Penang, Malaysia — January 2019

After a 6-hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur, we made it to the city island of Penang, our stop for 10 days. We loved the vibe of Penang. There is so much packed onto the small island – jungles, museums, beaches, funky cafes – , and so much history. There is such a mix of cultures and languages on the island that a lot of people default to English, which made it easy for us and also easy for the kids to make friends.

There were a lot of children in the apartment block where we stayed. Nuki and Manu became good friends with a boy whose family had moved from Syria six years ago; they met every afternoon for a few hours of swimming in the pool and Izumi had long chats with the father. (It was my time to get some work done!) Their family had moved for the father to pursue his PhD in Penang, but for political reasons the father can’t return even to visit. Fortunately for us, they had gotten to know the island well and gave us tips on places to visit that we wouldn’t have found otherwise.

The apartment we stayed in had a super view over the Malacca Strait (photo below). The apartment block was a strange place — obviously it had been beautiful and grand 20 years ago, but it had become run down. There were two pools, one with a water slide and dolphin sculptures, which kept the kids busy. But we managed to pick up a full bag of trash from in and around the pool, which wasn’t so nice…

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The day after we arrived we visited the Clan Jetties in George Town. Each jetty belongs to a different family who has built houses and even temples out over the water.

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On the way home we found these fabulously sculpted cappuccinos.

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One of two Penang highlights for me was the Penang House of Music, which Nuki and I visited together. It’s an interactive museum that preserves fascinating history and artifacts about recent music history in Penang. But it also has a recording studio, record players, instruments (including a drum set *in the middle of the museum*) and a puppet theatre to play with. We were especially lucky to be shown around in part by the museum’s owner, a professional musician who previously performed internationally. He explained that he had designed the museum with kids in mind, and with the intention to let people really feel and fall in love with music. And he totally embraced (literally as well) Nuki’s excitement, which meant I could relax a little and enjoy the place too!

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While I had a work day, Izumi took the kids to the discovery museum. A highlight was this very talented robot.

We took the cable car on a very steep incline up Penang Hill. The views were beautiful and there were tons of cute black monkeys with white ‘glasses.’

At the top of Penang Hill, we went to a carnivorous plants garden, which also had scorpions. Second time on this trip the kids have had the chance to hold scorpions…hopefully that’s enough. And I got to drink a coffee.

The second highlight of Penang for me was the Spice Garden, a beautifully kept jungle garden with information about spices and the spice trade (in which Penang was a key port). Look at how lush it is. img_0356img_0349

Inside the spice garden was this wonderful jungle swing. Not sure how solid it really was, in retrospect. While the kids were swinging, Izumi and I were sitting on a bench nailed into the same platform which suddenly collapsed beneath us. The wood was rotten. We were fine — if a little surprised, — but we got the kids off the swing fairly quickly after that.

We rented a car and enjoyed a day at the beach, along with a super delicious lunch of noodles heaped with seafood from a shack restaurant on the beach. One of my favourite meals on this trip. (You’ll also see in the photos below that I took to the kids’ hair with a mixture of nail, kitchen and children’s scissors.)

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And we got a rare family photo against the Chinese New Year decorations in a local mall. (Except that Nuki wouldn’t pull a decent face.)

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I tend to write about our major activities, because I have photos  and want to remember what we did. But we also spend many days hardly leaving our accommodation and doing pretty normal things like we would if we weren’t travelling. With the same mess and other muddles that come with three young kids ;-).

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After 10 days in Penang, we set off by train to the Thai border and, after a drawn out immigration process (basically travel days are never much fun), we got on a 10-hour night train heading north to the east coast of Thailand.

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We woke up at 4.30am to drag our bags and sleeping children onto a dark, wooden-planked platform in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. About 45 minutes later we found a taxi to take us to our hotel. Thankfully, they let us check in at 5.30am for no extra charge and everyone went back to sleep for a few hours.

So now we’re in Thailand again. We’ve been working our way up the coast a little faster than we usually travel to make our flights down to Auckland on 4 February.