Our next stop was Penang, or Pulau Pinang in Bahasa Malaysia, the country’s official language (pulau means island). Before arriving, I read in Lonely Planet something along the lines of: People go to Penang to eat. They think they go for another reason, but they’ll soon realize they’ve gone to Penang for the food. Naturally, I was really eager to get to the island, though thus far this was how I felt about Malaysia as a whole.
In Penang, we Couchsurfed for the 12th time on our trip with a Vietnamese girl named Trang. She had been in Penang only four months longer than us, but already knew it very well. Nevertheless, she was still just as eager to explore it. Unfortunately, she has a job that required her to, well, work. So while Trang was pushing papers, punching the clock, making dough, Mike and I wandered around. Our first stop was George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site founded by the British East India Company centuries ago. The Asian and colonial architecture make it a really interesting town to get lost in, not to mention the much-newer street art. You get the feeling that you’re in a misplaced European city surrounded by Asian hawker stalls. Smoke rising from firing a wok filled with oil. The smell of char kuey teow in the air… Uh, heaven! George Town was really enjoyable to explore, but it is so small that one day of sightseeing was plenty. Continue reading →
Malaysia was never really on our itinerary. For that matter, Singapore wasn’t either. But before we were able to apply for our Indian visas, we had to purchase an onward flight out of India. We bought the cheapest one-way ticket we could find, which was to Singapore on Air Asia. The way we would continue our journey, we decided, was to travel overland through Malaysia into Thailand.
After exploring Singapore, we headed a few hours north to Melaka, Malaysia. Something didn’t seem right about the city. The heart of Melaka felt as fake as Venice has become. It was once a lively trading port and colonial town, and it probably lost its luster after being named a UNESCO World Heritage site and selling its soul to tourism. The Hard Rock Cafe sandwiched between the snaking river and famous antique road Jonker’s Walk probably has something to do with it. But thanks to its early years as a rich trading port, Melaka has played host to many cultures that filled its culinary history with Malay, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese and other influences. It was our first introduction to the Malaysian culinary adventure that awaited us.