My Favourite Destinations of 2015 – Part 1

In 2015 I was crazy enough to visit nine different countries (Dominican Republic, Belize, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Turkey, Thailand, The Philippines and Malaysia). That’s kind of a lot, don’t you think? And while they all hold a special place in my heart for different reasons my next few blogs will give you insight into my favourites and why you should visit!

Penang, Malaysia
Funny enough, at the top of my list for places you should visit, is a lovely island that I had never heard of before I went to the Philippines in October / November 2015. In fact, I knew very little about Malaysia at all, other than the bad press Malaysian airlines has had. In the Philippines I met several other travellers who had wonderful things to say about Malaysia and ended up finding out why for myself!

I had no intentions of visiting Malaysia, but when we needed to book a flight out of the Philippines on short notice, Kuala Lumpur was an easy solution. Honestly, it was only planned to be a landing spot and then to take off again for the Thai Islands.

The fun thing about an un-plan though, is that it is fluid and changes as you go. Sometimes (like the aforementioned need for a short notice flight decision), it isn’t so much fun. But, sometimes, you end up falling in love with where you end up!

When my friend Robin and I decided to stay in Malaysia for a few days, seeing as we were passing through anyway, I had no idea I would enjoy it so much. We had planned to go to an island by the name of Langkawi, but it turned out to be a little difficult to organize on short notice. So, in the end we headed to George town on the island of Penang.

Our first introduction to George town was our amazing Air BnB host, Edward, who picked us up after midnight on a weekday from the ferry and then stopped at the best little hawker spot on the way home so that we could grab dinner.

Best. Wonton Soup. Ever.

Our next few days were filled with hot hot hot weather, late afternoon rain storms, funky cafes, cheap and delicious street food, the beach, markets, street art, the coolest little postcard shop and a night out with some crazy (fun) new friends.

WHY DO I THINK YOU SHOULD VISIT?
If the reasons I listed above are not enough, here’s the best reason. Malaysia isn’t as much about what you will see, but more about what you’ll learn. In my few short days in Malaysia, I learned of a world where acceptance of one another as humans actually exists.  The Malay people live alongside people from India, China, Thailand and everywhere in between and the all just get along. Their festivals are open for celebration by anyone and it’s nothing to see a young Chinese man having a laugh with an elderly East Indian woman. You’ll see groups of young friends who look like United Colors of Beneton ads and that’s just the way life is. No one questions it. Religion is taken seriously, but does not create a divide between people. Although there are specific areas, such as Little India and Chinatown that have a higher population of one race, there is a culmination of all races in every area. If you are looking for a place where love is the answer no matter your color, you’ll find it in Malaysia.

If you are looking to eat your face off. You’ll find that in Malaysia too. I only wish I had taken more pictures of the drool-worthy delights! Whether you crave Asian-style noodles or curries from East India … if you want your meals presented in a plastic bag or looking like they came from the world’s best chef … you’ll find it all in George town. Go ahead, eat small meals all day … eat, eat and eat some more. The food is delicious, cheap and plentiful!

GETTING THERE:
From Kuala Lumpur, Robin and I decided to travel by land and ferry to Penang. We booked our tickets online two days in advance for about 60 RM each. We arrived at Kuala Lumpur Central Station about two hours before our departure, which proved to be an hour too long.

The trains are new, clean and comfortable (although a bit chilly). The food selection left a lot to be desired, so take snacks with you. We spent about four hours on the train and got off at Butterworth Station. The pedway to the ferry terminal was under construction, so we were taken via free shuttle, which was probably better with my big suitcase as it was a bit further to walk than we expected. We were dropped at the check in for the ferry terminal, paid our 2.50 RM and waited only about 15 minutes to board the ferry. You pay the ferry fee only on the way to Penang, there is no charge for the return trip to the mainland. The ferry crossing itself takes about 15 minutes to the island. We arrived in George town just after midnight and were picked up by our Air BnB host. Although, there were lots of taxis present if you needed to catch one.

THINGS TO DO IN OR NEAR GEORGE TOWN:
Clan Jetties
– Century-old, houses on stilts which are the last remaining old Chinese settlements on the islands. Originally there were seven small villages, but one was lost to fire, so there are six remaining that you can visit.
Sunday Market on Upper Penang Road which becomes pedestrian only from 9am – 4pm on the last Sunday of the month – handicrafts, food, entertainment. It’s a great spot to buy unique souvenirs and don’t miss the coconut ice cream. It was my favourite!
101 Stray Cats – George town is well known for it’s street art, but my favorite installation is the 101 Stray Cats project that was done to bring awareness and promote helping animals in need. Here’s a great little article and map if you want to find them all!
New Lane Hawker Centre – Penang is famous for it’s hawker (street) food. Even our street food guide in Kuala Lumpur raved about the amazing food in Penang! My favorite hawker centre was on Lorong Baru and it happened to only be about a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. About 20 stalls serving up every type of street food you can imagine, with my favourites being chicken satays and won ton soup. Ok ok, I’m not the most adventurous, but it was sooooo yummy! Check out other hawker spots here. I also visited Just Food. It is a food court in a fancy shopping centre. Food is good and almost as cheap as the streets, but the atmosphere is more upscale and doesn’t give you the ‘real’ feel for street food life. However, in the midst of late afternoon rains, it is a great alternative to the outdoor markets.
Bars / Restaurants:
Love Bites – I had delicious pizza baked on a light, flaky crust drizzled with balsamic – yum!  Piknik Everyday – The chocolate waffles – need I say more?
Black Kettle – I had a nice chicken sandwich that was fresh and tasty. Super friendly staff as well.
China House – Great spot to relax and take in some live music in the evening. Apparently their cakes are to die for, but I didn’t try them … you should!
Ferringhi Beach – Known locally as Batu Ferringhi, it is the second most popular destination on Penang Island. We were warned that the beach would be busy because we were there at the beginning of their summer holidays. However, it was far from busy in comparison to beaches in Southern Thailand for example. There was lots of space for everyone in the sun or in the shade. In fact, I wouldn’t have called it busy at all. It was quite tranquil, other than the myriad of vendors selling parasailing. Sadly, I didn’t know about the ‘legendary’ night market, or I would have stayed for the evening!
Penang National Park –  With Jungle trekking, monkey beach and a turtle sanctuary, the national park is a great spot to feel at one with nature and get some exercise. Just make sure you take lots of water, insect repellant and your swim suit!

GETTING AROUND:
Download the Uber app on your phone for taxis (use my promo code (sharit146ue) and you’ll get a credit for your first ride!)- It was my very first experience using Uber and we had nothing but success. Cars were clean and tidy, drivers were super friendly, cost was about 1/2 price of the regular taxis and payment is made by credit card rather than having to carry cash. No bartering, no haggling, just simple.

Buses to (Batu) Ferringhi Beach
Cost – 2.70 RM – each way from George town

Inspired to get your travel on? Think Malaysia might be the place for you?
I’d love to chat about my experiences there and help you plan your perfect South East Asian Adventure or Vacation. Get in touch at stucker@tpi.ca

** This is not a sponsored post. None of the suppliers, locations or restaurants have in any way paid to be mentioned. They are just fabulous and I thought they were worth talking about!

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