Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, day 2

The skies were overcast and threatening rain but that didn’t stop us from visiting the Perdana botanical gardens before we needed to switch hotels on our last day in KL. It was the only time on our trip that we didn’t hear motorbikes, which made it a peaceful respite from the bustling city just blocks away.

Perdana Botanical Garden

Perdana Botanical Garden

The entrance to the Orchid and Hibiscus Garden was a bit tricky to find and it wasn’t clear if we were supposed to pay extra to enter but there was no one at the visitor’s booth so we walked right in.

Perdana Botanical Garden  Perdana Botanical Garden

Perdana Botanical Garden

We wound our way through the park and over to the Tugu Negara war memorial and sculpture gardens before tiring of the increasing rain, so we grabbed an Uber to get back to the hotel.

war memorial

After an easy hotel transfer, I headed over to the Islamic Arts Museum for a few hours. The collection of Islamic art from SE Asia was beautifully curated, including pottery, textiles, jewelry, wood, and paper arts and featured several intricately decorated interior domes.

blue dome

painting  intricate bowl

Gebyok door and wall  ivory cabinet from India

Kashmir shawl detail  Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

One of my favorite parts was the scale models of famous mosques from around the world. We had seen three in person but I was a tad disappointed that the beautiful Blue Mosque in Istanbul was absent.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem  Sacred Mosque in Mecca

The museum is also right next to the National Mosque of Malaysia, so I got to hear part of the call to prayer from the rooftop terrace.

call to prayer @ National Mosque of Malaysia

Quite on accident that morning, I discovered that KL had two Din Tai Fung restaurants so we choose the Pavilions Mall location and got ready to stand in line for delicious soup dumplings. We only waited about 15 minutes for a table and the xiao long bao did not disappoint. Extra bonus – due to the monetary conversion, these were by far the cheapest dumplings we’ve had in our multiple visits to Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Orange County (CA), Beijing, Sydney, and Kuala Lumpur.

xio long bao @ Din Tai Fung!
chicken soup dumplings, truly delicious

We ended the evening with a quick drink in the aLoft lobby before packing our bags ahead of our flight to Hong Kong the next morning.

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, day 1

Our flight from Penang to KL was pretty uneventful… we had business class seats for the short flight which included larger seats and a chicken satay snack that wasn’t very good. Since it was a domestic flight no wine or beer was offered.

The train ride from the airport to Sentral was easy once we figured out how to get our QR code tickets to scan (hint: turn off the auto-rotate on your phone!) The subway ride to our hotel was very crowded and getting to the mall where the hotel was located was a bit tricky, with a pedestrian walkway over a large road and several sets of stairs. Oh, and it had just started to drizzle. Thankfully, Eric was able to scout ahead while I waited with the luggage in a covered area.

The Men’s Aussie Open final was on so after unpacking we headed down to the hotel bar for happy hour and to watch the tennis. I opted for a South African white that was just okay and Eric had a whisky sour cocktail that was cheaper than my wine. Our drinks arrived with a complimentary bowl of lightly roasted peanuts that were delicious.

Eric had read that Sky Bar in the Traders Hotel had a great view of the Petronus towers, so we grabbed an Uber and headed over. All the prime window seats were full when we arrived but a table opened up about ten minutes later and we snagged it. Our cocktails, Frosty Ginger for me and Whiskey Passion for Eric, were very good and went well with the chocolate fondue dessert. And wow, what a view!

view of the Petronus Towers from SkyBar  SkyBar @ Traders Hotel
the view of the towers; interior pool and colorful lighting @ SkyBar

The next morning we grabbed an Uber to take us to the Batu Caves about 20 minutes north of downtown. You can also take the subway but the Uber ride was MUCH easier, faster and only cost us about $3.75 USD (17MYR) each way.

This is an active temple, so there were quite a few pilgrims chanting and carrying offerings. There were also a lot of vendors selling traditional Indian snacks and other goods. And, of course, monkeys! Quick note: It was very damp on the stairs and inside the caves so I regretted my choice of sandals as I left with soaked feet.

Lord Murugan Statue @ Batu Caves  money on the steps

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

At this point, we really wanted some air conditioning, so we caught an Uber to the KL Seria Mall to look around a bit. All the stores had roosters and Chinese New Year decorations and we even watched a brief candy making demo.

 

After taking a quick break in our room to charge our phones and rest our feet, we ventured to the Central Market / Kasturi Walk area for some shopping and gift purchases. I had two stores in mind: Arch (detailed wood veneer art) and Tenmoku Pottery, handmade near the Batu Caves with many items featuring a gorgeous matte black interior glaze. Some haggling was allowed so I also picked up a few other items when I could score a better price.

Kasturi Walk

By the time we finished here it was pouring rain, so we skipped the famous Street Market and instead quickly walked to a nearby Indian restaurant, Betel Leaf, for an early dinner. Eric had biryani rice with chicken leg which was good but my specialty Betel Leaf curry was disappointing, all bones with barely any meat! The naan bread and sauce were very good though, as was my banana lassi, so I would highly recommend ordering only the boneless version of dishes there.

Malaysia: Georgetown

Georgetown Sights

The street art in Georgetown was a big highlight for us, but there were plenty of other interesting sights. Lanterns and incense were in full effect, even in the heart of Little India.

temple in Little India

Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower  lanterns

After walking around the Esplanade area, we stopped for a quick ice cream at Chew Clan Jetty — wooden deck passageways above the water with businesses and homes on stilts.


bicycles and two-seater TownBikes available for rent

Where We Ate

We spent a good amount of time in hawker markets on our trip to Singapore, so we felt more or less prepared for the experience in Penang. First you get a table and order drinks from the roving table waiters. Next, you order the food you want at each individual stall, telling them your table number. Food is delivered to your table, and you pay for each item on delivery, so it’s preferable to have exact change as the food runners are very busy and may not be able to make change.

We had good luck the first time at Red Garden Paradise, ordering dim sum, chicken satay, and a large Guinness. Our second visit was a little rougher as it was quite busy, there was a .50 surcharge per dish (because of Chinese New Year), the lady who delivered our beer wanted to be paid on the spot (rather than at the end as is customary), and one vendor delivered the wrong dish. Many places were also out of noodles. Still, the dim sum, fried noodles (that we did find!) & oyster pancake were all fine. The karaoke-style entertainment on that evening… well, let’s call that an experience :)

scoping out dinner options @ Red Garden Cafe food court


brightly lit food stalls and a sea of plastic chairs and tables

 
dim sum and satay @ Red Garden Food Paradise; curry mee @ Mews Cafe

Our other meal was at Mews Cafe for Curry Mee and Beef Rendang. We ended up here after searching for a place that was open on the eve of Chinese New Year. Attached to a smaller boutique hotel, it was more expensive than the food court, but also much more relaxed. Both of us were satisfied with our meals and I liked the outdoor seating area.

Shopping

I couldn’t come home without one Chinese lantern, thankfully there were plenty of places to pick one up. We also purchased some famous salted egg pastries (the pandan one was my favorite), pepper beef pastries (delicious), cracked pepper crackers, and a box of pineapple tarts. I also found a few spices at the Pacific Hypermarket and a small incense burner at a shop in Little India.

choosing a Chinese lantern to bring home  our loot for the day


at about $0.50 each it was hard to only come away with a few of these!

We used the mornings to explore until it became uncomfortably warm, then retreated to the hotel pool area for some shade and book reading. Worked out perfectly for us!

Malaysia: Georgetown street art

Georgetown has a lot of well documented and popular street art, so we spent a solid hour or two per day (before the temperature became oppressive) exploring the streets and enjoying the sites.

All around town you see 2D iron art, part of a commissioned project completed by SCULPTUREATWORK displaying historical caricatures of life in Penang.

SCULPTUREATWORK street art

SCULPTUREATWORK street art

Another unique feature of the street art here are murals that use a real item (motobike, swing, chair, etc) as part of the art.

Boy on Streetbike

street art  Brother & Sister on a Swing

Reaching for Basket

The last car that parked here...  street art doorway

Boy with Pet Monster

Eric w/ graffiti  Less than five feet!

Of course there are also the standard murals, stickers and silly sayings. We love street art and found Georgetown to be a good destination for this (plus, the food is awesome). You can see all of our street art photos from around the world on Flickr.

Malaysia: Chinese New Year

We knew that going to Malaysia during Chinese New Year could be disruptive in terms of restaurant closings and such, but we were hoping that a brightly lit Kek Lok Si Temple, thousands of Chinese lanterns, and multiple (noisy and entertaining) Lion Dances would outweigh the negatives.

Pokemon!
Pokemon display @ Dewan Sri Pinang courtyard

The Kek Lok Si Temple was a definite highlight. We were a bit worried about the crowds but we arrived (by Uber of course!) about an hour before sunset and the crowd was still thin. Things picked up as the lights started to illuminate but it was absolutely stunning and we managed to find places to enjoy the views without feeling crowded.

The temple grounds are free to visit but it’s totally worth the small fee to climb to the top of the tower.

Kek Lok Si Temple  candles @ Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple  Kek Lok Si Temple

On New Year’s Eve we received an invitation from the hotel to view two Lion Dances the following afternoon… this ritual is performed by two people dressed in a lion costume while another person is beating the heck out of a drum at deafening volume. It’s loud, showy and totally worth seeing in person at least once.

Chinese Lion Dance @ Eastern & Oriental

Chinese Lion Dance @ Eastern & Oriental

Lion Dance @ E&O Hotel

While fun, I think we would not choose this time frame again as many of the temples and light displays were up for a few weeks, so we’d be better off avoiding the general disruption itself.

Malaysia: Batu Ferrenghi

Where We Ate

After arriving from the airport and getting checked in, we wandered around a bit, then ducked into Siggi’s Beach Bar (at the Shangri-La) when it started raining. I had a glass of rose wine, Eric had a lime juice and we split a samosa / spring roll appetizer.

For dinner, we walked about 15 minutes past the night market stalls to Living Room Cafe. I had read about the fish (red snapper) curry on Tripadvisor so even though that would not have been my usual choice, I ordered it. I was not disappointed! Eric had his best lime juice of the trip with a good version of beef rendang.

Golden Thai Seafood Village (it has a 2.9 rating but look at all the neon!)  catching a ride (we preferred Uber)
Georgetown street scenes

The following day we started with a decent buffet breakfast at the hotel. Around 2p I was starting to get peckish so we walked five minutes across the street to Andrew’s Kampung. Eric wasn’t that hungry so he ordered the chicken satay (which came fried for some reason?!?). I opted for the crispy squid bites with chili sauce and a specialty beef curry with jasmine rice. Inexpensive but not especially memorable.

chicken satay @ Andrew's Kampung  crispy squid, curry and a cold beer @ Andrew's Kampung

For our last meal in town, we decided on Indian – Enca Restaurant. We Ubered over there but decided to walk back through the night market as it wasn’t really that far. We ordered the Chicken Masala and Chicken Tandori and I had a banana milkshake while Eric had to get a pineapple juice since lime was unavailable. The meal was cheap and perfectly fine but again not memorable.

Tropical Spice Garden

Our main outing was to the Tropical Spice Garden, about 5km west along the coast from the main beach resort area. We spent about three hours exploring the grounds and the entrance price includes an audio tour which we found helpful as the signage was minimal. The front desk staff generously offers bug spray and I recommend you accept! I still got a few bites even after slathering myself. For less than $6 USD per person it’s a good way to spend a few hours.

Tropical Spice Garden

Tropical Spice Garden  Tropical Spice Garden

Tropical Spice Garden

Bat Lily @ Tropical Spice Garden  butterfly @ Tropical Spice Garden

The night market was just okay compared to other SE Asian cities we have visited, with lots of imitation handbags and other cheap stuff.

After our experiences we decided that you really don’t have to stay out here in Batu Ferrenghi – catching an Uber to/from Georgetown was easy and inexpensive. In fact, the free transfer shuttle to the E&O only had two departure times at 10:30am and 2:30pm – even though checkout at noon – so we opted for Uber instead. Next time we would base ourselves in Georgetown, and only come out to Batu Ferrenghi for a day by the beach.

Malaysia: trip overview and where we stayed

In early 2016 we started planning an Asian business class trip to take advantage of the points required before the forthcoming American Airlines miles devaluation. During planning we settled on Malaysia fairly early, but went back and forth over where to go in (Borneo? Penang? Langkawi?) and timing (should we go during Chinese New Years?)  We had been in other parts of Asia (Hong Kong and Singapore) near Chinese New Years, but never during the celebrations. In the end we decided to experience Chinese New Years, and choose Penang for the majority of our time.

Some interesting tidbits we picked up on this trip:

  • Every hotel room had an arrow pointing the way to Mecca.
  • Lime juice was almost always an option = happy Eric.
  • The New Year Lion Dances to clear out bad spirits were VERY loud and fun. We witnessed four of these.
  • Uber in Malaysia was very easy and very cheap. We wound up using it all over Georgetown, instead of the metro in KL, and to transfer hotels.

Where We Stayed

Sama-Sama Hotel KL International Airport

Landed in KL and took the cute buggy ride to the hotel.

waiting for our hotel shuttle

Checked in quickly and then up to our spacious room. After so many hours on planes we needed to stretch our legs so we explored around the hotel for 20 minutes before getting some much needed rest in an actual bed.

On checkout the hotel erroneously charged us for valet service; I wrote to the hotel and the charge was reversed about two weeks later. Overall, this was a convenient stay given our late evening arrival and morning flight.

Lone Pine Hotel, Batu Ferringhi

The hotel bills itself as the ‘only luxury boutique hotel’ in the area, which is strange since there are definitely more luxurious places to stay nearby. I guess the boutique part is correct. We had a deluxe room which was spacious and overlooked the grounds with a water view mostly obscured by trees. The bed was comfortable, the bathroom amenities were nice, and I liked the available fridge, but overall our room felt pretty worn. My main complaint, however, was the noise. We could hear leaf blowers, jet skis, and children yelling throughout the afternoon as there was no glass, only shutters, for windows. Thankfully we brought earplugs with us and didn’t need to awake with an alarm so we managed to sleep fine.

   
hotel entrance; the pool area; view from our room

Eastern And Oriental Hotel, Georgetown

The Lone Pine and E&O are sister properties, and there is a transfer shuttle between the two. Unfortunately, the shuttle to the E&O was only at 10:30am and 2:30pm, so with a noon checkout, it didn’t work for us.  Instead, we sat around the pool for a bit, then took an easy Uber ride at 1pm.

From the moment we arrived at the E&O you could feel something special. We were checked in promptly, then made our way to the 11th floor. Our studio suite room was amazing(!) with large closets, a comfortable bed, and a nice covered patio. On the bathroom side we had double sinks, a large tub, and a separate shower.

our room @ the Eastern & Oriental

our bathroom @ the Eastern & Oriental

the view from our balcony
view from our 11th floor balcony, looking south

Breakfasts were quite an elaborate affair, with a large collection of hot and cold buffet items, fresh juice made to order, and several custom cooking stations (street food, omelets, and others). Most everything was tasty and it was a great way to start the day.

Each evening at 5pm the E&O hosts a complimentary cocktail hour in the 6th floor lounge near the pool, which was quite a nice perk. The pool itself was also very nice, with lounges in the sun and shade. Combined with the nice breeze due to the 6th floor location, it was a very relaxing spot to read a few books during our stay.

crows hanging out by the pool  hotel happy hour = free wine and snacks!

6th floor fountain  the view from the seawall @ the Eastern & Oriental

We loved our experience at the E&O and would definitely return on a future trip.

DoubleTree Kuala Lumpur

Known as one of the better point redemptions in the Hilton brand, we stayed at the Doubletree for our first two nights in KL. Located inside the Intermark Mall, it was a little tricky to find from the (relatively) nearby metro station.

Our room on the 21st floor was a good size with a couch and comfortable bed. The bathroom was well appointed and featured a large window wall with a switch-controlled shade. Overall, reasonably comfortable.

Breakfast was a large buffet that did tend to get crowded. There were a lot of options, including the obligatory juice bar, but the quality seemed a step down from what we had just experienced at the E&O. Not bad, just not as good.

On our first night we tried the ‘Cellar Door’ wine bar, which had some decent happy hour specials on cocktails. Our drinks were served with a ginormous bowl of peanuts that we greatly enjoyed!

Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral

With an early-ish flight we wanted to be close to the KL Sentral train station for easy access to the airport in the morning. Located across the street from the station, the Aloft was an a good pick for our last evening in KL.

Our room was standard aloft style room, good size, with a large bathroom. The hotel’s pool is located on the roof and had some wonderful views of the city at night.

One knock was checkout in the morning – there was only one person manning the counter, and quite a few travelers trying to get the airport, so the queue was building.