A combination of Ramadan ending soon (everyone is traveling all over the country to see their family; it’s like finding a good deal on Christmas break), and everyone having the ability to book travel plans, tickets and reservations on the internet made our travel choices very limited. It seemed that most all long distances buses were booked up, plane tickets were expensive as they were in short supply and to top it off the hotels were largely full. We decided to head to Penang. Neither of us had been there and we had heard wonderful things about the island. It also helped that we could book a luxury deluxe bus for the 5 hour bus journey.

The bus was ridiculous! Each seat was its own little pod, sort of like first class on a big international airplane, but these seats were also massage chairs. It was a fun novelty ride, would I do it again? Most likely not. It did make the trip seem pretty short and we arrived well rested and ready to check into the not to shabby Eastern & Oriental Hotel or the E&O as the Penganites call it. The E&O opened its doors in 1885 and has been know as the Premier Hotel East of Suez.

Traveling with kids has one major drawback; you have to find a place that can fit 4 people or book 2 rooms (it really limits your choices). The E&O promised that they had a family style room that would suit our needs. For $200 a night they better. What we got was over the top! The place was huge! The ceilings were 25 feet high, the bathroom was the size of my living room, the walk in closet was the size of my bedroom, there were 2 queen beds and then a separate sitting room that looked right onto the water. We were rolling like the duke and dutchess of Penang. We fortunately were in the Heritage wing of the hotel and so surrounded by a very high stated old English luxury. As if that was not enough, the hotel also had 2 pools. One pool right next to the old style bar and another on the 6th floor that was lipless, with views and water stretching right over the Malacca Strait.

The daily routine for the next 4 days was to eat breakfast at the hotel buffet, which means stuffing yourself silly with all sorts of local goodies like Roti Chenai, Murtabak, and Chaw kKway Teow. Over the second cup of coffee we debated which pool to take our morning swim in. After the cleansing dip we toured the city until 5 or 6pm at which point another swim was in order. To top off each night’s dinner we tried a different hawker center around the city of Georgetown. We were starting to feel less like adventurers and more like fat gluttonous sloths.

Georgetown is a small part of Penang Island and is very much walkable. Most of the buildings are only 2 stories tall, and the speed of the people is not a hustle/bustle like most large Asian cities. The (little history on Georgetown heritage buildings).

Not only are the buildings and the people of Georgetown pleasing to look at, but they have a ton of street art as well. It seems like every other street was adorned with a little painting of a cat or a huge mural of person rowing a boat. There were metal sculptures on random street corners and all the little shops and stores were also showing a flare for creativity. We especially liked the café for cats, where you could go upstairs and sip your coffee in an air-conditioned room adorned with all sorts of cat memorabilia and several house cats to pet. I assume the murals all around inspired the creation of the Interactive Museum. A museum where you stepped into the painting (literally) and created your own art. You gotta see the pictures to get it. It was kitschy and off the sightseeing circuit – we had a blast!

The food in Georgetown was outstanding and we are so proud of our kids for trying all sorts of new flavors. I think the best present we are taking home from Penang is that Kailani now loves all sorts of curry. Japanese, Indian and Malay curies were available and she dived into all of them. Both kids are also coming home with a new appreciation for the lovely India Chai, especially iced. Not the Chai that is sold in the hip and fancy coffee shops, but the true simple reddish brown Indian Chai.

All over the world you see various modes of transportation to move oneself or in this case other people around. Rickshaws have been in South East Asia for hundreds of years and the bicycle variety (trishaws) are all that remain of this human powered taxi. Most trishaws have the passenger riding behind the operator and occasionally you see the sidecar trishaw, but only in Georgetown and a few other places have I seen the front loader style. —- I wanted to take one of these home before they were all extinct. I asked around and found out that each one is handmade and could take months for it to be available. How much does one cost? About 4-5,000 Malaysian Ringit which just over $1,000 USD. If we can find who still makes these, lets get one! As luck would have it, we found the manufacturer, he has a little shop in his living room and creates them right there. Can you believe it, he was just finishing one up and had not sold it yet? But, after several inquiries on shipping and cargo, the cost was just too high to justify only purchasing one. If I find any takers, let me know, I still have the address of the maker and the shipping company. Someday I would love to own a Tuk Tuk from Thailand, a Trishaw from Georgetown, and a Rickshaw from India — someday.

One day we got out of the pool to leave Georgetown for a visit to Penang Hill to go to the highest point on the island and soak up the view. The only redeeming quality on Penang Hill was the 27 degree sloped funicular you get to take to the top. We also took a stroll around the stunning Penang Botanical Gardens. I (Kimberly) am a sucker for gardens, and this one had monkeys. We had fun learning about the Cannonball tree and ogling spiders twice the size of my hand.

Remember how everything in Malaysia is booked up? Well it made our choices very easy, stay in Penang a few more nights and then hightail it to Tioman island and sit in the water for 8 days before our summer adventure would be over. Instead of basking in our sloth-like behavior at the E&O, we summoned the energy to book it to the other side of the island in Batu Ferrenghi to stay at the beautiful sister hotel called the Lone Pine. The beach was okay, but the grounds and history of the hotel were another big hit. We took the kids to the Butterfly Gardens (again, anything with the word “garden” – sucker…) and we hitched a ride on one of the tours by a teenager who volunteers there and knows everything about butterflies. Did you know that butterflies mate for 6-12 hours per day? And also, when butterflies first emerge their wings are still drying so as Soleil was holding one of them she exclaimed, “Mama, the butterfly peed on me!” Butterfly pee – how cute is that!

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