Taste of Hoi An (November 16)

Breakfast of delicious noodles up the road from our guest house at a streetside restaurant (a small cart setup just inside someone’s entryway, and a few tables), followed by fancy coffee at another place (which cost 2x what the noodles had been)

We had made arrangements for a cooking class in the morning. When the car didn’t show up at our guest house as expected, J figured out how to use the lobby phone to call the company. “Car trouble,” they told her. It’ll be there soon. We speculated that they had forgotten about us (or hadn’t been told?), but in any case, a few minutes later, a taxi showed up along with a girl who had us join her. They drove us to the market, where we (she) shopped for ingredients for our class.

Then, over to a small motor boat on the river, which then transferred us to even smaller, round bamboo boats which took us through some pain fronds and to our cooking school. Rub a dub dub…

At the cooking class, they showed us how they used to make rice milk and rice paper sheets (before there were machines to do it all). Then, over to our stations. We made fresh spring rolls (2 kinds), crispy rice pancake (yellow from turmeric, not eggs!), a beef noodle salad, and pho. All were quite delicious.

After lunch, we were taken back into town by mini bus, and got let out in the old city. It was a much hotter, sunny day, and great for walking around. I did some shopping (or looking, anyway) at some art galleries and shops. I stopped for a cold coconut and a neighborhood dog kept watch nearby.


Hoi An in the rain (November 15)

After a breakfast of fancy coffee, juices, and croissants near the river, we split up to do different things – A & E went to go talk with tailors about having some custom clothes made, J went to a gallery, and I checked out some shops near the hotel. And it started raining. Sometimes a light sprinkle, sometimes a torrential downpour, but it didn’t take long before the streets were filled with deep puddles, and my shoes were soaked through.

I met up with J and enjoyed a tasty cappuccino in the back of the gallery, while we waited for the rain to let up a bit. Just a few days ago, the gallery had been flooded with water so deep you’d have had to swim in there. Their cafe wasn’t officially open yet, although it was drying out well, but they were kind enough to open and make some coffee for J (and I) since it was raining out.

When the rain let up a bit, we headed over to the central market for some local food – Cao Lau noodles, white rose dumplings, some vegetable spring rolls, etc. we were there just ahead of the lunch rush, so it was a fairly calm place to eat.

After lunch, we explored several of the nearby shops – J looking at some nice leather bags, and me looking for some cheap Teva knockoffs that would be good to wear in the rain. In the afternoon, we indulged in massages near our guest house, and then people watching while sipping cold beer on one of the side streets.

We met up with A & E in the evening and went to a fixed menu place for dinner, where we got to build our own spring rolls using things like pork skewers, greens, kim chee, and egg pancakes. Messy, but tasty!

HCMC to Hoi An (Tuesday, November 14, 2017)

Our flight to Da Nang, which we had booked for the 11am departure, had been rescheduled to 2:25pm. That left us time for a leisurely morning in HCMC. A and I went to the bank, and stopped for some Korean coconut coffee. Then we split up, and I stumbled across a cute little cafe hidden down a narrow alley, where I tried Vietnamese “egg coffee” – instead of sweetened condensed milk, they use a whipped egg. A bit like soft, sweet, meringue on a cappuccino, it was delicious!

Then we all met back up at the hotel, checked out, and grabbed an Uber to visit the Lunch Lady. Her food stand is definitely a tourist trap, where they charge WAY more than anywhere else for the soup and the appetizers they set on your table, but we still enjoyed the food.

Then, another Uber to the airport and a long wait for our delayed flight. We landed in Da Nang after 5pm, got an Uber to our hotel in Hoi An, and enjoyed a delicious dinner in the old city.

After dark, anyway, we couldn’t see any signs of the previous week’s flooding, and the night markets with lanterns and tourist trinkets were bustling.

Uber HCMC (November 12-13, 2017)

A good couple of days in and around Ho Chi Minh City – and navigation made (mostly) easy with a little help from Uber and Google Translate. Technology is pretty amazing.

We arrived late at night, got some cash from an ATM & I bought a local SIM card for my phone, and then we took a (legit, meter) taxi from the airport to our hotel, and checked in. Although it was around 1am and we were exhausted after about 30 hours of travel, the frenetic energy on our street had us not quite ready to go to bed, so we wandered a bit and found a sidewalk restaurant with spring rolls and cheap beer (SOME of which were even cold!)

Showers, sleep, breakfast at the hotel, and then a trip out to see the Cu Chi tunnels. After talking with the woman at the hotel front desk, we decided to take an Uber out to the less busy site of the tunnels (Ben Duoc). With heavy traffic, it took us 2 hours to go the 30 miles.

The tunnels were very small, and the entrances to some were very well hidden. They had expanded a few of them so that western tourists could fit through, but even so, we had to bend over and squat while walking through. Don’t worry, our guide told us, “the bats are friendly.”

Unlike the underground city I visited a few years ago in Cappadocia, these tunnels were fairly short and were not all interconnected. Not a comfortable long-term living situation, but it sounds like they were an effective tool of war against the Americans…

When we were done at the tunnels and ready to head back into town, there were no taxis to be found, nor any Uber drivers nearby. We waited for awhile for an Uber driver who had accepted the drive (and then didn’t make any moves to get closer to us, even after we waited for something like 20 minutes). After a couple more failed attempts to summon an Uber, we wound up hopping on a bus back towards the city, and were happy to be on board when the rain started.

We got off at a bus station and paused for a late lunch of streetside banh mi before hailing an Uber for the rest of our journey. Rather than head right back to our hotel, we adjusted course and went to the Majestic Hotel, where we enjoyed some fancy cocktails on their rooftop bar, with views of the river and city.

On the 20 minute walk back to our hotel, we spotted a spa with decent rates for massages (where they could accommodate all 4 of us), and some restaurants full of locals (which we returned to for dinner, after our massages). Well fed and relaxed after a long day, we called it a night.

Penang to Petronas to Tokyo

Early start, breakfast of roti canai w/ egg at the Penang airport. 

On time arrival (9:30), but sprinkling in KL. Got my bag quickly (9:45), and went up to departures to see if I could check in for my 2:15pm flight, yet (nope: not until 11:15). 

I’d really like to see the Petronas twin towers before I leave. It seems to have stopped raining. I asked at the information counter about the fastest way to get to the towers, and they confirmed: train. They also said I should allot an hour to get thru security and immigration (since there might be a line). After doing some quick math, I decided it was do-able to visit the towers. 
I swung by the left luggage counter, but it was 30 ringgit to store my bag (whether for 2 hours or 24), so I decided to just bring it with me. Down the elevator to the trains. Tried to use the KLIA ticket machine and yet again it gave an error (while fighting with it, I heard the 2 minute train announcement). By the time I abandoned the machine and bought a ticket from the counter, I hurried thru the ticket gates only to see the 10am train pulling away. Argh!  
Got on the 10:20 train, and immediately began to stress and second-guess myself. Am I crazy to be leaving the airport at this point? And also spending like $25 in train fare for a 5 minute photo op? Why didn’t I just make more of an effort to see the towers when I was in KL, a few days ago!? Then again, I’m not sure when I’ll be back…
I’ll get to KL Sentral at 10:50. The train to KLCC runs every 6 minutes, and it’s a 10min ride. Okay. If I can just catch the 12:00 KLIA express back to the airport, it’ll be good. 
And: yes! Got to KLCC by 11:06, took a few pictures, and was back on the train back to KL Sentral by 11:30. Didn’t quite make the 11:40 KLIA express, but caught the 12:00 with time to spare! Checked in around 12:30 and there wasn’t a bad line at immigration or security. I even had a few minutes to grab a bite to eat at the airport. 
The Petronas towers are cool looking buildings. If/when I make it back to KL, I think I’ll make a point to see them at night. 

So, that’s all the time I have in Malaysia. A short but good trip. 
Malaysia is super easy to navigate, as an English speaker. Signs and announcements are typically in English, and most people speak at least a little. 
It’s cool to see the diversity  of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people in the country, including their different styles of dress, religions, and food. And people were so friendly and helpful!
Things to watch out for: scooters & cars, coming at you from all directions, and not slowing down. Sidewalks that suddenly end, leaving you options of crossing a busy street, back-tracking a long way, or walking in traffic. When sidewalks do exist, they are extremely uneven, often filled with scooters, and sometimes with very low overhead clearance. Oh, and watch out for mosquitoes. And the sun, especially while snorkeling!
Things that are notably missing, when compared to other places I’ve been, recently: incessant beeping, trash on the street or on public transit (there’s a little bit of litter, but it’s really remarkably clean!), pushy shop people (yes, there are people trying to drum up business, but they’re not overbearing). 
Overall, I really liked Malaysia, and I wish I had more time there. I hope to go back. 
I made it to my Tokyo Haneda airport hotel and will have half a day to poke around the city before heading back to the airport for my flight home. 

Last day in PenangĀ 

Rather than fill up on the free guesthouse breakfast again, I asked the guy at the desk where to go for roti canai. Instead of sending me to the restaurant a couple doors down (where I had seen it listed on the menu) he drew on a map where I could find a food cart he liked. Then, he suggested I could also walk down to the food court and try some nasi lemak (coconut rice). Both were good! (Later, I asked the other host about his personal favorite spots for dinner and he said “Papa John’s” – I liked the morning guy’s tips better!)
I looked up the bus to the tropical spice garden, and noticed that the station was near the Chew & Tan jetties (which were also on my list of places to see), so I walked there, first. Got a banana pancake from a food cart near the Tan jetty. 

Then, back over to the bus station. I asked a guy wearing a bus uniform shirt where to catch the bus to the spice garden, and he pointed it out…and then turned out to be the driver of that bus! He said he’d let me know where to get off, and I’m glad I waited for his cue, since google maps would’ve had me getting off a half mile early, and having to walk along a curvy road with no shoulder. 
While on the bus, a couple from France mentioned that they got a lot of mosquito bites when they visited the garden, so I slathered on my picaridin lotion, as well as the citronella spray provided to me by the receptionist at the garden. It seems to have done the trick. 
Walking through the garden, I saw a big lizard of some kind, as well as a bunch of monkeys. There weren’t many people around when I was there, and there were several paths to choose from, so it had a nice jungle vibe to it. I skipped the self-service tea station and the “poison garden.”

After touring the garden, I had a tasty lemongrass & ginger drink at the tree-top level restaurant, then went across the street to the food stalls for some Laksa Power (fish soup with big round rice noodles). It had a nice flavor, but I didn’t care for the texture of the fish. It reminded me of canned tuna. 

Caught the bus back into town, and checked out the Hin bus depot art centre and perused some markets before wandering over to Khoo Kongsi (an ornately decorated Chinese clan house). All the signs telling me not to roll the marbles in the lions mouths awakened an urge I never knew I had, but I had to resist. 

Back to the same noodle place for dinner (nothing else looked as good, and it was just as tasty the 2nd night). Wound up sitting with some university students from KL who were just up for the weekend. I asked, and one guy said the curry mee was even better than the noodles I had. Next time! Dessert was a different kind of pancake – stuffed with sticky rice. 


Georgetown, PenangĀ 

After a breakfast of kaya on toast and very strong coffee at the guesthouse, I set out without much of a destination – just wanted to explore the city a bit. The overnight rain, slightly overcast sky, and breeze made for a pleasant morning, but by midday it was sunny and HOT. I poked around various markets and checked out some of the street art, stopping in at tourist shops, pharmacies (ostensibly to look for aloe vera), and galleries when I needed to get out of the sun. Had some stir fried rice cake from a bicycle cart near the Penang bazaar, after a Swiss guy sitting nearby endorsed it. Later, I enjoyed an orange lassi at a coffee shop on Armenian street. One of the first not-too-sweet drinks I’ve had in Malaysia!

At breakfast, a guy had recommended visiting Kek Lok Si temple, and the nearby Penang hill held the allure of cooler temperatures and good views. Some helpful women at a bus stop filled me in on an easy transfer (at Komtar) so I wouldn’t have to walk to a different bus stop in the hot sun. While at Komtar, I found a food court w/ carts (and a/c!) and had some tasty char koay teow – noodles with shrimp. 
Kek Lok Si temple was worth visiting, and I’m glad I went there first, since it closes around 6 (with the last ride down at 5:25). 

From there, I walked to the base of Penang Hill, and was happy to find negligible lines for the funicular. The waiting area was cooled, and lonely planet was right about the top also being several degrees cooler than the city below. My uber driver may have oversold the experience of being up there at sunset, though it was nice. At a bar/restaurant, there was a live musician singing, “I’m on the top of the world, looking down on creation” which dad used to sing to me when I was little, so I decided it was a sign to stop in and enjoy a lemonade while watching the city lights come on. 

Apparently everyone decided around the same time that it was time to head down, and there was a LONG wait to get back down. Fortunately, the bus I wanted was waiting right at the base, so I was able to jump right on. 
Back in town, I walked through little India and back toward my guest house. I wound up having an excellent dinner of noodles, followed by pancakes from a couple of street carts just down the road from my guest house. Best food yet.