How you can secure a table at the world-famous Jay Fai restaurant, even though it’s permanently booked out. Surely you’ve heard of this Michelin starred street food?
The local canal boats are the best way to avoid the endless traffic jams.
Airbnbs, despite being illegal in Thailand, offer excellent value accommodation.
Bangkok is huge
it – Bangkok is one chaotic BIG city. Our local shopping centre was bigger than
Fun fact: Wikipedia says the city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres and has a population of over of over eight million, with more than fourteen million people living within the surrounding area.
Where to stay
This time we stayed in Airbnbs. Great value. Even though they’re illegal in Thailand. Go figure. There must be thousands of Airbnb hosts giving their guests specific instructions not to tell anyone, especially the lobby staff, that you’re paying for a short term stay. You’re supposed to say you’re friends of the owners and temporary guests in their apartment if anyone asks.
In one place, an immigration officer had set up a desk in the lobby. Our host explained he (reluctantly) paid a bribe to the officer to avoid having his business shut down.
My new number one favourite mode of transport in Bangkok
Canal boats. This is how the locals get around. Most fares are around 11 baht. You have to be quick though. The boat only stops for long enough for the commuters to clamber off and on. You’ll still get where you want to go in half the time even when the traffic is gridlocked on the roads. And it’s much harder to get lost in Bangkok on the canals…
We spent one afternoon just going to the end of the Khlong Saen Saep line. Past the ever changing canal burbs. Moslem suburbs, Buddhist wats, mad markets and people just going about their daily lives.
We first heard about Jai Fai in the Netflix Street Food Bangkok episode and thought “We have to have one of those crab omelettes”.
Okay so you want one too? Raan Jay Fai is always fully booked. Every day. If you’re good at forward planning try emailing, email@example.com. But when we did that in November we got a response saying she’s fully booked until the end of January.
Right. Go visit then.
What you have to do is go there, around 10 or 11 am, before opening time, and write your name and phone number down on the booking page. You’ll get your assigned number. It’s about a ten minute walk from the Phanfa Leelard stop on the Khlong Saen Saep canal line. Then go back later and wait for your number to come up. And that’s a gamble… But you can have a beer or three at Tim Mansion https://www.timmansionbkk.com/ next door while you wait. Could be hours. Or you might miss it if you get the timing wrong. We had number 20 and ended up eating about 7.30 pm. Jai Fai is the only cook. When Jai Fai is ready, the staff write your number on the board. Good luck.
Or here’s an alternative. Hoi Tod Chaw Lae 1301 Charoen Nakhon Rd, Bang Lamphu Lang, Khlong San. Save yourself about 800 baht and order the Crab Meats Fried Egg. Yummy! Delicious!
Have you ever been to lost in Bangkok? What’s your Top Tip for Travellers?
Why Hat Yai? Is Hat Yai in Thailand’s Songkla province near the Malaysian border on anyone’s bucket list?
The 2006, 2007 and 2014 bombings are still evident in the strict security measures as you go into places like the Central Festival shopping centre. A shopping mecca and tourist magnet for Malaysians and Singaporeans, Hat Yai was at the end of our train trip from Bangkok. You can continue on the train south to Butterworth in Malaysia, but we had other plans.
After the 16 hour overnight train trip from Bangkok we finally arrived in Hat Yai at 6 am. The tuk tuk drivers outside the train station were vying for our trade, offering ridiculously outrageous prices for the 20 minute ride to our hotel. We walked away after some good natured bargaining.
Then the tuk tuk drivers had a chat among themselves and decided on a designated driver to offer the ride for about a third of their original offer.
Would we be allowed to check in early? We weren’t ready to wander the streets, we were ready for some chill time in our rooms. The Smart Hotel had just opened and the front office people were still trying to figure out how everything worked. The upside was the hotel was almost empty and they were happy for us to move in early.
All the staff were very friendly and accommodating. Especially at first when we had to ask them for the kettle and coffee making stuff. Which I swear they collected from the other just-vacated rooms. I guess they were still deciding how many kettles they needed to buy.
After catching our breath with that welcome chill time in our lovely clean rooms, we were ready to tackle Hat Yai.
How to act like a local in Hat Yai
The Hat Yai Municipal Park is a kind of a playground for the locals. The swimming pools near the entrance were packed. We watched kids cavorting around in the water while we at ate pad thai from the food stalls.
After that we spent quality time at the top of the hill, exploring the two temples and riding the cable car.
Kuan Yin Shrine
There’s a bus to take you from the foot of the hill to the Kuan Yin Shrine with the tallest standing Buddha in southern Thailand overlooking the Hat Yai metropolis and surrounding area.
Realistic wax likenesses sit casually in the foyer. At first I mistook the statues for real meditating monks, the wax figures are so lifelike.
The itty bitty cable car takes just two and a half minutes to cover the 525 meters from the Kuan Yin Shrine to the Elephant Temple or Four-Faced Brahma Shrine. But the views are spectacular all the way.
Four-Faced Brahma Shrine
There are golden elephants galore around this shrine. The Four-Faced Buddha simultaneously faces north, east, south and west. Surrounded by elephants of course.
We took the bus back down the hill, but kind of regretted we didn’t walk. By then we’d run out of time to check out the Science and Astronomy Centre about halfway down the hill.
Top Tips for Travellers
Local buses are cheap saving you long walks and expensive taxi fares. There’s a regular local bus running along the main drag leading to the Municipal Park. Just hang with the locals at the bus stop, get on and off anywhere and pay the driver what the locals are paying. It felt like a donation system, sort of. Once we didn’t have any small notes but the driver smiled happily when we piled out all our pocket change into his hand.
Choose the most recently opened hotels for your stay. You’ll get a clean room with a modern TV, aircon that works and toilets that flush reliably (you hope). For the same price the older hotels can be dirty and smelly, with last century televisions and equipment that doesn’t work as well as it did in the eighties.
The locals are infamous for their habit of hiking prices up for tourists. Take note of what the locals pay for their bowl of tom yum while you’re savouring yours, then simply offer the same amount when you go to pay. This worked for us some of the time. But keep your first world wallet in perspective: the difference is probably petty cash in your currency.
After our stay in HCMC we flew to Bangkok. The other captain and I hadn’t been to Thailand in a while. I’d forgotten how exotic and friendly the Thais are. And how much I love their green curries. The other captain’s brother, an overseas travel virgin, was beginning to get the hang of SE Asian travel.
The plan was to check out the great city then take the overnight train from Bangkok to the southern border town of Hat Yai.
The city of angels
Bangkok is just the name people who don’t come from Thailand call this gritty city. Bangkok translates as “village of wild plums”. Not exactly sexy. Whereas Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ), as the Thais call it, means “city of angels”. The full name translates as:
The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.
I didn’t see any angels in the happy city. But I had fun chatting with some beautiful girls on Soi Cowboy when the other captain’s brother asked us to show him the bright lights.
One of the highlights of our stay was a river cruise. With a 150 baht ticket (about six Aussie dollars) you can get off and on Chao Phraya Tourist Boat as often as you like at the eight piers along the route. You can stop to check out cathedrals, temples, museums, markets and the Grand Palace.
Along the river five star hotels stand next to falling apart local dwellings. Longtail boats fly past. Barges laden down to their water level lumber by. Islands of plants float past.
We stayed in Sukhumvit, right on the Skytrain (Bangkok Mass Transit System or BTS) route, making it easy (and cheap) to get around. Our stop was On Nut, which was simple enough to remember. Our first destination was often Asok, which sounds like asshole when announced over the train PA system. Just so you know.
Slow train from Bangkok to Hat Yai
The slow train from Bangkok central to Hat Yai is a 16 hour trip, leaving at around 2pm. A sleeper ticket is 1300 baht (1100 for the top bunk). It’s no secret I love train travel. We had no trouble getting our ticket at Bangkok Train Station for the next day. In fact our train was about 70% empty. Our party of three had a pair of two-berth cabins with a connecting door, and one empty berth.
The cabins are clean, simple and comfortable. You can have a delicious dinner set for 170 baht. I had the green chicken curry with jasmine rice, tom yum soup, fruit juice and fresh fruit platter. Yum!
I took this trip by myself when we first bought Yana de Lys. I’d been to Pattaya to meet the previous owners and collect some boat stuff they were storing. I shared my cabin with a mountain of gear, including a brand new sail belonging to Yana.
Before the train even left Bangkok Train Station the steward had asked me if I fancy a beer for the trip. At the time I thought, “Sure a couple of cans of Chang might be nice for sunset”. Next thing I knew my basin was filled with ice and two king browns. Did I look like I was dying of thirst?
Well it’s different now. Technically you’re not supposed to drink on the train, but we were subtle about it and the staff didn’t seem to care anyway. (There are no smoking signs but the conductors have a puff at the end of the train.)
So if you fancy a beer for the journey it’s a good idea to stock up before you leave. And if you like em cold you can buy some ice from the convenience store at the train station.
Around 6:00 the next morning we arrived in the… er exciting town of Hat Yai. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog. When I get around to it. (Slow travel = slow blog writing.)
Top Tips for Travellers
Taxis can be very exxy in Bangkok, especially if you get stuck in the endless and frequent traffic jams. Take the Skytrain if you can.
You can only buy alcohol in supermarkets and convenience stores from 1100-1400 and 1700-2400. It seems like a weird law, and some smaller shops may not enforce the rules. Try just acting like a dumb farang if you get the times wrong and you might be okay.
If you’re planning on visiting any temples make sure you wear (or bring) clothes that cover your shoulders and knees and ideally your ankles too.
For our second visit to Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) we’d been given the use of our friend Mr Lee’s apartment and driver. As it turned out, our driver didn’t speak English but came with an interpreter, the delightful sales manager from our generous friend’s business.
We were travelling with the other captain’s brother, a veteran of the war (sort of, I’ll explain later).
The apartment was a mansion. Twenty rooms, four storeys, a lift. Designed to be a hotel originally. Complete with a live in houseman to open the Fort Knox gates.
We only spent a few hours in our splendid apartment before we were whisked off on an adventure. Our driver and intrepid interpreter took us to a meeting at Long An University, where we met up with Mr Lee’s brother and friends for a road trip.
Road trip Day 1
Heading for Ban Tre we had a few stops. For food and drink of course.
First, a feast of lẩu nấm (I think), the Viet version of steamboat, by the side of the road. It’s no secret local food ordered by locals is better.
Next a leisurely stop over at one of our road trip team’s family coconut farm. As I was offered and guzzled freshly opened coconut after freshly opened coconut to drink, I wondered if too much can be bad for you?
On Day 2 we set off for a day of exploring. Well we were actually just visiting one of our road trip team’s parents.
Three fat pigs, two lively goats
We trundled down the skinniest road with lush jungle on either side. Occasionally having to pull over so motorbikes could get past. One guy had three fat pigs in a basket, another had two lively looking black and white goats on board. The biggest load I saw was a motorbike towing a trailer carrying enough reinforced steel to build a small house.
The road ended at a Mekong river tributary. A small barge ferry, big enough for motorbikes, people and small livestock, arrived shortly after we’d parked at the impasse.
We walked through tiny local markets, and tall shady trees on streets only wide enough for motos and pedestrians. To our friend’s parents place deep in the jungle.
Jungle hideout deep in the burbs
Over the long lazy afternoon we had a karaoke session (I watched), drank more fresh coconut water (I had stopped worrying about the dangers of overdosing), cooked (mum let me cook two banh xeo pancakes), and ate the most delicious spread of local dishes. Over fascinating conversations.
Stories of the war
The locals call it the American War. The other captain’s brother was in despatch in the Australian army as a teenager, flying over Vietnam but never landing. (So not technically a vet.)
The more I learn about the Vietnam War (the one going on when I was growing up in Australia), the more I feel it was such a tragic waste of lives and everything else that got blown up. Yet I have never felt Vietnamese people I’ve encountered to be resentful.
One of my road trip friends told us how he fled his village with seven on the moto, including his mum and dad, sister and kids. Ten years later when interviewing locals with an American journalist, the journo remarked he was surprised the people who’d been locked up in prison in appalling conditions were so happy. The reason: they were simply happy to be free.
Saigon Vietnam take 3?
At the end of Day 2 we were deposited safely back at our borrowed apartment in Saigon Vietnam. We spent a week wandering around dodging the legendary motorbike traffic and taste testing the backstreets Pho.
I wonder if I’ll get a third chance to visit HCMC? I’d love to sail there one day…
Batam Island, Indonesia, is a quick ferry ride from Johor Bahru, Malaysia (or Singapore, Singapore. I’ve done it both ways. Read on and I’ll explain).
When my friends Helen, Tiya and Tina suggested a ladies only day trip to Batam Island I said yes in less than a nanosecond, cashed a few ringgits in for rupiah and slipped my passport into my backpack.
Eat, shop, spa
Of course the first thing we did when the ferry landed was eat scrumptious Indonesian food. As you do.
Tina, a native Indonesian, and Helen who comes from Sarawak, Malaysia were our expert menu guides, vastly expanding Tyia’s and my EQ (Eating Intelligence).
Then we jumped into a taxi and hightailed our way to a spa for a tough love $20 two hour massage. As my masseur settled me in to my cubicle she made a point of showing me the sign saying turn your phone off and keep quiet. Yep I was ready to relax.
Another customer arrived with a young kid who spent the whole time sharing the sound of cartoons in Mandarin at peak volume. Maybe her mum’s masseur forgot to point the silence rules out to her.
Feeling suitably relaxed and rejuvenated we began the real business of the day: shopping.
Shopping is the number one most popular activity on Batam Island. Designer handbags are the number one most popular shopping item. I learned a lot about the arcane art of buying fake designer goods.
Did you know there are different grades of elite brand ripoffs? By holding up their real deal designer purses next to the fakes, my friends taught me how to look for dodgy stitching and recognise the special texture of quality leather. An enlightening show and tell.
Have you seen my horn?
Batam’s got traffic.
The motorbikes carrying families with newborns, kids with (designer?) sunglasses but no helmets, chickens and televisions compete with the speeding cars to get to just go crazy fast. At times I needed to close my eyes there were so many near misses.
One of our taxi drivers had a secret weapon – a police siren. Whenever we seemed to be slowing down because of the traffic ahead he’d press the button and whelp whelp the cars all round would make way for us. Our taxi was filled with constant laughter.
Our driver explained he’d borrowed the horn from his brother, a policemen. When his bro asked if he’d seen his horn, he just feigned innocence. More rounds of mirth.
We saw cops riding two to a motorbike, impeccably groomed in their flak jackets with huge guns visible.
Three countries in one day
After shopping until almost dropping we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch the last ferry back to JB. Which had just left the harbour. Oopsie. The ticket seller at Stulang Laut, JB had given us a bum steer.
So we took the next ferry to Singapore and a taxi from there to JB, Malaysia, arriving home in Senibong Cove close to midnight, just before our carriage turned into a pumpkin. I’d never been to three countries in one day before.
When the other captain returned from a three and a half month sentence working in Australia he was little bit jealous of the new stamp in my passport. Easily fixed. We headed off to Batam Island for a few days together with me as the newly ordained expert tour guide.
The first thing we did after eating delicious Indo street food, watching a few cooking shows and slothing around in our room for a bit was head out in search of the famous raucous Batam Island night life in the Nagoya Entertainment District (NED) .
How to have more fun on Batam Island
Living in Permas Jaya, in JB Malaysia is all good but you don’t get to see live bands too often. Having fun in Permas Jaya means staying up late and going to karaoke bars for the buckets of beer specials after 11pm. Pass.
Of course we got lost on the way to the NED. I swear we walked past hundreds of fake designer handbag shops. I guess there are only dozens and we were walking in circles.
Eventually we stumbled on the NED. Working girls on the streets and bars called Lusy’s Oarhouse, Chillis, Secrets and Foreplay were dead giveaways.
I admit I am perennially cynical about SE Asian cover bands. My long held belief they all play bad Rolling Stones covers wasn’t shattered.
Didn’t stop me having fun though, not even slightly.
I hadn’t played pool in years. I was rusty as hell. And the working girls spend a lot of time polishing their skills. The bar girls I played against were incredibly generous players, coaching me on my tactics and shots and only winning half the games.
Freeball rules were new to me. If your opponent sinks the white ball, you get to place it (strategically) wherever you want. That kind of behaviour in an Australian pub would lead to an instant brawl.
Meanwhile another of the scantily dressed ladies in high heels was chatting the other captain up, offering to buy him a beer and trying to race him off. It didn’t phase her when the other captain told her he was out on the town with his wife of 29 years.
Olfactory tourist attractions
We spent lots of time just wandering. The smells were occasionally overwhelming, from the fantastic outdoor food market wok fry ups to the award winningly stinky drains snaking through the backstreets.
When we stopped for a bite to eat with some friendly locals, I found I was the tourist attraction. Our new friend said he wished he had a big nose like mine. I have always thought my snozz was was normal sized. And my blue eyes. My eyes are brown. He said he’d only ever seen people like me on TV, never actually spoken with one. Is this real life Reality TV or what?
One hotel where we stayed had a choking mouldy smell, especially when we turned on the air con. It was stinking hot. And our room overlooked a construction site so if the window was open we couldn’t hear ourselves think with the overpowering sounds of construction. Great location though, right in the NED.
When we sailed past last year, we didn’t stop because there were no good anchorages. It’s been burning a hole in our bucket list since then.
So we decided to ride the Yarley there.
I guess 125cc Yamaha scooters aren’t made for 300+ km road trips for driver, pillion passenger, two wine bottles of spare fuel and two backpacks.
Why? Because we had our first flat tyre about 50km down the road. We had to roll our bike 5km, hot and sweaty and constantly asking myself “are we nearly there yet?” to have the tyre replaced.
(The tyre was trashed.) Later we learnt you can use the help phones on the side of the motorway. Don’t you love hindsight?
We had the second flat tyre on our way home. Apparently (according to a kind Malaysia truck driver) the new tyre was made in Malaysia, therefore not destined to last.
I tried using the motorway help phone. I was wondering what to do next after five minutes of listening to “Please hold the line” when a kind truck driver stopped. He offered to take us and our moto to the next town to have the tyre replaced. With a tyre made in Vietnam. RM5 cheaper but better quality, so we’re told.
Eat, drink, pray and visit museums in Malacca, Malaysia
The food in Malacca is fabulous. The tandoori chicken and naan bread at Pak Putra is sensational.
The Portuguese chicken dish at Eleven Bistro was delicious.
Also I discovered why everyone raves about Malacca’s famous chicken rice balls and steamed chicken. Yum.
Buying wine was a bit tricky, but we managed. On the first night we found a supermarket selling reasonably priced red wine as we headed out to dinner. It was okay so on our way back to our hotel we decided to get a second bottle. The checkout chick in headscarf, asked me if I had finished the first bottle already. “No no this one is for tomorrow” I said. Headscarf smiled.
Malacca’s long history is visible in the variety of places of worship from a Catholic church to a temple sponsored by Guinness and Tiger beer. Well that’s what it looked like anyway. The columns featured advertising for both beverages.
There are more museums than you can poke a stick at. Wikipedia lists 38. We visited two. The Maritime Museum, housed in a replica of the Portugues Flor de la Mar, a 400 ton nau or carrack (sailing vessel) from the 16th century.
And St Paul’s Hill. A ruined church with a spectacular view. Famous for being the temporary resting place for St Francis Xavier’s body enroute to India.
There are churches, mosques and temples everywhere.
A trifecta of temples
Jalan Tokong, AKA Harmony Street, features three temples and a mosque. You can get your multicultural spiritual fix in one short walk.
The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. Another trifecta here: It’s for devotees of the Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.
Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia.
The architecture of the Kampung Kling Mosque is a combination of Sumatran, Chinese, Hindu and Malay styles.
I lit incense in the Xiang Lin Si Temple which is run by Buddhist nuns.
On the Sunday I had planned to go to mass at the historic St. Francis Xavier Church. I have very catholic spiritual tastes and admit I am more lapsed than Catholic.
It was bucketing rain. The streets were flooded. So I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and had a cappuccino and croissant just round the corner instead. Divine. So good it was almost a religious experience.
It was lucky the deluge ended before we headed home. Another flat tyre in the pouring rain might not have been much fun.
Have you visited Malacca Malaysia? What were your impressions? Or maybe you have suggestions for other places worth visiting? And BTW if you enjoy reading my travel stories I would love you to share my blog!
I like visiting Singapore because it is so totally different to Johor Bahru, which is where I’ve bee staying on my boat Yana de Lys.
Singapore is just 0.8 nautical miles away from our berth in the Senibong Cove Marina.
Here are five reasons I appreciate having Singapore in my backyard.
1. Visiting Singapore is easy
Visiting Singapore is easy for me. Getting there from Senibong Cove Marina is quick, cheap and simple. I take the Yarley, my 125 cc Yamaha moto (scooter) into town. Park just under the stairs to the Customs and Immigration Building. Take the bus from Johor Bahru in Malaysia to Woodlands, Singapore. A border crossing bargain at $1.70. I get a ninety day visa for free. If there are no traffic jams on the causeway l can be there in less than an hour.
2. It’s easy to get around
On my last visit to Singapore a, taxi driver told me “A blind man could make his way around Singapore on the MRT”. (He also told me Singapore has no crime.)
Hmm. Well the MRT is easy to navigate. And I haven’t been the victim of any crimes in Singapore either.
3. Art and culture
When I’m visiting Singapore I always try to get an art fix by visiting a gallery or two.
I found the feast of galleries in the Old Hill Street Police Station. One of my favourite exhibits was an Andy Warhol style treatment of Lee Kuan Yew by local artist Sukeshi Sondhi.
I’m not talking about the designer brands in Orchard Road. High heels and haute couture are irrelevant on a cruising yacht. I’m talking about a genuine chandlers.
I once made the trip just to buy some teak cleaner and an anode.
5. Food Glorious Food
Yeah yeah I know. It’s always about the food.
A couple of my favourite eating experiences are:
Free flow Verve Cliquot and as much five star local, regional and international dishes as you can eat at the Pan Pacific Hotel’s Edge Sunday brunch. What’s not to love?
A chapatti set with mango lassi in Little India. A satisfying and delicious feast for $4.50.
I’m interested hearing why you like (or don’t like) visiting Singapore. Feel free to leave your comments below.
Johor Bahru, the capital city of the state of Johor Malaysia isn’t exactly a popular tourist mecca. Most travelers pass through on their way from Singapore, just over the causeway (more on that later), to Kuala Lumpur and beyond.
Tourist attractions in Johor Malaysia?
There aren’t many tourist attractions. In fact sometimes I feel like the tourist attraction, riding around three on my motorbike with my sister and eight year old niece.
Three things I love about Johor Bahru
Here are just three things I love about JB in the state of Johor Malaysia:
Race nights in Jalan Meldrum. We refer to this street fondly as Jalan Molly Meldrum. If you are mystified by this reference do yourself a favour and Google this much loved Aussie icon.
When the horse races are on in KL and Singapore the street is alive with bookies, gamblers, runners and onlookers. No-one gets to see the races but a lot of money changes hands.
The locals are incredibly welcoming and friendly. When one of the punters was talking to me I mentioned the other captain used to be a jockey. Somehow this has become legend and he is known as a world famous jockey there.
Better still, since he won a couple of bets one evening they figure he’s an internationally successful gambler and ask him for his tips.
One evening I attended a puja (prayer ritual) involving countless trays of chopped vegetables and stuff being thrown into a ceremonial fire, interspersed with bundles of wood and oil poured onto the fire to the soundtrack of chanting and drum beating.
At one point the priest’s pyromaniac skills slipped and the whole temple was engulfed in smoke. I could hardly breathe but it was incredibly atmospheric.
3. Food glorious food. There is endless variety, and the local food is not expensive. My absolute favourites include roast duck, and crispy pork and Sup Kambing (conveniently supplied with straws to suck out the marrow).
Since the Danga Bay Marina was closing we have moved our yacht Yana de Lys to the Senibong Cove Marina near Permas Jaya.
A causeway is a road not a bridge
I’d done a quick Navionics electronic navigation calculation on my phone while I was eating lunch one day.
Despite not having signed up to be a solo sailor, I figured I could sail the ten or twelve miles on my own. I know I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last person to make this dumb mistake. I wondered why there was no Air Height shown on the chart for the bridge to Singapore. Doh! That’s why its called a causeway – it’s basically a road not a bridge.
I called the other captain back from Australia for the 90 mile circumnavigation of Singapore. Meanwhile I get to enjoy eating and exploring this dirty old town of Johor Malaysia.
Our last visit to Penang was just a two day visa run. But it was sublime, totally reaffirming my love of Georgetown. We stayed at the Chulia Heritage on (duh!) Chulia Street. And yes we ate at the Red Garden Food Paradise. But shock horror tears we found the Famous Crispy Duck stall closed! For Ramadan? No doubt it was the quietest we had ever seen Georgetown. It was kinda weird the way the chaos level of the traffic was so subdued…
Tickets to the Blue Mansion
I decided we would take a look at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion after walking past it so many times on our visits to the Red Garden. I’d heard you have to book in advance so headed off on our first morning to organise tickets while the other captain did some serious TV time in the room. As it happened we didn’t need to book ahead. I ended up with some time up my sleeve before our lunch date so wandered around Muntri Street and Love Lane checking out some of the cool art galleries and old buildings.
I also snuck in a temple visit, spending some velvet devotional time in the Hainan Temple. (The other captain runs a mile when I mention temples.) The building just looked so exquisite from the outside I had to go in.
I lit a candle for my beautiful lost wild child – a Catholic ritual in a Chinese temple. (I definitely have catholic tastes when it comes to spirituality and religion.) Later I read in the Lonely Planet the temple’s patron saint is the patron saint of seafarers. No wonder I felt drawn.
Our first guided tour. Ever.
Anyway for the first time in our travelling careers, we took a guided tour. Well, it is the only way to see inside the Cheong Fatt Tze AKA the Blue Mansion.
Our tour guide was excellent, an expert at engaging her audience of some 37 people. She told great stories about the family who built and lived in the mansion, including the original owner’s (favourite) wife number seven. Our guide’s depth of understanding of Chinese culture as well as the architecture, intrinsically linked with Feng Shui, was fascinating.
Kongsi Clan Temple
The next morning I felt inspired to continue the theme with a visit to the Cheah Kongsi Clan Temple. The other captain was out buying electrical wire for Yana de Lys God bless him.
I was amazed at how the stuff I learnt in the Blue Mansion tour helped me understand and interpret what was going on with the design and history of this gorgeous building. Without a tour guide heh heh.
Found in translation
By the end of our Penang visit I had almost been able to dredge up and appropriately use the Malaysian language I’d learned in my on and off two years in Langkawi. It’s all about the menus. Roti Canai. Yes! Mango Lassi. Yes! (I hadn’t found my Malaysian breakfast favourites in Phuket. Well not in the English alphabet or picture menus anyway.)
Then we were back in Phuket International Airport with our three month- convertible into six-month visas. (I know it’s complicated. Let’s not go there.) I had to switch back to my basic basic basic Thai.
How do people know how to speak multiple languages without getting confused?
Farang is what the locals call foreigners. I think it’s a neutral term, unless it’s being applied to foreigners behaving badly. (Heaven forbid – we’re their guests here!)
It sure is strange and challenging living in a country where they not only speak a different language but use a completely different alphabet. Where the statues at the Buddhist temples carry machine guns. Where road rules are merely guidelines. (I swear a red light means “proceed with caution”). Where false advertising is as common as noodles and rice.
Speaking of rice and noodles I love the food here, despite the process of ordering being an entirely hit and miss affair. The non farang menus are simply indecipherable – sometimes it’s just a case of pointing at what someone else is eating and saying I’ll have one of those.
At our favourite barbeque place over the road here from Boat Lagoon, the waiter very proudly showed me their new “English language” menu the other night. I reckon Google Translate has a lot to answer for. Here are a couple of examples of dishes on offer:
·Pork falls a morter ·Papaya penetrate the free and crab ·Grilled the cow’s milk
I assume they’re machine translations, but I guess I’ll just have to get the guts to order them to find out what they really are. For now I’m just going to stick with pointing at the delicious looking food they have displayed.
Meanwhile the Yana de Lys deck replacement is going ahead at a rapid pace. We have stripped the old teak off, and have a small team of locals sanding the old surface ready for the new paint and non slip.
Boat Lagoon is a fantastic place to get work done. I still can’t get over the lack of water in the marina though. Before we moved Yana onto the hard stand we spent at least half of our time with 0.0 meters reading on the depth sounder. We were literally parked in the mud. And then the hard stand and the board walks flood at spring high tides. Bizarre.