Really, how far can you go?
That’s usually the thing I tell myself when it comes to going outdoors and trying new things. But this time I sang to myself, “ain’t no mountain high enough, to keep me from discovering Penang.” But boy, was I in for a ride.
After registering at Penang National Park’s office, I literally jumped into the boat, anxious to begin exploration. As the boat headed toward the open water, the boat driver pointed out various beautiful rock formations that resembled animals. Next to these formations was Monkey Beach, one of the few protected beaches in Penang that’s off limits to most visitors except for familiar locals during Chinese New Year who come by for a picnic or two. Alas, no monkeys were seen on this stretch of beach.
(Top – Bottom) Pantai Kerachut – Picnic camp site; Turtle hatchlings awaiting release
We approached Pantai Kerachut (Kerachut Beach) that is not only a picnic and camp site but home to the Turtle Conservation Centre. I was in luck, little hatchlings were just picked up from the hatchery as I arrived at the turtle sanctuary.
From the batch, we were shown an adorable conjoined twin, who sadly didn’t make it. Instead of just dismissing it, the baby turtle was immortalised in a museum that features the life cycle of these endangered creatures. In this sanctuary, we learned about conservation efforts to sustain almost-extinct species such as the Penyu Agar (Green turtle) and Penyu Lipas (Olive Ridley turtle).
Next on the map was Tropical Spice Garden. The guide took us around the beautiful garden which features quaint wooden huts, picturesque lake setting with water lilies as well as a giant tree swing. You would really imagine Garden of Eden would look as such.
During the tour, we were introduced to various spices and their uses, almost anyone would have a hard time remembering them all. But I do recall nuggets of information such as how black pepper with antibacterial properties was used by nomads to keep healthy, especially to remove the smell of rotten meat.
When the guide asked what are the two most expensive spices in the world, I answered him correctly – saffron and vanilla. As a present, I received a freshly plucked edible flower that was tangy, sweet and very refreshing! Now I can proudly say that I’ve eaten a flower and loving it too!
I couldn’t wait to have my BBQ lunch at the Tropical Fruit Garden. The lunch spread was impressive as it had chicken, beef, lamb, fish, squid and a rainbow assortment of fruits. The people were so friendly; they recommended a concoction of fresh fruit that is said to be a trade secret. It was so delicious; I didn’t blame them for keeping it a secret. We also had our first sip of PURE nutmeg juice, which is said to give you quite the kick like a good shot of whiskey.
After lunch, the tour was led by a very charismatic and energetic Ali. Though a man of his late fifties, he kept the walk through the grounds entertaining as he eagerly shared names of fruits, their varieties and health benefits.
At Penang Butterfly Park, the first thing that hits you is the sheer number of butterflies flying about, with an average population of 4,000 of 120 different species! And the most sought after Rajah Brooke Birdwing was no less spectacular, it grows to almost as wide as your palm.
Besides butterfly conservation, the park has huge centipedes, fresh water fish, rare red striped tortoise and mandarin ducks. But the highlight of my trip was when we released a few butterflies at the end of the tour. It’s said when a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, you should whisper a wish to it and it will carry your wish into the heavens and it will come true. It’s fun to indulge in magical fancy occasionally
By evening, my tummy was growling, so the best bet was to head to Gurney Drive for the o’chien (oyster omelette) and to call it a night.
The next day started I breakfast at De Tai Tong Café with some incredible chee cheong fun. It was so smooth and delicious, even the dim sums ordered were finished with gusto. But those were just appetiser as next was char kuey teow at Kedai Kopi Ho Ping.
I was told the best measure of a really good char kuey teow is to order it without the egg. Why? Because the egg will always give the noodles a better taste, so any slip-ups can easily be covered. I’ve never had char kuey teow without eggs, but honestly at this shop, it does taste better without them. I am so coming back for more!
Though I have a big appetite, my stomach can only expand so much. Over the next few days, I enjoyed the incredible (local’s little secret) Merlin nasi kandar that definitely has my vote hands down, the yummy Bangkok lane mee goreng, and of course my favourite assam laksa, o’chien, rojak, cendol and more!
And thanks to foursquare, I will return to Kopi Cini where they serve mind-blowing homemade ice-cream and delectable fusion cuisine, set in a fascinating ambience of old and new.
With all that said and done, I haven’t stopped babbling about this trip to everyone I know. One thing’s for sure, I will definitely be back and probably be doing the same things or off to discover even more hidden secrets of Penang.
Don’t doubt it, Penang IS truly the Pearl of the Orient.