We have just a few more days left in Malaysia.
It's clear that three things have come to define our time here.
But before I get to that, let me catch you up a bit...
For the last four weeks we've been living in a small apartment in the home of a Chinese family on Penang Island. Our neighbourhood is great – close to the beach, grocery store and lots of street food; and allowing for easy bus access to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Georgetown and the beach town of Batu Ferringhi.
We started in Malaysia's south, with two very fun days at the Legoland Resort in Johor Bahru – a Christmas gift for LJ from us and the grandparents. This was 37-year-old L’s first time in an amusement park AND on a roller coaster. It was all very much out of his comfort zone, but he did well and may have had more fun than the eight-year-old.
After all things Lego, we spent a week in Kuala Lumpur. Although this capital wasn’t our favourite stop; we took it as an opportunity to do some big city stuff like visit the aquarium, the science centre, Kidzania and the cinema before taking a train north to Penang.
And since arriving in Penang, we’ve alternated between lazy days and busy adventures. We checked out the Upside Down Museum, the Made in Penang Museum, the beach, the city's street art, the train up Penang Hill and Penang National Park.
We’ve also spent more hours than I can count at the Penang Youth Park, which is one of the best parks we’ve ever been to!
And now that we're getting ready to leave our latest home, I see that three key things have made our time here extra special.
A taste of Asia
Malaysia, and especially Penang, has amazing and incredibly cheap food. Malaysian cuisine is a true melting pot that reflects its diverse population, with Malay, Chinese, India, Indonesian and Thai dishes, flavours and fusions.
In Kuala Lumpur, we went for Dim Sum with our Airbnb hosts and let our eyes and stomachs guide us at a local night market. There, we tried chicken and pork satay, fried banana with cheese and chocolate, apam balik (a sort-of pancake filled with peanuts and sweet corn) and lok lok (meats and veggies served on a skewer).
While in Penang, we found a few blog posts about self-guided food tours, plugged all the info into a map app on our mobile, and tasted as much as we could from the hawkers along the street and the small outdoor kitchens. We visited a tropical fruit farm with more than 200 types of fruit trees and had a delicious Chinese New Year dinner with our Airbnb hosts.
We devoured and loved cendol (an ice dessert with rice flour jelly, beans, coconut milk and palm sugar), mangosteen (a juicy and very sweet fruit that looks like a beet filled with garlic cloves), egg tarts, nasi kandar (rice served with meats, curries and other side dishes), asam laksa (spicy fish soup with thick noodles), tom yam ayam (hot and sour chicken soup), tandoori chicken on naan bread, nasi lemak (the country’s national dish), grilled bread with kaya (coconut egg jam) and teh tarik (sweet pulled tea). We even tried (and didn’t quite love) chicken feet and durian ice cream.
Well actually, L liked the Durian, but he seems unable to smell it…
Travelling has expanded LJ’s pallet to immense proportions. She’s never been an overly picky eater but will now eat (or at least try) absolutely anything. She loves extra spicy dishes and often surprises us with the things she deems delicious.
So much soccer
All the food was important because LJ needed the fuel for playing lots of football. We found a local soccer club, the Penang Whitecaps, that allowed her to practice and play in games two or three days a week for our entire stay. She was pretty much the only girl, but she had a great team of coaches who taught her a lot and were very supportive. She was even asked to play striker up an age level for one of the games!
She absolutely loved playing soccer in Penang, going so far as to burst into tears when practice was cancelled for the Chinese New Year. Although the sport isn’t as popular in Malaysia as it is in other places; I think this country gave her one of the best soccer experiences of our trip.
Football meant she was regularly hanging out with other kids, but it turned out to be only a small part of her social life.
Through Facebook, we connected with a German mom and her eight-year-old son. They spent several years travelling and had recently settled for a while in Penang. The kids hit it off immediately and we started meeting up a couple times per week. Other travelling families joined in and soon LJ had a great group of buddies and us parents had our own little social circle. With our new friends we enjoyed football games, long days at the park, a hike through the Malaysian jungle to a turtle sanctuary, a speed boat ride, the Kek Lok Si Temple, a Chinese New Year street party, lunch and dinner dates and many laughs, stories, and memories.
LJ also connected with the 12-year-old son of our Airbnb hosts. They played board games and Lego and he taught her some really neat Origami.
We’ve stayed in many Airbnbs, but our hosts in Malaysia are/were the best! In both Kuala Lumpur and Penang, they were so keen to share their culture, learn about Canada, and offer us a real home away from home.
So what’s next for our world adventure?
In a few days we'll say goodbye to Malaysia to begin a busy but exciting part of the trip!
We’re spending the next month travelling overland into and through Thailand, then on to Luang Prabang in Laos. It’s a journey involving lots steps and stops and likely requiring some extra stamina. We’ll be travelling by bus, train, ferry, tuk tuk and will even spend two days packed on to a wooden boat floating down the Mekong River!
Hoping it all works out and certain it will be another grand adventure, nonetheless.