14 August 2011

The Pearl of the Orient

Malaysia. the crossroads of SouthEast Asia. Historically, an important part of the Spice Road, home to some of the busiest ports in the region, and a melting pot of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures.

Malaysia 's name comes from either Sanskrit or Indian and is said to mean"Land of Mountains"

Matt and I took a 17 hour train trip from Singapore north through the capital of Kuala Lumpur, towards our destination of Penang.

The train ride was long and uneventful...except for a Danish family whose favorite hobby was kicking my chair. Luckily, they got off in Kuala Lumpur...and I could get back to trying to nap my Singaporean hangover away.

The train ride was only supposed to take 13 hours, but long delays plagued us the entire trip resulting in a 17 hour journey. Normally this wouldn't be so much of a problem, but we were getting off in Butterworth to catch a ferry to Penang...a ferry service that stops at midnight.

As luck would have it, we arrived at 11:50pm and were just able to catch the last ferry to Georgetown on the island of Penang, get to our hostel and crash. Perfect.

Ferry to Penang....just made it!

Georgetown, a former base for the British East India Company, is full of British Colonial charm and multicultural sites.

Loaded with history. Imagine the Japanese Army marching down this street during the WWII occupation.

Matt and I had decided to skip Kuala Lumpur to spend two whole days and nights in Penang...and I'm glad we did. It was great just walking around the different neighborhoods...Chinatown, Little India...etc.

Its got everything you would hope from a former British colony in Asia...local charm and colonial architecture...cool.

Ask anyone who has been to Malaysia, and they will tell you the best thing is the food. Chicken Satay and the normal local delicacies were abundant, as well as the famous street vendors of Penang.

For me, far and away the best meal we had on the ENTIRE trip was lunch in the Chinese neighborhood of Georgetown. It was sliced, slow roasted pork, rice, green vegetable stuff and some delicious sauces.

Maybe the picture doesn't do it justice. It was so simple but so very good. It was/is exactly what I look for in an Asian style meal...simple but packed full of flavor. Washed down with a cold beer, we were in heaven.

Walking around the markets, we saw lots of cool stuff......like what the hell are these red prickly things?

It was a great couple of relaxing days in Penang...we didn't want to leave, but we had train tickets to Bangkok....so back on the ferry we went...goodbye Penang!

This train was far nicer than our last train as it was going to be an overnight trip....sleeper car! Wooohoooo!

The scenery in the north of Malaysia was very beautiful and interesting. There were a lot of stops where locals would get on, walk through the train and sell food etc.

Matt and I got way too much food, but it was delicious....much better than the crappy noodles we had on the train from Singapore,,,or the disugusting pizza i bought on the ferry. Train Noodles and Ferry Pizza would become synonymous for bad food or risky eating practices.

On the train, we made friends with the surrounding passengers, who turned out to be the weirdest cast of characters ever. You couldn't make this kind of stuff up.

There was a 50 yr old Australian guy, who had recently had an illness/surgery which now prevented him from eating solid foods...so he had a blender...and made shakes that included random food items, but almost always Bacardi.

His traveling companion was a 20 something Indonesian guy.

Across from us, we had a 25-30 year old Japanese student and later,  an early 20's Canadian lugging the biggest suitcase I have ever seen. What was in it? Books! He is traveling around the world with a 60lb suitcase of books...so he doesnt run out of reading material...what the?

There was also a 60 something Malaysian guy...who has been traveling the world since 1970. He was funny, wise and even did card tricks. He would prove to be the life of the party.

We all talked, drank beers and laughed our way through the Malaysian countryside.

It was like the beginning of a joke: " An Australian, a Canadian, an Indonesian, a Malaysian, two Americans and a Japanese student get on a train......."

When the train steward started folded down the bunks around 830pm, he did ours last...eventually , to be polite to the other passengers, we called it a night. A great evening followed by a great nights sleep.

Having a great time on the train to Bangkok.
In the morning, we woke up in Bangkok, Thailand! Stay tuned......

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