Monday, April 13, 2009

Penang Day 1 - Makan Makan and a Test of Patience

"Ngo Kam Yong Sueh meh?"
"Ngo kam Yong Sueh meh?" (In Anglais that means: Do I look so 'sueh'? ;)) I wondered out loud as I drove up the steep winding roads up Bukit Genting in Balik Pulau, smarting from the latest barrage of complaints and insults from another complete stranger.
For a very long time, I had been dreaming of going back to Penang. It has probably been more than 5 years since I have really been there and efforts to arrange for one trip with my family has always been superseded by their own trips to China and Vietnam.

On the Penang Bridge

Therefore when the opportunity for me to organize another Trail Tracker trip dropped on my lap, I chose Penang. :) I mean it should be a breeze organizing the trip with numerous hotels available, lots of attractions (not mention the food) and activities available. No sweat!

KOMTAR tower in Georgetown

Turnout wasn't really as encouraging as I would have thought with only 8 people confirmed to go for the trip (was expecting 16). But then again, perhaps it was a blessing because it isn't really easy to get around driving a car in the claustrophobic roads of Penang. Still don't understand how could anyone 'resist' the lure of Penang food though :p.

Penang Chee Cheong Fun, who on Earth could resist it?

Beef Ball Soup at Lorong Baru

The 'lucky' 8 comprise of mostly the usual suspects: Audrey, Ai Ling, Dennis, Henry, Kam Keong, Wen Chieh, Valerie and myself. Kam Keong is new, or rather new to the group. He is actually my senior from my university days joining us to perhaps take a break from the mundane monotony of daily (domesticated) life ;). We also had a 'penumpang', Selina, whose hometown is in Penang and hearing that we are making a trip there, chose to hitch a ride in our cars.
The journey was supposed to start at 5:30am, after all participants gathered at the Trail Tracker's HQ. However we were somewhat delayed because someone forgot to set the alarm to wake up on time. :) But to that person's credit, a phone call was all it takes before that person rushed over to the meeting place so that the we all can commence the trip at 6:30am.

Meeting up at Trail Trackers HQ

As we left Klang valley, we rendezvoused with another car at the Behrang stop, this group comprising of 5 young people whom Wen Chieh is acquainted with. Apparently I was told they wanted to follow our train of cars into Georgetown because they were unfamiliar with Penang roads. I was like "hey, the more the merrier" and we all gladly accepted them into the fold. ;)

Foh San Dim Sum Restaurant in Ipoh

Our first stop was Foh San Dim Sum Restaurant in Ipoh. After travelling for 2 hours without having breakfast, we were hungry. However, getting a place in this famous dim sum hangout is a very difficult proposition indeed as it was packed to the brim! Not that this was totally unexpected though. We did eventually get our tables but due to the first table being a little bit smaller for all 13 of us to fit in, our group split into two, one table almost completely composing of the fairer sex while the other, the guys.

Wen Chieh's friends (and the fairer sex ;) meow)

The guys...

More guys... :)

The food itself there isn't really GREAT. Personally, I have had BETTER dim sum in Sri Petaling or Klang than these offered at the supposedly 'famous' restaurant. Still, I really wonder why are there sooooo many people? Is it because they are like us? First timers just wanting to have the 'honor' of being some of the already many many people eating this dim sum (and realizing that it is just so plain, make a comment and not come again? ;))? Are there always this many 'first timers'?

Foh San's Dim Sum. Is it THAT good?

Of course a visit to Ipoh wouldn't be complete without a taste of 'Ipoh White Coffee'. We all went over to 'Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong' for a round before continuing our trip to Penang at about 10:30am.

For the sake of a cuppa

At Trail Trackers it is a sometimes advantageous to have certain 'unique' skills... ;) Dennis can open cans with his teeth... Ai Ling can er... I leave it to your imagination...

Two hours, a number of stops at the rest areas, a speed trap and some calls later, Dennis, Audrey, Valerie, Selina, myself and the 5 young companions were at Pongsu rest area waiting for Kam Keong's car, bearing Ai Ling, Henry and Wen Chieh to catch up. It appeared that their car engine is badly overheating to the point that they had to stop at the side of the road, let it cool down before continuing to meet us where more water have to be added to bring the temperature down reasonably for us to continue on.
Selina offered to transfer over to Kam Keong's car while Ai Ling switched over to mine. The plan was made for my car and Wen Chieh's friends to continue to Penang and check into the hotel while Kam Keong and gang go to Seberang Perai to have their car inspected. Selina was transfered over because she knew a mechanic in Seberang Perai who happens to be her uncle.

Selina and Valerie at the rest area

We finally reached the Hotel Malaysia ( at about 1:30pm. Located close to the center of town and costing RM138/night for a deluxe room that could accommadate four, it is quite a good deal. However, as with most budget hotels, all the other 'fringe' benefits comes with a price. For one, internet and the mineral water in your room fridge ain't free, costing RM11.50/day and RM3.95/bottle respectively. They offer complimentary breakfast but hey, who wants to have continental breakfast in Penang when you have all that wonderful hawker food outside? ;) Wen Chieh's friends checked in at the more slightly upmarket Cititel hotel located only a stone's throw from ours.

Home away from home, Hotel Malaysia

Irresistably comfortable looking beds

And speaking of 'wonderful' food, we all filed out into the baking hot Penang streets, GPS guiding our way to the 'famous' Lorong Selamat Char Kuey Teow as soon as Kam Keong and his cohorts arrived at the hotel.
It took us more than half an hour to find the place however, as the GPS led us on a wild goose chase down narrow alleys and lonely roads. In reality, the place was just a walk down Penang Road, turning into Macalister road and onto Lorong Selamat. Instead, we sort of zig zagged our way there, the blazing sun not helping our endeavours.

Navigation by GPS, a boon or a bane?

We arrived at the 'famous' sisters/daughters/aunties Lorong Selamat Char Kuey Teow shop bathed in sweat. It was packed with people. "RM8.00 for a plate?!" my mind screamed out as my eyes wandered onto the board announcing the prices for their fares. I guess this is one of those places which the famously thrifty Penangites won't go but rather a place cleverly prepared to rip off gullable tourists instead. That is AFTER you tasted and paid for the food of course, because I ended up not having any.

Char Kuey Teow for tourists, RM8.00/plate anyone?

Now this is a clear case on how the world would function WITHOUT engineers because the ordering system is completely inadaptable and chaotic. Rather than recognizing the customer and assigning the number of plates to him/her (like everywhere else, duh!), these people run by getting your table numbers first, at their stall. Seems ok until you find that because of the crowded tables, some of us have to share one and later move to another when there is an available table. The problem is further compounded when the person taking the orders decides to take the initiative to summarize the table orders, adding and deleting the number of plates to reflect what THEY think the orders should be. :p
Thus, when one aunty came over and handed over three plates to my pals who have previously pre-ordered, she became totally confused when I told her that she still had to deliver a further five more plates to a table she sees as already having 4 people. :p Confusing, because the 4 other people are sitting at another table after moving from yet another.
This 'teng suah ah chim' threw into a fit and complained loudly to everyone in the shop how I apparently sent her mind spinning. Not that one fit is enough, I had to endure numerous hokkien inspired fits until something snapped inside me and I told her, that's it, I ain't having any of your 'rip off' char kuey teow. Perhaps the lady was surprised that someone has refused to eat her 'char kuey teow' in a long time, because she came back again just shortly after I said 'no' to ask me again whether I still want to eat her EXPENSIVE kueh teow again. :p
With only 50% of our members having a bite of the EXPENSIVE kueh teow and the others still hungry, we headed back to Macalister road to find Sin Yin Nam cafe along Lorong Baru. Now this is a PROVEN spot where my family has gone over and over again through the ages for our fill of Penang food. With the majority of stalls opening at night, this place has many hawker stalls lining the road offering a variety of fares like loh bak, char kuey teow, chee cheong fan, kueh teow th'ng, batu maung satay and much much more at definately more reasonably 'acceptable' prices. Most popular of the shops is the stall selling pig intestine porridge which my mother absolutely loves accompanied with cubes of coagulated blood. :p

The alternative...

Famous Penang Pig Intestine Porridge. Too bad I don't go for 'spare parts'

We had our fill, I taking in my first round of chee cheong fun with some 'o chian'. Then it's off for Penang road's famous cendol!
It's really not hard to find actually, the store located on Penang Road at Lebuh Keng Kwee and surrounded by hordes of eager customers. For a change, the tauke wasn't that arrogant and he kindly ushered us into a nearby shop provided specifically for his customers to savour his bowl of cendol located a short walk down the alley. Pictures of celebreties having a taste of his cendol plastered the walls, among them Phua Choo Kang and the current Chief Minister of Penang (with power) Lim Guan Eng. ;)

Cendol on Lebuh Keng Kwee

Two happy cendol customers

With our bellies full, we took a slow walk back to the hotel, taking a well needed shower and some rest while we waited for Sany, a Trail Tracker friend we had met during the Ulu Slim white water rafting trip almost a year ago.

I actually had planned to visit Gurney Drive for dinner but Sany, being the resident Penang 'expert' suggested to take us somewhere where we can get 'good' food while at the same time enjoy the view of the setting sun. Sounds like Gurney drive to me. :)

Sany Boy Ah Laut (really that's his REAL name!)

So, as we turned into the highway leading us pass Intel in Bayan Lepas, I was beginning to scratch my head as to where on Earth is he planning to take us!
It turns out that he was taking us to this place called Bukit Genting somewhere near Balik Pulau where a Thai restaurant is perched atop a summit overlooking the straits of Malacca which the legends say is a great place to view the setting sun. :)

The entrance to Bukit Genting

Like looking for El Dorado however, getting to this virtual 'Shang ri-la' requires you to wind through treacherous bends, a steep uphill climb and hostile 'natives'. :p The encounter with the hostile native occured as we are partially up the hill when Sany in his 4 wheel drive proposed that I leave my car at this supposedly innocent looking roadside vehicle shed and hop into his ride.
Getting into Sany's 4x4 BEFORE the ambush
Little did I know that I had walked into an ambush when this old geezer suddenly popped out of nowhere (or more like the house opposite) and started screaming and shouting at me for parking at a spot that supposedly prevented his lorry from reversing out. Looking around to see only one tiny lorry in a small wooden shed with plenty of space for it to manuevuer, I was initially greatly confused at how much deeper into the grass overgrown patch of ground I had to drive into before he was satisfied. Apparently not enough because when I got out from the car after reluctantly moving in a little bit and refusing to delve into the possible rock strewn overgrowth, the man started screaming again ending his list of tirades with a 'BODOH'! :p
By now I was numb. This is the second time in a day that I was 'bombed' for no apparent reason. It is really not turning out to be my day. Therefore under the bewildered glares of my travelling companions who have now comfortably seated themselves in Sany's 4 wheel drive, I got back into my car, placed by faith in the engineering prowess of my Vios designers and made the very conscious decision to drive it up to the summit of the hill, 4x4 be damned! :p
It turned out to be no sweat for my car as it negotiated the steep slopes without complaint, leaving the green eyed monster to dote over his lorry 'depot' and wait for the next unsuspecting traveller to splil all his pent up frustrations at not passing his SPM (probably even his SRP) ages before. :p
The view at the top of the hill was truly splendid, as Sany promised. :p The sun was about to set when we sat down at our table perched by the cliff edge, bathing the sea beyond with shades of ruby red and fiery orange. Giant low flying cumulous clouds added to the magical effect, casting their shadows over the rolling waves. And then it's gone and we are all enshrouded in the dim glow of generator lights.

Sunset from Bukit Genting

Clouds in the sky

As for the food itself, maybe it was the beer I used to wash the food down, maybe it was that unexpected hammering I got on the way up or maybe I was just simply too stuffed to handle more food, because I ended up not even finishing my one plate of rice. Admitedly, the food was also a little bit too spicy for my stomach already conditioned for less fiery Penang food.

Valerie, myself and one bored Ai Ling... ;)


Dinner over with, we now went over to Batu Ferringhi beach to check up the roadside market, preceded by a harrowing drive along the darkened, lonely, narrow roads of Penang's hinterlands. We didn't buy anything here but settled for a few drinks by the beach instead.
Strolling down Batu Ferringhi
By 11:00pm, we were all exhausted but it was the threatening rain that convinced us that it was time to return to the hotel. Sany brought half of us straight back while I took a detour to Gurney drive for Dennis to fulfill his Penang wish list: getting his share of fried 'chicken skin' (and it's nether regions).

Gurney Drive in the rain

A little bit pass midnight and it is finally time for me to switch my CPU (laptop AND brain) off and sleep, a chorus of snores my lullaby for the night.


  1. It was an experience we had...overheated car, encounters the the penang old folks with beautiful language and good companionship...oh the chicken skin is YUMMY!!! Thumbs up!

  2. Haha guess you didn't read the part where the 'chicken skin' also comprised of parts from the 'nether regions' aka 'A**'

  3. Well as long as i dun touch tat is ok...hahaha...someone sure ll tat part