Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion or the blue mansion is a world heritage site in Penang so naturally I thought this would be a good place to visit with someone from out of town. I also had not been there myself so was curious as to what it looked like. We arrived just in time for the last tour of the day. There are three daily and make no mistake, if you don’t take the tour you can’t just wander around the house. We entered the foyer of the mansion to wait for our tour to begin, but when it did the guide took 25minutes of the 1 hour tour standing in the foyer explaining the mansion and history. Basically a Chinese migrant had come to Penang, amassed a fortune, and built this opulent house sometime in the 1800’s. It was then left to rot until the early 90’s when it was restored and given the heritage site distinction. The tour’s pace was aggravatingly slow and we were not allowed to take any pictures or stray from the tour. After 25 minutes we took about 10 steps and entered the inner courtyard where she went on for another 15 minutes or so before taking 10 more steps to enter an adjacent adjoining room. By this point we were all a bit itchy to see the rest of the house because we had basically not seen anything more than what was in our site line when we first entered. A few other people had the same idea apparently because they kept wandering off to take pictures only to be scolded by the house security to not take pictures and stay with the group. Eventually we said nuts to that and wandered around on our own for a bit, got scolded, and then left before the tour was finished. I would NOT recommend this if you are visiting Penang. It is a beautiful places, but aggravatingly restrictive. You would be better off doing something else.

Ben's Vintage Toy Museum

Ben’s vintage toy museum was something we just stumbled upon. I am not sure of the origin of the museum, but it appears as though the father collected the toys and now the son is running the museum. There are two floors, the first being shelves of smaller toys and the second being mostly larger toys. It cost us 10rm to get in which is about 3 dollars US. I don’t know if I would say it is worth the price. If you are into vintage toys then it probably is ok. I always get a bit creeped out by old toys. There is something sad and scary about toys that are largely forgotten with paint peeling off and such. It’s like I am entering world that was meant to be left behind. However, the owner was quite nice and the toys were also neat to look at so I would recommend a look.

Fox Hill

We chose to stay at Fox Hill more or less for the price and the rating. It was a very nice place. About a ten minute drive from the ferry terminal in Langkawi it was far enough away to provide quiet, but certainly not where you would want to stay if you didn’t have access to a car. After the owner provided us with her background story and told us that she talks to animals we were all a little hesitant about what this place was going to be like. It turned out to be really nice. Our bungalow was very roomy and well decorated. The property itself was compact containing five or so other bungalows and a common house on about 5 acres of land. There was also a pool. We oscillated back and forth about how much we liked the place. It was a nice place, but then the owner would do something to make it even nicer, but then she would do something to make us feel a bit trapped. Let me give an example. When we arrived she had asked if we wanted to go to the night market which we did. So she lent us a car to go and return in, no charge. Very nice. However, on the way out she had asked if we left a tip to which we said no (people don’t tip in Malaysia) which brought on a ten minute conversation where aya remarked on how Japanese don’t tip and tips aren’t expected in Malaysia to the owner saying that most places included a 10% charge but she didn’t so it was up to us, but most people tip. All the while we were in her car while she was driving. It was a bit uncomfortable. I would recommend you stay here if you want a place away from the city center and you would like help in planning your time in Langkawi. Don’t stay here if you want more independence and would like to be closer to the action.

Penang to Langkawi and Back Again

Last weekend we had a friend visiting from Hong Kong and so decided we would do some touristy stuff since had done very little ourselves. Since he had about 4 days we thought we should split the time between here (Penang) and Langkawi. After doing some research we decided that the best route for us would be to drive to Kuala Kedah and take the ferry from there. At 23rm and 1.5 hrs it seemed like the best option vs. over 40 from Penang at 2.5 hours or taking a flight which was more expensive, yet faster, but wouldn’t mesh with our times very well. So we took the Kuala Kedah ferry. I was expecting something larger. What we got was more of a large cruiser than a ferry, though I imagine about 100 people were on board. The ride was nice enough. They played Expendables 2 and I napped most of the way there. I can imagine during rough seas it would be a terrible ride, but was fine for us. Arriving in Langkawi we were picked up by our hotel staff. As it turned out she was the owner. Long story short (believe me, it was long) she and her husband had recently retired and bought what was formerly a hotel property not intending to continue running the hotel. After allowing a few family guests to stay word of mouth spread and they got 5/5 stars on Tripadvisor leading to her opening up the place again under the old name, Fox Hill. The place was nice, but more on that later. The first night there we didn’t do too much. We had a dip in the pool, went into town to a night market to eat and peruse and then got foot rubs before heading back and to bed early. The next day we were up earlish and off with a car we rented from the hotel. We went to take a ride on the cable car, which I would say is well worth it for the views. The cable car had advertised itself as the steepest in the world. I haven’t confirmed that, but it did seem pretty steep on the ride up. The views were great. Next we drove to the island’s crafts center, not really worth it since the prices were out of our range. Finally on to Tanjung Rhu beach. After stopping for lunch at a roadside restaurant we located the beach and were immediately set upon by a tour guide. Our hotel owner had told us that it cost about 250 for a boat tour so when the guide said 180 we said yes. The tour was really fun for a number of reasons. The driver took us to see hawks feeding, a bat cave, a fish farm, a private beach, and lots of wildlife along the way. Driving through the mangroves was especially cool. We saw monkeys, dart fish, a monitor lizard, and lots of birds. The bat cave was neat, but kind of small. Near the end we had asked to spend some time swimming and so the driver took us to a private beach. We had it all to ourselves. As we sat in the bath warm water we watched fat purple storm clouds rolling towards us and finally decided we had better go. At that our driver came running out of the jungle in his tighty whiteys and swam out to the boat. Apparently he didn’t anchor it properly and it was floating away. He drove it back up to the beach and just as we were settling back in it began to pour. Rain was coming in sideways and it wasn’t long before we were all completely soaked. It was really fun and we all had a good laugh. Eventually we pulled in under a cliff outcrop to wait it out. We rung out our towels and waited a few minutes before the storm started to ease. Then we drove on to the fish farm. This was really interesting for me because I love fish. Not eating them persay, but just seeing them. We had a young man guide us around to different corrals and show us the fish inside by through some chum in and watching the fish scramble for it. The entire farm was a series of docks interconnected to form square areas were a large net had been attached so each square had different fish inside it. There was also a restaurant serving fish, if you can imagine. We saw Barracuda, grouper, and manta rays (pictured with mouth open) among others. After that the driver brought us back to the beach where we had a snack at a local booth before departing. On the way back to the hotel we went for foot rubs, again, and then arrived back for supper made by the hotel cook. It was delicious. The next day we were up early to get to the ferry and back to Penang. By the time we had taken the ferry and driven back it was mid afternoon. We decided to visit the Blue Mansion which turned out to not be as much fun as we thought. Being a bit dejected from that experience we headed home for a quick nap and then out to the night markets in Batu Ferringhi. Alex and I both bought lamps for our families for Christmas presents and then we had a drink on the beach at Bora Bora ending a long day well. On his last day we had some time before his flight so went to see Khoo Kongsi family …temple? It was quite hard to find and on the way we discovered Ben’s Vintage Toy Museum. After looking through the museum we had a walk through the temple and then went on to China House for lunch. China House is a really neat place. More or less it is a huge building with entrances on opposite sides of the block containing a couple of different restaurants/bars/art galleries that all seems to open onto one another. We had a lovely lunch and then shuttled Alex to the airport to say goodbye. It was very nice having a visitor and Aya and I enjoy having a friend that both of us like well. It was also good to have a catalyst for us to get out a bit to explore the island and neighboring Langkawi. Luckily for us he doesn’t live that far away and we will be making a stopover in HK on the way to Japan this winter.