The radio knob in our car is so much more than an on/off device – it’s a time portal to the 90’s, and if the radio stations are in the mood to get current, it even takes us into the first decade of the 21st century. Ace of Base’s “The Sign” has been in my head almost as much as it was back in 1994, along with many other long-forgotten about pop hits and one hit wonders that end up lodged into the crevices of our minds, that when re-acquainted with, provide a nostalgic reunion with a whole bygone era that was unashamedly reigned by the Backstreet Boys. Yes, I admit it, and you should too (you know who you are, female readers). My ability to sing along, lyric by lyric, after all these years is simply alarming, considering I can hardly memorize my current phone number. In all honesty, it’s a refreshing change from the mainstream radio stations I’d rather turn off than on back home, and for all other music needs, there’s Spotify. Also, these stations provide an endlessly entertaining travel experience during road trips, such as the one we just took last week.
Like deprived moths to a flame, we drove 4 hours to the big city lights of Kuala Lumpur to meet up with an old friend from Canada, and took a few days there to venture out into the city’s unexplored neighborhoods and eateries, my favorite of which being the trendy Bangsar Village, a lively walking district replete with European-style bakeries and cafes, restaurants, boutiques and places I couldn’t decipher in the dark but I’m sure they were cool. Craving a change of scenery after a few days in the city, we spontaneously made the decision to drive 2-3 hours to the beautiful, awe-inspiring hill station, Cameron Highlands, in the Titiwangsa Mountains.
Developed in the 1930’s, the Cameron Highlands is one of the oldest tourist destinations in Malaysia, one that made it to the top of my travel list immediately after its discovery in one of the many travel brochures that people threw at me along the way. I’d say perhaps the most notable feature of the tablelands are the many tea estates it prizes itself on. BOH tea, Malaysia’s best known and loved tea brand, is perhaps the largest tea plantation here and the first place I wanted to stop. Also, I love tea. Tea is the best.
Beautiful rolling hills of tea leaves. I was tempted to pocket a stash – do I really need a factory to ferment tea leaves? Questionable.
Breathtaking views atop the highest hill in the BOH Tea Plantation – a little bit of a hike.
Aside from tea plantations, Cameron Highlands is known for its cool mountain air, orchids, nurseries, farmlands, waterfalls, wildlife, and mossy forests. I made sure to pick up some raw honey from a local bee farm, as well as copious amounts of succulent strawberries and homemade strawberry jam from one of the many strawberry farms in the area. That reminds me….
“..Let me take you down
Cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever..”
(“Strawberry Fields Forever”, The Beatles)
While I often find myself complaining to no end about our lack of ability to make plans, have a schedule, or any semblance of a normal life of routine (thank you, crazy work rotations), being able to take spontaneous trips shuts me up faster than you can say “calendar”. As they say, there is always a silver lining and this is definitely ours. Instead of heading back to Kemaman, we decided to hit the road again and continue exploring this foreign new land we now call home (for now). About 4 hours of driving led us to Malaysia’s smallest and only island state, Penang, into its capital city of Georgetown.
Everything I’ve heard of Penang before going there was linked to food and eating – it practically has my name all over it! Actually, eating (“makan” in Malay) is a most beloved past time in the entire country I should add, but locals and travel shows alike pointed straight to the island of Penang, for the “best” this or that, and the widest variety of dining options in the country. It was hard to imagine a broader array of food choices than in Kuala Lumpur, but even a short visit into Penang confirmed what I was already anticipating: you go there to eat. Sure, there are nice beaches and resorts, a busy metropolitan area likened to be a smaller version of KL, a charming downtown area that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it’s preserved British colonial architecture and unique blending of English influence in an Asian city – type appeal. But the food rocks.
Malaysian food has mostly been hit or miss for me – some dishes I love, some not so much. I have a deal with myself to try it all at least once and being blessed with a set of extremely hungry and non-discriminating taste buds makes this easy, along with my love of Asian food in general. Having said that, the most delicious Malaysian food we’ve had here thus far was at the highly recommended Line Clear Nasi Kandar stall for their signature “nasi kandar” dish, which originates from Penang and consists of steamed rice served with a variety of side dishes and curries. (177 Jalan Penang, Georgetown, 10000 Penang)
Rainforest Bakery serves an impressive variety of carbs that are up to par as any European standard. A drastic change from the availability (em, lack thereof) of such goods in Terengganu. (294 Lebuh Chulia, Georgetown, 10200, Penang)
A fine cup of espresso at Kaffa Espresso Bar (22 Jalan Green Hall, George Town, Penang 10200). For once, I’m not served some sort of 3-in-1 coffee mix. Am I still in Malaysia?!
Something else we’ve been missing here is good yogurt. This cafe, which is always packed with backpackers and foreigners, has the best yogurt we’ve had thus far. The Mugshot Cafe (302 Lebuh Chulia, Georgetown, 10200 Penang)
Breakfast at Yeng Keng Cafe (362 Lebuh Chulia, Georgetown, 10200, Penang). My absolute favorite here is the “Pulut Inti” shown above (coconut sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf)
Nasi Lemak – a simple yet quintessential Malaysian meal, a National favorite, popular for breakfast. Steamed coconut rice, sambal, anchovies, egg, served in a banana leaf.
My time in Georgetown, Penang was far too short, considering I still had to eat my way through so much more of the city, but enough to satisfy my curiosity about this foodie heaven. It is also a very pretty city filled with so much architectural eye candy and interesting blend of cultures, religions, and languages. It’s hard not to want to come back for more.
That’s the prettiest Town Hall I’ve ever seen.
The Clock Tower
After a long but scenic 7 hour drive back from Penang to Teregganu, we were back home from a week of discovering how much depth, richness, beauty and culture this country offers (along with a sinking feeling that we got the short end of the stick by getting holed up in Kemaman, but let’s stay positive folks. Okay but really, I’d love a European-standard cafe here. Penang should share).
And so, we brought back with us the best souvenir ever: a new-found appreciation.. or dare I say the word.. love, for Malaysia.