switchbacks. It was pretty brutal on our knees and calves, though probably far more brutal for the walkers and bikers we met going the other way (up).

Eventually, we turned off onto a dirt track, and were immediately surrounded by monkeys. Not just a few monkeys, but a lot of monkeys. Monkeys that seemed none-too-pleased with us. One of them pooped on Colin (or took some series of actions that resulted in poop impacting Colin). Stupid monkeys.



The path became and endless staircase, dropping down, down, down. Over a kilometer of stairs. We’ll be feeling this tomorrow. We saw quite a few hikers going up the other way – brave souls. The path ends inside the botanic garden, conveniently bypassing the ticket booth.

The gardens are an extremely popular destination for locals who are looking to relax with the family, or take advantage of the extensive road network for exercise. We managed to cover the Fern House, Cactus House, Bromeliad House, and the Orchidarium… thankfully Colin noticed as the guard accidentally locked us into the Orchidarium (it was closing time). Another key had to be fetched, but once freed from our beautiful cage, we decided it was probably time to head home.




Our driver was unable to drop us off at the apartment because our street was closed – a market/festival had popped up outside the shop. Apparently this happens every Saturday night and we enjoyed a few crepe-like snacks and an iced coffee while watching a group of children preform Tai Chi.

With no clear destination in mind, we ended up in Little India. The fabrics and colors were stunning – but eventually we needed dinner. We found a street vendor selling more Nasi Kandar next to a mosque. Thinking our night was over, we headed home.

A small alley runs next to our shop – and groups of people were walking that way. We diverted out of curiosity and the alley opened into a square in front of a Chinese clan house called Khoo Kongsi. The same children from earlier in the night were preforming Tai Chi, after which an acrobat(?) performer took center stage. The show was very entertaining.


It’s time to rest up now for our food tour tomorrow.

Transit day

Today was mostly consumed with getting from the Perhentians to Penang. We got up early to catch the ferry, the took a bus to the Kota Bharu airport. That put us at the airport too early for our flight, so we paid ($3/each!) to get into a very cute little lounge with wifi and snacks and comfy chairs.

Our flight ended up getting delayed by an hour or so, but was otherwise uneventful – a short turboprop hop across the peninsula.

Our AirBnB is a funky place – we thought it was above a jewelry shop, but it’s more … part of a jewelry shop. It’s very comfortable (and huge) and will suit us well.

We went out for a quick wander in our neighborhood and stumbled upon the Nasi Kandar stall (“line clear”) from No Reservations. It was delicious and we ate far too much, which is ok.

We’re both pretty exhausted, and just trying to stay awake long enough to turn over the laundry in the clothes dryer. Only 10 more minutes to go…

Freedom Strikes Back

This morning was mostly a repeat of yesterday – up early, quick breakfast, then going our separate ways for a bit. After grabbing an extra cup of coffee, I decided to take my Kindle down the shore a ways. Now, I’m a pretty non-confrontational guy in general. I’m not looking to pick a fight. However, there was a sea eagle who apparently didn’t get the message, and decided he wanted my head. Or perhaps, more accurately, my white hat.


This large, rather pointy bird swooped on me repeatedly, close enough that I touched his feathers. At one point, I had to dive in the sand to avoid him. The old Malaysian guy on the beach thought this was all pretty comical, which in fact it was.

Thankfully, after perhaps 10 minutes of dodging him, I was able to put enough distance between us that he gave up the hunt. A memorable event that thankfully didn’t require stitches.

As a reward for surviving, I treated myself to an iced coffee and a roti canai. Only fair I think.

While I was dodging death from on high, Kat was exploring life below, and will now type words.

The dive today was much more enjoyable than the last two. A pair of Parisians joined us and our group of seven headed off for Sea Bell – a quiet coral mound just south of the small island. The visibility wasn’t great, as per previous dives, so I didn’t bother to bring a camera. With new smaller fins and a borrowed mask, the dive went smoothly. Coral in every direction, giant schools of fish, and no one to bother us. 50 minutes well spent below the sea. A great start to the day.


Once we met back up, we had a quick snack (more roti canai) and then caught a boat to the small island. We loaded up on provisions (cookies, tomato-flavored potato puffs: normal adventurer items) and then set out for some of the more remote beaches. The path to the beaches was cleared as part of the construction of a cell tower and wind farm / solar installation on the peak of the island. It appears they cleared the path by cutting everything down and then burning it, which is a little eery to walk through. It’s now a seriously eroded wash, which is beautiful, if a little uneven. After a steep climb, and a steep descent, we made it to the first beach and had a swim.


The beaches on the west side of the island, being less protected, tend to be rockier and less swimming-friendly than some of the others. We only saw a handful of people at each. From the first beach, it was a short jungle trek to the next.



At this point, we were running a little low on water, so we took an inland trail to the northernmost resort on the island, D’Lagoon. We bought some water, and read all of their helpful signs (every one of which warns about the various ways in which your items are almost certainly going to be stolen). D’Lagoon also has an extensive network of trails intended for their ATVs, which apparently they rent to tourists. This makes the hiking luxurious. We took one back across the island to the last beach, nominally named “turtle beach” (there seem to be a lot of beaches with that name here, so it gets a bit confusing).

We claimed some sand, floated around for a bit, and had some snacks. At this beach, we were almost entirely on our own, and had a great view out to some of the uninhabited islands nearby. We were sad not to have appropriate footwear for wading out over the sharp rocks.

Having reached Peak Adventure, we decided to make the trek back to long beach. We interrupted a few clouded montior lizards basking along the trail home. Although Kat noted a number of butterflies and did her best birder impression, she’ll have to consult with Aunt Deb before she can report on the varieties we saw.



A well-deserved ice cream treat was a must before catching a taxi back to the “good beach” on our island. We floated, snorkeled, and explored some easily accessible reefs, before heading home for a shower (with a quick stop for monkey-watching)


The evening was a laid back time, sipping iced coffees, reading, and bat-watching before heading back to the Belinda cafe for more Thai food. We’ll be heading back to the mainland early in the morning tomorrow, but it’s been a great time on the islands.

Not-So-Deepwater Solo

Day three on the island. Walls are closing in. Everything’s gone gray. You think you know? You don’t.

Wait no, different island. On this one, we got up early so Kat could prep for her dive. Breakfast was roti canai at our hotel (resort? Where’s the line?). It rained all morning, so while Kat dove, I mostly busied myself with some work on our porch. Eventually, the rain cleared and I crawled around the rocks for a while. Even though I can’t see much when I wear the snorkel mask, the water is so clear that there are plenty of fun things to see if you just linger on a rock for a while.


Now we’ll switch voices to Kat for a little bit, so she can talk about diving! (This whole two person blogging thing is weird)

Oh hello! Today our dive site was Sugar Wreck – a ship that sunk in a storm in 2000 carrying a cargo of sugar. We dove the wreck because the Italians I was joining had already been on the island a week and had seen most of the other sites. There were so many divers in the water that we were piled on top of each other. Visibility was very poor and I lost my fin on the descent – but we still had a good time. Josh was nice enough to point out a lovely blue nudibranch for me since I had told him previously they are my favorite. Although feeling a little sheepish for having lost my fin within the first two minutes of the dive (it was later recovered by the waiting boat above), I enjoyed the trip and signed up for the next morning.





Upon returning back to the dock, Colin and I reunited and decided to go on a land adventure. We trekked southeast through the jungle to the other side of the island. I was completely drenched in sweat. We emerged triumphant onto a lovely white sand beach (flora beach) where we shared a chocolate smoothie and some lunch. We decided to take the alternate jungle trek home – and were rewarded by running across a massive water monitor lizard and a few trees full of dusky langur monkeys. Alas, no pictures of the lizard since I yelped with surprise and scared it off before Colin could snap a photo. The monkeys here are absolutely adorable but Colin insists that I can’t take one home.




(Colin again) It’s not like I don’t want a monkey too. I just feel like, given the antisocial tendencies of the dog, introducing another near-human into the house might be stressful.

In any case, after the hike, we cooled off with a blended red bean smoothie (yup) and then hopping in a two person kayak for another trek. We paddled north, around two different points to reach a part of the island we hadn’t yet seen. We don’t know the name of the beach we eventually pulled up on – near one named Turtle Beach, but smaller and more secluded. There are no hotels on the north side of the island, so the only folks around were a few snorkelers that had been dropped off by water taxis.


The beach was gorgeous – huge boulders, great sand, and tons of activity under the water. We snorkeled, poked at the fish, and just floated quite happily. I got to do some climbing, as the boulders had some nice climbable cracks. I even got to jump from the boulder into the water. Not exactly deepwater solo, more like “5 feet jump into some water” but hey, getting closer. There was some crazy geology on the beach too – different magma striations in beautiful patterns.




After lounging around for a while, and eating some Cheezels (onion-ring shaped cheese puffs) we did the return paddle. The rental kayak and aluminum paddles were pretty brutal – not exactly an Eddyline.

Upon returning, we had some mandated “lounge” time, reading our kindles by the water and watching the sunset. Then we had dinner somewhere new – a Thai/Chinese restaurant that made some really delicious Tom Yam and curried glass noodles. It was threatening to storm when we sat down, so they ended up moving us “inside,” which meant a table in the convenience store. It had a certain ambiance.



Tomorrow is our last full day on the island – we’ll do our best to take advantage of it.

SCUBA duba do

Today was day one of SCUBA for Kat, which meant a “refresher dive” to get checked out by the instructor. We had breakfast (roti canai and naan) and then went our separate ways. As an aside, the restaurant uses appropriately large coffee mugs.



While Kat did her course, I checked out the trails on the island. They’re pretty rugged, but cut across the island in a ~4 mile loop.

Along the path, you get to see the water treatment plant (wooo!) and a couple creepy abandoned resorts. I had a bat escort me for a good half an hour – swooping in front of me, then swooping behind. I guess I was a magnet for insects (as per usual). After the hike, I claimed a hunk of rock and read, until Kat got back from her course.


Kat’s turn! The SCUBA refresher dive went as well as can be expected from not having been in the water for three years. I had to complete a bunch of tests, or tasks underwater – I bumbled around a bit but managed to repeat everything enough times to please the instructor. I did get to enjoy some marine life in between tests – plenty of fish, large clams, anemones with clownfish, branching corals, brain corals, large polyp stony corals, and a lovely nudibranch.

After meeting back up and grabbing some lunch next door at Mamas, we hit the beach. Kat brought her mask and snorkel, so we were able to poke around a bit. I can’t see much of anything sans-glasses, but I do believe we saw a number of stingrays, many fish and some nice coral. Kat also got to see a sea turtle and a small black tip reef shark, though they were both beyond my focal distance.

We tried our best at the whole “just relax on a beach” thing, and then, fully relaxed, caught a water taxi to the other island (Kecil) to explore some more. The other island is more backpacker centric – though it looks to be quickly moving upscale, there are still places where you can rent a tent, and the “long beach” area is definitely oriented towards the folks staying up late to party on the beach. As middle aged adults, we turned up our noses.

It wasn’t quite time for dinner yet, so we walked down along a newly-built pier at the north end of the beach. We watched some stingrays and fish avoid some snorkelers, then climbed down to the rocky shore to explore. Both islands are constructed of continental material – ancient magma bodies that have been pushed up to form weathering-resistant plugs above the water. The big island is mostly granite, while the smaller island has both granite and granite-without-quartz (called syenite). We traversed the coast north a bit to look at the formations – an activity made more difficult by Kat’s ankle-length dress. Once well away from the beach swarms, Colin read a book while Kat poked at tide pools. Once hungry enough, we returned to the beach for dinner at Bubu’s restaurant.




The last bit of excitement for the day was the water taxi ride home. It was fully dark by the time we were ready to head back, which meant the fellow driving the motorboat brought along a flashlight. It was pretty surreal to be speeding across the South China Sea under a moonlit sky, using a flashlight for navigation.


Today was mostly about travel, from Kuala Lumpur to Perhentian Besar island on the northeast coast of Malaysia. We met back up with our Uber driver from yesterday for a lift to the airport, then took a quick flight to the other side of the country. From there, it was a ~2 hour van trip, followed by a 40 minute (bouncy, beautiful) boat ride out to the island.


Flying over Malaysia, it was fascinating to see the scale of the palm oil plantations.

There are two main tourist islands here, along with a few smaller unhabited islands. All the activity is on the coast – more than about 100 feet from the shore and it’s just thick, steep jungle, with no human presense. Our resort, like all the resorts, has a dive shop, a restaurant, and some beach.

After getting checked in, we wandered about 10 minutes north to the nicer “swimming beach.” The water is incredible – bathtub warm and crystal clear. It’s a multicultural beach experience, with conservative Muslims mingling with (less conservative) Europeans and Australians. I suppose we fall somewhere in between.


After our swim and some time in a hammock, we wandered the other direction on the island where we got to explore the geology of the island a little. We bought a hat and some weird dried peaches. We did not keep the peaches.


Around dinner time, some big storms rolled in, so we ended up sharing our table with some friendly Italians. For whatever reason, there are a ton of Italians on the island. We had grilled fish and prawns for dinner, though there was some serious chaos from the storms.

Tomorrow, Kat will do her checkout dive, while I explore the island a bit more.

(we’re data constrained for a couple days, so we’ll catch up on pictures later)

Surprising lack of koalas

Today was our day to explore Kuala Lumpur, before continuing on to the islands. We headed out from our hotel in the general direction of “Little India”. We stopped along the way for breakfast in a more traditional Malay neighborhood. After standing awkwardly outside of a cafeteria-like eatery for a few minutes watching the proceedings, Colin led the way. We smiled and pointed and were treated to a delicious breakfast consisting of rice, curry sauce, eggs, little fried fishy bits, beef and chicken. This is a version of nasi kandar which is Malay for “pile of delicious things all mixed up” (more or less). Spicy breakfast is the best.


We continued our wander through some street markets (with a stop for a few mini-donuts). The markets are a mix of food (everything from vegetables to fish) and random consumer goods.


We stopped for a coffee at “Lokl,” a hipster shop that would be happy to serve you a very fancy waffle, were you so inclined. We stuck with coffee and a “smooshie” (which, all things considered, is a very appropriate name for a blended up mix of fruits and yogurt).


Wandering Kuala Lumpur, you’re exposed to a wide range of architecture. It’s a very young city – the vast majority of it has been built in the last 60 years. Even the “old” places in the city are rarely more than 100 years old. The dramatic economic improvements of the last 20 years means there’s also a strong divide between the “poor Malaysia” architecture and the “rich Malaysia” architecture. Mixed in among the skyscrapers and fancy buildings, you find low mosques, temples, and dilapidated buildings.


Our next stop was the National Textile Museum, a free tour through all the types of textile manufacturer techniques in Malaysia. It’s a fantastic place – step by step explanations of each process, with examples of the finished product and all the intermediaries. There was also a room for “adornments” – jewelry. Kat got a little overstimulated.




The reality is that all this “cultural stuff” is mostly just to fill time between meals. Fortunately, by the time we left the textile museum, it was time for lunch. We walked into Chinatown and, after strolling the open air market, found a hawker court (a bunch of vendors organized around some tables) and ordered.



Pork ball soup and curry noodle soup. Along with a couple iced coffees (with sweetened condensed milk). I can’t think of many better ways to spend $4.

After lunch, we realized we had enough time to head to the Batu Caves, which are just north of the city. We hailed an Uber for the ~20 minute ride. The Batu Caves are natural caves in the limestone hill, and are host to a Hindu shrine and various festivals. It’s hard to capture the scale, but this is a seriously large cave.



After climbing a not-insubstanial staircase (with plenty of monkeys), you can head inside and find … well, not a lot really. Just a big empty space in a very cool cave.

Kat for scale






After leaving the main Batu cave, we followed a side path for the “dark cave,” a paid-tour of a separate cave. In the past, it’s been a tourist-trap or trash dump, but it’s recently been taken over by a group focused on conservation and research. We took a 45 minute tour with a very nice young guy who also does research there. The dark cave is home to a number of unique species, as well as over 200,000 bats (both nectar and insect-eating). There’s … a lot of bat guano.









After the tour, it was back to the hotel for a shower and a rest. Then we walked the KLCC park next to the hotel and stopped by the Petronas Towers to check out the view.



We continued along our way to Jalan Alor, a night-market street, for dinner. Fried squid, chicken satay, and garlic beans. An unfortunate experience with “durian crepes” led us to finish the night with coffee ice cream… it barely covered the flavor…



During our walk home, Kat discovered a large cat-like animal slinking through the KLCC park outside the hotel. Unfortunately, she didn’t get the opportunity to snuggle it. After some internet sleuthing, she determined it was a civet. But now, it’s time for bed and another adventure tomorrow.

Down with OPP (Other People’s Pajamas)

I’m currently wearing pajamas. But they’re not my pajamas. They’re loaner pajamas. Such is the wonder of flying in the front row. Thanks to a generous donation of frequent flyer miles from Steve and Judy, we’re currently sitting in fancy-pants seats, wearing slippers, and sipping… well.. water, but we could be sipping fancy things, were we so inclined.

This is one of the longest flights in the world – just shy of the 17 hour haul that Emirates does, though that’s a whole different level of fancy. Even with all this fanciness around us, it’s still wearing on a bit.

I though I’d share a quick little bit more about Malaysia, and why we’re headed there. Malaysia is the melting pot of Southeast Asia, and has been for millenia. It’s a strategic center for trade, even before the Portugeuese and (later) the British showed up. Penang in particular, sitting on the Malacca Strait, is a mix of Indians, Thai, Chinese, and Malay. It also shares a border with the oddity that is Singapore.

Malaysia consists of two landmasses – Peninsular Malaysia, bordered on the north by Thailand, and East Malaysia (Borneo). Borneo, which also surrounds Brunei, is a wilder and far less developed area. We won’t be over there on this trip. The pennisula has a mix of costal development with a more agrarian center – the central highlands. Another region we won’t be hitting on this trip.

We’re really excited to explore the culture and the food, and just enjoy some beach time (not our usual jam). But first, another 7 hours in the plane.