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… which is why this last post from our trip last year never got posted. I am posting the final story of our trip last summer (july 2014), so that I can post the new stories from our trip this summer. Yes, I am a little behind….

After two months of schlepping ourselves through buses, trains and airplanes in the UAE, Singapore, China and Malaysia – along with temple-visiting and monument-viewing – we were ready to do some serious chilling before ending this epic summer adventure. Tioman Island on the east coast of Malaysia was our chosen chill-spot.

It took some final schlepping to get there – 1-hour flight to Johor Bahru, 2-hour bus ride to the coast, then wait several hours for the ferry, then take the 1.5 hour gut-wrenching ferry, followed by a 15-minute baby boat ride. Paradise is only paradise when it’s hard to get to.

We were originally booked at a place called “Bushman” on the east coast of the island, which sounded like paradise – but Mike got a last minute panic-attack about the biting flies which allegedly plague the beach on that side of the island (big baby if you ask me, what’s wrong with a few biting flies?). So we changed our booking to spend a few days at the Tunamaya Beach Resort and then move to a different resort for the last few days, just for a change of scenery.

Something you have to realize as an American traveling in Asia is that you need to adjust your expectations of service – A LOT! Sitting down at a restaurant, it is not uncommon to wait 15 minutes before getting waited on, unheard of in the states. The food at Tunamaya was “OKAY”, nothing special, but edible. We were not there for the food though. We came to Tioman because the snorkeling is supposed to be some of the best in Malaysia. It didn’t disappoint. The four of us spent 60% of our waking hours looking through glass at the underwater garden. We went after breakfast, after lunch and before dinner – every day. Kailani has fallen in love – she couldn’t get enough and even started learning how to dive down to get a better look at the fish. Soleil, with her 1% bodyfat, got cold even with the 74 degree water temp. But she still did it, exploring far out on the reef with the rest of us.

We saw it all – parrot fish, rainbow fish, sharks, barracudas, stingrays – but what was even more spectacular was the intact coral in all colors and sizes – truly an underwater garden. We even took a few boat rides to the outer reefs.

After a few days we moved to Paya Beach Resort. More snorkeling. More mediocre food. I can’t say the beach was paradise, but the underwater explorations with the kids were priceless. I hope those ocean adventure will instill in them a love and curiosity of the sea that lasts them a lifetime. When we were all snorkeled out after 8 days, we braved the ferry ride back to Malaysia and motored back to Singapore for one more night and day in Asia. We ate curry for breakfast, and stopped at every hawker center we stumbled upon to stuff ourselves silly with Singaporean hawker delights. Our last night was spent at “Hotel Kai”, a hotel that specializes in everything tiny, the rooms were postage stamp sized, and absolutely adorable. We also discovered a love of Hainanese chicken rice, which we vowed to learn how to make when we get back home. (we still haven’t made it, 1 year later!)

26 airplane hours later and we were back in the Bay Area. Comfy, cozy, warm and back in the world of the known. No more sights to see. No more hotels to book. No more towns to explore.

So Why Travel?

Upon our return in August, we were quickly swept up into house projects and getting the kids back in school. We had remodeled the upstairs of our house while we were away, so painting and moving furniture took up the better part of a month or so. Slowly, we’ve started looking for jobs and falling back into the daily grind. I’ve taken some long bike rides and reflected on the epic summer, and explored in my mind the questions that come up on that reflection… mostly this one: “Why travel?”

I hate sightseeing. I can’t stand touristy spots. Souvenir stands? Forget about it.

So then, why do it? Why drag yourself and your children through airports, dirty train depots and filthy bus stops? Why argue with taxis, getting lost in unknown cities, why struggle in foreign languages trying to ask for the simplest thing like a glass of water?

I’m an addict. Plain and simple.

The rush of the road less traveled, not knowing what’s behind the next bend. The joy of not knowing where to go, how to get there or what it will be like. The thrill of a new experience. The adventure. I just can’t get enough.

There is a side benefit which I am only now becoming more tuned in to. The new found love I have for my home. The first four weeks being back, I felt like I was in a trance. Everything in San Francisco seemed new, different, exciting and beautiful. Was that coffee shop always there? Did the neighbor re-do the plants in their garden? Was that house always that color? Long bike rides always felt glorious, but the first one back was the best. Riding over the Golden Gate Bridge, up into the headlands, looking down on the most beautiful city in the world and realizing that I live here? Magical. I couldn’t stop smiling.

So if you need to shake it up, get out there. Not only will you learn about the world, but you’ll find energy you didn’t know you had and fall in love with your own part of the world all over again. Happy trails.


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!

Flying to Malaysia was like graduating from high school. We all felt free, excited and not sure what to expect next. The promise of more choices, like minds and a more civilized future, Kuala Lumpur here we come.

KL did not disappoint! We rolled off the airplane and into what seemed like a city of malls with food courts and grocery stores attached, we were still in the airport right? Went to an ATM and received a fist full of colorful bills with exotic animals, plants and kites adorning them. Samples were offered from several food vendors and we loved the taste of real crepes with real cheese and real sliced ham – we’re not in China anymore! We quickly ordered a few and went into the grocery store to marvel at all the choices and brands we missed eating. The kids were very excited to purchase a few boxes of cereal for morning breakfasts. I think we spent an hour in the airport just soaking it up: English, cleanliness, good food, and polite smiling faces. It felt like home.

The last time we were in KL was about 15 year ago, I did not remember so many skyscrapers and massively tall condo complexes. This city has grown up. Good old airbnb set us up with a studio apt in a pretty central part of town. It has just enough Asian flare to remind you that you were still not home, like a washer, tiny refrigerator and a hot plate all sharing the same electrical outlet (only one can run at a time). What it lacked in appliances it made up for in the roof top pool view! A clear shot of the Petronas towers and the needle!

We spent a good amount of time walking around in the various malls, visiting Starbucks and trying to find the perfect Malay hawker stall. Perfect timing as the kids had run out of steam, they did not want to go to anymore sites, see any more temples nor go anywhere to far from the rooftop pool. We started to agree. In our 3 days there we did manage to pack in a couple of sites, one highlight was walking through the gardens and public fountain outside the Petronas Towers. We visited the oldest rainforest in KL – right smack dab in the middle of the city. We took the obligatory tourist pilgrimage to the top of the water tower to get a 360 degree view of the city.