Friday, 23 August 2013

Second Slice of Paradise

'I'm lucky this place is beautiful or else I would be very scared right now' I thought to myself just before yelling 'Frick meeeee!' as the speed boat was forced to make a huge jump by the waves. We were on our way to Pulau Perhentian Kecil's Long Beach from P.P Besar and though the water taxi made me hold on to James' hand tightly, I was still in awe to how beautiful the Perhentians Islands were.
James was clearly enjoying the ride more than I was.
Our trip to the islands was probably the most uncomfortable yet. We were suppose to make our way independently there by taking a coach to Kota Bharu, potentially staying a night there before taking a ferry from Kuala Besut. Our hostel offered to get an overnight coach that goes straight to K.Besut but it cost about 30 RM (£6) more. We decided to go for it just for the convenience. Overnight coaches, I think sound ideal because its like being productive in your sleep. You save a nights worth of accommodation cost, save the day time just for sight seeing and the coaches in Malaysia have huge reclining chairs that are super comfortable. Unfortunately, neither of us could sleep well especially because it was SO COLD! I expected a chilly journey. Thailand's overnight trains and the previous coaches of Malaysia are generous with their use of AC so I packed a cardigan and shawl to fight the cold. Alas, it was a painful war and the chill kept waking me up every time my makeshift blanket fell. Imagine how tired and zombie like we were when we arrives at the ferry at 6am waiting for the 7am boat.
Arriving to a scene like this makes any uncomfortable overnight journeys worth it.
However, watching the sunrise out at the sea, with the speed boat tilted up and the sun at the tip, it looked like we were jetting off to the sun. It was a glorious sight to wake us up just before we saw how clear the water was and how lush the islands were. We thought we were in paradise in Langkawi but that was until we saw real paradise in the Perhentians.
Looks so quiet and serene. You wouldn't expect monster sized cockroaches and monitor lizards lurking around the corner.
The islands have pockets of beaches around it separated by rocks. Each beach has its own vibe. We're at Long beach right now, which reminds me of the Thai Island beaches (especially Koh Phi Phi) since it looks like it's aimed for backpackers and younger travellers. I prefer our beach, Taluk Dalam, because it's calmer (more family friendly and full of hammocks). The beaches are thin and lined with resorts and restaurants so it looks more developed than it actually is but there are more isolated beaches like Love beach and Taluk Karma, which we may go and explore.
Love beach!

We've moved to main beach, only because we could book 2 nights at each place. I miss Taluk Dalam because the water is easier to enjoy (main beach has more corals and rocks) but our room with Suhila Palace is much nicer (cleaner bathroom, comfy bed)* and we're walking distance to Love Beach, which is more isolated, calm and beautiful especially with the sight of the giant granite rock falls.

I had a go at snorkelling today... Well, an attempt. Most of you know I can't swim, it's one of the many life skills I lack. Before you ask why I haven't learnt, I did twice. The first time I stopped learning because I remember not having a good time at the pool since I couldn't speak English properly (hence I couldn't make friends) so I got discouraged easily and convinced my mom to stop making me attend as soon as I could. The second time was compulsory with school but as soon as I could swim a metre, the lessons finished. I remembered today why I hated my swimming lessons so much, it's the sensation of floating scares me. I had put on my (sexy) lifejacket and James showed me how to use my snorkel, all ready to peak at the corals and fishes underwater but as soon as I floated and started to move with the sea, I started to freak out. It took me a while to get use to it but I did get there (with James as my life guard) and what I saw was exciting for me (fishies and corals!) so its something I will try again.

The Perhentian Islands is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth. The sea is the most beautiful shade of blue I have ever seen, the landscape is excitingly dramatic and there is much natural wildlife around (we could see schools of fishes jumping while we relaxed on the beach). Of all the beaches I've been to, the Perhentians have some of my favourites.

*James preferred our second place because of his two day battle with a cockroach in our Flora Bay accommodation as well as the fact that one of the staff of Suhila Palace had a crush on him.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Oh Penang, must I leave you?

Right now, as I start writing this post on my phone, I'm being blasted with heat from a char koay toew stall waiting for James to come back with some Chicken satay to refuel after a day of temples, canopy walks and (successful) shopping. I have a very difficult choice to make: do I extend my stay in Penang or do I move on to the east coast?
If you ever consider going to Malaysia or you've spoken to someone who has travelled there, without a doubt I can guarantee to you that you will hear about Penang. I met an Australian woman who didn't seem to have a good time in Malaysia. After her ranting of 5 minutes, I asked her what she thought about Penang: 'Penang's quite cool actually.' I felt challenged; is the place really that great?
IMG_8203 IMG_8174

I have to admit, our first day was probably the lowest point of our trip yet. Long story short, travellers I have spoken to have said I'm too organised, I'm need to learn to go with the flow. So I thought, why not? I knew the hostel areas and it'd an tourist friendly island that expects a lot of travellers. However, we didn't expect ourselves to be in the super peak season causing us to be almost homeless for the night. Luckily we found a room at a budget hotel with very nice staff but a horrible room (when James saw a hole in the wall, the owner replied with "If anything comes out of it, discount"). I'll be going back to the safety and comfort of prebooking a nice, clean place for the night that has been checked out with plenty of reviews.
It hit James first, the realisation that he liked Penang. It happened when we started our Lonely Planet walking tour and we bumped into other backpackers. People are more open, friendlier here. I get more smiles in the streets, our local breakfast joint were eager to chat with us even with the language barrier and there's a really nice touristy vibe with a mix of families and backpackers. On top of that, there is a big food scene here. We tried new hawker stalls everyday, each very impressive in their own way. There's too many things to try in Malaysia and especially in Penang with stalls in hawker areas representing each flavours of the world. Add the fact we ended up in a very nice hotel and you have a done deal.

Like Melaka, Georgetown is a very pretty place due to a combination of eastern and western influences with the pastel Chinese shophouses, the colourful sari shops of Little India and the famous street arts waiting to greet you at certain turns. I love the different cultures intersecting at each junction. The Indian restaurants, Chinese clan houses, European churches. There's also amazing graffiti work which has been commissioned by the council and they can be easily spotted by the groups of camera loving tourists. Penang is a photographer's heaven and there was too much to do within the 3 days we had planned to stay there.
Penang isn't perfect though. Two things bothered me a little. First, the attempt to place as many shopping centres in such a small place. I love shopping but I was tired of seeing malls. We can see new ones being built before the old ones are filled with shops. I think Penang needs to cool it with the building works. Second, the Buddhist temples seem a little on the tacky side. Malaysia is predominantly Muslim but I find it surprising how modest the mosques are, including the national mosque of KL. Buddhism, on the other hand tries very hard to show its presence but its effort did not impress me. The combination of neon lights and the theme park feel of the Burmese temple as well as the overly commercialised Kek Lok Si temple with its overcrowded turtle pond made me feel uncomfortable. We decided not to stay too long at the temples. There was plenty more things to do in Penang to keep us busy.
Turns out, 5 weeks of Malaysia isn't enough. As much as I love it here, its time to move towards the east (after Langkawi) if I want enough time for the beaches and jungles of Malaysia (its been a cultural trip so far). If I come to Penang again, it'll be all about the food! Sadly, it turns out I'm not so adventurous with food so I'm making myself trying something new everyday... Or at least avoiding fried rice. I've tried laksa, chendul (weirdest dessert ever), Philippine fried chicken and looots of satays and different variation with roti canai. That's a great thing about the hawker stalls here, food from all around the world and in a decent portion in case you like it or not. There's just too many things to try and too little time ):
So what do I think of Penang?

Penang is beautiful. Penang is cultural. Penang is amazing.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

To Lah or to not Lah in Melaka

On Wednesday morning, we were faced with a small predicament. James and I both woke up at 10; James was ill and I couldn't fall asleep until 3am. Our plan was to wake up early as we can and leave for Melaka around 9ish ish (after having rotai canai at our favourite local cafe). The town is 2 hour bus journey away and we were planning to see as much of it in one day. Do we still go to Melaka or do we give it a miss? The city wasn't a priority at all (in fact James did ask if we *had* to go) but we didn't really have anything productive planned for KL (we had a great tour saved for tomorrow). However, the place is full of museums, restaurants and sites which meant we needed a whole day. We decided to go for it.

Melaka has undergone many transitions in its history and development which makes it the popular tourist spot it is now. Originally founded by a Sultan, it was invaded by the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Dutch then forced themselves into the town after they successfully destroyed the fort protecting the town and took over. They used Melaka as a port town even when it became too silted up (they just used smaller boats to transport things from the bigger ships). They also had the biggest influence especially in terms of the colonial style architecture that gave Melaka its UNESCO world heritage status. The Brits then took over Malaysia but saw Singapore as a more efficient port town hence why Melaka declined in terms of economic importance.
 Melaka today is a very pretty town. First you are met by the pretty and colourful architecture. The Chinese style against the Dutch. It's not just the buildings though, the trees and flowers are all shaped perfectly. The stadhuys, which is the highlight of Melaka, was being renovated (d'oh) so it was covered up but we could see through the green nets clearly enough. The riversides were lined with decorative lamps that lit up romantically at night. Add in a small windmill and I felt like I was almost transported back to the Netherlands:
'I know what this place reminds me of... Holland!'
'Oh wow Nuz, are you saying a Dutch colony reminds you of... Dutch?'
'That comment sounded smarter in my head...'
We walked down Jonkers Walk, Chinatown which brought in the coastal town feel. Two things I can tell you about Jonker road: the obvious love of durian and too many cute shops. James had to start pulling me down the street (for the latter reason, not because of durians) so that we would have enough time to see everything. Thai clothes store, accessories and handicrafts alternating with durian dessert stores. Plenty of restaurants too! We stopped at Nancy's kitchen for popiah (healthiest spring rolls you can get) and a Chinese lunch.
Melaka has a layer of quirkiness on top of its prettiness. Streets have very cute graffiti, which I think are mainly from the shops to attract customers and Chinatown is lit up by only red lights at night (quite scary if you're on your own). However, the best thing about Melaka is the trishaws. You know the typical rickshaws. Well, trishaws are only for the manliest of all men. Decked out with plastic flowers, soft toys and a roof which may be a butterfly or flower, these things carry you out in style. At night, you don't have to worry about safety because they light up with neon lights so you can be seen miles away. If you are worried that you aren't catching enough attention, they would gladly blast away remixes of Gangam Style, Fly like a G6 or any latest pop tunes.
So I'm glad we went to Melaka in the end. Very beautiful but quirky town!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Leaving Manasarovar Academy and Nepal

Friday (26th) was my last day of school. How quickly time flies! Maybe the short day times and the busy weekends helped, or maybe the school day goes so quick because lessons are only 40 minutes long (minus the the time the earlier teacher run overruns). Whatever the reason, I genuinely didn't expect this to be over so soon. It hit me really late that I had one week left and I was really busy sorting out my visa during school days that I only got to tell my kids on the penultimate day that I was leaving them. I hated that, just telling them so suddenly.
What did I spent the last day doing? I spent a helluva lot of time writing my signature, which probably changed at least 20 times. I wrote my full name and email address on the board but the kids insisted on having my autograph in their books and then to rewrite my name and email again. For the first time I regretted having a long email address but I didn't want any kid to feel left out. Some kids asked for my password, which I initially thought was a mistranslation but they said they wanted it so they can check my emails... The cheeky kids also tried to ask for my number too!
I also realised I didn't take advantage of my camera properly. I took photos of the little kids but I didn't take good photos of my friends or me with the kids. So maybe this was very trusting of me but I taught some of my kids how to use an canon 1100D, which many of them unsurprisingly was eager to use. It was cute seeing the kids trying to use the functions properly and I was proud to see they took the responsibility seriously (didn't get a heart attack once that a kid was going to drop it or ruin my lens). It's hard to photograph kids but they did a very good job! Within minutes, they were teaching each other how to use the separate functions. Pretty impressive kids they were.

I went back to school on Monday. My flight wasn't until 4pm and I wanted to spend my last few hours at my most favourite place in Nepal (Manasarovar Academy if you haven't guessed). I went to take some more photos and to say goodbye properly. The boys, forever full of (cheeky) requests asked me to kiss them on the cheek and I thought 'why not?' and gave one boy a kiss on the cheek. It didn't take long before a crowd of eager boys formed around me and a second crowd of boys formed who were pretending to faint after I kissed them on the cheeks and sighing 'Aye hai'. Throughout the day, I kept getting requests for kisses. I've never been this popular with the boys before! One boy sneakily stole a (wet) kiss on the lips. Regrettably my response was to yell out 'Ah frick!' I hope I didn't break his heart!
Never been so popular with boys before!

The kids are sweet and I didn't expect much but I wanted to give them all hugs. I received cards, origami and letters as well as a book and a pen. The hand made cards are beautiful. Peanut cookies a student made me were a life saver for my trip to Kolkata. Two students even honoured me with a khada scarf!

As for Miss Tsultrim and Bijaya, I love them so much. I saw them as family. Miss Tsultrim, very opinionated but charismatic. She can be strict with the children but she'll also make them laugh. Determined to get good education for the children and not settling for less, she's an amazing role model. Miss Bijaya is like the caring mother, in fact she reminded me of my own mom! Also had genuine concern and put others first. She use to teach before her voice was at risk but that doesn't stop her from working with children. I tried to talk to them as much as I could on the last day but I didn't want to leave. They also honoured me with a khada scarf as well as normal scarf, both which I will treasure forever.
The amazing main staff <3
I do hope that I can visit Manasarovar academy again someday soon.