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Penang, Malaysia – March 11th to 24th

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What do you do when you are needing a break from the heat and bustle of nine days in Kuala Lumpur and you just want to relax and play on a beach? You book a flight to Penang, Malaysia.  We did just that and to make it even better, we managed to do it for less than $100 CAD for all four of us.  It was a great switch, from a big, hot city to the beautiful hot tropical island of Penang, with sandy beaches and everything else you could possibly want.

We booked ourselves into a great two bedroom condo with a pool, a balcony overlooking the sea in the Malacca Strait, backing some jungle and across the road from a beach, called Miami Beach (no, not anywhere close to Florida!!). Our apartment had everything we needed for us to feel at home and our host was very friendly and hospitable.  After arriving and settling in one of our first tasks was to head out to the TESCO to load up our fridge and cupboards with some groceries.  We were ready to settle down for a week, play at the beach/pool, eat some pasta and microwave popcorn and to have a movie night or two.

We initially used a taxi to get around, until we figured out how easy and cheap the bus system was, and from there forward, we used the local bus whenever we headed out. It was a very good bus system.

Although we hoped for much nicer beaches than the ones we found at Penang, we still enjoyed chilling at Miami Beach while renting tire tubes to float and play with in the water. The beach was never crowded and when we weren’t at the beach we were playing in the pool at the condo.  The kids enjoy any chance to get into the water and let off some of the pent up energy they have.  As a plus, they always sleep so well after a day of outside play and water time.

The day we arrived in Penang our taxi driver from the airport pointed out places that were affected by the December 26th, 2004 Tsunami.  I intentionally hadn’t told the kids about the tsunami because I knew Aurora would have been worried.  But as circumstance has it Len and Aurora went out one night to check out the beach across the road from us and they passed by a little restaurant/pub on the beach.  There they met the owner of the Miami Beach Café, and discovered from the cafe’s menu that on December 26th, 2004 the owner’s 18 day old baby was soundly sleeping on a mattress, when the tsunami struck, and she was swept out to sea by the waves, but just as fortunately was swept back to shore, where she was rescued.  Her parents consider her as their “Miracle Baby”.  I would have to agree.  A few days later we went to the beach again, passing by the same restaurant.  This time there was a girl who looked to be about 10 years old sitting there, Aurora was so excited to see her, and to have seen the Miracle Baby.  It is these types of “by chance” experiences that I am so glad our kids can have.  I have no doubt that Aurora will always remember the Miracle Baby, and have a better understanding of the tragedy of the tsunami than she ever would have if she had seen a news article on television.  Being in the spot where this all happened definitely made Aurora’s understanding much more real and relevant.

Speaking of busses we did the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus in Penang so we could get a look at what there was to see. We love the Hop on Hop Off buses and are glad we did this in Penang because we didn’t have a car so it allowed us to see more of the island.  We have done the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour busses in previous locations (Seville, Spain; Rome, Italy; Athens, Greece) to get around and see where and what the sites are and we have always enjoyed them, especially the view from the upper deck of the bus.  We spent two half days hopping on and off the bus in Penang.

One of our stops from the bus was at Penang Hill. It is the highest point on the island (833 metres above sea level at it’s highest point) and has been developed as a resort/tourist destination.  You can walk up the hill for free if you want, but we quickly ruled out that option.  It probably would have taken us all day and we would not have been in any mood once at the top, to enjoy the scenery.   To get to the top we rode in a high-speed rail tram up the side of the hill, our first ever train up a hill.  At times it felt like a 45 degree angle up the hill, it was an impressive transport system.  The view at the top was great.  We took some time to have a meal at one of the many food stands at the top.  By the time we looked around a little and got back to the bottom of the hill, a few hours had passed.  It was a long stop, but a worthwhile one.

During our time on Penang one of the places on our list to see was Penang Butterfly Farm. Len and the kids headed out one day and took the local bus to go see it.  When they arrived they discovered it had been closed less than two weeks previously, for expansion and renovations and would not reopen until December.  It was a bit of a disappointment for all of us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter striking out on the Butterfly Farm, Len and the kids decided to continue on and walk a little further to get to Penang National Park. Len and Noah had hoped to get a chance to walk on a canopy walk that was high in the trees of the jungle.  But once they got to the park, they discovered that attraction too was closed, and had been closed for about a year already, and was still in waiting for repairs.  However, on the positive side Aurora was relieved, because she had no intention of walking on a canopy walkway high in the upper levels of the jungle.  The kids and Len enjoyed the park interpretive centre and then went on a short hike into the park.  It was a good hike, within a few minutes of beginning their walk, they saw many monkeys in the trees.  They also got to see a local lizard (two of them) called a Water Monitor.  The trail was along the beach/shoreline, so they got to see spectacular scenery both of the jungle and the shoreline.  They all enjoyed their hike in the park and have some very nice photos to show for it.  We’ve had the chance in Canada to walk through some pretty nice forests and landscape, but this was their first time getting to see tropical jungle up close and personal, so I’m very happy the kids got to go on this hike, and a little jelly that I missed it.

While we were in Penang, I discovered that a travelling family whose blog I have been following for years, and also with whom I have been corresponding via email, were also in Penang. Not only were they in Penang, they were in a high-rise condo no more than a half kilometer away from us. I always had hoped to meet this family in person, and now we finally might have the chance to!  A few emails later, we finally had a date set and one evening we were able to have this family come over to our condo for a visit. I was very happy to finally meet them, and what is so wonderful is that we discovered that there are many similarities between our family and theirs including some of the same travel experiences and locations.  They also have a son and daughter who are approximately the same age as Noah and Aurora and are similar in personalities.  Their family has been to Elephant Nature Park, and Chiang Mai, Thailand and right at the same time we were settling in and getting to love Almunecar, Spain this family was just leaving Almunecar from an extended stay there.  They loved Almunecar just as much if not more than us, as they are returning there again for an extended stay.  We all enjoyed our visit so much that we arranged to meet up again one day at Miami Beach.  Had we been able to, we would have arranged to hang out together more, but our schedules just were not matching very well.  It was great for Noah and Aurora to have a chance to hang out with other kids who are having some of the same travelling experiences that they are having.  I was so happy to have some time with this family and I know we will be keeping in touch and I hope having another chance to see them somewhere in our future.

So our time in Penang was restful and relaxing, just the way we like it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn every country we have visited there has been something that has left us speechless for just plain make us laugh out loud.   This was it for Malaysia.  Have you every seen a mash potato dispenser?  Have you tried it?