Friday, March 28, 2014

Backpacking to Georgetown, Penang

March was a no action month for me. My newly acquainted travel partner whom I enjoyed hitch hiking to Gua Tempurung last month was busy with her new job and had no time to travel with me anymore. I tried inviting her several times to go on a weekend trip to Penang but was refused everytime.

I got depressed. *lebih-lebih pula. hahaha

Until one fine day....

Georgetown of Penang has many beautiful places to take creative pictures. hehe.

I was wasting my life away behind stacks of work at the office when suddenly my usually very SILENT iPod was pinging loudly (just to show that I'm not a socially person on social media nowadays. haha). Oh my, some-one sent me a message via facebook. Wondering of the sudden ping, I replied.

Translation soon to follow below. hehe
Translation:
Helga : Girl *gives a bouquet of flowers
Me : Yes Hel? What devil on earth has possessed you?
Helga : *laughs* Let's go to Penang next week!

And so I did. It was as if god answered my silent prayer!!! Two days before the following Friday, I bought a transnational bus ticket to Penang from Puduraya. The bus was expected to leave by 5:30pm on Friday which means I had a lot of explaining to my boss so that he'll allow me to leave the office early. :)

Time fast-forwarded.

Arrived at Sg Nibung bus station in Penang around 11:00pm. Took a taxi (biggest mistake ever because the fare was soooo expensive! RM30 per ride!) to get to my pre-booked hostel bed on Lebuh Gereja and settle myself in for the night. It is known to budget travelers everywhere that Chulia Street and its surrounding streets houses the cheapest accommodations ever. You can actually steal a deal of Rm15 per night. So what did we do in Penang for the next two days?

1. Tram Ride Upto Penang Hill

RM8 for visitors who has a local identification card and RM30 for foreigners. We took a Rapid Penang bus from Komtar bus Station to get there. The bus fare is only RM2 one way.
A slightly hazy day up there. 
Penang Hill has various places to go. You could do some nature walks available there, explore the botanical garden, dine with a sweeping view of the island, shop at a souvenir market or check in at the hotel located there.

There is also a museum there.

2. Owl Museum (Art Displays Only)

My friend was disappointed because there were no real life owls in the museum. Haha. And for a student price of RM5 per entry, we both thought that the price was still too expensive.

At least the owls on display looked real.
The museum also holds group activities for students where they can do their own art stuff based on owls like coloring a figurine or painting it. Some of the kids' art are displayed there.

3. Street Art Hunting

Supplied with a map from the airport, Helga led the hunt that warm Saturday day. We opted to walk instead of renting a bicycle and were amused with our findings. Managed to visit around 20 murals before ending our day.

Some murals that we spotted.
Helga was hell-bent in visiting ALL of the murals during his visit to Penang. His determination showed when he marked down all those that we have visited and at times went hunting themselves without me. Hehe.

I was just happy to be there. 

Among my personal favorite, playing swings with some happy kids. 
4. Food Hunting

It's all over the internet! Penang is well known for being a haven for good food! We hunted for the well-known Ice Kacang found on Penang Street and also tasted the Nasi Kandar of Line Clear. Helga was cheated of his mpney when he unknowingly added a large shrimp on his plate which costed him RM29.00 per plate! Mine was only RM8.90. Hahaha! *kesian loh!* He later vowed to never eat Nasi Kandar again because it didn't suit his taste buds. 

The long queue for the famous Ice Kacang at RM2.40 per plastic bowl. Delicious!
We also had the delight of dining at Gurney Street with the help of my friend who lives there. Thanks for taking us there! We had Mee Udang, Mee Laksa and Pasembor there.

5. Trekking in Penang National Park

And last but not least... on my last day in Penang we rode a bus to Penang's National Park from Georgetown. It was good to know that there is no entry free and we could choose two trails to trek once inside. You could also opt for a boat ride back once you reach Kerachut Beach because it takes about an hour of trekking to get there. Oh ya, if you're looking for a cafe at the beach, there are none! But the ranger who works there might sell you some bottles of mineral water that they have. Good luck!

To get back, you have to trek back the same way you entered or pay RM80 per boat.But after much haggling we managed to pay only RM10 per person. THANK GODDD!! :P

After reaching our starting point via boat, we re-entered the park to do the canopy walk which costs us RM5 per person. It was Helga's first time experiencing this while it was maybe the third time for me. 
It means 1.0km not 10km. Please note that. Hehe.
Thus ends my fruitful trip to Penang!! Finally!! Thankyou Helga for letting me join his trip. It makes me wanna explore more places in Malaysia.

So where will be my next weekend trip? *thinking of Langkawi* What's yours?

PS: Overall cost for this Penang trip === RM200 = RM50 (2 nights at a hostel) + RM38 (bus KL-Penang) + RM38 (bus Penang-KL) + food and other stuff. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Non-Honeymooner Trip to Maldives

I was sitting with two men who were above 50 years old during tea time at my office. One of them began questioning me on my travels abroad. One of the questions that tickled my fancy started like below.

Uncle: So you went overseas alone to Maldives?
Me : Yes, sir.
Uncle : Heee'ehhh! If you're my daughter, I'd shackle your ankles and lock you in the house!
Me : =___="

Suddenly the other uncle chirped in after being quiet all the while.
Second uncle : I'll get her married instead!

And they both laughed out loud. Inside my head at that very moment... "Thank god my father isn't like these two uncles." Hahahahaha! (Ps: I love you dad. )

So Maldives ah? I went there before AirAsia terminated the route effective 1st of March 2014. I had some money left over after a friend paid his debt and mindlessly bought return tickets to Maldives, two weeks before it's route termination.

Frantic to find some hosts to take me in via Couchsurfing but to no avail, I decided to contact my friend who resides there whom I met during my 11 days training in India in 2012. He replied in good spirit that his sister can host me. So I looked forward to my Maldives trip with soaring spirits.

Until.....

Days before my flight, I contacted him again. No answer. I didn't know where to go as no address or directions were given. I tried contacting him prior my flight but still no answer. So I logged into my airbnb.com account and booked two nights there. The third night will be booked at another place once I get there (hopefully for a cheaper price),

And off I flew to Maldives for four days three nights, alone and without a fix itinerary. :)

The only knowledge I knew of Maldives was that it was an Islamic country and I had to dress respectively. Heck, no problemo. *betulkan hijab*

But once I got there, my knowledge of this small paradise on earth grew. Here was what I learnt during my solo trip there.

1. Most of the tourists there are honeymooners! Muahaha! (Except me!)

I had only to step outside the immigration counter of Male's International Airport to notice that I was the only one without a partner, be it with a friend or better half. But surprisingly, two couples at the airport took a liking to me and were very friendly to me. One couple eventually invited me to join them. LoL! *suddenly feels like a third wheel*

2. Maldives consists of over 1000 islands and about 200 islands are inhabited. 

So when you fly into Maldives, you'll be reaching Hulumale first (an island mostly inhabited by locals)  as the first stop before heading to your preferred resort island via seaplane or boat. I chose neither. I decided to stay in Hulumale. Cheaper. One night at a resort island could cost you hundreds ($) per night! I only brought a few hundreds. Ekeke.

Once I got out of the airport, I was met with crystal clear blue waters! The airport itself is on a strip of land surrounded by the sea!
Hulumale has some several budget hotels pricing minimal USD 40 per night (based on twin sharing basis) and located on one area of the island. Other parts of the island consists of rows and rows of housing apartments or flats, home to thousands of locals who commute daily to work in Male, the capital island of Maldives. Male can be easily reached via ferry from Hulumale's terminal and commutes every 10/15 minutes until 1am.

 3. Salmon is found everywhere on their menus! And cheap too!

I outdid myself in Maldives when it comes to Salmon. Since this exotic meat is considered expensive in Malaysia, I decided to eat Salmon whenever I dine in.

Fried Salmon at a cafe on Vilingili Island, located West of Male. Reachable by slow boat and about 30 minutes away.
And Salmon Curry at City Garden Restaurant of Male. It faces a beautiful waterfront aligned with various luxury boats.

Salmon curry with chocolate milk shake! One of the best food I've ever tasted!
They said the view from the balcony was that from a James Bond movie. Hehe. Iye ker??

The view from the second floor balcony, from where we were dining our Salmon Curry.
4. As an Islamic Country, signs in and about are mostly in singular Arabic letters. 

I wasn't sure why the letters weren't connected like the Jawi writings in Malaysia and Brunei. This intrigued me the most.
Wondering on the singular Arabic letters on their signboards. 
5. On all three of the islands that I visited (Hulumale, Male, and Vilingili), there'll be mosques with  daily 5 times Azhan calling for worshipers to pray.

One of the two mosques I found in HuluMale. A simple structure without the golden domes that I am used to back in Malaysia.
6. What do Locals Do During Weekends or Holidays?

I heard some of the locals have their own islands where they can stay without being disturbed. Some actually do what other islanders would normally do when a beach is within reach: snorkel, swim or having a picnic with friends and family. There are several barbecue spots located near the beaches for the locals usage. Even on the beach, the women dressed decently in loose clothes and hijab. Hehe.

Locals enjoying their time by the beach.
7. Where did all the animals go?

There were no goats, cows and certainly no dogs on any of the islands I visited. All I found were small crabs on the beach and wild cats lazing away under the sun. Oh ya! And LIZARDS too!

Small crabs by the sea. Creatures in the water is a totally different matter. :P
8. Locals are naturally dark skinned. Hiksss. 

Finally on my last day in Maldives, my friend was able to contact me and trace me. I opened my hotel room door with my friend just outside. He apologized for not replying my messages as he was out stationed on some remote island for work and could not reply. Since I was already packed up to head to the airport, he wanted to send me off with a quick stop at his house to meet his wife and daughter.

Surprisingly, though a tad bit too late, I found out that he lived just within walking distance from the hotel i was staying! LOL!

With my friend, Ismael and family before heading to the airport on my last day.
It has been two years since we first met and it was certainly a joyous reunion, however brief it was. Ismael promised that my next trip to Maldives will be even better with promises of island touring and seafood galore. But I had to sadly decline his kind offer because there are still many more countries to visit on my bucketlist! And so I bid farewell to Maldives and its kind people.

Maybe next time I'll be back.....


..... with a partner... :P

PS: All pictures were taken with my 5 megapixel iPod camera.