Monday, December 29, 2008

Malaysia trip report

Maybe because its a case of 'been-there-done-that' already, or possibly a trip that's a tad too long - 14 days is the longest we've spent in Malaysia - but I found this trip to be a bit blah. We mostly visited the places we'd been before, the exception being a longer stint on Pangkor this time.

What was more interesting for me, was to turn travel critic and critique the various places we stayed at during the trip. Either I am no longer enchanted with Malaysia and hence, am more demanding and critical, or their standards are really not up to speed. I will post the reviews on the Big on Trips site.

Accomodation and hotel standards aside, I did enjoy the food, as always, and the shopping. There was a nation-wide sale going on. With the generous discounts and the low ringgit, we had quite a lot of value-for-money purchases. I bought a cute orange and pink Baby Gap swimsuit for Trin which cost me RM19.90 or SGD$8.40. We bought original tee-shirts from Diesel and Bum Equipment as Christmas gifts and these averaged about RM24.50 or SGD$10.80 (after a 50% discount) apiece. A green hooded sweater for Caitlin was originally RM65, but after a 50% discount, it went to RM32.50 or SGD$13.65. Gillian needed wearable tees and shorts (her dad drew the line at micro-minis) and we picked up 2 pairs of shorts for RM60 (SGD$26.21) and three funky tees for RM50 (SGD$21).

After days of subsisting on hawker fare, we decided to have some sushi at the conveyor belt chain Sushi King. This was at KLCC. We took up two tables and polished off more than 40 plates of sushi. I think the total bill came up to RM160 or SGD$67. This was not unusual to us. Whenever our family eats at conveyor belt sushi joints in Singapore, we tote up a bill of about SGD$120. So at SDG$67, this was a real bargain. The people at Sushi King, from the wait-staff to the cashier, could not believe their eyes. They had to double count the plates to be sure. The cashier also commented that this was an all-time record for them - they'd never seen so many plates at one go! And this was not some out-of-the-way joint in a backward mall which might not see this kind of action - this was KLCC! I almost wanted to take a bow.

Have to say though, that I would not eat at Sushi King again. The salmon was raw, yes, but it did not look right - it looked like it came from a manufactured, long-frozen slab of fish - stiff, a bit flakey and orangey-pink.

The other meals were more memorable. I discovered a yummilicious stall in my usual food centre haunt in Malacca that fried up a delicious plate of sambal belachan razor clams. You know how it is when you fall in love, or when you get an Eureka moment? When all the elements of the universe meet and are at one for the first time in a long time? THAT is exactly how I felt when I took my first mouthful of the sambal belachan clams. I honestly felt like weeping for sheer joy! Seriously, I was literally moaning as I ate! Slurped up every last bit of punchy dark red belachan sauce with my rice. You could choose the type of clams you wanted so I had a combination of razor clams and bamboo clams. Simply fantastic stuff! And all for the grand total of RM8.00 (SGD$3.36).

Since we're talking food now, I'll just zoom through the rest of the foodie highlights.

We also had fantastic dim sum in a grungy coffee-shop in the heart of Georgetown, populated by an incongruous mix of ah peks in singlets and tycoons wearing linen and rolexes. A hearty meal of pau, har kow (fat and thick with prawns), carrot cake, and other assorted steamed tidbits which cost us RM49 or SGD20.60 for all of us!

In Ipoh the novelty of Ong Kee's silky Ipoh hor fun was wearing thin after the nth time we'd had this (which is pretty much every time we're in Ipoh) . It was as smooth as ever, sliding down the throat in a sweet, savoury chicken broth, paired with the caustic bite of green chilli padis in soya sauce. But for us, I think we were a bit jaded. The next night's meal in a nearby hawker centre called Hilltop Cafe, met with greater enthusiasm from the kids. And yes, the food was rollicking good too - we called all the usual suspects - fried kway tiao, wanton mee in black sauce, satay and fried chicken wings. The meal, as all meals at the hawker centres, never went beyond RM30 max (SGD$12.60).

In Penang, we paid homage at the usual food destinations - Lorong Selamat's fried kway teow and ice kachang (topped with creamy vanilla ice-cream and always generously coated in milk unlike the Singaporean versions where I usually have to request for more milk), Pulau Tikus corner coffee-shop, another corner coffee shop off Jalan Burmah with its fabulous Hokkien char (they pretty much fry up any type of noodle, any way you like it. But in Penang, eat as the Hokkiens do and try the traditional dark brown Hokkien version!) and of course, we like the restaurant at the Chinese Recreation Club. We had assam curry prawns, steamed tofu topped with a dark mix of minced pork, mushrooms, salted fish and chives (yummy!), roast chix, sweet and sour fish (nicely done with the batter thin, the slabs of fish fresh and generous in their portions!).

The kids had a gala time, sleeping at midnight or past one, glued to the Disney channel. We don't have cable at home, so this is their only time to wig out on cable! They also enjoyed a lot of pool or water time - pools at the resorts we stayed in, and in the waters off Pangkor.

At Pangkor, we visited Telok Nipah - nice soft warm beige sand and family-friendly beach. We also paid about RM70 for all of us to perch onto one teensy boat with an outboard motor which zoomed us around the waters to an outlying island where we saw plentiful sea urchins and sea cucumbers beneath deeply emerald waters, and then to another island where the kids snorkelled and fed fish. I had a hard time keeping Trin on the beach (not quite a beach - very rocky with lots of dead coral and unfortunately, substantial rubbish and broken glass so we had to tread very carefully). To placate her while the others snorkelled with KH, we stood ankle deep in the shallows - and even then, there were tiny fish coming up and swimming around us. The kids were enthusiastic and Cait said she spotted clownfish in the waters. KH said the water was dirty though and visibility not as good as it should be. Also, the corals are dying. I think tourism in Pangkor is killing the golden goose that lays the egg. Too many jet skis, too many tourists, too much rubbish and debris.

On Penang's Batu Ferringhi, this is the same sad story. We could not even play on the beach and forget about the kids building sandcastles because idiotic parasailers could come flying in at any minute and land right on top of you. We tried to take a walk on the beach and in less than 10 minutes, had to clear the way for parasailers landing, no less than 3 times. Each time, the handlers would be yelling at people to get out of the way or look out for incoming parasailers. The parasailing also looked dangerous to me because people didn't seem to know how to land safely. We could hear the operators yelling instructions to the parasailers who either didn't hear or didn't register the instructions because they all landed in a tangle of legs flat on the sand! You also had to look out for people on pony rides, jet skis zooming in and out of the water... It was chaotic, noisy and just impossible to sit on the beach and enjoy it. Okay, not that there was much to enjoy anyway since the water was murky brown! After 10min on the beach, we gave up and went back to the hotel pool.

Malacca as always, was a haven for us, but we could not use the pool - it had turned an alarming shade of radioactive green! But familiarity meant comfort and we always feel as if we were coming home whenever we step onto Malaccan soil. This trip though, even Malacca threw up surprises - we spotted no less than 8 monitor lizards (large ones, mind you!), fat mudskippers and an interesting brown bird with long legs (don't know the name) in the mangroves of the Malacca River, right in the heart of town. The almost 2-km walk on newly constructed board walks was a real treat. Even in Sungei Buloh, you don't get to see so many monitor lizards, so we were really enthralled by the sight of so many. It took us about an hour to meander through the walk, but after a hearty meal of wanton mee and prawn noodles, this bit of exercise was just the thing.

Okay, detailed food and hotel reviews on Big On Trips coming up.


Anonymous said...

HI Momto5,

our family loves the food in malaysia too but it is always a hit or miss affair since we are not v familiar with the streets in Ipoh, Penang and even KL and Malacca. Is it possible for you to include the address or directions of those makan places u mentioned in your review? hope u can consider this request...another suggestion: instead of just putting your reviews on your blog, why don't u put them in the Tripadvisor forum? I am sure many pple will benefit from your sharing...
thks v much

ee lin said...

i'll be referring to your blog n probably calling you for tips n directions when we next make our trip up north.

i am so ashamed. you are far more familiar with so many places (even in penang) than us - and we are the m'sians/penangites!

Momto5 said...

Hey octopusmom

Thanks for your comments. Its hard to include actual addresses because we don't know the addresses! Some food critic huh? We largely know by landmarks so any descriptions of locations can get pretty vague and long eg "look out for the colourful mamak shop and park in the big field next to it - don't worry about the lallang - then cross the road two shops down the right and look for the ah huat sign right next to the bootleg dvd joint!" But point taken, and I will try to put down proper addresses whenever I can.

Tripadvisor - writing the blogs wear me down already! I will be writing an article for Today's Parents on Malaysian road trips though and I guess that will be out next year.

Ee Lin - you don't need my help lah. Its home turf for you guys. More likely I'll be trying to wheedle info fr you on the secret places that only Malaysians know!

Anonymous said...

wow, thks for the prompt response! can tell us when the article is out? i will go grab a copy to read your write up! u really have a flair for writing...i enjoy and look forward to reading your blogs cause they are always so interesting...i also document my own trips but i think they will put any reader to sleep...:)
would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very happy new year!