Day 60-67 – Birthday Week Palau Pinang 14th-21st Nov 2011

14th November 2011

We spent a little time sorting out the room and ourselves, doing some washing, and waiting for the rain to stop. Ere long we managed to exit the hotel and start our exploration of Georgetown, with a quick stop at The Leaf café, a short walk from the hotel for a delicious vegetarian lunch of Bean Burgers and vegetable noodles. On then to the bus station to catch the free hop on, hop off bus to make a tour of the town and see the sights – well to get our bearings at least, there wasn’t much to see from the bus per se. Alighting by Cornwallis Fort we dodged the traffic to cross back to the hotel, and collecting the football and leaving Tania to research, the boys and I crossed back to the fort where there is a large green space and play park.

We spend a happy couple of hours swinging and sliding, kicking and saving before walking around the outside of the fort, and the lighthouses, and stopping to see the Star Liner towering like a floating skyscraper over the docks. We returned to the hotel to clean up (it is 30+ degrees and 90 odd percent humidity) and to wait for Madame to return. Apologies for the lack of photos, but there wasn’t that much to see!

Hitting the town once more we went in search of Ecco café, mentioned in the guide as being a good place for pizza, and we wanted to treat the boys. We walked through Little India, a riot of colour and scents wafting over the night air accompanied by Indian pop music blasting out from almost every door. Wedding gowns and saris, spice shops and restaurants, and one shop even had Tom and Jerry to a Rock anthem soundtrack – since T & J is mostly music rather than talking, it didn’t really affect the kids watching it, they still laughed at the slapstick! After walking the whole of Lebuh Chulia and doubling back a few times, we eventually found Ecco café, and we found it to be closed. Bother! So we ended up in a “pub” where we gorged on 100% burgers (which were OK) and Tania had a baked potato with cheese (decidedly not OK). A rather pricey and not so satisfying meal – well for us grown ups anyway, the boys were happy, so I guess that is a plus.

We walked back to the hotel, via Love Lane to check out some other accommodation that Tania had researched, and that had WiFi, but unfortunately they were full for the whole week. It was beginning to look like we would have to stay at the Friendship Motel for a while longer. The motel itself is very clean, the room has two large double beds pushed together that easily accommodates us all, but boy are they hard – only slightly softer than sleeping on the floor – but the friendship part (excluding the staff) is conspicuous by its absence when it comes to the other guests. We lulled ourselves to sleep with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

15th November 2011

I headed out with Oskar, whilst the rest of the family stirred slowly, to catch the last of the mornings bake and carried home a luxurious treat in the form of Croissants!! Coffee and croissants (which were very good against French standards) went down very well indeed, if a little expensively. Getting our beach stuff ready we walked to the bus station to catch the 101 to Batu Ferringi, the best of the beaches on Pinang. It takes nearly an hour to get there, and the driver dropped us at “the best spot” for swimming and general cavorting on the sand.

Arriving at the waters edge we were greeted by murky water sectioned off with floating bollards to designate swimming and jet ski areas – not a good idea to mix the two! Unsure of which bit to swim in, we enquired of a mother if it was the yellow area, and she replied that she thought so, and that there were reports of box jellyfish in the water. The spectre of stringy stingers and the less than inviting muddy waters did not inspire us with a great urgency to strip off and plunge into the sea. However, it was very hot and it wasn’t long before we took the plunge, passing away a few hours of happy frolicking before grumbling tummies dragged us back to dry land.

The beach approach has the usual market of inflatable toys and clothes and the not-so-good tourist restaurants which didn’t bear too much scrutiny, and so we bypassed them in favour of something further inland. The boys, eagle eyed as ever, spotted the golden arches and we seemed destined for another unsatisfying meal – but lady luck was smiling on the parents today. The McDs was not open yet (hooray) and so we stumbled upon Umi Nasi Kampur, set on a traffic island between the main road and the parking for a shopping centre.

Winner of several awards, and a write-up in the paper, we were warmly greeted by Umi herself; Umi means Mum, and she is self-appointed mum to all her customers. Her food is so good as she prepares all the dishes with love, she tells us, as well as her chicken being 100 times better than the KFC across the road! No doubt about it, I can concur 100% that her chicken was delicious, and the pineapple curry too. We ate some of the best food we have had so far on the trip at this unassuming little place which was full to capacity by the time we had licked our plates clean. Some photos…

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The third one is Tania and the boys writing a review in the “guestbook”, in French! And the last is the view of the sea from the bus on the way back to Georgetown. Whilst waiting for the bus I rang the Thai mission to enquire about visas. One of the reasons we came to Pinang was because we could get a visa here, and good news! We could get a 60 day visa for Thailand for the princely sum of RM110 and the cost of photocopying the passports and a couple of photos each. Result! Looks like we will be heading for Thailand sooner than we had planned.

Things began to get interesting on the way back. We were barely 10 mins into our journey when Matt announced that he needed to go to the toilet. Can you hold on? a more than usual question for parents to ask… but from the frantic signalling it was clear that this was not a holding on situation. The bus seemed to stop every 10 seconds, each time Matt exclaimed “Come on! Get a move on. I need to pee!” so that all of the bus could hear him, and each traffic light gave rise to “Oh for goodness sake! I really need to pee!” Eventually we had to make a move as he was not going to make it, so we stopped the bus, and after alighting, all 3 of them instantly did what boys do best and did a pee by the side of the road.

Now, dilemma time – do we walk? or do we pay for the bus again to take us back to town? Bus RM 8, taxi RM 20, walking free… the free option it was, and so we set off on foot. Perhaps this should be known as the day of accidents, for as we walked the long road home, we suddenly found ourselves before not one, but two Buddhist temples.

Wat Chayamang Kalaram is a Thai Buddhist temple built in 1845 on land that had been granted by Queen Victoria as a gesture of goodwill to Thailand. It houses one of the largest reclining Buddha statues in the world, at 33 metres in length, which is gold-plated and quite magnificent! We were too late to get into the main hall to appreciate it fully, but from the doorway it was spectacular.

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Just across the road stood a Burmese temple. This too held a large statue of Buddha, and all around the temple there were paintings depicting scenes showing the journey from Prince to Buddha and some of the teachings and trails that Buddha overcame. The wood carvings in the main temple were exquisite as were the decorative surrounds to the statue. The grounds of the temple are calm and serene, with many ponds and smaller temples. A place of tranquility in a busy city away from the hubbub, somewhere to ponder ones thoughts in the lush green surroundings. The place seemed to go on forever, each time you arrived at the end of a walk or building, there was more space and more buildings behind it. Mateo felt compelled to worship under the huge statue of Buddha :o)

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The last photo is the picture from the top of the last building which had a lift to go up to the 3rd floor! The large building in front is the inner hall, and behind that (at the front of the temple) is the main hall housing the giant Buddha. Tania and I were lamenting the fact that we only had the little Lumix camera with us…. we may have to go back with the Nikon.

As the clock ticked onto 6pm we set off again back to the hotel. By now the kiddies were getting a little fed up of walking, and they weren’t the only ones, and were grumbling a bit. It took another ½ hour to reach the hotel, but reach it we did, with pretty sore feet – flip flops are not really designed for hiking! We ate at our local Indian again, the food was still good, but the waiter was surly and ignorant, which tainted the evening somewhat. Back home again, we were asleep fairly quickly after our long day’s marching.

16th November 2011

Waking late we had a lazy morning, the heat and humidity is oppressive and Pinang is not really living up to expectations. Tania is a bit down, and the boys are really bored with the whole thing. The beach was a great disappointment and we are in the mood for change… we have to get out of here, but we are waiting for a package from France to arrive and we can’t leave until it does. We can’t get motivated to move ourselves, and yet there is a lot to see here in Pinang….. but there is malaise in Malaysia.

Finally we get into gear and head off to Chulia Street to take our lunch at Ecco Café, the elusive restaurant from the other day. It was worth the wait, as the food was really good, but expensive by Malaysian standards (RM106 for all of us). Following are some photos of Pinang and the food for you to drool over.

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After we ate and surfed for a while (yes the café had WiFi) we set off to Komtar, the shopping centre. We hedged a bet that there was a cinema here and thought we may pass the afternoon goggling at the silver screen in air conditioned comfort. Komtar is a curious place. It starts off very old all 70s architecture, and then following winding staircases and connecting bridges you arrive in the newer part which is all modern shopping mall over 5 floors. We eventually tracked down the cinema only to find it was closed for refurbishment (ahhhrrgghh). So we amused ourselves in a Giant supermarket buying essentials before heading back to the hotel.

We gave Tania some free time as the boys and I headed to the park across the road to play football. We got a good hour or so in before evening fell and so did the rain and we retreated to the hotel.Cleaning ourselves up, we headed to the local Indian (which was closed) and so we went to the sister local Indian a few doors down which is vegetarian, but did not have beer!!! No matter, the food was still great and we retired to bed suitably stuffed.

17th November 2011

Bravely volunteering to undertake an expedition of gargantuan proportions, I set off to the Thai consulate to organise our visas. Situated some 5km away from our hotel it was a very long walk in the beating sun to get there – I was going to get the bus, but inexplicably during the 50mins that it took me to walk, not one bus went past me?!  I thought at one point that perhaps I was not walking along the bus route for the most part, but subsequent journeys revealed that I had indeed walked the correct path.

Tania occupied the boys, who, I was later told, had behaved impeccably – well impeccably badly – something is going to have to change on that front! Arriving at the Thai consulate (without getting lost!) I signed the visitor book, and then was told to queue jump to get the visa application forms; I felt decidedly uncomfortable pushing in front, but I had the law on my side, and when challenged “Is there a queue here, or what?” was able to counter with “Well the security man told me to… ” – hehehe. I told the visa man I wanted 5 forms, and he then told me that my spouse had to sign her form, contrary to the information I had been given on the phone…. or is it another case of misunderstanding?

Slightly peeved at having walked all this way for nothing, I walked back to Jalan Burma to catch the bus home, where I was hoping to have the time to fill the forms out and return to the consulate before the 12 noon deadline. Ha! No chance! Have to be tomorrow now, and there was some reconciling to be done due to the bad behaviour of the children.

Lunch was a low key affair at a chinese place just up from the hotel, which did a mean Mee Wan Ton either soup or dry. A very friendly reception, and very nice soup – the dry was not so good. Afterwards we wanted to go back to the temples we had visited by chance the other day. However, my lady love felt decidedly underdressed in her lovely dress which was strappy and to the knee

Instead we went to the largest Toy Musuem in the world. The museum is housed in a rather gaudy Ceasars palace type place, all decked out in gold and Tutankhamun masks. Its not their fault evidently as it belongs to the hotel behind it and they are not allowed to redecorate. The building houses only 40% of the entire collection and most of the exhibits were dusty, and some had fallen over. Despite this, the collection on display was impressive, and you got the sense of a fanatical man obsessed with toys of all eras, shapes and sizes. Whilst the boys ran around exclaiming loudly “Woah! Star wars!” or “Woah! Spider Man!”, Tania and I were checking out Scooby Doo and Battle of the Planets – but definitely not Barbie…. Mateo’s observation was “I’m not going down there, its all pink!”

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The Mickey Mouse is for Scottie as I know he loves Fantasia!!

We headed back to the hotel after a happy few hours, fortunately the bus did not have to be stopped for a toilet break this time – although we had to get off the first bus as the driver refused to change our RM10 and told us that if we couldn’t give him the right change, we had to give him the RM10. To be fair it does say no change, but we did therefore get 100m of bus travel for free!! So arriving back at the hotel on a second bus, we grabbed the IT stuff and went to yet another café around the corner from the hotel which does Western food – pizza and pasta.

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Tania and I had some very spicy chicken dishes (hot but delicious) and the boys had pizza. Whilst we adults got connected to the outside world, the boys sneaked upstairs with the nice waiter man to where they had a Karaoke bar and disco and danced their night away to Michael Jackson videos. After dinner we walked along the seaside and watched the crabs scuttle across the sand, and a few rats too before a short sojourn at the play park.

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A nice end to the day.

18th November 2011

An early start for me today as I set off to the Thai consulate again to register my visa application forms – one photocopy of the passport, 2 recent photos, one form and RM110 all multiplied by 5. Baulking at the long walk, I grabbed a 101 bus and was there in next to no time – well it still took ½ hour, but I wasn’t so footsore. Joining the short queue populated with French Canadians it was soon my turn, and bar a little grumbling from the official regarding Tania not being there in person, the transaction went smoothly, and as an added bonus, the visas would be ready that afternoon instead of the anticipated Monday morning.

Returning to the hotel and bonus number 2 arrived in the shape of the package we had been waiting for from France which led to bonus number 3, we were finally able to access our UK bank account via the internet!! The day just got better and better! Save for the fact that the kids had been horrible with Tania again. I admit that I am definitely more authoritarian that Tania, and it would appear that the children recognise this too – I feel a family conference coming on later today!

We ate at the little Chinese again for lunch and then headed to the bank to get some Baht ready for our foray into Thailand. Planned arrival Tuesday 22nd, all we have left to organise is mode of transport and somewhere to stay – but where? There is so much to chose from, but a beach somewhere seems favourite at the moment.

Oskar and I set off to the consulate at 3pm to pick up the passports and visas, leaving T and the other boys to do something or other – “I have things to do” said Tania rather enigmatically – something to do with tomorrow being my birthday? I wondered. On examining the visa I noticed that the date of issue was today and so I asked the official if the visa started from now. He revealed bonus number 4 – the visas only become active when you arrive in Thailand, so we could go as soon as we wanted to and did not have to wait until Tuesday. Woohoo!

Buoyed by all this good news, Oskar and I high-fived our way back to the hotel, and it visibly cheered my good lady when we related the news to her. I think we are all ready for a change, most definitely. We ate dinner at the local Indian, not the veggie one but the one that serves beer abandoning our search for a place with WiFi as it was raining again; the sky illuminated by flashes of lightening and the air punctuated by rumbles of thunder. It was very good food, but again the kids behaviour was a problem, especially Mateo’s, unusually.

So, whilst Tania tried to find the best way to Ko Phi Phi, I put the kids to bed and we had a talk… we’ll see how it goes tomorrow. For our part, as parents, we have to give them some structure, which is a little difficult with the lack of their normal routine – but we will find our way, I’m sure. Bed time to the soothing voice of Mr Fry and HP IV.

19th November 2011 (Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me)

Waking early and foregoing the traditional birthday breakfast in bed I went in search of supplies. Milk, bread and orange juice in hand I returned to the room and was greeted with a rendition of Happy Birthday from the family and cards from each of them. Sweet.

Breakfast over we set off to the Botanical Gardens, and rather bizarre and circuitous route on the No 10 bus which looped around Georgetown before finally heading to the gardens. From suburban sprawl we suddenly arrived in the midst of the tranquil garden setting, one moment all concrete, the next leafy green and open spaces. Staggering a little in the heat, we set off for the entrance with the handful of other tourists who had ridden the bus to the end of the line. Entrance is free, but the little train to go around the main ring isn’t, and we could walk faster than it anyway!

The 30 hectare Botanical Gardens were created by the British in 1884 to collect botanical specimens from the surrounding hills. There are trees, bushes, cacti, orchids, herbs and a multitude of other flora and forna…. oh yes, and monkeys too. I don’t think that they were collected though, I believe they are there by way of opportunism given the way that they raided the bins for food when we were there! We wandered along, snapping away, and cooling down in the stream that flows through the park. So without further ado, some photos.

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Pretty nice, huh? What was slightly disappointing was that all of the plant houses were closed for maintenance, so we couldn’t get in to see the orchids close up, or any of the other specimens that were being cultivated there. We enquired of the security guard on exiting, and he simply shrugged and said it was Saturday. Not sure if that means that the houses are shut at the weekend, there was certainly nothing written in the guides, tourist maps, or entrance to that effect. Still, no matter, what we were able to see quite a lot through the bars, and growing in the grounds.

We were starving by now, and so we stopped at the Waterfall Café (the only choice) whilst we waited for the bus back, and ordered a couple of Mee Goreng to take away. Typically, whilst the food was being prepared, the bus arrived, and then left again. So we ate in situ and waited an hour for the next bus. Arriving back at Lebuh Chulia we walked back to the hotel, enquiring of a couple of Agencies about transport to Thailand for Monday (RM30 to Hat Yai by Minivan) before arriving back chez nous.

Suddenly there was a familiar “I feel good” emanating from my pocket and there were Mum & Dad calling to wish me a happy birthday. So good to hear their voices. Swiftly followed by my big brother, Colin. Good times! Collecting the IT kit, we headed to a café just down the road from the hotel that served proper coffee and cake for some afternoon tea and some WiFi. Settling back in the lurid pink and polka dot surroundings (a very sweet café called Joyous) with a cup of columbian coffee, the staff brought out a cake with candles signing Happy Birthday…. a wonderful surprise.

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Gorging ourselves on gateau we also fired up Skype and chatted first to Colin and then to Veronika (Tania’s Mum) – so great to see them in person, and to be able to connect with family so far away from us.

We had to leave as the café was closing, but we managed to buy the Kindle version of Lonely Planet guides to Thailand and Cambodia, and download them to Kindle, iPad, and Mac – we realised that the information in the SE Asia guide does not have sufficient detail for planning a long tour of single countries, and we really need to sort out where we are going, and quickly. So after a small dinner (still full of cake) we put the boys to bed and continued our reading. So much choice our heads were spinning by late evening and we decided that we needed to get some rest.

I’ve had a very nice birthday – thank you Tania and the boys for making it such an enjoyable day.

20th November 2011

Ok, day of action for the boys today. After breakfast its an hour of P.E. in the park across the road. Football, swings, then basketball. No matter that its 30 degrees and 90% humidity, at least there was some shade. Very hot and sweaty we return to freshen up and then its homework time. French dictation for Oskar and me, and French and maths for Luca – Mateo seems to have gotten away without doing anything! Oskar and I struggle a little with a story in the past imperfect future historic tense, Luca does really well with his endeavours.

Morning turns to afternoon an lunch beckons. Its Sunday, and everywhere in the town is quiet, even the normally noisy Indian DVD and music shops are subdued with the volume less than half its usual volume. Our choice of eating establishments is therefore much reduced, so we go with the tried and tested local Indian (vegetarian only). It delivers fine food once more, though there is a great deal of confusion over the order when it arrives. Back to the hotel again, we leave the children to play Angry Birds and the Little Digger that Could whilst Tania and I try and try to find a hotel in Thailand and the best way to get there. No urgency really, we’re leaving tomorrow!

Asking the hotel staff reveals that they can book us a minivan from Pinang to Krabi the next day for RM55 each to which we agree and are duly booked on it, leaving at 08:30 sharp. By our calculations we reckon we will arrive somewhere around 17:00 which will be too late to travel on to Koh Lanta (for instance) and as there are OK beaches at Krabi, we decided that a couple of nights there would give us a foothold in Thailand from which to plan the next few steps – in a hotel with WiFi!!!

We sent off a host of emails to likely hotel candidates and I started on the packing again. Ere long it was time to gather the kiddies for dinner at the local Indian (the one with beer). Great food again, Chicken Biryani for Tania and I and Roti and Chapati for the boys with accompanying sauces and meats – yum yum.

Speeding back to the hotel for an early night, and to check on responses from the hotels, we found some bright spark had removed the system file from the PC and it was now kaput. Ahhhrrrggh. So slightly uneasily we went to bed not knowing if we would have somewhere to stay when we arrived in Krabi the following afternoon/evening.

21st November 2011

07:00 – and what does the “0” stand for – Oh my God its early! (Thank you Robin Williams)

Early start in preparation for out MiniVan to Krabi (1st photo below). Four hours to the Thai border by way of Georgetown-Butterworth bridge (2nd photo). The border was simple enough to pass through and it was then on to Hat Yai, transport hub, for a change to another minivan. The rucksacks are loaded onto the roof (with their rain covers on) and then covered with a tarpaulin, but they still get wet. Another four hours to Krabi. All of it under torrential rain…. welcome to Thailand :o(

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From the border onwards we pass lush green countryside dotted with temples and regimented forests of man-planted trees neatly arranged in rows and columns. The small towns we pass through are not dissimilar to Malaysia except for the fact that everything is in a strange script, impenetrable to the uninitiated. I dare say that we will become more accustomed to it over the next two months, for now it will be a case of looking through the windows to see what the building contains. Well, all except 7-11 which are kind of obvious, and quite numerous, the guide we downloaded states there are currently 3912 in Thailand.

We shared the buses with a lovely old Italian lady, who lives in Indonesia, and she gave us the benefit of her Krabi wisdom, and so tonight we are staying at her favourite hotel in a two-double bed room, slightly musty smelling, but with en-suite bathroom and a fan. It will do for one night, two at a push and it has WiFi – yippee!!

So, attack. We must get our hotel sorted out for Koh Lanta in a few days time so we can relax for a week on the beach – to the google-mobile. Searching is soon interrupted by a Skype call from Mamika, and then off for food, our first taste of Thai cooking – how will it go I wonder? We have, of course, eaten Thai food in the UK, how will it compare? After a wander around the Night Market we eschewed the street offerings and returned instead to a restaurant that was very busy, especially as it was busy with local people! Not too adventurous it was fried rice with chicken, with shrimp, and chicken with basil. All very tasty, and the beverages were cheaper than Malaysia.

Having bought a SIM card for my phone, we were a little short of funds so I trekked back to the hotel to get some readies and the fleeces for the boys – it is noticeably cooler here than in Penang, arriving just in time for the basil chicken. The plates of food stuttered to the table and some we had to reorder, but eventually, with Mateo falling asleep in his plain rice and Oskar being last to receive, we were all served. The food was passable and I left Tania with Oskar to finish his plate and carried Mateo back to the hotel with Luca skipping along side.

By now it was 22:30 Thai time, but 23:30 Malaysian time so teeth brush and off to bed for all of us. We’ve yet to see what Krabi has to offer, but there is a beach within Tuk-Tuk or minibus reach – I can hear the sea calling us, but the weather is not on our side; the forecast is for at least a week of heavy rain and thunder…. wish you were here???

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