Unbelievable! Where has the time gone? Since returning from Penang, and my last post which was only a week ago, I hardly have the time to write my next post with time taking me to Brisbane on a work conference for 3 days. Hopefully life will return to its normality with almost half of January gone.
It seems my last trip to Penang on 23rd December 2012 was a long time ago, but it was only 3 weeks. I remember when I arrived at the Melbourne International Airport for my MAS flight to Penang via KL (Kuala Lumpur) on a Sunday mid morning, there was a large crowd of mainland Chinese (China) tourists. The proportion of the Chinese at the airport at that time outnumbered the caucasians – at the checkin counters, immigration counters and VAT counters for GST refund. I could have mistaken myself at a Chinese airport. The fact was there were a couple of departure flights to China! Melbourne has become a popular tourist and investment destination for the mainland Chinese. I can spot them from a distance.
I was glad and relieved once I made it through the immigration. Going through the airport – queuing, waiting, bag checkin, immigration, body search, X-ray scanning, hand luggage drug swipe, answering questions, flights delay – all those are quite daunting for any travellers. And, travelling during the Christmas festive season is the worse time with a busier airport. But the thoughts of arriving at my destination was worth all the travel pains that came with it.
I spent my entire Christmas and New Year almost 2 weeks break in Penang, with a trip up to Penang Hill and a country visit to Balik Pulau. I spent a fair bit of time waking up early in the morning and taking a stroll along the coast near where I stayed – the east coast of Penang island overlooking a small island, Pulau Jerejak (“Pulau” means Island). The weather in Penang during my visit was surprisingly pleasant. Much better than I can remember – it was breezy with cool evening and morning with a mildly hot temperature in the afternoon and lower humidity than normal. Some morning were the best I can remember – an experience of a visible large full moon setting behind a distant hill, and an eagle feeding its morning catch of a small wetland monitor lizard on top of my building. My partner and I revisited Balik Pulau on this trip by taking a RapidPenang bus for a fare of only Malaysian Ringgit $2.70 (less than AUD$1) from Queensbay. Bus number 401E. Balik Pulau is located on the western side of the island – probably the last remaining old township on the island that managed to escape the big developers massive commercialism and destruction. The municipal surrounding is rich in history and cultural values with vast pasture farmlands of fruit plantations, herb farms, goat farm, paddy fields and traditional Chinese and Malay fishing villages. It is an inland township close to the west coast of the island with stunning surrounding hills, state forests and the best sunset view. I love Balik Pulau and its layback lifestyle. But, land on the island has become so scarce that before long Balik Pulau may grow and prosper into another big satellite town due to its proximity to Penang second bridge opening in the middle of this year 2013. There are historic buildings and place of worships from the 1882 water fountain in the middle of the town to period colonial mosque, church and Chinese temple. The historic water fountain has 2 lion heads where water runs into the smallest roundabout.
Balik Pulau is well known for its Penang laksa – Asam Laksa and Siam Laksa at the Nan Guang kopitiam. A bowl cost Malaysian Ringgit $3.50 or AUD$1.20. This coffee shop is also popular with its Nutmeg juice with sour plum, which is an unusual acquired taste but refreshing for the hot and humid weather. This side of the main street in Balik Pulau has predominantly Chinese shops.
The other two streets from the roundabout have mostly Malay and Hindu Muslim shops. That was where I came about a Malay coffee shop in front of the roundabout, simply called the “Restoran Roundabout”, that sells nasi campur (rice with curries) and the traditional mee goreng and mee rebus. It was a first time I have tried the mee goreng in this shop. It was probably one of the best mee goreng I had so far in Penang. Perfect with a glass of hot “teh tarik”. Balik Pulau reminded me so much about my time living in the countryside of Tasmania. It feels layback and relax with a slower pace and lesser traffic. One day I hope to come back again to Balik Pulau and explore this part of the island a bit further.
In the next posts, I will write on the few restaurants that I have visited in my last Penang visit. Though I spent most of my meal eating the Penang famous street food.