A Travellerspoint blog

Pearl of the Orient.


View Malaysia Christmas 2018 on irenevt's travel map.

We travelled to Penang Island from the Cameron Highlands by bus. It took around five hours with a short stop at Ipoh for services. We have been to Penang once before - in 1997. On that stay we lived in the Holiday Inn, Batu Ferringgi - the beach area. We also visited Georgetown, took the ferry across to Butterworth and took the funicular up Penang Hill. This time we stayed in the Vistana Hotel in Bayan Lepas. This was near the bus station we arrived at and the airport but far from everything else. During our stay we looked around the area near the hotel, which was pleasant enough but not very interesting, and we travelled into Georgetown. I think if we visited again we would definitely stay in Georgetown as it has a fascinating and beautiful historical area.

Our room in the Vistana Hotel was comfortable and clean. The hotel had a very pleasant swimming-pool. We had paid extra to stay club class, so got free wine and snacks each evening, available from 5.30 to 8.30. We had a lot of trouble finding out when these free drinks and snacks were available, because when we asked the receptionist all she could tell us about the club lounge was that it had chairs and a TV - I kid you not. When I asked the same receptionist for a map, she laughed at me and said: "We don't do those." On my way out of the hotel to explore the local area I picked up two free maps of Penang and Georgetown from a desk just metres away from that receptionist - not entirely sure what her problem was.

Our room.

The swimming-pool.

View from hotel.

To get to Georgetown we took bus 401E to Komtar - a tall circular building with a shopping centre inside. In retrospect it may have been better to stay on until Jetty, the final stop. I say this because we went the wrong way from Komtar initially and got a bit lost. Admittedly we were lost in a fairly interesting area, but it was so hot we could have done without the extra walk in the wrong direction.

Wandering around Georgetown we encountered some street art. There is a mural trail that you can follow, but we did not do that. The murals on that are by Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic. We saw one of his works. There are also wrought iron caricatures by Baba Chuah, a street artist and cartoonist known for his “wire art”.


Squawking bird.

Greedy Boy Mural by three local artists Vincent Phang ( VP), Yong Li Chuan (Sakai) and Ang Zu He (AhHe).

Caricature by Baba Chuah.

Boy on chair by Ernest Zacharevic.

Man in a hammock.

Some of the shop fronts and house fronts in Georgetown are pretty colourful and spectacular, too.

Lantern shop.

House front.

On Armenian street.

House front.

Shop front.

House front.

Peter in front of a colourful house.

Both of us in front of a lovely Penang house.

Georgetown is a real melting pot of different cultures and religions. We were soon very aware of this as we began to wander around Georgetown's historical area which is filled with mosques, Chinese temples, Hindu temples and churches.

One of the first sights we came to on Armenian Street was the Yap Kongsi Clan Temple which dates from the late nineteenth century. It is dedicated to the Chinese god of prosperity and was once the base of the Tua Pek Kong secret society run by the Straits Chinese.

Yap Kongsi Clan Temple.

Yap Kongsi Clan Temple.

Yap Kongsi Clan Temple.

Yap Kongsi Clan Temple.

Near this temple is the spectacular Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse, which costs ten ringgits to go inside. Georgetown has a very rich Chinese heritage as the Chinese began coming here in the middle of the nineteenth century to escape poverty and famine in mainland China. They brought with them the clan or kongsi system. A kongsi is an association of individuals who have the same dialect or who are from the same area of China. They helped and protected each other. The Khoo Kongsi is the most spectacular of Penang's clan houses. It belongs to the Leong San Tong, or Dragon Mountain Hall Clan, who originally came from Xiancheng in Fujian province.

Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse.

Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse.

Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse.

Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse.

Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse.

Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse.

Near the clan house there is a mosque called the Aceh Mosque. This is a nineteenth century mosque built by Achenese aristocrat, Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Aidid.

Aceh Mosque.

Not too far away there is a very impressive bigger mosque known as the Kapitan Keling Mosque. The Kapitan Keling Mosque was built in 1801 by Penang’s first Indian Muslim settlers.

Kapitan Keling Mosque.

Kapitan Keling Mosque.

A short walk past this mosque takes you to the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple, which dates from 1833, making it the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. It was closed when we visited so we just photographed the outside.

Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple.

Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple.

A little bit further on is the Temple of Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy. This was built in the 1800s by Georgetown's Hokkien and Cantonese residents.

Temple of Kuan Yin.

Temple of Kuan Yin.

A short distance ahead is St. George's Church, which is a nineteenth century Anglican church - the oldest one in Southeast Asia. On this occasion it was closed, but on our first visit we were able to go inside and we had a long chat with the church minister.

St George's Church.

I then walked to the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery . I noticed a replica of the funicular that goes up Penang Hill outside the museum. Next I had a quick look at The Church of the Assumption. Then I continued onward past the Institution of St Xavier to look at the Blue Mansion. The Institution of St Xavier is the oldest Catholic Lasallian school in Malaysia. I passed an 'I love Penang' monument on the opposite side of the road. The Blue Mansion was built by wealthy Hakka merchant, Cheong Fatt Tze at the end of the nineteenth century. It has thirty-eight rooms, five courtyards, seven staircases and two hundred and twenty windows. There were some interesting buildings opposite the blue mansion.

Penang State Museum and Art Gallery.

Penang State Museum and Art Gallery.

I love Penang.

The Institute of St Xavier.

The Blue Mansion.

The Blue Mansion.

Buildings opposite The Blue Mansion.

Buildings opposite The Blue Mansion.

Buildings opposite The Blue Mansion.

We then wandered towards the seafront and had a look at Penang's city hall and town hall and the large grassy field known as the pedang before visiting Fort Cornwallis.

Bubbles over the Pedang.

Peter at the pedang.

Penang Town Hall.

City Hall, Penang.

On our way to the fort we passed the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. This was commissioned by local millionaire, Cheah Chen Eok in 1897. It commemorates Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The clock tower is sixty feet high and each foot represents a year of Queen Victoria’s sixty year reign.

Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower.

Fort Cornwallis is one of the oldest structures in Penang. It cost a rather expensive twenty ringgits to get in, overpriced as there is not much inside. In fact, much of the interior was closed off for renovation, so perhaps we just visited at a bad time. This fort was named after Marquis Charles Cornwallis. It was built in 1786 as a defensive structure The fort is located on the site where Captain Francis Light first set foot on Penang in 1786. He then took possession of the island from the Sultan of Kedah and turned it into a free port. There are a bronze statue of Captain Francis Light, a gunpowder store and some cannons inside the fort.

Fort Cornwallis.

Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis

Captain Francis Light.

Fort Cornwallis.

Although there was lots more to see we were exhausted by this stage and took a taxi back to our hotel where I feel we had earned a nice cold drink.

Drinks back at the hotel.

On our last day we had a lazy relaxed time swimming, reading, eating and drinking. We had had a wonderful stay in Malaysia and were sad to leave.

Leaving Penang.

Posted by irenevt 00:09 Archived in Malaysia Comments (4)

A Cooling Respite.

The Cameron Highlands.

View Malaysia Christmas 2018 on irenevt's travel map.

On Boxing Day we headed off to Bandar Tasik Selatan (BTS) by train to get to the bus station and catch our pre-booked transport to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands. When we arrived at BTS, I foolishly joked to Peter: "I hope we have come to the right abbreviation." He took a quick look at our bus ticket and said: "Oh my God, we should have gone to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS). "There was precious little time to sort things out before departure, so we sat down at the train station in despair wondering what to do. Then we checked the map and discovered BTS is the train station for TBS, so we were in the right place after all. I am so not fond of abbreviations!!!!

Panic over, we walked to the bus station. We had to go to a booth and exchange our internet booking print out for tickets, then we passed through the ticket barrier to the platforms. The bus arrived on time. It was operated by CS Travel. It was very comfortable and the journey was pretty pleasant. It took around four hours. There was no toilet on the bus, but we stopped at services once. After the services, our driver pointed out that the next hour and a half would involve winding round and round on a narrow country road up the mountains. He informed us we had all been provided with sick bags and asked if anyone wanted more. He was not exaggerating; it was a rather twisty and scary ride. The driver had to keep blasting his horn to warn descending drivers of our approach on blind bends. At one point a landslide had blocked our side of the road and we had to drive on the wrong side - horn blaring at full blast. As we neared Tanah Rata the heavens opened and torrential rain began battering down. We started to wonder if the Cameron Highlands had been such a good idea after all.

We were staying in the Heritage Hotel and knew it was a walkable distance away, but due to the torrential rain we took a taxi. It cost ten ringgit. The Heritage Hotel is a mock Tudor building set on a hill overlooking the town of Tanah Rata. Our room was large and it had a balcony with a good view over the town.

Our Room.

Me on our balcony in the rain.

Peter on our balcony.

The Heritage Hotel.

Christmas decorations in our hotel.

The hotel provided free Cameron Highlands tea so we had a cup and waited for the rain to stop then walked down our hill into town. It was so not like Malaysia with decidious trees and giant ferns and cool weather. Everywhere was cool and damp.

We were looking for a tour office and there were lots to choose from. From reading up on the area, I had worked out that a trip up Mount Brinchang to see the sunrise, a walk in the Mossy Forest and a trip to the BOH tea plantation was the way to go. We eventually settled on Hilltop Travel and Tour. We tried to book the sunrise tour, and while we could, we were strongly advised that with the current weather there was unlikely to be a sunrise. I asked if they thought the hike through the Mossy Forest would be too strenuous for my husband who walks with a stick. We were told not strenuous but very, very slippy due to all the rain, so after much friendly debate, we were persuaded to book the cheapest tour on offer. Not exactly hard sell. It was a half day morning city tour. We would be picked up from our hotel at 8:45 next morning. The tour was a very cheap 25 ringgits.

We walked back to our hotel and ate dinner there. We went into the main restaurant, looked at the menu, decided on our food, placed our order, then asked for two beers. We were told as the restaurant was halal, we would have to go to the bar if we wanted alcohol. We said: "But we also want to eat." We were told: "No problem you can eat there." We entered a completely empty bar with no-one serving then our waiter from the next door restaurant appeared, confirmed our order and brought us beers. Our waiter was a very pleasant and friendly Nepali. I ordered Char Kuey Teow, a flat noodle dish from Penang. My husband had a club sandwich. The portions were small but the food was good.

Dinner in the bar.

After dinner we were tired and headed to bed. Next morning we awoke to find it very cloudy, the tour agency had been right there was no sunrise. We were collected on time from our hotel, then set off to pick up a group of six more people. They were very late and our tour guide got quite annoyed. Eventually we were ready to go. Our first port of call was Taman Rama Rama - The Butterfly Farm, we paid an additional seven ringitts each to visit it. The worst part of it was the butterflies they were dull coloured and stayed completely still, high up on the walls. Apart from the butterflies, it was quite good with lots of lovely flowers, snakes, lizards, spiders, beetles, hamsters, turkeys and a mammal that I think was a red panda.

Entrance to the butterfly farm.

In the butterfly farm.

Peter in the butterfly farm.

Snakes in the farm.

More snakes.


More lizards.


Striped squirrel.

Red panda.


After leaving the butterfly farm, we drove to the BOH Tea Plantation. I would say that this was the highlight of the tour as it was very beautiful.The BOH Tea Plantation was founded in 1929 by J.A. Russell, a British businessman, who had lived in British Colonial Malaya from the age of six. Prior to getting into work with tea, he had worked in tin, rubber and railways. The plantation is wonderful to look at with lots of different shades of green and brown where the tea has been pruned. As well as stopping to take photos over the plantation, we had a look, from a distance at the owner's house, manager's house and workers' village. Then we went to the cafe, souvenir shop and factory area of the plantation. It was busy with a big queue of people waiting to buy tea and cakes. We did not join them. We just took some photos and bought some packets of tea as gifts. We would have liked to do the factory tour, but did not have time.


A view over the BOH tea plantation.

Cafe at the plantation.

Misty morning at BOH.

Above the workers' village.

Flowers at the plantation.

Next we went to the honey bee farm. This was free entry and had shops selling honey and honey based products, a cafe and a large colourful garden filled with bee-hives and flowers. It was very peaceful to walk there as the day got warmer and the gentle drone of bees buzzed in the background.

The honey bee farm.

Honey products.

Honey products.

The gardens.

After the honey bee farm we were taken to the rose and orchid garden. This also had a seven ringgit entry fee. This was a huge garden area with some roses, some orchids, vegetables, goats, turkeys and lots of different flowers. The most impressive flowers here in my opinion were the wonderful huge hibiscus flowers in red, peach, yellow and pink. The owners incorporated a lot of old tyres into their garden either as makeshift plant pots or painted and made into models. Well seen that Malaysia produces rubber. Every time I tried to photograph the goat it tried to eat my camera.

Entrance to rose and orchid farm



Me with the hibiscus.

Tyre snowmen.



Next we went to the strawberry farm. There is an area where you can walk among the strawberry plants taking pictures, but most of the strawberry growing areas are out of bounds. The strawberry farm sells: strawberries, strawberry jam, strawberry tea, strawberry cakes and strawberry ice-cream as well as strawberry patterned clothes, strawberry key-rings and so on. We decided to share a big bowl of strawberry ice-cream. It was very tasty but very sweet and we were glad we had not opted for one each. We also bought some strawberries to take back to our room.

Entrance to strawberry farm.


Strawberry ice-cream.

After the strawberry farm we visited a local market. We wandered around the stalls selling fruit, vegetables, cooked food, clothes, souvenirs and so on and we also visited a colourful garden and guesthouse nearby.

Local market.

Colourful garden.

Last stop on our tour was the beautiful Sam Poh Buddhist Temple located in Brinchang. This is a very well-kept and peaceful temple with many large golden statues on display.

The Buddhist temple.

The Buddhist temple.

The Buddhist temple.

We were really tired by this stage and were happy to go back to the hotel for a nap and more strawberries.

Later we walked into Tanah Rata and wandered around the restaurants and shops, then we had a stroll in the park. We encountered a strange fruit and vegetable sculpture that the local children had turned into a playground.We had chosen the Travellers' Pub to go for drinks and dinner. However, although they had a food menu, there was no-one working in the kitchen that day so we just had a beer then returned to the hotel for a buffet dinner.

Tanah Rata Park.

Playground sculpture.

Drinks in the bar.

Next morning we woke to a lovely sunrise which we watched from our balcony. Later we walked to the bus station and boarded a bus for our five-hour journey to Penang Island.


Posted by irenevt 04:22 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur

The city on the muddy rivers.

View Malaysia Christmas 2018 on irenevt's travel map.

It had been a loooooong and tiring term at work and the countdown to the holidays was starting to feel endless, so it was with great joy that the last day of term finally arrived. Mercifully, I had a couple of days to sleep and prepare, then it was off to the airport and onto our Malaysian Airways plane to Kuala Lumpur.

Leaving Hong Kong.

Kuala Lumpur originated as a tin mining town located at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang Rivers. Its name means muddy river. We have been to KL, as it is normally referred to, many times and intended the two days we would spend there to be mainly spent swimming, reading by the pool, eating and drinking. We only did a small amount of sightseeing. There would be time enough for sightseeing at our next two destinations - the Cameron Highlands and Penang Island.

We arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, KLIA (Malaysians love abbreviations) on Christmas Eve and took the rather expensive KLIA Express into KL Sentral. The airport is around forty-five kilometres south of the city centre. From Sentral we took the monorail to Bukit Nanas which translates as Pineapple Hill. We were staying for one night in the Renaissance Hotel here. Other sights in the area are the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, which we have visited previously. Then there is the KL Tower, not the famous twin Petronas Towers - though they are nearby, but a tower with a revolving restaurant on top. Many years ago we tried to eat here, but were not allowed in as we were wearing shorts. I remember we ended up eating in the McDonald's at the base of the tower instead, which was probably more in our price range anyway. Haha!

This was our second stay at the Renaissance. We had rather mixed memories of our first stay, but had come back because this hotel has one of the most massive swimming pools I have ever seen. This stay turned out to be way better than our first visit.

We planned to have a very lazy Christmas Eve here, we checked in, were given a lovely comfortable room with a great view of the Petronas Twin Towers, then we made our way to the huge pool on the fourth floor. We swam and relaxed by the pool for hours, then when the sun went down we ate at the Gazebo Pool Bar Restaurant. Peter opted for a burger and I had nasi lemak, which means fatty rice. It is a dish of white rice, served with boiled egg, cucumber, peanuts, sometimes anchovies - though mine came with a massive prawn instead, and a meat dish - mine was chicken rendang, and best of all a hot spicy sambal sauce.

Our very comfortable room.

View towards the Petronas Twin Towers.

Christmas decorations in the Renaissance.

At the pool.

In the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

My nasi lemak.

After a refreshing night's sleep we woke up on Christmas Day and hurried back to that pool for even more swimming. Sadly, we had to check out at midday. We had decided to spend our second night in KL in the Ibis City Centre Hotel. We had chosen it because we had seen pictures of its high up infinity pool and we wanted to try it out. Google maps informed us our new hotel was seventeen minutes walk away, so we just walked, but naturally being us we went wrong and ended up walking for around an hour. Still we got there eventually.

Our room was very nice and comfortable. It had wonderful views out over the city. It had a neat pull-out safe with a touch pad that appeared when you placed your palm on it, a kettle, fridge, iron and ironing board - not bad for an Ibis.

We went up to the thirty-first floor to see the infinity pool. It was smallish, but with amazing views. It was filled with people taking photos rather than swimming so we waded into the water with our cameras and joined them.

Our room in the Ibis.

View from our window.

In the pool by day.

In the pool by day.

In the pool by day.

In the pool by night.

In the pool by night.

After taking photos at the pool we decided to do a little bit of sightseeing. We walked to the Petronas Towers, took some selfies in front of it, while being endlessly harassed by people who wanted us to pay them to take our photo - this was a surprise as Malaysia is generally very laid back and hassle-free. We then went inside the shopping centre at the base of the tower and took some pictures of their Christmas decorations.

Those towers again.

Christmas decorations in Suria KLCC, shopping centre below the towers.

Christmas decorations in Suria KLCC, shopping centre below the towers.

After that we took the Kalan Jaya Line to the Masjid Jamek, also known as the Friday Mosque. We just took photos of the mosque, rather than going in. If you go in, you must cover your head. Masjid Jamek was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, and was constructed in 1909. It is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers, from which KL takes its name.

Masjid Jamek.

From the mosque we headed towards the old colonial heart of KL now known as Merdeka or Independence Square. To get there we had to cross a bridge over the muddy rivers. I stopped on route to photograph a mummy cat washing her babies.

Cat and kittens.

Merdeka Square is a big grassy field which was once used as a cricket pitch. It was here at midnight on the 31st of August 1957 that the British Union Jack Flag was lowered for the last time and the Malayan flag was raised for the very first time to mark the start of Malaya's independence. I normally like this area but lots of it had been dug up and some major repairs were clearly going on. The square is bordered on one side by the Sultan Abdul Samad Building which was once home to the British colonial administration. On the other side is the Royal Selangor Club and to the north is St. Mary’s Anglican Church. Also in this area is KL's lovely old railway station and the National Mosque.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building.

Merdeka Square and the Royal Selangor Club.

St. Mary’s Anglican Church.

Old colonial building by the river.

In front of The Sultan Abdul Samad Building.

After a wander around this area we took transport back towards our hotel, stopping off to eat dinner in a restaurant called The Canopy. The restaurant claimed to be British, but was more Indian. We had a lovely meal washed down with ice-cold tiger beer and sat outside looking up towards the Petronas Towers. Peter had burger again. I had Persian lamb, which was delicious. After dinner we had a night swim to take photos from the pool then went for drinks in the hotel bar which also had great views of - you guessed it - the Petronas Towers.

Dinner in the Canopy Restaurant.

The Ibis bar.

Petronas Towers from the bar.

Posted by irenevt 23:24 Archived in Malaysia Tagged architecture kuala towers swimming lumpur petronas colonial kl. Comments (6)

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