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Kuala Lumpur & Penang

Kuala Lumpur would be the first time we stayed in a big hotel since we set off, we had accumulated a free night through one of the booking websites we use, worth £50, so be booked a £50 per night hotel for two nights and got one of them free. The result was that we got a club suite in quite a nice hotel, with a room on the 25th floor looking out over the Petronas Towers with access to the club lounge and free wine for two hours on both nights, it was certainly much nicer that than the budget rooms we have been used to so far, although we’re not sure if having that, and then going back to the budget places is worse than not having it at all 🙂

We landed in KL by late morning, but it took over three hours to get from the plane to the hotel, this was caused by a very slow immigration queue followed by an even slower bus. Though this did mean that once we got to the hotel we could check straight in, we complained about the first room they gave us, so they gave us a nicer suite room with a separate living room which was very nice. I think they knew that we were backpackers and just tried to get away with giving us a basic room they had thinking that we wouldn’t say anything, it didn’t work though.

We went straight to the club lounge which looks out from the 25th floor over KL, had a coffee and a huge thunderstorm rolled in almost immediately, to avoid going out in the rain, we went and ate in the hotel restaurant for lunch, the first of the amazing Malaysian food we were to have over the next couple of weeks, a Malaysian staple food, Nasi Lemak (Chicken, coconut rice, anchovies, peanuts, egg) and Stac had a curry and rice.

Over the next two days in KL, we made the most of the hotel facilities, the gym in the hotel was good and was the first we had been able to use since we set off, so we both used it both days and really enjoyed getting some exercise other than walking.

Both nights we went to the club lounge for their ‘Sunset Cocktails’ that they advertised, which in fact was any beer, wine or cocktails, free-flow for two hours. This resulted in us both milking this offer to the fullest and drinking more wine in two hours than should be realistically consumed by two people, we think after they fetched the third new bottle from the store-room, that they probably realised we don’t get the offer of free wine very often 🙂

On the first night, after we had copious amounts of wine, and some small snacks in the hotel, we went to the huge shopping centre just over the road to go to the cinema, we had seen that there was a showing of the new Fast 8 film at about 9.30pm, so we went over to find out how much tickets were. In stark contrast to prices back home, for us both to go to the cinema here, to see a brand new film, in premium seats, at night, it was a little over £2 each. We got our tickets, headed to the food vendors expecting that to be where they made their money, but no, we were surprised again to find out a large popcorn and large drink could be bought for £1.70. We were really starting to love Malaysia and this was only the beginning of the journey.

After two quick days in KL, we booked a bus to go to Penang, on the west coast. We wanted to go by train but all the seats were fully booked by the time we tried to book, so the bus would have to do. After what seemed like hours of reading about which company to use, we eventually booked one and it couldn’t have been better really. The five-hour journey passed by in large comfy seats with an aeroplane style TV in each, they didn’t work great, but Stac managed to watch a full film on one.

We had watched so many food-based TV programs about Malaysia and Penang in particular, Penang, or more specifically George Town (the main city of Penang Island) is known throughout the culinary world as being a food heaven, and we soon learned that everything we had heard about here was true.

The melting pot of food here from Chinese, Malay, and Indian influences creates a huge variety of amazing food at cheap prices sold from Hawker stalls (small street food stalls, sometimes alone or sometimes in Hawker centres) and hundreds of restaurants.

Over six days in Penang, we pretty much ate every dish we could set our eyes on, the tourism authority of the region even print out very helpful little booklets of all the local street foods and where to find them in George Town. If you hadn’t realised this already, for people who like food as much as me and Stac, this place was heaven to us.

We ate on the street, in Hawker centres (both in the street and in shopping centres), in restaurants and basically anywhere we could, in fact we were enjoying our food so much here, that we only had an alcoholic drink once in the entire six days we spent here.

Since leaving Japan, we have craved to go to another place where every meal is amazing, where every dish is cooked to perfection and to have it at affordable prices, that’s not to say that the food we’ve eaten throughout Asia wasn’t very good, it has been almost everywhere, but here, in Penang, the food is simply amazing.

The Chinese influenced dishes like Won Ton Mee (noodles with won tons), Curry Mee (noodles in curried sauce), sizzling rice plates, clay pots and stir fried noodles can be found all over the town at any time of day, and just metres away you can have Indian influenced dishes like Biriyani, Rendang and Roti Chenai. Every dish was unique and great, each person selling each dish did so differently from another and had been perfecting their one or two dishes for years.

Then on top of that simple Malay dishes like Nasi Lemak, Nasi Goreng (fried rice) or Satay skewered meats could be had everywhere. The vast majority of the time we would share one or two dishes at each time we ate and eat several times per day, but when each dish costs an average of about £1 each, it means ever time we saw something new, we bought it, whether we were hungry or not 🙂

One of the specialities of Penang, which can be found on almost every street is Nasi Kandar, basically a cafe that produces a variety of dishes, usually meats or fish in big trays, and sells them with rice at a price per dish. These are usually Indian style foods and we found what is possibly Stac’s favourite food ever.

Beef Rendang is the dish, and anybody who has heard anything of Malaysian food would recognise the name, it’s a thick, spicy, slow-cooked curry usually with huge pieces of beef in, but it can be had in chicken variety also. Beef Rendang with Biriyani rice was definitely the highlight dish of Malaysia for us both, and we had it about four times in Penang alone. We’re going to crave that dish forever, and every time I ask Stac what she would like for dinner now, the response is always “Beef Rendang” so I’ve stopped asking now 🙂

I should have mentioned by now that George Town is a UNESCO world heritage area, recognised for its cultural importance and for its vast array of street art all over town, it is quite a special place to spend time. As I said before, we stayed for almost a week, but we could have easily stayed another week or two, although I’m not sure our clothes would have still fitted had we done so.

We spent a whole morning walking around the town with a map to take in the street art here (with a snack or two in between) and take some photos of the town. I’ve not added every photo here but just a selection, a quick internet search can show much more if you’re interested.

The one ‘touristy’ activity we did in Penang was to visit an Upside-Down Museum, I had read about it online and thought it would be interesting, it was great fun, the pictures look great also, so I’ll let them do the talking.

For our first two days in Penang, it was their first ever Penang International Food Festival, it was a festival with three full weekends of events based around food, that’s how seriously food is taken here, they have a three-week festival for it. For the weekend we were there, it was held in the main shopping centre, with competitions for Latte art and cocktail making, but also with street food stands, pop-up coffee shops and even food being cooked by culinary students and Penang University.

We obviously sample lots of food here, too much to recall, and visited for the final evening of the festival, a big party outside the shopping centre, which was brought to an abrupt end about 10pm thanks to a huge thunderstorm. Getting an Uber back to town at that time took a long time so we just stood around under cover watching the thunderstorm and rain.

We had to finalise plans for Malaysia while we were in Penang, and decided on going to another city called Ipoh, also known for great food on the way back to KL, but I’ll talk about that next time.

One other note, whilst in Penang, we booked our flights onwards after Singapore (which comes after Philippines), so we fly to Bali, Indonesia on the 4th June to spend one month around there, before flying to Australia on the 3rd July. It certainly feels strange to have flights booked for the end of the Asia part of the trip, and it’ll also mark six months on the road when we leave Asia, quite a big milestone.

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