It was hard to leave raw natural Borneo, but we were on our way to Malaysia, and to another adventure.
At the airport in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, we waited for Air Asia to open, and stopped for a bite to eat.
Wow. This simple French rice dish called Riz Soubise was spectacular. Who knew a simple rice dish with thin strips of onion, cream and gruyere could be so lusciously good. A creamy flavour-full dish that looks bland and plain but surprises you with every delicious spoonful.
I tracked down the recipe, in case your mouth is watering… Riz Soubise.
Air Asia To Penang
It took forever, but finally we are on the plane to Penang and we were both a little cranky. T was mumbling that Air Asia was the worst airline he’d ever flown with and that they would make Air Canada look good. Air Asia makes passengers pay for every little thing, including wheelchairs for heaven’s sake, and don’t even offer passengers a glass of water on a two and a half hour flight among other things… like sour snippety flight attendants.
I had a headache, drippy nose and raw throat. Enduring the flight and getting to the hotel was all I was thinking about.
Taxi Driver Scam
The pre-arranged driver was waiting for us, and he was, to put it mildly: pushy, pushy, pushy. The hotel said it would be 55 Rand for the trip from the airport. The taxi driver said 75 Rand. They know you don’t have much choice, and we were both in no mood to argue.
Then the driver insisted that he would drive us to the sights of Penang all day tomorrow, acting like our best friend but not giving us a price. It was when he tried to tell us that the money changer on the street would give us a better rate than the airport, we knew he was full of B.S. He seemed to be driving in circles as well. That’s when we told him to take us directly to the hotel.
Le Dream Boutique Hotel, Penang
The Dream Boutique Hotel was exactly that – a dream. The outside of the hotel was glass-front, sparkly and impressive. Our room was beautiful, staff were constantly keeping it spotlessly clean, and customer service was impeccable.
The view from our room was no great shakes, but looking again, I thought it was quite artistic.
There was a rooftop bar at Le Dream Boutique, the Sky Lounge, with free wine, tea, coffee, ice cream and cookies between 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm daily, and a free movie and popcorn at 8:30 pm every day.
In the warm evenings, a cooling breeze in the open air of the covered Sky Lounge was welcome. We spent a lot of time on that rooftop bar, and the bar service was fast and flawless. The back of a mall was next door, but I never did get there.
There was also a jacuzzi in the Sky Lounge, a free huge buffet breakfasts every morning in the restaurant, and the hotel was in a good location in Penang.
Le Dream Boutique is one of the best hotels we have ever stayed in this price range (under $100 night CAD). Most hotels of this calibre in other parts of the world would be well over $200 a night.
Another Taxi Driver Scam
The next morning our pre-arranged driver for the day arrived (no, not the taxi driver from the airport). His email said 25 Rand for the day. When he arrived, he said he made a mistake – it is 25 Rand an hour! We thanked him for his time and took the free shuttle to the Armenia Art Street.
The art was provocative and amusing, but the street was extremely busy and noisy. Food kiosks and tattoo artists were everywhere; cars and trishaws crawled through pedestrians passing by within inches.
Look closely at the above murals. The bicycle is on blocks. In the swings murals, some of the people are real and some are part of the painting.
The heat was staggering in Penang; we had to stop often to rest and have a drink. When we were ready to leave, we could not find a taxi or even a trishaw for a long time. In the sweltering heat, we were weaker and weaker as we walked a block up. Waiting and looking and waiting and looking. Nothing. Not a taxi or trishaw in sight in any direction.
T was getting “La Look”. The look that said, “If I don’t get out of here soon, I am going to pass out on the sidewalk.”
Not that it was his fault; he was as weak and frustrated as I was.
We walked another block, and finally spotted a trishaw, but it was a frail old man peddling the bike. He looked to be about 98 years old and I was afraid to get on but also afraid not to: the heat had truly left me weak at the knees.
T, gentleman that he is, said there wasn’t room for two in the trishaw, and insisted on walking alongside the trishaw while the old man peddled. The sad old man never said a word as he slowly got onto the bicycle and pushed with great effort on each pedal, sweat pouring down his face. He was heaving and wheezing so loudly through his toothless mouth that we were sure he was going to die on the spot.
The old man peddled us through Little India, the opposite direction from the Dream Boutique Hotel, and obviously did not know where the hotel was actually located.
Finally we motioned for the old man to stop, before he perished, and T, who loves walking, had walked blocks and blocks was now weak from the heat. We paid the old man 30 Malaysian Rand ($1 CAD dollar), and hoped he would take a much-needed rest.
We walked another block, again looking for a taxi, and almost fainting in the noon heat. We walked further, waiting at several busy corners, but nada, not a taxi or trishaw in sight. After going back around another corner, there was not only one, but two taxis.
It was like heaven to get into an air-conditioned taxi.
When we got back into our hotel room, I got straight into the shower, sweat-soaked clothes and all, and felt physically ill. I knew that I had the same Bronchial infection that I had a few months before. I could barely breathe; I needed an inhaler.
After a rest and a shower, T was ready to go to our next stops, the Fort and the Tao Temple. I asked T to go alone, and if he happened to see a Pharmacy, to pick up an inhaler.
2.5 hours later he returned with an inhaler after walking for miles to find a pharmacy. Then he walked another 3 blocks to get pizza because we were tired of Asian food.
At 5 pm, we went up to the Sky Lounge. Red-nosed and barely able to croak through a raw throat, I asked for lemon and tea. The staff were so concerned and completely anxious to please.
That night we both slept from 8 pm to 8 am. It had been a long, hot, frustrating day.
So take heed when travelling to Penang or anywhere in Malaysia, and be aware of…
- The lack of service from Air Asia
- Watch out for scamming taxi drivers, but…
- Pay old trishaw drivers triple fare (your dollar goes a long way here)
- Do pay for an air/conditioned taxi for the day when going to see the sights
- Stay in a nice hotel (you will really appreciate it at the end of the day) and…
- Do not go out walking in the midday sun!