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 Penang 

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, Penang 

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. 

Kota Bharu to Penang

Arrived at the airport around 2:30pm. Can’t check in for my 6:30 flight until 5pm, and there are no lockers or anywhere to leave my bag. Still raining outside. 

Found a seat near a deli, and planted myself. At one point, a guy selling perfume at the shop on my other side sat down next to me for a moment. We chatted briefly, and I asked him about wifi …and he told me the password to the deli’s wifi. Cool!
Caught up on email & briefly looked to see if there were any super cheap hotels nearby (in Vietnam, B & I used one as a place to store our bags for a day in Dalat). Found one for $15, but that’s more than I want to spend on bag storage, and it’s also a bit farther than I want to walk in the rain. So, I just settled in and people watched. 
Lots of people returning home from vacations, and I tried to guess where they were from. Different styles of head scarves. Lots of families with young children. Lots of helpful dads. I see some of my fellow snorkelers from yesterday, and other people I recognize from the hotel (who must’ve taken a different boat). A young guy who sat down next to me had missed his flight back to KL and was juggling 2 phones and making a flurry of calls to arrange & book a new flight. Some Europeans(?), one of whom had a t-shirt that said something about Colorado. 
Eventually, I was able to check in for my flight. Then, I still had some time before boarding, so I returned to the restaurant where I’d had breakfast a couple of days earlier. Had chicken paprik (yum!)
The Firefly airlines plane was a prop plane with high wings, and we boarded by walking up the stairs to the tail of the plane. Normally not a problem, but every time I have to bend my knees, I wince with pain from the sunburn. On board, they were playing their theme song, which sounded suspiciously like the Katy Perry “firework” song. They offered a choice of snack: peanuts, curry puff, or chocolate muffin, and a choice of beverage: mango juice or soy milk. Their in flight magazine offered tips on how to handle a friend who never lets you get a word in, edgewise, a review of some car model we don’t have at home, and a section on Malaysian food. 

In Penang, I decided I didn’t want to spend 2 hours on a bus to the guest house, and after asking a couple of people, decided to get an Uber. A taxi would be 45 ringgit (fixed rate). I couldn’t get my data roaming to work, so I spent 25 ringgit on a local 4G data SIM card (2gb, to use for up to a week) and then booked my Uber. It wound up costing just 18 ringgit. Cool! On the drive, I got some suggestions of food to try while I’m in town, too. 
The guest house is loud (hostel style), and my room smells musty and doesn’t have a window, but the a/c works. And the concrete pillars and ceiling remind me a bit of home. Technically, I guess there is a window – it’s just that it faces into an indoor common area, rather than outside. 
Hopefully my sunburn feels better tomorrow. At the moment, I don’t feel like being social. Or moving at all. 

Pouring in Perhentian, and beyond. 

I wasn’t exactly planning on sunbathing this morning, but the steady (no, I take it back: now it’s POURING) rain has me and everyone else hunkered down in the covered, open air restaurant. Sipping tea and staring outside.  

I’m supposed to catch my boat out of here at noon. If it doesn’t stop raining before then, I will get thoroughly soaked on the trip back, even with a raincoat and poncho. Considering wearing my swimsuit and finding a place to change into dry clothes once I reach the jetty. 
Snorkeling boats have pulled up to the beach, now, waiting for the storm to pass. Visibility is really poor. I might not be leaving at noon, after all. The rain is deafening, and when it thunders, you can feel it in your chest. 
On a related note: shout out to the guy at REI who suggested I get a dry bag rather than a packable tote to use as a beach bag. It was great to have on the snorkeling boat, and I have a feeling it’ll be clutch on the boat ride back. Definitely on my to-bring list for future trips. 
Chatted with a couple of German girls for a while – they had been on yesterday’s snorkeling trip. Main takeaways: I should check out Borneo sometime, and also do an overland trip in Africa (which J has also recommended!). The one girl was a big fan of a company called Nomad. Also, I would like 6 weeks of vacation per year, too. 
11am, and the rain tapered off a bit, I finally headed back to my room to pack up, only to find that the lights are out. I assume my friendly neighborhood gecko tripped on a breaker or something. 

I called the front desk and they sent someone over to fix it pretty quickly. Good, because it was tricky to pack in the dim light offered by the window. I decided not to be a swimsuit weirdo for the boat ride, but packed a change of clothes in my day pack (in the dry bag), threw the rain fly on my big pack and raincoat on myself, umbrella overhead, and trekked back to the reception desk to check out more or less on time. My flip flops are losing their traction on wet surfaces and I nearly bit it on the walk out to the jetty. They helpfully had some big garbage bags for luggage, so I was able to put my big pack in one of those. Helpful, given the soaking wet boat. I should have grabbed an extra to wrap around my legs. 
As we were underway, in choppy seas and sub-optimal visibility, we came to an alarmingly sudden stop. I lifted my rain jacket hood off my face to see what was going on, and we were backing up to get untangled from a big rope, attached to a larger boat. Yikes. And that’s about when I realized this was the first boat ride where we hadn’t been given life jackets. When we stopped to pick up some more passengers (coming from another boat, where everyone was wearing life jackets), I pointed at the jackets hanging in the net overhead and asked about them. The driver (captain?) said “they’re wet.” I shrugged and said, “okay…” “Do you want one?” “Yes.” Nobody else put one on, but a couple of people held on to them, or used them as shields for the rain/spray. By the time we got to Kuala Besut jetty, my legs were pretty wet, but my raincoat kept me dry under the life jacket. 
I tried asking a couple of people about sharing a taxi to the airport, but no takers. I asked the guy at my hotel’s ticket counter if he would watch my big bag for a minute, and he helpfully pointed me in the direction of the public restroom. When I came back, there was a woman talking with him, who turned out to be from a minibus company. 25 ringgit per person (vs the 78 ringgit taxi ride from the airport, or the 70/pp listed on the hotel’s website). Sold. No sooner had I followed her to their ticket counter and bought my ticket, than it was time to load up. I must’ve been the last seat filled. Somehow while closing up my bag, I managed to drop my minibus ticket behind the heavy luggage table (out of reach). What is it with me and stuff behind tables, on this trip!? The lady said not to worry about it, and shepherded me to load up. Nobody asked for the ticket. Whew. 
And now we’re at Kota Bharu airport. And it is still raining, but my pants have dried. 
So happy we had clear weather the past 2 days, for snorkeling. I mean, aside from the sunburn (which is still really painful). It’s not so bad if I just don’t bend my knees, though. My UPF 50 long sleeved rash guard shirt performed as advertised. I wonder if they make swimming pants, too. 

Pictures from the last few days

Waiting at the Kota Bharu airport, and a guy working at a nearby shop gave me the wifi password for the deli I’m sitting next to. A good chance to upload some pictures from the last few days (wifi at the Perhentian Island Resort was slow). 

I walked over to a nearby beach to try an early dinner at Mama’s (eaten quickly, as the sky was getting dark and I wanted to get back to my hotel before the rain hit)

Sunset at the Perhentian Island Resort

Pulau Perhentian day 2

Sunburn not much better in the morning, but the worst of it was on my upper legs. And I had noticed the gift shop had swim trunks that were like bike shorts…and I’d come all this way to snorkel… it probably would be okay if I wore those, and re-apply (reef safe) sunscreen every time I’m out of the water, right? I’m doing this thing!

And so I did. 
The sunburn is angry, but I am not. Stunning reefs and fishies. I didn’t take any pictures because I don’t have an underwater camera, so you’ll just have to trust me. It’s nice to just be in the moment, and not be looking at it through a screen. 
This sunburn is going to make the next few days suck. But at this point I still think it was worth it. We’ll see what I think, tomorrow. I’m already starting to peel. 

Update:  I should’ve splurged on the full length swimming pants that the Malay women wear. Knee pit sunburn = ouch. 

Up next: Penang