Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It is home to some of the world’s oldest rainforests and 46 species of endemic mammals, the most famous being orangutans.

We arrived in Sandakan in the early afternoon. The island was incredibly green and looked like a jungle, even from above.

Each room at our lodge was its own chalet, nestled in the trees on the edge of a small river.

Sepilok Rainforest Lodge
View from our porch
Sepilok Nature Resort
Walking to the main part of the lodge
SepilokNature Resort
Walking to the dining room

As The German astutely noted:

“There is a lot of nature here… “

As soon as we got in our room, I inadvertently stepped on a massive wasp (thankfully I was wearing shoes). Walking to the main part of the lodge involved dodging bees, butterflies, ants, and whatever was falling from the trees. Also, fruit bats made a mess on our porch every night.

That said, I loved hearing all the sounds of the birds, frogs, lizards, and even the insects as we went to sleep each night.

 Proboscis Monkeys

Our first afternoon was spent at the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. The 400 acre mangrove forest was originally purchased for commercial development. However, the owner fell in love with the monkeys and instead built a modest viewing area for tourists, leaving the rest of the habitat largely untouched.

Labuk Bay
One of the large males

Each day they provide a small amount of food to supplement the monkeys’ diet. (The sanctuary claims this is due to dwindling natural resources, but I suspect it’s really so tourists can get a closer look.) Still, these monkeys were certainly wild – there were no fences, and while they mostly ignored us, the displays of strength made between the various large males were intimidating.

They are normally very high in the treetops so it was absolutely amazing (and sometimes a little scary) to be that close.

I found them fascinating – the females had these adorable, witch-like pointy noses:

… while the males seemed like sad old men who needed a hug:

Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey
They made some really cute sounds:

And they put on quite a show – eating, grooming, fighting, swimming and even mating.

This turned out to be my favourite stop on our trip – we got to have close encounters with these fascinating animals with very few other tourists around.


The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Borneo. This organization rehabilitates former pets or orphans and releases them back into the wild. They have had great success, and see formerly released orangs successfully raising their own babies in the wild. Teaching these juveniles how to be orangutans is a tremendous achievement, and important work since they are critically endangered.

Sepilok Orang

We were able to watch the youngsters getting their breakfast in the outdoor nursery. The goal of this area is to teach the orangs to stay off the ground (where they could come in contact with detrimental bacteria) and improve their climbing skills.

The observation area was behind one-way glass (to avoid over-exposure to humans) so while it was tough to get a good photo, it was a fantastic vantage point for watching them swing, climb and play.

Young Orang

We also visited the open air feeding platform where older orangs might come for a snack. Providing supplemental food makes sure the newly released orangs are getting enough to eat. It is also a great opportunity for the staff to observe their health, especially once they start having babies of their own.

Orangutans are solitary animals.  It was interesting to see how they each took turns at the pile of fruit, giving one another a chance to eat without being disturbed.

Some of them would hang out above or on the nearby ropes until it was their turn.

We were incredibly lucky to have a couple close encounters. (Only the youngest residents are quarantined in cages for a short period – all others are free to roam as they please, including leaving the rehabilitation center for the larger forest.)

This clever girl snatched a coconut and distanced herself from the other young ones as she did the hard work of breaking it open to retrieve the meat:

We also encountered this lady, who preferred to use the handrail of the visitor path instead of the trees as her route:

Sepilok Orang
Certainly the closest I have ever been to an orangutan!

Crowds notwithstanding (it was a surprisingly popular spot given how remote Borneo is), it was amazing to have close encounters with them, and I never got tired of watching the little ones play.

Sun Bears

Just across the road was the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center. They have 42 rescued (ex-captive) bears in large forest habitats. You can observe them via a canopy walkway.

These are the smallest species of bear – I am certain some of my friends have dogs that are larger.  It was tough to get a good photo from above, but they were very active and it was easy to spot them foraging for food.

While we were there, they also pointed out a deadly viper, resting leisurely on a tree:

Night Walk

We opted to go on a night walk into the rainforest. As soon as they handed us rubber boots, I started to second-guess our decision.

Jungle Outing
The German and one of our new friends showing off the Spring line of Rainforest Adventure Wear

The ground was very squelchy in places, with thick mud that tried to snatch the boots off your feet. I wasn’t terribly excited to see cockroaches or spiders, but we spotted an orangutan putting the finishing touches on her nest for the evening, the tiny frogs were cute and it was interesting to identify the sources of all the sounds we heard at night.

The River

The next phase of our trip took place along the Kinabatangan River. Sukau Rainforest Lodge is located right on the river banks so there was quick access to game viewing by boat. It really felt like a remote location – we rarely saw other boats on the river, our phones barely got a signal, and there was a constant soundtrack of birds and bugs.

Kinabatangan River
The German enjoyed our 3 hour boat transfer to the lodge.

We met many different groups of monkeys on our first afternoon cruise. After seeing the Proboscis monkeys up close, it was nice to see them bounding through the treetops. We also encountered long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques, salt water crocodiles, and a variety of unusual birds, including several kinds of hornbill.

Near Sukau

Dinner was served in an open-air pavilion over the water, where we took turns swatting beetles off of each other while we ate. (Lesson learned: avoid white shirts at night.)

We were both pretty surprised to discover that they woke you up at 5:30am each morning for the first cruise. (The German shot me a look of death when he realized that wasn’t a joke.)  This was obviously not going to be his favourite stop on this trip.

The setting of the lodge was really gorgeous and it was lovely to be nestled in the rainforest. However, the rooms lacked charm and the walls were very thin. (We could hear our neighbors snoring.) We weren’t sleeping or eating well, but the staff were wildlife experts and I loved seeing macaques run through the property.

Sukau Rainforest Lodge
Macaques regularly visited the lodge

And that’s why it’s called the rainforest…

We arrived at 5:45am for our first morning cruise, only to have the skies open up and start pouring rain.  (It was still on the edge of the wet season, so we knew that was a risk.) The boats were open top and we didn’t have hardcore rain gear, so we opted out of the excursion. (Frankly, our guide was talking everyone out of it as he kept explaining none of the animals would be out.)

It poured all day and into the night. We quickly understood why all the structures were built on stilts:

The lodge tried to entertain us with a lecture about orangutans and a walk around the property via a covered walkway, but there wasn’t much else to do.  It was hard not to be disappointed… the lodge wasn’t very comfortable, wifi was scarce, and the only wildlife  we saw were mosquitos. It felt a bit like we were trapped in a terrible summer camp.

I braved the elements for the afternoon boat ride. We did spot a large crocodile and a few monkeys, but had to rush back due to another thunderstorm.

With one of my boat-mates

Thankfully, the rain calmed a bit and our new guide did everything in his power to help us make the most of our last day. Even when we couldn’t find wildlife, he taught us how to listen for monkeys based on the sound of the leaves rustling (macaques shake the trees when looking for food, while orangutans use their weight to bend the trees so they can switch from one to another without jumping), and how to identify birds based on their flapping patterns (the Oriental Pied Hornbill always flies with 3 flaps followed by a glide).

Though there was only one orangutan sighting, we got to see quite a few monkeys, crocodiles, and rare birds plus I definitely learned a lot about the local wildlife.

Cave of Doom

One of the recommended activities was to visit Gomantong Cave and watch 300,000 bats perform a mass exodus at dusk. The cave is also home to thousands of swiftlets, who create the vaulable nests used in bird’s nest soup and Chinese medicines.

Preparing for the Cave
This happy photo was taken before we got to the cave…

What they don’t tell you in advance is that the cave also contains the largest infestation of cockroaches in the world (literally).

It started off innocently enough with a walk through some lovely canopy to the large entrance to the cave. The wooden walkway made it look like it would be an easy jaunt.

The Cave

However, once we hit the darkness we had the dreaded realization that the walkway and handrail were crawling with massive cockroaches. (Think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). It was like being in a horror film.

Everything was slippery from the moisture of the cave and thousands of years of bat poop. The last thing I wanted to do was grab the roach-covered handrail so I was moving pretty slowly.  The German decided to ditch me and move rapidly toward the exit while I took timid steps, continuously yelling at our guide to stop using his flashlight to illuminate the horror show.

Suffice to say, we were thrilled to get out of there. While the bat exodus was interesting to see, I’m not sure it was worth braving a cockroach marathon.

Fun fact: 6 guards have to sleep in the stinky, cockroach-infested cave to keep people from stealing the valuable birds’ nests. Next time I am having a bad day, I will remind myself that things could be worse – at least I am not one of those guards.

Last Night

After a series of boats, cars and planes, we spent our last night in the large city of Kota Kinatabu. Our hotel room was delightfully modern and bug-free, and we had our first great meal of the week.

As much as I enjoyed seeing the wildlife, we both agreed that we aren’t jungle people and were excited to be headed back to Bali.  Still, I will miss having easy access to so many monkeys and apes.

Here’s a short compilation of some of the many primates we saw:

A Few Days in KL

We had to fly through Kuala Lumpur to get to Borneo from Bali. Our last visit to KL was pretty much just 24 hours of non-stop rain but I had fallen in love with a bowl of noodles while The German had fallen in love with a hotel, so it seemed like a no-brainer to stop over for a few days.

Our typical routine upon arrival in most major international cities involves dropping our bags at the hotel and immediately going in search of cheese.  Though it had only been a few weeks since Melbourne, I was definitely suffering from withdrawal.  It took a couple hours of wandering around before we located an expat-oriented grocery store with a gloriously large selection of imported cheeses.  We ultimately returned to the hotel with our spoils, and spent the first night devouring goat’s cheese, triple cream with truffles, and aged gouda in our large, modern apartment/hotel. 

(Believe it or not, this place was $85/night.)

Kuala Lumpur felt arid after Bali and we actually managed like to walk around without immediately sweating through our clothing… it’s amazing how a slight change in the humidity can make such a huge difference!

While the streets of Bali were flanked by dogs (that may or may not randomly bite you), Kuala Lumpur is a cat town.  It seemed like there were kittens everywhere! They were obviously strays and a little skittish, though many businesses put our cat food in the evenings so people must be happy to have them around.

Kuala Lumpur isn’t exactly scenic… the cityscape is a mix of skyscrapers, malls and cramped apartment buildings. During mealtimes, the sidewalks are taken over by stalls selling food:

The pride of the city is the Petronas Twin Towers (which we saw last time). Otherwise, there’s not a ton of things to do. We got the impression that people mainly come here to eat, drink, and shop, which is mainly how we spent our time, too. 

I visited my favourite vegetarian food stall daily for my $2 bowl of curried noodles with fake meat:

Blue Boy Vegetarian Food Center

And we also visited a local coffee shop a couple times for lattes, cakes, and kittens. 

Since this was the largest city we will visit over the next month, we also took the opportunity to sort out a few necessities.  (ie. The German got a haircut while I picked up some new glitter nail polish.)

Atmos D-Box

There are over 30 malls in Kuala Lumpur, so it wasn’t surprising to find plenty of modern cinemas.  One of them advertised something called  “D-Box seats”, which were described as “immersive motion”…  “The signal is then sent to the actuators that act like little robots under your seat.”

The German wanted to see Logan and I wanted to see anything that involved a robot in my seat, so off we went.

The D-box seats are kind of like a gentler version of movie motion rides you would find at a theme park. They vibrate, tilt, and rock independently and each seat has its own control for adjusting the intensity.

They used only 3 rows for the D-Box seats – the rest are normal.
At times, it was fun – when the characters were driving on a gravel road, you experienced the same sensation. At other times, it was distracting – when you were watching several people fight from an external perspective, there was no need for the chair to be moving.  I thought it showed promise but needed refinement. The German hated it from the start and immediately switched it off.

The German enjoyed the movie (but hated the seats) while I loved the seats but was lost through parts of the movie, having not seen any of the prior X-men films. (I didn’t even realize it was part of the X-men franchise until we got to the theatre.) Regardless, it was a fun way to spend a few hours, and it’s always interesting to see the unique aspects of going to the cinema in a different culture.

Do these types of seats exist in the US someplace? I am not sure if these types of experiences seem new to me because I rarely went to the movies in SF, or if Asia is advanced when it comes to enhancing the cinema experience…

Off to Borneo

Next we are off to Borneo for some wildlife adventures in the jungle! Expect lots of orangutan pics in my next post!

Zumba in Penang

In my continued adventures of Zumba Around The World…

Our stay in Penang was going to be almost 3 weeks, so I was hoping I could find some great classes. I started off emailing a bunch of local instructors since I was faced with my usual troubles of trying to find accurate class info or places that don’t require monthly memberships. Only 2 instructors wrote me back.

One of the instructors let me know about a fitness studio that was having a “3 hour Halloween party” which was very close to where we were staying and open to non-members.  The studio was small but had lots of mirrors, huge windows on one side, a decent sound system and small platform for the instructor… it looked promising.

As soon as the class started, I was dismayed to learn:

  1. There was no A/C in the studio and the windows barely opened.  (Penang is incredibly hot and humid, so even with the help of some fans it still felt like we were doing Zumba in a greenhouse.)
  2. They actually intended to Zumba for 3 hours (without any breaks).  My assumption was that it would be around 90 minutes of Zumba and then a party… even instructor trainings have breaks built into them!

The instructors were all in costume, which was cute.  And some of the students dressed up too. (Sadly, I had no costuming with me.)  I give props to the guy who never took off the Jason mask or put down the plastic axe while he lead songs.  Not all the outfits were as successful, though… Ladies, if you’re going to Zumba in costume, try out some moves at home first to make sure you’re not over-exposing yourself!

Halloween Zumba

There was definitely not enough cueing happening and people just weren’t moving much, including the instructors… its like they were tip-toeing around the room.  Granted, if you’re going to do Zumba for 3 hours in a sauna, you do have to pace yourself!

After 90 minutes it was so crowded that I could no longer see the instructor despite trying to move to different spots in the room. And I was so sweaty it felt like I could wring out my clothes, so I called it a night.

The studio had a $20 new student registration fee, and then a 10 class minimum purchase so this wasn’t going to be my home base for our visit.


Unfortunately, I saw some common themes: not enough cueing, not cueing early enough, or verbal cueing.  While the majority of instructors here are great dancers with sharp movements, that is only part of the formula for having a great class… we are repeatedly told in instructor trainings “its not about how good you look, its about your students having fun”.  And your students aren’t going to have fun if they are frustrated, confused, or embarassed because they don’t know which move to do next. I pick up choreography very quickly, so if I can’t follow someone, I can only imagine how frustrated others are. And verbal cueing just isn’t as successful (even if you’re wearing a mic) since its so hard to hear over the music. 

(The exception to this was Lisa – I highly recommend taking a class with her if you can.)

Classes rarely start on time here, which seems to just be how things are but it still annoys me. Even at gyms where the studios are booked back-to-back, classes often start late.

And I’ve seen too many instances of instructors prepping their playlists in the middle of class (or even when every song ends). If you must mess around with your playlist, do it before you start class or at a water break to minimize interruptions – this will ensure students’ don’t get confused about whether or not the song is done, and their heartrates will stay up since they will keep moving.

Strong by Zumba

This is a new style of class by Zumba: music-driven interval training. It is not at all like dancing – its entirely fitness-based movements like squats, lunges, crunches, etc. but the timing with the music is unlike any other exercise class I’ve ever experienced. I was initially unenthusiastic as I am such a fan of dancing, but Melissa worked some Strong routines into her class, and I have to admit, I loved it. (And my abs were sore the next day!)

I had a great time at Melissa’s class at Jatomi Fitness – it was a very friendly group in a huge studio in a very nice gym. I wound up leading about 6 songs, while Melissa did a number of Strong routines and we all had a great time!

Melissa's Class
Goofy, sweaty, post-class photo with Melissa’s fun group!

Auntie Mee Mee

One of the women I met in Melissa’s class was Mee Mee. She’s pretty much the queen of the gym – she knows all the instructors, all the gym staff, and all the regular gym-goers. She seems to be always smiling and having fun.

She took me under her wing and was quick to let the teachers know that I am also an instructor. She tried to get me a free 1 week pass to the gym, and when they said that promotion was over, she offered to sneak me into the gym with her if I couldn’t find something that worked – ha!

She’s in great shape and goes to the gym almost every day – I hope I am just as active (and happy) when I reach her age!

Zumba in the streets

Bellydancing Class

As a former bellydancer, I am always hesitant to go to bellydance classes at a gym as its usually someone inexperienced leading the class, or so much compromised technique it makes me cringe. However, I had a free morning so I went to one, despite my reservations.

The instructor, Lisa Lim, is a fantastic bellydancer and also a Zumba instructor.  She did a very impressive job trying to teach bellydance technique while keeping it light and fun and accessible to everyone.

Other than the rare impromptu dance around my apartment, I hadn’t done any bellydancing in years so it was a nice surprise to see my body still remembered the movements. It was a small class full of enthusiastic women and they were all very welcoming. So all in all, I really enjoyed it!

Occupy Beach Street

Every Sunday morning, the city closes down about 3 blocks of Beach Street “to popularize the idea of healthy living” and “emphasize the importance of social interactions” (plus 5  other objectives).  One of the fitness studios was doing a one hour Zumba class there, so despite the humidity, I went to check it out.

I think at least 100 people were there (including Mee Mee), dancing in the streets!  They were rotating instructors every few songs, and everyone was instantly sweaty and having fun even though it was crazy crowded.

At Occupy Beach Street
Some of the many other Zumba students

Unfortunately, the Beach Street organizers decided to interrupt the class about 40 minutes in to give some speeches and have an opening ritual.  I think they were so excited about how many people were there (as the street was otherwise empty) that they wanted to take advantage of the audience.

Everyone immediately ignored all the speakers and took selfies with each other.  Then there was some taiko drumming which was actually good, but at this point 20 minutes had gone by and people started leaving.  They said they would start up more Zumba again “soon”, but then they started taking a bunch of different official photos (almost like a wedding)… most of the attendees were as annoyed as I was and people were leaving rapidly, so I also bailed. Hopefully next time the organizers won’t disrupt their own success!

Fun with Sue

My good friend Sue came to meet me in Penang.  She was formerly my bellydancing teacher, then troupemate, has come to my Zumba class since day one, and is always game for trying out any kind of dance class.

We first went to Lisa’s Zumba class.  As I already mentioned, Lisa is easy to follow so we both managed to keep up pretty well even though we didn’t know a single routine.  And even when we got a little lost, we managed to improv our way through it!

On our last day in town, we decided to try something called Sh’bam… it looked very similar to Zumba so we gave it a shot. The instructor, Mabelle, was really easy to follow. The music was very similar (and sometimes identical) to Zumba, so at least that was familiar even through the choreography was different.  We were able to pick it up quickly and I think at some point we were distracting Mabelle by embellishing the choreo.

We loved watching the other students and seeing how much fun they were having. The guy behind us was super into it but always seemed to be one beat off… so the room would jump right and then a second later his head popped up as he followed. He was having the best time and not at all self-conscious – we loved watching him.

All in all, it was a great way to end my workout time in Penang!

Short-term Options

If you find yourself in Penang and are looking for Zumba options (that don’t require monthly committments), here’s what I found:

Chi Fitness will give you one free trial class (register on their website), and offers a pay-as-you-go plan for about $9.50/day (or cheaper if you buy 5 or more). They have quite a lot of Zumba classes, and a number of locations throughout Pengang.

Jatomi Fitness also offers a free trial class on their website. And though its not advertised, you can get a 2 week membership for about $28 (and no registration fee).  They have a large dance studio with mirrors, A/C, a platform for the instructor, and mats if needed (which the staff cleans after every class). The gym itself is a massive space with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the ocean, nice equipment and a decent locker room.

Zero Fitness: when I emailed them to get more info, they offered to let me pay a walk-in price of about $4/class (even though they usually require a monthly membership). They have Zumba every day of the week, so its worth reaching out to them.

I also came across a few one-off events open to the public.  My best bet was searching Facebook for events in the area or just going to a class and talking to other students.

Penang with Friends

We originally decided to come to Penang because my long-time friend Sue heard there was great food and nice beaches and lots of street art. Sue was originally my bellydancing teacher (about 16 years ago) which evolved into being troupemates and great friends. After this plan came together, my friend Dave said he also wanted to meet up. Dave and I met in high school in England (though he is originally Australian and now lives in SF). Sue & Dave picked overlapping dates so it was incredibly nice to spend some time with two very close friends, especially during the election… There was no need for superficial travel talk – we jumped right past that to politics (lots and lots of politics), life plans, and inappropriate jokes/insults.

We used Dave’s arrival as an excuse to check into a cute little boutique hotel in the middle of the Heritage area.  It was walkable to all the street art and best food spots, plus there was so much free stuff in the hotel I doubt we’d have a chance to try it all – breakfast, afternoon tea, wine on the roof deck in the evening, movies & popcorn & ice cream at night. (We did make it to wine one night, and now we understand why it was free… everything else was great, though!)

Penang Hill

One thing all the locals mentioned was going up Penang Hill for a view of the city. We bought tickets for the funicular, which was a surprisingly fast trip to the top (it only took about 10 minutes to get to 833 meters/2700 feet).

Once there, you were rewarded with a decent view of George Town… but not much else. There was a small collection of hawker stalls selling food, a hindu temple, and then a bunch of strange tourist attractions like an “owl museum” (which was just sculpture of owls, based on the posters), a “typhoon experience” (still not sure what that was), and stalls selling annoying bird whistles to children or wax sculptures of your own hands (why?).

Penang Hill
At the top of Penang Hill

We had a quick look at the temple and saw some wild monkeys behind it.  I also had what turned out to be the best coconut milkshake of the trip before Dave suggested we try walking down. The top of the trail looked like a nice, wide paved path of stairs.  I knew that this was deceptive, yet I still agreed to follow the guys anyways (in my sundress and sandals, carrying my purse).

About 90 minutes later we finally made it to the midway station, sweaty and filthy.  As predicted, the nice path rapidly deteriorated into a steep, muddy slope.  At one point, I nearly slipped into what I can only assume was a river of sewage based on the smell.  There were plenty of mosquitos plus many other large insects along the way.  (Why do I keep doing this to myself?!) On the plus side, we did see more wild monkeys. While I have to admit it was much more exciting this way, I was very happy to take the funicular the rest of the way down.

The Path Down
You can see Dave on the”path” to the left… to the right is a small river of sewage surrounded by slippery cement.

Food Tour

Once Sue arrived we signed on for a Penang Food Tour. Given that Sue can’t eat cilantro, Dave is allergic to peanuts and I am vegetarian, it seemed wise to get a guide.  (The German eats everything and loves spicy food, so at least one of us made it easy on them.)

We spent 4 hours going to 5 different stops and ate entirely too much food. The locals don’t have any prescribed order, so it started with dessert, then appetizers, some salted fruit, then “dinner”, and the final stop included Indian desserts and curry (presented in that order). It was a great way to hit all the culinary highlights in one night, and we all tried things we never would have otherwise ordered.  It was certainly worth doing, and we were much more prepared for the hawker centres for the rest of the trip!

Batu Ferringhi

We planned to spend a couple nights at the beach town of Batu Ferringhi. (No connection to the Ferengi race from Star Trek.)

We started in an AirBnB on the beach with a huge pool that we rarely had to share with anyone. Though it rained every day, the storms came and left quickly. The German was fascinated that Sue & I, who have been residing in drought-plagued California for decades, were so excited by all the thunder & lightening.


We seemed to alternate between hanging out by the pool, spending lots of time on the internet, or drinking away our election worries.

One Friday afternoon we found a great beach bar with a nice view of the water and the sunset.  Just as we received our drinks, a thick cloud of smoke started to move in… our waiter quickly ushered us closer to shore where they had a roof and fans, but the smell was getting more and more noxious.  The staff all started to cover their noses and mouths with clothing or napkins – not a good sign.  It turns out the city decided to “fog” for mosquitos… right around sunset when the beach was full of people! I’m pretty sure my lungs are now mosquito-proof. (Yuck)

The cover to Dave’s forthcoming album, My Lungs are Black from Batu

Ridiculous Photos

Sue and I never shy away from a photo opportunity and Penang provided plenty of material to work with…  the highlight was the “Upside Down Museum”, where they help you take ridiculous photos in strange environments. (It’s like it was made for us, honestly.)  But there was also a lot of street art and random statues, which we out to good use!

24 Hours in KL

We had 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur with Sue after Dave went back to SF. We were pleasantly surprised to find our 2 bedroom hotel room was larger than two SF apartments put together. It had a great view of the city from the 46th floor and was nicely appointed – we immediately regretted we were only there for one night!

We ventured out for coffee and a snack.  I discovered we were very close to a vegetarian hawker center, which meant I could try any of the local dishes without fear of accidental prawns or surprise sausage. I loved it so much that I went back the next morning and had curried noodles for breakfast – they were that good.

Blue Boy Hawker Centre
Vegetarian Curried Mee AND napkins – all in one place! Unbelievable!


Afterwards, we got caught in a crazy flash flood – it turned from blue skies to torrential rain in the blink of an eye.  We called an Uber to get us to the Pertronas Towers (the 88 story twin towers with an amazing view of KL) and in the few seconds it took me to dash out and check the license plate, I was soaked… it looked like I had just taken a shower or that we had been walking through the rain for hours. Our Uber driver carefully negotiated flooded streets to get us there. So that’s our excuse for looking so ridiculous in the photos.


We wisely chose to hunker down in our awesome hotel room with wine & cheese after that.

Departure Drama

I think Malaysia liked us, as each of us had our own version of departure dramas.  Dave missed his outgoing flight entirely – he misread the departure time, and didn’t realize it until an hour before his departure (and we were an hour away from the airport).

The German & I had a flight out of KL a couple hours after Sue’s so we all went to the airport together.  Everything was going well, until at some point our Uber driver decided to bypass the airport and drive us to the middle of nowhere.  (The German was reading on his phone and Sue & I were chatting away in the back seat as we approached the airport, so I’m not sure where it all went wrong.)  As the driver blew past a sign indicating a turn to the airport and headed down a dirt road, we tried to correct him but he was reluctant to listen to us.  We got to the airport an hour before Sue’s departure, which was cutting it a little close but she made it just fine.

Breathing a sigh of relief that Sue made it ok, The German and I leisurely headed to check in to our flight to Bangkok.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have exit plans solidified for Thailand, so they denied us our boarding pass. Thanks to all of our UAL miles we were able to sort that out without spending a fortune, but it turned out to be lucky that we had some extra time!

I was excited that The German was able to get us lounge access thanks to his BA status – a glass of sparkling wine was necessary after all the departure stress!

So now we are off to Thailand…


Penang: Pre-Friends

When we entered Singapore, we needed to have exit plans in order to secure our visas.  We made plans to rendezvous with some SF folks in Penang in early November and accommodation looked good and cheap, so we decided to spend some extra time in George Town. It’s not yet clear if that was a mistake.

Our first AirBnB was nicely furnished, had ample space, very fast wifi and was only about $75/night. It had floor to ceiling windows looking out over the bay, and though it was a little south of George Town, it was in an area with lots of restaurants and bars and at least 4 coffee shops within 2 blocks.


While it looked great, it had an equal amount of issues…  We went from having the nicest kitchen imaginable at our pet sitting place in Singapore, to one of the worst. The fridge was dorm-room sized, which was a challenge even though we don’t really cook that much.  (I broke a bottle of wine when it tumbled out of the over-stuffed fridge – tragedy!) The electric kettle nearly caught fire, smoking and cinging the wall outlet. The cutlery was barely a step above disposable and constantly falling apart in our hands, and the single-burner cooker was a mystery to use.

It was also surprisngly noisy for being on the 20th floor… I expect it’s all the A/C units, but there was constant rumbling coming from the walls that I couldn’t manage to ignore. And we resorted to sleeping on a mattress on the floor due to the uncomfortable bed and uncontrollable A/C.  So not exactly amazing, but we have stayed in much worse.

Street Art

Penang is known for 2 things: food and street art. The street art actually started with a government-initiated project to celebrate the history and people of Penang.  So in other words, the goverment hired artists to come grafitti up the town to encourage tourism. It has grown considerably since then, and you see groups of people wandering the streets in late afternoon/early evening (once the temperture had cooled slightly) to take photos with the most famous pieces.

I loved how many of them incorporated real objects – chairs, motorbikes, swings, etc.  The less-famous pieces were just as delightful, and so many of them included cats!


Its very interesting to experience unusual holidays, or see how other cultures experience familiar holidays.  In Singapore, we only passed one bar with any kind of Halloween decorations and the Christmas lights were already going up in mid October.  In Penang, some bars promoted Halloween party on the preceeding Saturday night, but Diwali is apparant everywhere.

Halloween has always been my favourite holiday. Candy & costumes – what’s not to love?! It is a particularly huge holiday in SF (usually spanning a week) and I’m especially missing my friends and all the fun costumes they create each year. I am sad that it was nothing more than a regular day here – no costumes, no parties, no pantless nun handing me candy. Even worse, there was torrential rains and flooded streets, so any attempts to find some Halloween activities were thwarted.

That said, Diwali has been exciting to witness since it has taken over the whole town. There are a lot of lights on the street and fireworks started at 12:01am on Oct 29th and went until dawn.  These aren’t the huge 4th of July-style displays, but rather a constant popping of smaller explosions (which we were initially worried was gunfire – guess I’m still American at heart!). From our AirBnB we had a view of most of George Town plus mainland Malaysia, and we could see the colourful bursts exploding all around.

Diwali Display?
Plus this thing was parked in front of our building all week… I’m assuming its related to Diwali.

The Food

We got off to a bit of a rocky start with food. Shopping in one of the largest grocery stores didn’t yield very good quality or selection of produce.  Despite seeing chickens on the side of the road, even the eggs didn’t seem very fresh.  We also made some poor choices on eating out – partially due to our first AirBnB location, and partially due to my vegetarianism. (Most of the local dishes are based on meat or seafood… when I asked for something “vegetarian”, I wound up with prawns.)

We did ultimately find some good spots for local food, though, and now I understand why Penang is so well-known for it.  There is a very popular Indian place that is open 24 hours – the curries were flavourful  and the naan was some of the best I’ve ever had.  We also found a cafe that did vegetarian versions of more traditional dishes – I loved the coconut stew with tofu (instead of seafood). There is a Din Tai Fung (famous for dumplings) which was even better (and cheaper) than the one we went to in Singapore.  And coconut ice cream is fresh, amazing and everywhere.

The Number 4…

…is unlucky here. In Chinese, the word for “four” is very close to the word for “death”. So in buildings, the floors are numbered: 3, 3A, 5  and 13, 13A, 15.

Unlucky 4

So far, everyone has been very nice and most things are cheap. Our accommodation hasn’t been entirely comfortable (the second one had a kitchen stocked primarily with saucers and unreliable wifi) but it could be worse.

We have been saving a lot of the tourist activities for when our friends arrive…  I am very excited to see Dave & Sue!