Love Lane, Penang
The name it goes by is Love Lane. In Malay, the name is translated as Lorong Cinta (although I doubt many would refer to it by that name). Hokkien speakers call it Ai Ceng Hang. All these names refer to the narrow street adjacent to Muntri Street - located somewhere in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Georgetown, Penang.
There are many stories as to how Love Lane got its name. Some say that in the colonial era, it used to house brothels frequented by sailors and soldiers. Another story claims that in the olden days, many wealthy Straits Chinese merchants stayed at Muntri Street - and kept their mistresses at Love Lane. The second story is satirized in Tang Mun Kiang's steel rod sculpture - Cheating Husband - which you can find at Love Lane.
A couple of months after moving to Penang, Abi who knew my penchant for old buildings took me to Love Lane. Ecstatic with what I saw, I put up a public FB status "Love Lane, just my kind of street!". A couple of days later, another friend told me that until today, Love Lane still has the reputation of being a red district area. Oh, well...
Anyhow, red district or not - today, most of the townhouses there have been converted into boutique hotels, backpacker hostels and a few shops selling vintage and artistic items. If you're there and when you get hungry, do walk over to Muntri Street and try the Nasi Lemak Bento at Muntri Mews Cafe.
Last year, on a weekend trip to Ipoh - Vee and I found ourselves lost in Ipoh old town. Wandering around, we came across a small lane. An English bar at the entrance of the lane has a signboard. So, we've stumbled upon the Concubine Lane.
Concubine Lane's formal name in Malay is Lorong Panglima. Now, Panglima is the Malay word for Commander (so I guess the English name is translated by virtue of reputation rather than semantics). Like Love Lane, I doubt many folks here would refer to the lane as Lorong Panglima either. It's name in Chinese is Yi Lai Hong.
As the story goes - Concubine Lane too used to be an area where wealthy Chinese merchants kept their mistresses (that goes without saying on account of the name). But what's more intriguing, it is believed that the story of mistresses were merely a smokescreen to cover visits to gambling houses and opium dens! Apparently, Concubine Lane was where the vices dens were. And essentially, going to Concubine Lane to visit your mistress was more acceptable than conceding that you smoke opium or that you love gambling!
As we walked through the alley, it is sad to see most of the houses there in a dilapidated state. Some are in so much ruin with missing rooftops and weeds literally growing in them! The good news is that, there is some evidence of refurbishing work being done. Don't worry if you get thirsty, there is a small shop that sells beverages, cotton candy and touristy knick-knacks.
Prostitution, harems, mistresses and concubines - these concepts may have been around ever since human understood the meaning of love, lust, marriage, adultery and infidelity. With that, I guess all towns have their own versions of Love Lane or Concubine Lane - and each with its own tales to tell.
The Botanical Gardens a.k.a Waterfall Gardens is a park in the middle of Georgetown, Penang. On weekends, I drive about 20 minutes to get there - to be one with fellow fitness junkies or in my case, fitness wanna-bes for some outdoor workout. This routine is part of my overarching plan to get fit for marathon running - and the operative word here is "plan"...!
Situated in what used to be a valley, the Botanical Gardens is surrounded by hills covered with lush vegetation. Everyday, and especially on weekends, you can see people jogging or brisk-walking around the park. There are a few small fields there - where taichi takes places, and occasionally you can see children playing badminton.
But working out in the Botanical Gardens is not the point of this story. The point of this story is what you can treat yourself to after the workout....*wink*
Ice Cream Roti
Ice cream on a hot day or after a "torturous" workout would be heaven sent! And then, comes the question - what was the point of one-hour jog to shed off 300-400 calories, only to replace it with 300 calories or more found in a cup of ice cream?? Well, to be honest - there is no point at all. But if you're game, you can try out this "pointless" activity at the Botanical Gardens, with the Ice Cream Roti!
The ice cream stall is located just opposite the waterlily ponds, outside of the Botanical Gardens. Known as the Flower Top Ice Cream because of the flower-shaped ice cream cone, I think the stall has been there like, forever! There is a photo of an older ice cream seller - the person serving the ice cream to me that day was much younger, possibly the son.
With RM3, you can get a hefty chunk of ice cream (chocolate, vanilla or strawberry flavor) sandwiched between two rectangular-shaped soft buns. Hence, the name, Ice Cream Roti.
Roti is the Malay word for bread. Junior asked me if I'd like some peanut toppings on my chocolate ice cream - and obviously, I said "yes". He prepared my order swiftly and handed me my yummy ice cream roti wrapped in a piece of white serviette.
My take on this - On a hot day, it will be pretty challenging to eat the ice cream roti, but definitely worth all the fun! Or you can have it the easier way, and get the ice cream in the flower top cone, to go.
Fresh Fruit Juice
A couple of years ago, I had to undergo physiotherapy for some injury. My physiotherapist and I would often talk about random stuff, but interestingly, the conversations would always lead to the subject of losing weight (and I wonder why...).
Anyway, she recommended working out at the Botanical Gardens and ending the session with a glass of fruit juice - as a treat. This was how I heard about the fruit juice stall.
Located outside of the Botanical Gardens, you will see the stall on the left side of the road (right next to the Bee Gallery) as you walk or drive away from the park. It is a rustic looking place with its white walls and wooden benches. But don't let this humble appearance fool you. Offering an impressive list of tropical fruit juices and smoothies options, the place is aptly named the Tropical Fruit Juice Bar.
My mom loves nature walks. So, when she came to visit me in Penang, we decided to go to the Botanical Gardens. It was almost noon when we got there. As the day was getting pretty hot, we decided to take the tram ride* around the park.
As we wait for the tram to move - out of nowhere, a group monkeys appeared. And just then, 2 teenagers walked towards them. One of the girls had a plastic bag in her hand. Both were excited. They were going to feed the monkeys.
The girl with the bag took out some bananas and held them out to the monkeys. That obviously was a huge mistake! Seeing the bananas - the monkeys went crazy! They tried to grab the bananas and the plastic bag - all the while making scary monkey noises, with their mouths wide open, showing red tongues, sharp-looking teeth and all!
Seeing that, both girls started to shriek like banshees! For some reason, the girl with the bag, didn't let go of her plastic bag. And so, she stood there - playing tarik tali* with the monkeys over the bag!
My initial survival instinct was to jump out of the tram (which was less than a meter away from the girls and monkeys) and run away, Then I remembered that I have my mom with me - so jumping off the tram and running away was not an option! On hindsight: I think my mom would have managed jumping off a stationary tram...
Anyway, in the midst of the chaos someone shouted, "Oi! Balinglah beg tu!" - literally translated as, "Throw the bag!" Guess that made the shrieking girls came to their senses, and they threw the bananas and bag to the monkeys and ran away.
The monkeys are probably the park's primary inhabitant since 1903 when the Botanical Gardens was opened to the public. And maybe they were there even before that. Over the years, they are used to having us humans around and generally, pose no threats and neither are they aggressive. That said, it is best not to bring food with you as you walk around the Botanical Gardens.
But, if you do want to feed the monkeys, don't hold the food in your hand and offer it to them. Leave it somewhere for them to take themselves. That's a piece of common sense, that is probably not common to everyone...hahaha!
The tram ride takes about 10 minutes and costs RM2 (adult), and RM1 (child)
Tarik tali is the Malay word for Tug-of-War
Pantai Kerachut (Beach) continued...
It was the jellyfish season apparently, so we couldn't swim in the sea because there were literally hundreds of jellyfish floating around in the water! For the untrained eyes, they looked like floating plastic bags - so you can understand how turtles could have mistakenly consumed discarded plastic bags, thinking that they were jellyfishes!
After exploring the beach and the Turtle Sanctuary, we ran out of things to do. But the worst thing was that we also ran out of things to eat, and the water supply was also rapidly decreasing!
In making sure that our backpacks were light, we had forgotten to include even a sarong (to sit or lie upon as we wait for our boat ride back), and what more a good book to read, or a chocolate bar or two!
On top of that, the internet connection there was pretty temperamental. So nothing to surf, no FB status updates, no check-ins, no comments.
Anyway, after hundreds of selfies from below the Rhu, we slept. It was a pretty good nap, lulled by the soft breeze and sounds of the waves. Our suite had the wonderful view of lush, green plants; the calm, blue sea and the clear, blue skies.
About 5 minutes to the hour of the boat, we walked to the jetty. Frankly, we were more excited at the prospect of getting some nasi kandar to eat than to getting back to civilization. The 10 minutes boat ride back to the park's entrance was exhilarating - the sea, a beautiful reflection on the clear blue skies.
If you're not into hiking...
Since this first hiking adventure, I have been back Teluk Bahang a couple of times - exploring it via the Pantai Kerachut and Teluk Duyung trails. So don't let this account of self-inflicted torture scare you off :-)
If you're not into hiking, bring some food and have a picnic by the beach as part of the round island tour by boat. Make arrangements to stop at Pantai Kerachut, and spend your time there, before completing the tour.
At Pantai Kerachut, do visit the Turtle Sanctuary, and learn more about the meromictic lake - an amazing scientific phenomena.
When Rozi came to visit me in Penang for the first time - us couch potatoes decided to do something slightly more adventurous than our usual cafe-hopping activities. So we decided to explore Teluk Bahang.
At 2300 hectares, Teluk Bahang is the smallest National Park in Malaysia. Yet, in the words of Master Yoda - "Size matters not. Judge me by my size, do you?"- one should not dismiss this smallest big forest on account of its relatively tiny size. In fact, Teluk Bahang National Park is a treasure trove of rare and diverse flora and fauna species; pristine, unspoiled beaches as well as a meromictic lake, a unique natural wonderment.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Teluk Bahang is known for its two hiking trails, leading to different beaches - Pantai Kerachut, and Teluk Duyung (better known as Monkey Bay). We heard that Pantai Kerachut was the less formidable trail between the two. And so, us amateur hikers decided that we would explore the National Park via Pantai Kerachut - one way (that is, to hike to Pantai Kerachut, and return to the National Park entrance by boat).
The first thing we did before walking into the park was to secure a boat ride back to the park entrance from Pantai Kerachut. You can't miss the boat services - their counters are right before the Teluk Bahang jetty (just opposite the park entrance). According to the boat operators, the trail would generally take up 2 hours. So again, taking in mind our physical fitness level, we asked them to get us after 5 hours, just in case.
Once the ride back was secured, the second thing to do was to register ourselves at the National Park office - a mandatory safety precautions. Teluk Bahang is may be the smallest National Park, but the chances of losing one's way in the jungle is still a possibility.
The Hike to Pantai Kerachut
Once we've registered, off we went into the park - our backpacks each contained a big bottle of mineral water and a bun. Honestly, at that point of time, the minimal water/food supply plus the 3 hour boat waiting time seemed pretty reasonable! Firstly, we didn't want our backpacks to be too heavy. And, secondly, we may take longer than the expected 2 hours hike. So a 3 hour buffer, made a lot of sense - or at least, that was what we thought...hahaha!
The first 10 minutes was a breeze. No downhill or uphill hikes - just flatlands. We passed by a family having a picnic of nasi lemak at the table bench. From among the mangrove leaves, we could see the white, sandy beach and the blue sea. That was a heavenly stroll.
Slowly, the trail got tougher and tougher. In our tired bodies, the uphill torture felt like forever! Along the way, we met fellow hikers who were doing a return trip. All - were drenched in perspiration, and a few - looked very red in the face. We secretly felt relief for having the boat ride back!
After 2 hours of torture, you can imagine how happy we were upon seeing the Pantai Kerachut bridge, and crossing it! The bridge is built over the meromictic lake, which was dry, that day, unfortunately.
From that point onwards, we had 3 hours to kill at the beautiful, quiet beach...(Teluk Bahang Part 2)
T'was a fine and sunny Christmas day.
Three friends decided to spend the afternoon at the Suffolk House, in the manner of socialites ~ with no cares in the world.
The rule was - we must look our best, wear something pretty and feminine, must put on high heels and we must not talk-shop! The talk-shop bit was an important rule, considering we work at the same place (at that point of time). The dressing up bit was equally important, a good change from the boring t-shirt and jeans routine, our comfy workplace attire...
We chose the Suffolk House mostly for its ambience. The Anglo-Indian architecture set the tone for our "English Tea Party". The Suffolk House are actually two buildings that used to be the residence of Captain Francis Light, the founder of the British settlement in Penang, Malaysia.
The tea party area was cozy, not in the building but outside at the patio. The day was sunny and breezy. From where we sat, we got a wonderful view of the compound, lush and green with old, majestic trees, possibly from days past.
The interior design is somewhat nostalgic and quaint, with vintage Christmas ornaments dangling and twirling slowly from the small deco trees. We sat accompanied by other groups, and families, all looking their best.
Having English tea with sandwiches, tarts, scones and pudding; and waited upon by a server in the manner of a butler, just helped to complete our pretense at being ladies-of-leisure for the few hours we were there.
I love airports. Well, most of them, anyway. I would tell you about the few airports that I hate. But that would be a whole different story from this.
One thing is for sure, I like Penang International Airport (PIA). I don't like it because it is newly renovated and upgraded. Nor do I like it because of the services available there.
I like PIA because it has become a familiar transit point, having lived in Penang these last three years. Familiar because of my monthly commutes back to Kuala Lumpur (KL), and numerous visits there to help send off or pick up fellow commuters to and from KL.
These days, I like PIA even more because of Kaffa Espresso Bar.
The first place you see as you drive up to the Departure Wing, Kaffa is my new favorite cafe, my hideout. With my laptop and an unfinished travel anecdote, I imagine that I am in some cozy, vintage cafe tucked somewhere in Paris. Talk about being highly imaginative! :P
If you prefer coffee to soda hands down every time, or if you are a sucker for vintage interior designs, or if you're an old soul, and your dad kept telling you that you were born in the wrong era because of your strange music choice, or even if you are just someone who hates walking in the hot tropical sun, you will like Kaffa.
Let me tell you why in 6 nouns and many adjectives:
Coffee - delicious Salted Caramel Macchiato (hot/cold) - sweet and salty at the same time!
Ambiance - snug, comfy window seats, quaint - with vintage furniture, pinball machines!
Patron parking - right in front of the cafe, and free!
Service - prompt, attentive, friendly...did i say prompt??
Price - Starbucks-like price - none of those overpriced-bcoz-im-in-the-airport charges!
Location - convenient, easy access - without having to drive all the way out to town...
So, will you Kaffa? ;-))