Category Archives: Travel

3 Days / 2 Nights in Penang, Malaysia

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Review of a Little Hidden Gem called Nagisa Tei in Penang

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Review of Padang Brown Food Court, Penang

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Insight Penang

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Launched of Insightpenang, http://www.insightpenang.com

Katong district, Singapore

I never expected that I will really enjoy my overnight stay in Singapore. It was a stopover transit on my way back to Melbourne. I did some research on the hotels nearest to the Changi Airport and came across Village Hotel Katong. My requirements are simple – hotel must be nice and clean at a reasonable price and walking distance to shops and food outlets. Everything else doesn’t matter as it is only an overnight stay.

On arrival at Village Hotel Katong, it was more than I expected. The hotel is new. The lobby area is welcoming. The Front Desk staff friendly and efficient. I was offered an upgrade to the club package which includes the use of the club lounge, breakfast and a gorgeous large room with a free standing egg shell bath tub in the living area of the bedroom. All these perks at an extra Singapore $50.

After check in and settling into my room, I freshen up a bit, went to check the club lounge and hotel facilities. Then, went for a walk along the main road, East Coast Road, in search of something to eat. There are a number of modern cafes, restaurants, open bars and a handful of traditional shops, including one which will stay with me for a long time. This one, with a big signage “Glory Catering”, has a selection of homemade nyonya kuih on a stand in front of the shop. Behind the stand is the Poh Piah station and the main food counter selling a range of Indonesian nasi padang curry dishes, noodle dishes from mee siam to mee rebus and nyonya laksa. Everything looks delicious. I settled for a bowl of “mee rebus”, which I haven’t had for many, many years. I also ordered one serve of poh piah. Drink a homemade barley as a cooling drink. I knew the food will be good as I stepped into the restaurant. It’s raw and authentic. It is nothing like one of the modern establishments down the road. But, what I didn’t expect was that the food and drink I had were more than just good. They were much, much better than I expected! If I were to live in Singapore, I would have to go back again and again to eat at this place, or to take home some of the poh piah to snack. The nyonya kuih were delicious too, which I had to take away 2 slices to try. The food and drink cost Singapore $8.20 and the two pieces of kuih cost Singapore $1.20. Unbelievable. I never knew such good food and price still exist in Singapore. As I left, I had to tell the “uncle” and “auntie” that I really enjoyed the food. The uncle who was making the poh piah was well dressed. He told me that he has been making the food for over 40 years! It looks like a family establishment that has been passed down a few generations because the taste and flavour are very authentic.
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I am impressed with Katong district. Walking around the neighbourhood streets is interesting. They are clean and green, beautiful “peranakan” terrace houses and bungalow houses. The area looks wealthy. It is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of glitzy Singapore city.

In the evening, I walked a bit further and came across “Joo Chiak Road” which is a long stretch of road dotted with bars, karaoke nightclubs, restaurants and and Indian’s grocer! This is old and new Singapore. There were a number of expatriates drinking at some of the open bars. The karaoke nightclubs are completely “black out” on the outside. They looked sleazy.

I had a simple traditional Chinese open air restaurant serving a range of dishes. It was a nice and simple dinner that cost only Singapore $6.50 and the barley drink $1. Singapore is affordable if one lives outside the city.
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Teochew Puppet and Opera House Penang

Every time I went back to Penang, I will made it a point to walk around the old part of George Town. There is always something new to discover – whether it is a street art, cafe or shop. This time, there is no difference. I found a few new places. It was only 4 months ago since I walked around the old town. It is easy to walk around the little streets and back lanes of old town. Some streets are busier than others. The motor vehicles usually moves at a slow pace due to the narrow streets. It is quite safe to walk or to cycle.

There were many local and interstate tourists, Chinese and Malay alike, when I was there. I was told it was the school holiday. People were walking slowly and some were on hired bicycles. Most of them were looking for Penang’s famous street arts. It’s like playing a “hide and seek” find me if you can. In the hot and humid weather, it is not ideal for those who cannot take the heat. Some Chinese women were holding an umbrella sheltering from the heat. Their thinking is that “dark” is not “beautiful”. Fair skin is “nice” and perceived as an educated and refined lady. Dark skin is associated with “hard life” doing hard labour work underneath the sun. To me, that is nonsense. Some were born with a darker complexion that others. Some prefer to sun-bathed and have a nicer tone to their skin colour. After all, some sun is good with a bit of vitamin D.

Yesterday I walked around the old town for almost 3 hours. I took my time to explore the area with a little break now and then for a refreshment and snack. I found a nice traditional Cantonese pastry shop where they make a variety of “piah” (chinese biscuits) filled with sweet and savoury ingredients, “pau” (dumplings) and Chinese herbal drinks. All freshly made on the premise. I found some street arts that I have missed previously. But, the most interesting find of all has to be the Teochew museum located at 122 Armenian Street, George Town. The place is called Teochew Puppet and Opera House. It has a wide collection of iron rod teochew puppets, full dress costumes and head gears, musical instruments and an opera stage for scheduled live performance.

Teochew opera is extremely popular in olden days of Penang and usually performed at an outdoor mock-up stage to coincide with some religious festivals. The performances are not only for the human but for the Chinese deities and the “after life”. I am glad to see a place like the Teochew Puppet and Opera House, which brings back the culture and heritage to the main stream, housed in a prewar terraced double storey shophouse in a heritage protected zone area gazetted by UNESCO. It is privately owned and operated by the the 5th generation of the Kim Giak Low Choon (KGLC) Teochew Opera Troupe. All the collections in the museum were privately owned by the Goh’s family over the generations.

Ling Goh, the current owner, learnt her art forms from the age of 8. She learnt the art of opera and puppetry from her mother, who has performed in puppet show for over 50 years. She is passionate about her culture, heritage and art performances that spurred her into opening this wonderful place to share with the public. There is a small entrance fee to keep her business viable and going. I am not sure if there is any fundings from the government. I suspected there is none as this is a privately owned business driven by passion and love to preserve the art forms. However, I wish the state government, especially the tourism and cultural minister, will support and encourage a place like this.

The Teochew opera or Chinese opera is one of the oldest dramatic art forms, combines literature, music and drama with elaborate costumes and lots of make-up. The singing and music have high-pitched notes. The performance comes with stories that were told and retold for centuries – A General frames a minister and has every first-born in a village killed. A jilted lover poisons the person she holds responsible for her misery. A poor farmer gets caught up, unwittingly, in the state’s secret affairs and corruption.

Ling Goh usually plays the main character. Her skills are very versatile – she can performs as a woman, a man, an elderly – all of which were done elaborately through the costume, headgear and facial make-up. Her story is usually told through iron-rod puppets controlled by skilled puppeteers – truly a family event as Goh’s parents, brothers, nieces and sister-in-law are involved, their ages ranging from 12 to 71 years old. Her niece is now learning the art forms to carry on the Goh’s tradition into the 6th Generation! This is incredible and deserves an accolade of awards.

I was very lucky to have met Ling Goh and her staff and volunteers. They are very passionate and happy to share their knowledge and history. Every single piece of the collections in the museum has a story to tell. It is worth the visit and take some time to relax and have a chat with either one of them, including a guided tour of the collections.

They have a Facebook Page, which you can Like to find out of their latest news and scheduled performance.

The Teochew Puppet and Opera House is located at 122 Armenian Street, George Town, Penang.

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Trip to Batu Ferringhi

Batu Ferringhi is a popular beach destination in Penang among the tourists as well as the locals. It is not an ideal swimming beach in comparison with other better beaches in Asia. But, it is popular with some of the best and well known beach resorts including – Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa and Golden Sand Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, Holiday Inn, Parkroyal and a few more dotted along the beach from Tanjung Bungah to Batu Ferringhi. The stretch along Batu Ferringhi Road starting at the Rasa Sayang ending at the Bayview Beach Hotel is famous at night time for its “Pasar Malam” aka the Night Market, selling everything from fake watches to lady handbags, clothing and souvenirs. This is the place to buy your fake goods if you are not planning to visit Thailand; otherwise, save some of your money for serious shopping in Bangkok. Bargain is a must at the night market. This is the time to test your skill.

In daytime, Batu Ferringhi is quiet and layback with most tourists making their way into George Town for the heritage and culture, or shopping at one of the malls. Some will laze at the resort pool or the beach. There is nothing else happening and most shops, hawker centres and restaurants are shut in the daytime.

I grew up in Penang loving the beach at Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi. On my past trips to Penang, I will go back to Batu Ferringhi but only at night for the night market. This time, I told myself I must visit Batu Ferringhi in the day to recollect my memory when I was at my teenage years. It is very easy to get to Batu Ferringhi by taking the 101 RapidPenang bus from Komtar bus terminal. It costs $2.70 Malaysian Ringgit, which is slightly less than $1 Aussie dollar. There is regular buses that run every 10-15 minutes. The trip depending on the traffic may take between 30 minutes to 45 minutes.

The road leading to Batu Ferringhi is winding next to the coast line. Be prepared for a thrill in the bus as the driver is used to the winding road, driving at fast speed. All the hotels along Batu Ferringhi road is on the beach, except one of Holiday Inn’s building which is on the left with a connecting sheltered pedestrian bridge to the other building at the beach. Get off at any of the stops after the Rasa Sayang Spa Resort. I stopped right after the Holiday Inn in front of Park Royal. There is a small street leading to the beach after Park Royal. You will see a few Malay food stalls.
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The thing I like most about Batu Ferringhi is the sand. It is very fine and soft. On a hot day, which is almost everyday, walking on the sand is like walking on a hot burning coal! I had to sprint my two little feet as fast as I could to the cooler part of the beach, which is either in a shade or near the water. The day when I was there, it was a Friday. It was quiet with occasional tourists and some local Malays.
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After a long walk on the beach and sweating like mad with a sticky body, I walked back onto the road. I remember there is a small waterfall that I used to go for a bath after swimming at the beach. It is a short 15 minutes walk from the road across from the Bayview Beach Hotel. There is no sign as there is a private property below the waterfall that belongs to a Chinese family with a small fish farm. I don’t remember seeing this place when I was there the last time, which was probably more than 3 decades ago. There was a bit of construction happening in the area with a bulldozer clearing some rocks and dirt, which is unfortunate as the area was covered in greenery in the past. Now part of the walk, I could see some destruction to the virgin jungle and track. P1160656
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I was lucky that there was water cascading down the small rocky hill. During the dry season, it can be quite dry. It was peaceful and quiet. I had the whole place to myself, sunbathing for a couple of hours, cooling down in my own “organic” bath tub with the waterfall showering onto my head and shoulder. It was as close to the nature as I can get in Penang on this trip. A memorable moment to cherish for a long time.
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