Places to visit – Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi was the last stop on our 2-week Malaysian holiday earlier this year (if you don’t count our stopover in Kuala Lumpur on the way home). Our primary reason for visiting was to do as little as possible on the beach!

We stayed at the Tropical Resort on Pantai Tengah. The hotel itself wasn’t on the beach but a very short (2 minute) walk down to the beach. It was a complex of 1 storey rooms and some communal areas, all very clean and well maintained. We thought it was very good value for money!

Pantai Tengah and the adjacent Pantai Cenang are the two main beaches on Langkawi and are fairly touristy, although the beach at Pantai Tengah is a lot quieter. It suited what we wanted well: there were lots of shops and restaurants near to the hotel, and Pantai Cenang had a large selection of bars and restaurants on the beach itself which was a lovely way to spend an evening. We took quite a few sunset photos!

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My only complaint about Pantai Tengah was the lack of shade. It was very exposed for most of the day, apart from very early in the morning and our hotel did not provide sun shades. This made it difficult to spend too much time in one go on the beach! We would go for a little while and spend some time in the sea, and then have to go back to the hotel to cool off!

We didn’t do that much while we were in Langkawi as we just wanted to relax, but here are some things we did do:

Cable car and waterfalls

The Langkawi cable car on the north-west side of the island will take you up to the top of Gunung Machinchang, where there are some great views over Langkawi.

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There is also a ‘sky bridge’ up there but it has been closed almost since it was open from what I can gather.

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We went by taxi from Pantai Cenang and it wasn’t that expensive. The cable car is situated in a very strange purpose-built touristy “village” which was pretty much deserted when we went. But the cable car was good fun and we got some fairly decent pictures from the top. Having read reviews online, the best advice is to pick a clear day to go as you’ll be in the clouds otherwise!

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Nearby are the Telaga Tujuh waterfalls, which are about a 15 minute walk from the cable car. Unfortunately, once you get to the bottom, there are a large number of steps up to the top! It’s quite a climb but doesn’t actually take too long. Also, you have two options: you can go all the way to the top, or stop halfway at the base of the waterfall which gives great views of the waterfall itself.

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However, if you continue up to the top, you get to the beautiful pools where you can slide from one pool to the next! The water was cool and this was lots of fun. I think we went at quite a dry time of year (January) but you could still slide between the pools.

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Boat trip

There are lots of reasonably priced boat trips which will take you round some of the outlying islands. Our hotel recommended one that was organised by a nearby agent so we went with that. For the price it was pretty good value! Plus, our boat was a lot less crowded than some of the others so I guess we picked a good company to go with (unfortunately I don’t know the name).

The first stop on the boat trip was to the Island of the Pregnant Maiden (Pulau Dayang Bunting). This island has a large freshwater lake in the middle where you can have a swim or go on a pedal boat. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the lake but it really was a beautiful spot. There were a lot of monkeys though, and they were trying to grab anything they thought might be food.

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Our next stop was at a bay where they fed sea eagles. It was certainly an impressive sight to see all the sea eagles flying around, although afterwards we heard that they attract the sea eagles by feeding them chicken skin which isn’t nourishing for them and means that they have problems forming eggshells for their offspring.

We finished at a tropical beach on a small island. Unfortunately, our boat was doing the same trip as a number of other boats so whilst we were the first to arrive and enjoy the soft sand and clear sea, it wasn’t long before it was overtaken by a number of other people! It was a nice stopover though, and the beach had lots of shade and some food and drinks vendors.

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Rampant Sailing day trip

This was our ‘splurge’ whilst we stayed in Langkawi as it was pretty expensive, but I have to admit that it was totally worth the money! This day trip aboard a beautiful catamaran promises that there will be no more than 10 of you on the boat (there were 8 the day that we went) and sails around some of the small islands around Langkawi.

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The couple that own the boat are lovely and treated us like royalty the whole day! We were supplied with cold drinks whenever we wanted, and they provided an amazing spread for lunch. The views from the boat were wonderful, and we were never bored as there were activities to do as well – from a jacuzzi-like experience in a net being towed behind the boat, to kayaking, relaxing in hammocks in the water and a stopoff for a jungle trek where Tom saw a monitor lizard!

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So, that finishes my little summary of our Malaysian holiday, which covered Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands, Penang and Langkawi. We had a great time and would recommend Malaysia to anyone.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Places to visit – Georgetown, Penang (Malaysia)

After leaving the Cameron Highlands on our 2-week holiday in Malaysia, we took another bus (and another long 4 hour journey) to Georgetown on the island of Penang.

Georgetown is well known for its history and its food. I think I read somewhere that it used to be one of Malaysia’s most prominent ports, but at some point this changed and the commerce moved elsewhere, leaving Georgetown virtually undeveloped. Today, Georgetown has become a large tourist attraction because of the sheer quantity of historic buildings, and I for one was very glad that it had not had the modernisation of so many cities today!

Here are some things to see in Georgetown:

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

This was a real highlight for us. The blue mansion, which was built by a very wealthy Chinese businessman, has been lovingly restored from a fairly ruinous state by a group of locals and today you can have a tour round it led by a lady who is obviously a key member of that group and is very passionate about it! She was great. The house is beautiful, and you can also stay there if you want a bit of luxury during your time in Georgetown. Tom and I were sorely tempted!

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion Georgetown

Inside Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Penang Peranakan Museum

This was another old mansion house that has been restored and filled with beautiful artefacts. Unlike the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, this is a private home and its contents have been bought to the owner’s taste rather than to be authentic to what the original house would have looked like. Still, there is a free tour round the museum (we were rather startled to be approached by a tour guide and taken on a tour as soon as we entered, we thought he must be looking for payment but he wasn’t!) which was very informative, and it is a beautiful house.

Inside Paranakan Museum Georgetown

Paranakan Museum Georgetown

Khoo Kongsi

This is the largest of the clan houses (kongsi) in Georgetown and is very elaborate with several buildings to look at. If I remember correctly, there are several areas in Georgetown where each clan lived in the houses which surrounded their central clan house and this was their little protected community. The clan house itself looks more like a temple, and contains shrines and ancestral tablets. It has been beautifully preserved and I believe it is still active today.

Khoo Kongsi Georgetown

Inside Khoo Kongsi Georgetown

Street art

Georgetown has some great street art, which we enjoyed spotting!

Armenian Street Art Georgetown

Cintra Street Art Georgetown

Bicycle street art Georgetown

Other sights

Here are some other things that we saw whilst walking around Georgetown. Firstly, St George’s Church:

St Georges Church Georgetown

Cannon on the edge of Fort Cornwallis:

Cannon at Fort Cornwallis Georgetown

The Eastern & Oriental Hotel (the Georgetown equivalent of the Raffles):

Eastern and Oriental Hotel Georgetown

Old Chinese shophouses (which are everywhere):

Chinese shophouses Georgetown

Chinese style temple:

Chinese temple Georgetown

Komtar

The Komtar building is the tallest, and possibly, the ugliest building in Georgetown. For a very small fee you can take the lift to the viewing deck at the top of the building. This was one of the worst tourist attractions I have ever been in! It felt like no-one had been up there for about 30 years and the viewing area you were directed to with signs actually faced the wrong (non-historic) side of Georgetown! Needless to say, we were the only ones there, apart from a very bored-looking lady with a jewellery stand. On our way back to the lift we thought we’d try the other side of the (round) building and came across another viewing gallery which was unlocked but looked totally abandoned. This one actually looked out onto the right side of Georgetown so I got a photo or two (although the windows were a bit grubby) but I’m not actually sure if we were supposed to be in there. It was a pretty funny but awful experience!

View from Komtar Georgetown

Food

Georgetown is a magnet for tourists looking for cheap, great food. It has been called the food capital of Malaysia! We certainly ate well and cheaply while we were there. We visited a couple of the hawker centres for lunch and had a Malaysian or Chinese dish each for less than £2 altogther! We also had some great food in Little India, which lies between Lebuh King and Lebuh Queen.

In the evening, food stalls pop up on many of the streets. We didn’t eat at them, but they did look good!

On our last night we splashed out and went to Bali Hai Seafood Restaurant on Persiaran Gurney (Gurney Drive). It was pretty expensive compared to everywhere else we ate in Georgetown, but the seafood was yummy and they had the widest selection of live seafood to choose from that I have ever seen! (this is only a small portion of it)

Seafood at Bali Hai Restaurant Georgetown

In the evenings we enjoyed a couple of beers in the bars which open out onto Lebuh Chulia, which was a very relaxing way to end a day!

We really liked Georgetown, although it was pretty hot when we were there (January) so it was hard to walk around as much as we’d have liked! Luckily, the historic centre is pretty small so you don’t have to go too far to see most of what is on offer. We didn’t explore the rest of the island or go to the beach on Penang because our next stop was going to be beach-filled Langkawi! But I hear that a lot of visitors do like the beaches here.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Places to visit – Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

The Cameron Highlands were the second stop on our 2-week Malaysian holiday earlier this year. The Cameron Highlands are an old British outpost in the hills north-east of Kuala Lumpur, and are known as a beautiful destination for walks, enjoying some of the colonial experience and tea plantations.

We headed there by bus from Kuala Lumpur, where we started out. We bought our bus tickets a couple of days in advance from Pudu Sentral Bus Terminal. The ticket offices are on the second floor. There are a few options for direct buses to the Cameron Highlands but after a little research we decided to go with Unititi Express. We were quite pleased with our choice: although they did run about 30 minutes late, the seats were massive and very comfortable! The cost was very reasonable too, at about the equivalent of £7. The journey takes over 4 hours and isn’t very interesting for the most part, although there are some nice views once you get up into the hills towards the end.

We stayed in Tanah Rata, probably the largest town in the Cameron Highlands, which is where the bus finishes. We stayed in Fathers Guest House, which was quite a backpacker-type place. The rooms were simple, cheap but comfortable and there were lots of areas downstairs to sit and relax and chat to the other guests.

Walks

There are several numbered walks in the Cameron Highlands, our hotel provided us with a rough map and descriptions of them. They range from a simple stroll to some very strenuous all day hikes! I can’t find a good website which describes the trails well, but this one has an overview. I think most hotels will be able to give you good information when you arrive.

On our first afternoon in the Cameron Highlands we wanted to go for a simple walk to explore the area around Tanah Rata, so we headed off on Path No. 4. It was a bit hard to find the start of the walk but once we got going it was pretty flat and straightforward, and took us past this waterfall.

Parit Waterfall Cameron Highlands

We ended up at the golf course between Tanah Rata and Brinchang so we decided to carry on to Brinchang. On our way we went past this mock-tudor style hotel (The Smokehouse Hotel). The gardens were beautiful and it really looked like a scene out of somewhere in Buckinghamshire, UK not Malaysia!

The Smokehouse Hotel Cameron Highlands

On another day we wanted to go for a more substantial walk and headed off on Path No. 10. We really enjoyed this walk but it was one of the more strenuous ones that we’ve done! The first half is steeply uphill for most of the day, to the top of Gunung Jasar. We were rewarded with great views at the top though.

View from Gunung Jasar

And then it was a fairly steep walk back down the other side through a forest with quite a rough trail. I have to admit I slipped a couple of times! The trail finishes at the top of Orang Asli village, the most ‘local’ place we saw in the Cameron Highlands, although it was very quiet so I’m not sure if people are still living there. There is also a massive construction site next door! We actually found it quite difficult to get down from the end of the trail to the road by the construction site! We eventually managed to scramble down some of the slopes. So I don’t know if we went the wrong way?

Tea Plantations

Our hotel had a range of tours that you could go on, which they organised through one of the local companies (I think most hotels do this). We chose to go on a half-day tea plantation tour which also managed to fit in a number of different activities.

There were about 8 of us on our tour. Our guide drove us up into the hills and we stopped off at a viewpoint over a working tea plantation. So beautiful! Our guide told us about how they pick the tea. It used to all be done by hand but now they have machines that move along the lines between the plants, although I don’t see how exactly they work!

Tea plantations Cameron Highlands

The tour continued to an old watchtower with a great view over the hills.

Cameron Highlands hills

Then we went into the forest nearby where our guide told us about various plants which can be used to cure different conditions. He was very knowledgeable.

Cameron Highlands tour guide

He also took us deeper into the forest to the ‘mossy forest’. This was really interesting. The ground was very bouncy as it built up on layers of moss, and many of the trees were covered in moss. It was such an unusual area, and this photo doesn’t do it justice at all.

Mossy forest Cameron Highlands

The tour finished in a butterfly farm. Our guide also showed us a range of reptiles and insects that were housed there, such as leaf frogs and scorpions! I was quite pleased with this picture though :)

Butterfly farm Cameron Highlands

Food

As elsewhere in Malaysia, the available food in the Cameron Highlands was a mix of mainly Indian, Malay and Chinese food (although there was some western food available if wanted!). We had dinner one night at a south Indian restaurant on the main street in Tanah Rata which was very good. There were quite a wide selection of restaurants and bars here to choose from and it’s a nice area to eat with a very relaxed feel.

On our first day after we finished walk No. 4 we headed into Brinchang and had dinner there. There were several steamboat restaurants to choose from, and we were very happy with the one we selected (although I’m sure they’re all good). I don’t know if there is technically any difference but a steamboat seems to be the same thing as a hot pot in Hong Kong, i.e. a bowl full of soup or broth on a burner, which you dip various meats and vegetables in to cook them before eating (fondue-style).

One afternoon we also had afternoon tea at the Cameron Highlands Resort by the golf course. This is a beautiful colonial-style hotel and the afternoon tea was as excellent as you would expect for the setting. And it was also very reasonably priced! I’d recommend a visit for a spot of luxury during your stay in the Cameron Highlands.

So that was our experience in the Cameron Highlands. We found it a very laid back, beautiful area to spend a few days and really enjoyed it there. It was also quite a bit cooler than everywhere else we went in Malaysia so it was a nice respite from the heat!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Places to visit – Kuala Lumpur

We spent two days/three nights over a weekend in Kuala Lumpur (KL) at the start of a two-week Malaysian holiday in January, in which we travelled up the western side of Malaysia. During that time we also visited the Cameron Highlands, Penang and Langkawi.

We enjoyed our stay in KL but having visited several big Asian cities and living in a big Asian city meant we weren’t overly excited by it. I think we were really keen to get out of the city and see another side of Malaysia! But it was still a great place to visit and I’d recommend it as part of a Malaysian holiday (although maybe not as a destination in itself).

Malaysia is a very multi-ethnic country, and this is particularly apparent in KL. The mix includes ethnic Malaysians, who are mostly Muslim, plus a large number of Chinese and Indians. One thing that I noticed particularly in KL was how I seemed to stand out as I was not covered up like the local women (this despite the fact that I saw some Chinese women wearing very skimpy outfits!). Therefore, whilst it isn’t obligatory, if you are sensitive about such things you might want to wear modest clothing (covering arms and legs) whilst walking around KL.

These are some of the things we saw in Kuala Lumpur:

Chinatown

We were staying near Chinatown (our hotel was very near to Masjid Jamek station) so this was one of the first areas we visited in KL. It’s a bustling, colourful area and definitely worth a visit (especially if you don’t live in a Chinese city!). There is a large market on Jalan Petaling but we were a little disappointed with this as it is full of fake designer goods and not much else. Not our idea of a good market but if that is what you’re looking for, it’s the place to go! However, there are lots of Chinese eateries in the area. We had lunch in the Tang City Food Court on Jalan Hang Lekir which had a range of Chinese and Indian options and was very good value for money.

Away from the market, we enjoyed walking the streets of Chinatown, with its old Chinese style buildings and a mix of small shops.

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There are a few temples in Chinatown. The most interesting was Chan See Shu Yuen Temple, at the end of Jalan Petaling. It was very intricate!

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We also walked past, but didn’t go into, Kuan Ti Temple…

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…and Sri Maha Mariamman Temple

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(we’ve been to quite a few temples and to be honest are a bit templed-out these days!)

On the Sunday evening we ate at Old China Café on Jalan Balai Polis at the southern end of Chinatown, which was not as cheap as you can find elsewhere in KL but the food was excellent and it had a lovely atmosphere. I’d really recommend it for a nice meal out.

Merdeka Square

This open space is a very historical part of KL as it is where Malaysia’s independence was declared in 1957. There are some nice colonial buildings around there, including some that were built by westerners in a Moorish style so they don’t look very western, such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building:

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There is a large mosque nearby as well, called Masjid Jamek (or Jamek Mosque) which is very intricate but we didn’t go in (although you can).

South of Masjid Jamek (on Jalan Hang Kasturi, before you reach Chinatown) is Central Market. This is a large art deco building filled with small arts and crafts shops. Some are of better quality than others, but it was the best place in KL that we found for buying gifts and we found a few really nice items in here! I’d recommend a visit.

Little India

Little India is centred around the market along Lorong Tuanku Abdul Rahman, which extends most of the way up this street. It is a colourful area and we enjoyed walking around, although we didn’t buy anything. There are lots of snacks available from vendors here so it might be a good place to visit for lunch or mid-afternoon!

We stopped off for a refreshing drink in the Coliseum Café, which is about halfway up Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. It’s very retro – it looks like it hasn’t been redecorated for the best part of a century! It’s not exactly glamorous, but a nice step back in time so I’d recommend a visit.

Petronas Towers

Formerly the tallest buildings in the world, the two Petronas Towers certainly stand out. They’re very shiny! We wanted to go up the towers, and turned up fairly early in the day on a Sunday (sometime around 10am) but the earliest tickets they had available were for late afternoon so we bought those tickets and came back later on.

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For this tour you get assigned to a group and get given a coloured badge to wear. This means that your group gets a certain amount of time in each area and it’s strictly controlled. This is a bit of a shame for those who like to be a bit more independent but we found that the amount of time you were given was adequate.

The two areas with views are the skybridge and the roof. The views from both were pretty impressive. Here is what you could see from the skybridge:

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And here are some views from the roof:

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The Petronas Towers are part of a development with a large shopping mall underneath and a landscaped park behind with various buildings forming the park boundary including an aquarium and the Traders Hotel. The park itself is quite nice to sit in, and certainly a great place to get a few photos of the towers. It also has a fairly impressive fountain display.

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We went in the aquarium and were happy enough with it, although Tom has been in a lot of aquaria in his time and thought that he had seen better!

Side note: on our last night in Malaysia (en route back to Hong Kong) we stayed in the Traders Hotel for a bit of luxury. We had booked the cheapest room they had which cost about £80 and didn’t include breakfast. However when we arrived we were offered breakfast at about £14 per person (pretty expensive!) or a special offer which included an upgrade to a suite, free breakfast, afternoon tea and cocktails for £34 for both of us! So of course we took it :) The suite was amazing (bigger than our HK flat!) and so was all the free food and drink. They also had a lovely swimming pool on the top floor. So we really liked the Traders!

Bird Park

To kill time between buying our tickets for the Petronas Towers and when we were allowed to go up, we headed for the Lake Gardens which are to the west of the area we were staying in. We walked through the gardens a bit but spent most of our time in the bird park there. The bird park was good fun and also a good size and we spent quite a long time there. Many of the birds are free to roam around and don’t seem to take much notice of all the humans at all! If you want something a little less city-like during your time in KL I’d really recommend the bird park.

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Bukit Bintang

This area is a great place to head for some lively nightlife and a wide range of eating options. We took the monorail to Bukit Bintang station and headed for Jalan Alor, which is a road of Chinese restaurants with loads of tables out on the street. We went on a Saturday night and it was busy (possibly mostly with Chinese tourists) but most of the restaurants had a few tables free so we picked one we liked the look of and had a great range of Chinese food there for a pretty reasonable price.

After dinner we also had a wander up Changkat Bukit Bintang which is the road across the end of Jalan Alor. This road is lined with bars, most of which had outdoor seating too. We didn’t stop for a drink but there was certainly a lot of choice!

As you can see, we managed to fit quite a lot into one weekend in KL! I think you could maybe spend one or two more days there at most and have exhausted everything there was to see, but it was a really interesting city.

Check back next week for the next stage of our Malaysian holiday – the Cameron Highlands!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel