Saturday, 30 April 2011

Happy Labour Day Penang!!!

Yes, yes, yes I know. Labour day is not until Monday but the celebrations start tonight alright. So, happy Labour Day from Penang at Bagan bar with sounds of the superb DJ Jey and singer Rey. Early just now but the place is already busy and it looks like it's going to be another superb, and likely quite a late night. Party, party, party!!!!!!

Wherever you are - enjoy!!!!!!!

Pictures to follow including those of some of the nicest people I have met anywhere, let alone Penang.

Posted from my iPhone using Blog Press

Coach Travel / MM2H Car Prices

I would like to thank my friend Mario who has been living in Penang for several months (and will be a neighbour of mine in the coming years) for giving me the details of two websites. Firstly is the Aeroline Coach Company which has a service between Penang and KL. They travel to other locations as well. The coach from Penang departs from outside the Queensbay Mall and, after a stop half-way, arrives in KL at the Corus Hotel in Jalan Ampang. The journey time will likely be about 4.5 hours total. The coaches look nice as they are twin deck with an upper seating area and a lounge and toilets on the lower level. I understand they also serve light refreshment on the journey. A single ticket costs RM 60 and the service departs just twice a day at 08:30 and 15:30 seven days a week. I will likely try this service on my return to KL. I have added Aeroline to the 'Travel Links'.

Something I need to ponder is whether to import a car into Penang under the MM2H incentive scheme or whether to just buy a locally assembled car. I am not a car person anymore and really intend to use it to get to the shopping malls and for the odd run to Georgetown etc. As such I have no desire to run a large or luxurious car here so something that is small (parking in Penang can be a problem at times), cheap to run and cheap to fix will likely fit the bill for me. I need to look at this more when I return to the UK and will consider such things as spec, VAT savings, container costs (to ship to Malaysia) etc etc etc before deciding. Mario has provided me with the link to this site which may well be useful for some comparison purposes. A popular car here seems to be the DVVT who have a small hatch-back that is quite nice. I am told it is likely to be updated this year. Much more on cars and import/buy local to follow.

Now that's what I call a DJ!!!

Just for a change I returned to Bagan last night, initially intending to call in for just one drink on the way home from Straits Quay. I'd caught the bus back from SQ and it will stop just outside Bagan so I thought "why not".

It was a good night with most of the tables full and a group of revellers who were clearly having a grand time for what seemed to be a birthday celebration. The band was there of course together with the singer Roz who, as I have commented upon before is very good.

Aside from the general buzz of the place, what tempted me to stay longer was the DJ for the night, a guy called Jey of PitchWizard DJ Academy. Now I have to say that THIS guy is a good DJ. He played a superb mix of music both contemporary and some classics and the sessions were really well put together. He has good interaction with the crowd and ensures that the volumes and levels are perfectly balanced. All in all a really cracking night with, at last, music played by a really good DJ. I was chatting to Jey at the end of the evening and he said that he had worked in the UK for some time and it shows. The club scene there is quite sophisticated and the standard of the DJs mostly very high as the clientele would not tolerate some of the abysmal performances I have seen elsewhere. Now, if only Jey was playing at SS it would go along way towards redeeming the place for me. Jey will be playing at Bagan again tonight (Saturday 30 April) as there is a Labour Day party there. I suspect I will be there also.

Jey can be contacted on

I would also like to thank Xi Xi and her husband William for getting me back to my hotel safely and in one piece.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Ivory Developer - Roadshow Discounts (29 April - 2 May)

Very quick update for those who may be within striking distance of Penang this weekend and to whom the Ivory properties 'Lattitude' (Tanjung Tokong) and 'Island Resort' (Batu Ferringhi) appeal. Ivory are running a road-show on the ground floor of Gurney Plaza with the promotion offers of 8% discount AND 5% cashback running until 10:00 pm Monday.

At the Island Resort they have a few units left at 1250 sf. With the promotion it reduces unit cost from RM 691K to RM 604 K (at RM 483 psf) for hillside views and from RM 724 K to RM 633 K (at RM 506 psf) for sea view, completes next year.

The same deal is available on Lattitude with a 1600 sf down from RM 828 K (very high floor) to RM 724 K (at RM 452 psf). In this project they also have 1,500 sf units. The units have different aspects (views) and a range of floor levels which will affect the prices considerably with the units listed here being at the higher end of the scale.

Anyone interested should contact Peggy Khoo at Ivory.

Property Solution

This post contains the last of my ramblings, I suspect, about the properties I have checked out in my search for somewhere to live in Penang as I do indeed think I have found my solution. Over the last two of my three days with Catherine I visited some very interesting and attractive projects and one where the attraction was so great, I couldn't resist.

The first project we checked out was Surin by the Bolton Group over at Batu Ferringhi (BF), not far from Miami Green. This project in their 'Tower A' was fairly well advanced through its launch cycle but was very attractive nonetheless. It is scheduled to complete around 2013 IIRC. They only had a few units left though and I suspect these will be snapped up quickly. Prices however were quite good. At the time they had a few units at 1,520 square feet (sf) going for around RM637 K with a sea view, putting the price at RM 419 per sf (psf). There were also units of 1,300 SF going for around RM 550K putting them at around RM 423 psf. I was quite taken with this project as the units design was nice. I think the prices had been revised up quite a lot since launch though as these units were not very 'fresh' in the developer launch cycle. My problem with this project was that the few units with the sea view would have a view at night that would be very dark (e.g. no city lights in the distance etc which can be quite attractive - this 'black hole' view may appeal to some) and the others would face the 'greens', the hillside behind. In addition, BF is quite a way out for me and while the attraction of the beaches may appeal to many there is the problem that it's quite a way out from Georgetown and even further from travel connections (e.g. bridge to mainland and airport). Also, where it is located is likely to be subject to less development infrastructure wise in terms of businesses (shops, restaurants and bars etc) and technology (fibre optic etc.). It's all down to what an individual wants of course and all those issues may actually be requirements for others. For me though I think I would prefer to be near to the connectivity but still have a few and a good amount of fresh air and greenery around the project. A very nice development nonetheless.

Next we looked at a couple of developments by the Ivory group and I must say I was very impressed with Ivory overall. Firstly we looked at the Island Resort development again in BF. Not too many units available here again and again somewhat late in the launch cycle. They had just a few units at 1,250 sf and the design of these was nice. The views from them were also better IMO but at around RM 724 K this comes at a price of 579 psf, not too bad but starting to edge up somewhat. Despite the attraction of this project (which for me was slightly nicer than Surin) there were still the downsides of the BF location, for my particular circumstances.

The next Ivory project we looked at was Lattitude over in Tanjung Tokong (TT), virtually opposite Island Plaza (a rather grand name for what to me is a rather abysmal shopping mall). Now this project was VERY appealing and I was really tempted to take the plunge and reserve here. The mock up and design drawings of the building look very attractive and I have a feeling units will go like hot cakes here. The layouts were all really very nice and they had units at 1,600 and 1,500 sf at around RM 500 psf putting them at about RM 750 - 800K. As with all developers you will pay slightly higher prices for the higher floor levels with the premium per floor (which will vary from project to project but around RM 2-3K) often kicking once above a certain floor level when the views are seen to improve. The prices above however take into account these floor levels in the few remaining units available and due to complete around 2013/4. The units at 1,600 sf have a balcony which extends to the master bedroom and for the little extra this to me was the best unit. My only problem with this project is again, location. TT is OK but is in an area that I would actually visit quite infrequently I suspect, especially as my favourite bar/restaurant 'Bagan' plans to relocate to Georgetown. Certainly there are a few eateries here and it is close to Gurney Drive but even that is an area I think I will be less inclined to visit often.

A final consideration for me with all of the above is the question of market saturation and potential for property appreciation as a result of area and infrastructure development. All properties will have a ceiling in terms of the price they will hit, regardless of where they are. Property prices in TT, Gurney and BF areas have shot up in value over the last two years and you can't help but think it has to peak soon. A place to live is also a place that can make you money if you choose and provided doing so is not the sole motivation (in which case some people may choose to live anywhere, good or bad, if it makes them money) it is possible to combine investment potential with area and connectivity. In these parts of town the connectivity is not so good to the mainland or airport etc. BF does provide a more attractive environment, again for me, but at the expense of being way out. The central TT/Gurney area though is quite saturated in terms of living and business developments and there are few opportunities there now to build and create more and it is this infrastructure development that can help pull up the prices of properties as the infrastructure gets better and better be it business, connectivity, living accommodation or technology. Many would say that that has already happened in this area and that prices, even for new developments, have peaked already. As with anything to do with investments this is all a gamble and prices could continue to soar. However, as I think I may be able to match investment potential with an area which also fulfills my needs in terms of day to day living I decided to pass on all of the above, albeit Lattitude still appeals.

So what did I decide? Well, at the close of these days of viewings I visited a new project, and I mean VERY new, out towards the east of the island at Batu Uban. It will be not far from the Twin Towers development. I was very fortunate to be able to visit this developer and it was solely because my agent has a personal connection there that they agreed to meet me to discuss this project which is very very 'fresh' in its developer cycle. What is quite appealing about this project is that developers insist on interviews with prospective buyers as they are keen to sell only to people who intend to reside there and to ensure they get a good balance. This approach will also likely prevent speculator purchases which IMO can only be a good thing.

Having viewed the project artwork and plans etc. I have to say that the design of this building is absolutely stunning and the apartment layouts superb. They will have units at 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 sf and all can be easily customised (e.g. remove maid's room to extend the kitchen or provide a split wet/dry kitchen as if often the case here). The properties have a range of aspects with some looking out more towards the Strait and other facing the bridges. The area has a very nice airy and fresh feel and is well located for the airport and travel to the mainland. In addition there is plenty of potential for the planned and future infrastructure development and technology links are likely to be quite advanced. It has also been said that the cost of living here is likely to be slightly less than in the north (Gurney/TT etc) which can be weighted towards tourists somewhat. There is also a new Express Way planned which will further speed up connections to the Georgetown and Gurney area. Even more appealing is the price. I am unable to be specific at this stage but suffice it to say that the units are priced at way way under RM 500 psf. There is a floor premium to pay at RM 3 K per floor once past level 7 but even with this prices will be very reasonable. I will likely go for a 1,500 sf unit as these can be easier to sell on than the larger should the need arise but the 2,000 sf units are also very very appealing. With a 1,500 sf unit you will also get 2 car parking spaces. Scheduled for completion in 2014 this development I think will be a very good investment as well as ticking all of my boxes in terms of day to day living.

So the property search seems to be over and I have to say I am surprised it took so little time. I suspect it was also a case of right place at the right time. There will be some time to wait of course for this project to be built but I figure selling up in the UK etc. could take a fair time as well as finalising the MM2H application. Much as I would like to move to Malaysia as soon as possible it could well be several month before that is possible, maybe longer. In any event, should I get here earlier I will be happy to rent and visit the development as it grows. Once I am here I will likely continue to visit new projects I hear about both out of general interest and to provide information for other potential MM2H candidates in the future. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in the property I will be able to put you in touch with my agent who may be able to gain agreement from the developer to meet and chat through the project. Clearly though an interested party would need to visit Penang as the developer does insist on personal interviews.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Property Ponderings (5)

Between Monday 25 and Wednesday 27 April I spent much time with my very helpful property agent, and now friend, Catherine Loh of Property Solutions, who had been recommended to me by several MM2H forum members. We looked at numerous properties ranging from older completed units in Georgetown through quite expensive, (but better value for money IMO) out of town in Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Tokong, up to the flagship units of the E&O Property Company in Straits Quay and then out of town to the south west and Batu Uban. So, some ramblings about the places I looked at (all condos) and the areas :

Times Square, Georgetown: Approx RM 900K. This was an apartment which is part of the 'Ivory' company development but for me, in all honesty, was a little tired looking and had not the best of outlooks. There were some worrying cracks in the building fabric already and it seemed to lack much by way of character. There seems to be a premium to pay to live in the city (as there is everywhere) and one which, in this case, I am not prepared to pay. To its credit it was very well placed but I am not sure the general feel of the place appealed.

Diamond Villas, Batu Ferringhi: This was a fantastic place, lovely size, well laid out, lots of breeze and fresh air, but at a cost of RM 1.3M !!! For me though, the best of all the places I saw that day at just over 2,000 SF. The location was good, the facilities were good (pool etc) and the outlook spectacular. Above all it had a fantastic kitchen and and 4 bedrooms. The property is nearly ten years old now and at RM 1.3m this is serious money and expenditure of that amount here for me requires some important factors to be taken into account. See later my comments on investment peak, possibly the only drawback with this place.

Miami Green, Batu Ferringhi: The resort style of these condos is very appealing and the management company is supposed to be very good. Nice enough apartments priced at around the 500K mark but for me there is one major problem. At just over 1,000 sq ft I personally would like a little more space for living here on a full time basis. At around 1,500 sq ft they would be ideal, at 2,000 more so but I'm not sure I would be happy there long term at 1,050 SF. Of the the blocks there, G is the newest. There are some low rise blocks there too which are quite tasteful but I'm not sure if, missing the sea views, makes the space come in on you somewhat more. Like I say, nice enough but not for me and again, I think they may be nearing their peak for investment potential.

We also visited the 'Waterfront' project by Ratu. Few units were available here and they were being snapped up fast. The unit I saw is already gone and went for around RM 944K but was specious and well designed but something just didn't feel right. It was also directly across from the floating mosque and, having lived next to a mosque for 3 years in the UAE I find that the calls to prayer can get intrusive at times, regardless of how much you mind gets used to switching off. Nice enough and worth considering, subject to availability.

Fettes Residence, Tanjung Tokong: These were very nice but the only problem for me is that now is well past the best time to buy there. Developer units have reached their peak, there are few left and others are now flipping sub-sale and at quite a hike. At about RM 1m now IMO I would not consider it a good investment. I think if you had been able to get in at RM 400-425 PSF Fettes would be OK but for me, not at the moment. Layout is very nice, again about 2,000 SF size but some of the space is less well utilised than I would like to see. For me, a further problem was that too many of the rooms are internal facing and thus with now windows. My final concern is that I am not sure whether the area is right for me. We all have our own needs and desires and I'm just not sure Tanjung Tokong matches mine. But all that is just personal opinion.

Straits Quay: Nice development, crazy prices!!! RM 1.8m approx for 2,000 SF+, fabulous layout and design but a lot of dead SF for me (too much bathroom and dead end corridor space which you are paying for) but I'm just not sure of the overall SQ development concept. Looked a bit like a prison camp for the landed properties, one of the places where I definitely think the condo would be a better choice. If money were no object, maybe they would be OK but at RM 1.8m, and thinking JUST about a place to live (e.g. no investment concerns) I think I'd opt for the more stylish and individual Diamond Villas and buy an apt at Miami Green or even Langkawi to rent out!!! One consideration with Straits Quay type places is that their utilities are charged at commercial rate, somewhat off putting, but not too bad if usage is not high, apparently.

Catherine also told me of a newcomer developer who has bought a stretch next to the Straits Quay Plaza (to the right as you face the sea). They will be doing two towers, one as serviced apartments and one as purchased, priced at around RM 600 PSF. She did say she would be cautious about recommending these places as they are not a public listed company and that more research would be needed as to the stability of the company, their delivery times and product quality. Overall though, unless these other developer places are cracking value and outstanding design, Straits Quay seems to be a nice place to visit, being marketed as 'the place to live' but IMHO fails to match up to the hype at the moment and feels a little sterile. Popular with expats it seems as Tesco is relocating there. Also a good place for boaters with the Marina nearby.

All in all I wasn't too impressed with what I saw in Tanjung Bungah or Tanjung Tokong for the money to be honest. They are clearly going at premium rates and one can't help but think that the bubble cannot go much higher before it bursts. Don't get me wrong, there are some nice places and it's a nice area to live but unfortunately the prime time to buy in what's available just now has been missed. The bubble may continue to go up, but with prevailing world conditions it's not something I am prepared to risk.

My other concern is investment potential. Clearly if you are buying a place to live it is less of a concern but if you decide to move in 5-10 years time it would be better to make money than lose it, especially if we are talking substantial amounts. Buy a property that has peaked and you also need to factor in some form of refurb costs as time goes on, costs which will eat further into the minimal further appreciation you will get if you bought 'high. Places like MG and Diamond Villas have, I suspect, reached their appreciation peak. I could happily DO Miami Green I have to say, if only the places were a little bigger. The other places I saw seem to be charging a lifestyle premium (albeit the Straits Quay condos are nice) and I suspect management costs will be high and/or are unfortunately sold out of most of the developer units with often only lower floor sub-sales being available at hefty property flip prices.

After these visits I was more and more convinced of the need to either buy a completed developer unit on higher floors in a new build in a nice green and fresh area or buy off plan, as early in the launch stages as possible. For the amount I am likely to go into town (and even then it will be mostly Georgetown) I didn't find the BF area too far out to be honest. MG may not do it for me but I have to say for what it offered I found the units and the site to be very good. Just a little small for my needs. Fettes Residences would have been OK several months ago at the right price. At RM 1M per unit now, for me, no thanks.

The most appealing news seems to be of new developments at two extremities and a more central one in Tanjung Tokong. More of those to follow. So that's a quick round up of the first tranche of properties. Hopefully no-one will get offended by comments about various properties or areas as this is, largely, a personal diary and an account of what suits ME. It is however useful to air those views in the hope that they may be of use to others.

Happy house hunting!!!

Penang Nightlife - Bars

Straits Quay

Starting off on what will be one of the ongoing topics of this blog I will return to the previously mentioned Straits Quay (SQ) and the Healy Marc and Finnegans bars. As has been mentioned this is an up and coming area and while it's not quite there yet I am sure it will develop further and pick up in terms of customer numbers and outlets, especially as the local population swells and also when the new Tesco opens.

Both Finnegans and Healy Marc are good sized premises with ample outdoor seating, both stocking a range of beers at reasonable prices and, not surprisingly, Guinness. They offer a reasonable range of food but as an example a simple fish and chips at Healy Marc will set you back around RM50 which is pretty much twice that charged by the 'Top Pick" Blue Reef restaurant just a few doors away. Whether the portions are considerably larger or the taste considerably better (which I doubt given the excellent standard in the Blue Reef) I don't know and am not overly inclined to try. When I get chatting more to people there I will ask those who eat about the quality of the food. Price wise I suspect you may be paying a little more to eat in that pub environment, saving you the trouble of relocating during your stay, or allowing you to eat and drink with others who may just wish to drink.

One the subject of food at SQ, should you wish to eat before or after a few beers there is also the excellent new Papa Rich eatery in the mall at Straits Quay serving a variety of food at very reasonable prices including a very popular Asaam Laksa which is well spiced, very tasty and served in good quantity. You will likely not want a starter!! The drinks are also very varied and reasonable with a good selection of coffee/tea variations and some excellent blended bean, herb and vegetable drinks. I ate there the other day and would certainly go back. When I do I shall publish a more complete review.

Back on the bars, I have been there a couple of times now and it has to be said they were quite quiet. Once was Sunday afternoon and once on Tuesday early evening. I had tried the Tuesday as it has been said that the places get quite popular with the local office crowd and have a clientele that reflects this. It does seem to be popular with local office staff indeed, they both turned up about 6:30pm and stayed about an hour. So, at least on Tuesday, there is now mad office turnout or upsurge in the 'buzz' there, just the rather quiet business as usual. I also visited the bars on the following Friday and have to say they were considerably busier. Not full but busy enough, most outside tables were taken at about 9pm. I had to leave at about 9:30pm and it may have got busier still. These are not music bars though and while music is playing it is more background. Those expecting to rave the night away to loud music will need to head off towards UPR. Worth a visit though, especially if you are with a crowd at the weekend and fancy a quieter watering hole with the marina outlook.


Most of the activity in Penang takes place around the Upper Penang Road, or UPR as the locals call it. It is a stretch that runs from just opposite the E&O Hotel and anyone taking a bus into town may be able to get the driver to stop off outside the E&O to let you off (as I did with the 103). In any event, the terminus on Pengk Weld (Weld Quay) is not much of a walk away. Taking a taxi to the area from Gurney Drive should be about RM 15 and coming back after midnight, somewhere between RM 18 -20. The drivers will try it on and try to talk up the price, especially after midnight but sticking to your guns, often accompanied by a feinted walk away normally brings them round.

So, what's it like there. Well, experience so far is that I strongly suspect that Friday and Saturday are the main nights it takes off as visiting earlier in the week thus far has proved somewhat disappointing .

The area is broadly split between a range of bars with seating outside and inside and the clubs such as Mois, Voodoo and Slippery Senoritas, or SS as it is known locally. The bars, frankly, are nothing special, and the insides of some are actually quite desperate!!! They all charge roughly similar prices for drinks with a bottle of Tiger at around the RM 13 mark. Many also do Happy Hour deals with a bucket of beers (5) for RM 55 or even two buckets for RM 100, depends on how thirsty you are or the size of your group but the savings are OK. Many also do food but it's fairly bland pizza/pasta fare from what I saw. Most also have large TV screens outside where they will show sporting events or whatever. Of these bars Monkey Bar, Zanzebar and D-Joint are considered popular by the local Chinese with D-Joint considered to have one of the better sound systems. I visited on a Monday night and also Wednesday night which is promoted as ladies night and I have to say the most appropriate song for them to be playing was an 80's hit by the Specials called 'Ghost town'. Unfortunately it was just that, dead, both nights, with Wednesday being marginally better. I found ladies night here like ladies night the world over. Bar owners trying to convince people that mid-week is a good night to go out, trying to entice the few girls that fall for it with free entry, with loads and loads of guys who think that ALL the girls will have fallen for it stalking the bars in search of prey. Think again. The outside areas of the bars I would say were still 90% empty and the insides, totally and this was between 10:30pm and 12:30am. Hmmmmmmmm, so far not so good.

Another place I was suggested is Soho. This is a bar which is across the road from the main cluster but still in Jalan Penang. It is a short walk down and opposite the Malaysia Hotel. Now this place really WAS desperate. Entering downstairs it was a bit like looking for a black cat in a coal bunker, it was SO dark. On this occasion, said black cat had decided to wear a black eye-mask making it even less easy to spot. A few die-hards were seated on the limited exterior seating near the windows and inside was much more quiet. Dreary was a word that doesn't do it justice. I checked the place out upstairs as it is said to have a more sophisticated appeal with music, better lighting and more comfortable seating. It was better but the Specials were being played here too, in fact the staff outnumbered the customers by 4:1 and again this was at about 10:30 pm and 12:30 am.

So, there you have it, or at least the early week view. I suspect that Friday and Saturday will have a better buzz and I will return to check it out as time goes on and publish a further update. As it stands so far though I can't really say I was that impressed. And on that front, on to the next review, Slippery Senoritas (SS).

NB: The first in a more in-depth series of articles covering Penang's nightlife can be found here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Useful Digi numbers

One thing that was not too well advertised was the various codes you dial on a Digi pre-paid card to access services. Some of these I have discovered and find useful:
  • *128# - access account/services (menu driven with number keys for responses)
  • *128*1*1# - brings you balance straight to the screen without navigating menus
  • *116# - subscribe to internet unlimited at RM 15 per week
  • *116# - same number to unsubscribe from above

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Celebrity Gym: Penang

This new and modern gym is situated on the top floor of Gurney Plaza on the opposite side of the mall to the multiplex cinema. It is very well equipped with both aerobic and exercise machines together with free weights. The gym is nicely laid out and there seems to be plenty of equiment of each type. Many of the machines have screens in front of them allowing you to amuse yourself while burning off the calories.

In addition to the wide selection of equipment there is a section set aside for 'led' cycle fitness where a trainer leads the group for some heavy duty fat burning. There is also a studio which hosts a wide programme of instructed classes each week, including Tai Chi, dance, general fitness etc etc. The changing rooms are well laid out with ample numbers of lockers and there is a sauna and steam room as well as the obvious showers etc.

Price wise I thought the rates quite reasonable. RM 696 per year, absent any promotions etc, for full access (e.g. from when the gym opens until it closes every day). At the time I went there was a promotion on with full access costing RM 463 and half access (from midday until 10pm IIRC) costing a mere RM 383. If you are local to Gurney Plaza or are there on a regular basis such that this gym is not out of your way I think it would be an excellent option with many gyms of this type costing as much to join for a month in the UK!!! I'd like to thank May for taking the time to talk me through the various options and also for giving me some further insights as to what to expect from Penang nightlife and the best places to go in town.

NB: Sadly, as of September 2012, this gym has closed down.

Restaurant: Blue Reef - Straits Quay, Penang (Top Pick)

This restaurant is in Straits Quay and fronts on to the Marina. I ate there on recommendation from an MM2H forum member. Essentially it is a fish restaurant and is renowned locally for this with the fish it serves being bought in fresh daily.

The restaurant is very clean and modern looking and serves a wide variety of fish dishes. At the quieter times of day they revert to a simpler, and slightly cheaper, Happy Hour menu where the range on offer is more restricted. You can choose to sit outside or inside and the place was clearly popular despite my being there at about 4pm on a Sunday afternoon.

I opted for a starter of tomato bruschetta at a cost of RM 5 and this was nicely presented having a fresh tomato topping and served with a nicely dressed salad. After this, on recommendation from from the waiter Jeffrey (who was very helpful and friendly), I had the local Grouppa fish in beer batter which was served with fries, salad and tartare sauce. This was excellent and perfectly cooked, the portion being of a good size. Most importantly, the fish was well marinated and very well seasoned making it very tasty indeed, often a serious shortcoming in establishments where without adequate seasoning the fish can taste quite bland. At RM 26 I though it very good value for money. Drinks wise I had a couple of small bottles of Tiger at RM10 each and a mango juice at RM 5 (it had been a long walk!!!

Blue Reef opens from 11am to 11pm daily and has happy hours until 12 noon, from 3pm to 6pm and from 10pm until it closes (sometimes later than 11pm). Although it is renowned for its fish (fried, grilled and steamed) it also serves a range of other dishes such as chicken, lamp, beef and pasta. The lamb shank at RM 38 comes particularly highly recommended. Overall I would say that the Blue Reef is an excellent choice if you fancy a meal of this type and is well worth a "Top Pick" rating.

Straits Quay: Penang

On Sunday 24 April I ended up eating at the Blue Reef restaurant (review to follow) after taking a walk from the G Hotel up to Straits Quay situated on Jalan Tanjung Tokong (about 45 minutes) and had looked briefly at a map, getting it into my head that the restaurant I HAD planned to eat at (No Eyed Dear) was near Straits Quay also. In fact it isn't really and I bimbled aimlessly past the NED on my way to Straits Quay. In fact NED would probably only have been about a 20 minute walk!! I put the pilot error in this case down to two quite late nights!! The walk did however allow me to stroll through the boulevard that runs through the E&O Quayside development of properties en route to Straits Quay (of which more will be to follow).

Straits Quay is a quite a new Marina development and is an attractive looking site. E&O, the developer, is well respected for its tasteful designs and quality of its finish to properties. Adjoining the Marina is a shopping mall area which currently houses a number of eateries and shops albeit it is clearly in the early stages of development in terms of occupation of the store units. I suspect it will pick up over time though.

Some of the restaurants there actually front on to the Marina and you can either sit inside or out. In addition there are are a few bars which have now opened up. There is a Healy Mac's and also a Finnegans, both Irish themed bar restaurants and a German styled bar/bistro called Weissbrau. All of these were quite quiet when I visited but it was Sunday and also Easter. It is however becoming clearer that the nightlife is a little quiet during the week with Wednesday (when may places host a ladies night), Friday and Saturday being the busiest nights. I suspect these bars may be busier then and they are also supposed to be quite popular with the office crowd turning out locally from about 5-6pm but I have yet to check this out.

Overall I found the area quite pleasant and over time I think it will come on more. Whether I could spend a whole evening there I'm not sure and will need to return maybe on Friday or Saturday to get a feel for the place but it certainly seems a pleasant area to stroll around and also for a meal overlooking the Marina, perhaps followed by a drink or two in one of the bars either of an evening or even in the afternoon as I did.

The drinks at Healy Mac's seemed to be fairly standard prices at around RM 20-23 for a pint of beer at standard prices. It was Happy Hour prices when I was there so I paid about RM 17 a pint IIRC.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Bar/Restaurant: Bagan - Tanjung Tokong, Penang

Bagan is one of those rare finds (thankfully recommended by an MM2H forum member) that one can possibly describe as a jewel on the social scene. It is currently situated at 18 Jalan Bagan Jermal, just a short walk fromGurney Plaza, I say currently because there are plans to relocate Bagan nearer to Georgetown around August.

Bagan is a bar and a restaurant but to call it just a bar/restaurant does not do the place justice. Bagan is somewhere where you can really come and spend a whole evening. As you enter the premises from the large car park (a bonus here!!!) you step down through a tasteful reception area to the main bar and lounge. Off to the right there is a separate restaurant area which can seat about 40 - 70 people depending on how it is configured. Within the lounge, which extends some way down the left of the premises, and in front of the bar there is a stage and a dance floor. There is also a seating area outside if you fancy some peaceful seclusion. Seating in the lounge ranges from comfortable chairs and sofas to a number of taller tables with bar style stools. Fairly large groups could easily be accommodated here so it would be a good venue for celebrations. There is also quite a lot of bar stool seating around the bar. In total the lounge / bar area could accommodate u to 100 people comfortably. The club is very tastefully decorated in an eclectic Colonial style and upon entering the establishment you cannot help but feel relaxed and welcome.

The staff are very friendly and I would particularly like to thank the manger Xi Xi who is very friendly and not only made me feel very welcome but also chatted when she had the time imparting a lot of invaluable information about Penang, its residential areas and the social scene. Bob looked after me at the bar which is very well stocked and reasonably priced. He also gave me some cracking pointers about KL. A bucket of Tiger (5 bottles) will set you back RM 65 (RM 15 if bought individually) and a very nice bottle of red wine around RM 140. Azlan also looked after mewhen I relocated from one of the high tables to join two friends I met at Bagan, Fion and Lenny.

As I said, you could easily spend a whole evening here. The restaurant food is very, very good and very reasonably priced. Shortly I shall amend this post with details of some of the dishes but on the Friday night I tried a couple of local dishes, the Kapitan Chicken Curry which was very well spiced in a rich sauce and very tasty, a dish of spiced prawns and asparagus and boiled rice. With a bucket of beer, two further beers and the meal the whole lot came to just RM 142.

The icing on the cake at Bagan is the band they have on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, a cracking singer called Roz who has a very wide repertoire with a particular emphasis on jazz/swing numbers as well as some interesting takes on songs you will also likely know. The band is also very good in its own right and play a variety of jazz/blues and also sing. If all that is not not enough there is also a good DJ who will match the music to the clientele on any given night. Bagan has its own theme and the music here is not the headache inducing boom of the general dance scene, it is more tuned to giving you a good night out with the option to dance to a good variety of music, though if the clientele warrants it the 'vibe' can definitely be turned up to match your needs.

This article will be extended over the next few days as I plan to provide more detail of the dishes available at Bagan and also some photographs as the ones I have now don't do it justice. If you are in the area you really should give Bagan a try, and more than once. It is open from 3pm daily until 2:00 am but closes all day Sunday (we all need rest after all!!). I have plans to make it my 'local' and it was pleasing to hear that when it relocates it will also be to a Colonial style building allowing it to retain its eclectic style which must surely be part of the charm of Bagan. In all fairness I have found few places as good anywhere. Bagan certainly qualifies as a "Top Pick" in my book.

In closing I would like to thank Fion and Lenny for a superb evening on Friday, very pleasant company, for providing loads on information on Penang and for getting me back to my hotel in one piece and to Xi Xi again for the welcome, company and useful insight into the delights of Penang.

NB: Bagan has since relocated to its new premises within Macalister Mansion in Macalister Road.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Hotel: G-Hotel - Gurney Drive, Penang (Top Pick)

As previously posted I booked at the G Hotel for the time I will be in Penang and once I got off the coach, which stops not too far from Penang Airport, I took a taxi to Gurney Drive. There was a flat rate charge of RM 35 for drop off in this area and this seemed OK value wise. I'm not sure the taxi would have passed a UK MOT (vehicle road worthiness test) but it was OK. There was even a meter in the taxi which, when the cobwebs were swept off, mayhave even worked.

The G Hotel is situated on Gurney Drive and is adjacent to the large Gurney Plaza shopping mall which also houses a multiplex cinema on the top floor. The hotel is one of the newer hotels in Penang has a bright and modern look to it. My baggage was taken from the taxi by a porter while I went to check in. The ground floor houses the bright and modern looking reception, a large lounge area and also a bar/lounge area. The service at check-in was very friendly and helpful with a small package awaiting my arrival. This consisted of the room keys, a welcome card from the management, a letter containing details of a number of freebies and concessions the hotel had given me and also an internet password which will allow up to 5 devices to be connected (so users with laptops, iPads and smart phones will find no problem with simultaneous connections). Wifi is free for guests throughout the hotel and there is also ethernet connection in the room. The receptionist apologised that she had to give me a condo view room for that night but advised that I could change to a sea view room the next day. She offered me the possibility to book breakfast at RM 20 a day but I decided I would check the breakfast out before committing.

My room was located on the 10th floor (switching to the 12th floor the next day for the sea view) and there are plentiful lifts just opposite reception. The rooms are very nice indeed, clean and again very modern in style. There is a king size bed, bedside tables, desk and chair, a relaxing armchair, large sideboard/cupboard (one side of which contains the mini-bar)
and a large double sided wardrobe with a a safe. A good size TV is wall-mounted opposite the end of the bed. Tea and coffee facilities are provided together with an ironing board and iron. Slippers and a bath robe are provided also. The bathroom is spacious with a large walk-in shower but no bath. There is a large sink, shaver point, a shaving mirror and of course a loo. Both the room and the bathroom are very well lit with a variety of modern lighting types that can be turned off independently to create a nice atmosphere and the decor is very tasteful.

The mini bar is free for guests and is stocked daily with up to 6 cans of soft drinks and a chocolate snack. Bottled water is also provided free. The bed I found to be very large and comfortable and the air con is not intrusive sound wise. Pleasingly the hotel is also quiet with no 'neighbour' or corridor noise.

As mentioned above the hotel provided me with a number of incentives for my stay including:
  • 2 pieces of laundry free daily
  • 15% discount on laundry and the various outlets linked to the hotel
  • Free wifi
  • Priority check-out up until 2pm
In addition the hotel has free parking for guests and also provides pedal cycles free of charge for use of guests should you require them. There is small but nice pool area which doubles as an outside bar/lounge areas also. Overall I would say the G Hotel is an excellent choice to stay in Penang and I would wholeheartedly recommend it, especially if you are able to negotiate a favourable rate as I was (RM 250 per night ++). As I try the different facilities here (pool, restaurant(s), G Spot Club etc) I will add to this post so it is all in once place rather than have numerous G Hotel posts.

For me, this hotel rates as a * Top Pick *.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Travel KL to Penang (Coach)

I have posted previously about the options to travel to Penang from KL and of my decision to take a coach. I was staying in KL just two days so on the first morning (Thurs 21 April) I took a taxi from the hotel to the old bus station (known locally as just KTM) so I could buy a ticket for the next day. The taxi driver was a very pleasant guy and used the meter. He was very friendly and agreed to wait at the station while I bought my ticket and run me back to the hotel. Outside of rush hour the journey took about 15 minutes. I decided to buy the ticket the day before so that I could be sure of a place on the coach I wanted (11:00am) and, more importantly, so I could gauge the time it takes to get from the hotel to KTM. As it transpires (all easy with the benefit of hindsight) I probably didn't need to go there the day before as there were plenty of seats on the coach, that said I suppose you can never be sure. In addition, you can actually buy tickets for the services offered by the 3 main operators (Nice, Plusliner and Transnasional) from the Ticket4U website.

At the bust station I decided to opt for one of the coaches operated by NICE which is a subsidiary of the Plusliner bus company. The Nice, or Nice Plus, ticket office and depot front right onto the road at KTM (you can't miss it) enabling the taxi to wait outside on the taxi rank. Their coaches carry fewer passengers and have more leg room for a slight price premium. The ticket costs RM 74 (one way) and takes 4 hrs 30 minutes. There is an onboard movie and they also serve a light snack (in my case it was a very tasty warmed roll containing what tasted like a savoury mince based on anchovies and a small doughnut with a cup of water) and coffee during the trip. You could take a regular Plusliner for RM50 but for me the extra leg room and better service is worth the extra RM 24. There is no toilet on the coach so pay a visit before you set off!!! Mid way through the journey the coach does stop off at a small service area where there are toilets etc and for a 10 minute leg stretch.

There is a good waiting lounge at the Nice office and you must be there at least 30 minutes before the coach departs and must be on board 10 minutes before departure. If you are late, they don't wait!!! The buses depart outside the front of the building from where you buy your ticket.
The journey from the hotel to KTM and back cost RM 33 and for me, as a recce, and being guaranteed a place on the coach, it was money well spent, at least at the time it was. Journey wise from most of the central hotels to the Old KTM will take about 15-20 minutes unless you are travelling in peak rush hour from say 7am to 9am. I suspect therefore that if catching an 11:00 am coach you could leave your hotel at 10:00 (they like you to be there 30 minutes before the coach leaves and board 10 minutes before when the steward/ess will check your ticket) by taxi, buy your ticket upstairs at Old KTM and await arroval of you coach. These coaches also travel to other destinations of course including Melaka, Johor Baru and Singapore.

The other main option for me to consider was Air Asia. This would take an hour and would have cost RM 142. The cost was not the issue for me but as I have said before I would rather see some of the country on the way out to Penang albeit I may well fly back. At the time of writing the cost of a flight back to KL 17 days from now is RM 50 plus about RM 30 for baggage.

Nightlife: Bukit Bintang and Chankat

I didn't have long to explore the nightlife and dining in KL really so my views are limited accordingly. I certainly chose not to venture too far afield given that I was close to one of the popular haunts, Bukit Bintang (BB). This is part of the Golden Triangle and is home to a great many Chinese food outlets and market stalls and the nearby strip of bars in Chankat Bukit Bintang.

Being quite jet lagged on the first night and somewhat tired I didn't fancy a restaurant meal and went out on foot to explore. It's the start of the monsoon season here now but while it rains most days I'm told it doesn't rain all day. Dodging the showers was fun mind despite the Melia Hotel being very close by (maybe 10 minutes slow walk).

Bukit Bintang has loads of different eateries and a couple of food court style places (e.g. BB Plaza) so there should be something for everyone here. There were certainly enough restaurants of all denominations with high numbers of Chinese, some Indian and far fewer Malay and Arabic. Navigating about on foot is quite easy and if you do happen to get lost or just can't find where you are looking for there are loads of tourist police around, generally in pairs or groups of three and they are very friendly and helpful. They patrol the area and also have booths at key points to which there are sign posts too if you are really struggling. There are many hotels to an as in most hotels, I suspect the concierges are very helpful and knowledgeable.

The hotels also have tourist maps to help you find your way around, the only problem with them being that they cover the whole of KL and the detail around the central area is somewhat cramped with very very small writing. Workable but I found the iPhone with the 'Maps' application much better and of course with the 'Digi' data package you can get 'step-by-step' directions by utilising the GPS feature. Invaluable and much better for me than carrying around maps and books that you often need a magnifying glass to read. Garmin do a very good Satnav (the 3790t at about £220) and a set of maps for Asia that costs around £100. OK perhaps if you have that, or one of their, Satnav systems but maybe extravagant unless you are planning to come and live here. If you have an iPhone already there is no extra expenditure at all of course.

After strolling around BB I decided to take a walk down Chankat where there are several bars. For those hunting for Chankat the easiest description of how to find it is at about the mid point of BB there is a KFC on the corner. Turn down the road that the KFC is on the corner of and keep going, that is Chankat. At first it actually looks like you are heading out of any commercial area but keep going and you will see the small lights in the distance. It's only about a 5-10 minute walk.

The first place you come to is a an Italian/Pizzeria called Werners. This looks nice and seems popular. Going on there are several bars on the left and right, some more visually apealing than others but most empty at this time of night and on a Wednesday. If you go right to the end there is a very popular tapas place on the right, the name of which I forget. I decided to try here at first but even sat at the bar the service was painfully slow so I left. I suspect they were short staffed though and it was full and the food looked very good with a large range of tapas on offer, albeit hardly a regional speciality!! I next tried Finnegans, an Irish themed bar that looks a little tired IMHO. It is a long but relatively narrow bar and was very quiet when I went in. I bought a beer and sat outside to people watch. Beer here, as it seemed with many of the places, was around RM 24 for a pint of Heineken (they have Guinness also at RM 27) and around 17 for a smaller bottle. Most places seemed to run 'Happy Hours' starting from 4pm or so and ending at around 8pm when the prices drop considerably with a pint costing around RM14.

I din't try any other places that night. There is a bar almost next to Finnegans called the Ceylon Bar. This is quite stylish looking and if you go upstairs has a long bar and seating area inside together with a terrace area overlooking Chankat. There are large white comfy chairs and sofas here and it's clear that the terrace and comfortable seating gets taken quickly. I saw no evidence of draught beers so I suspect it is more of a bottled beer, or even cocktails, wines and spirits place with one or two tables opting for the 'buy the bottle' option of spirits. There is a DJ here and I suspect the section at the back near the DJ doubles as an, albeit very small, dance floor.

On the Thursday night I again ventured now Bukit Bintang and Chankat. I had a superb Chinese meal at the Dragon View restaurant on the corner of BB and the lane which runs of it in which there are a great many restaurants. The waitress was very helpful and was able to recommend 3-4 dishes when I indicated I liked Szechuan food (renowned for being hot). A bottle of Tiger was about RM 12 and the whole lot came to about RM 32. Cracking value.

After this I returned to Finnegans and it was quite dead again. It does appear that this is not the busiest part of town for nightlife and the Bangsar Baru area along with the Asia Heritage Row off Jalan Doraisamy are supposed to be more vibrant and I will check these out when I return. I walked down to Jalan P Ramelee which is about 10 minutes on foot from Finnegans and had a look around there also and nightlife wise this also seems busier. Coming back past Finnegans I called in for one last Guinness before heading back to the hotel. It has to be said that it was still not buzzing, much the same being the case for all the bars though a few of the more disco looking places were a little busier. It also has to be said that some of the music being played by in Finnegans and also the Ceylon Bar next door was dated to say the least. I could have sworn I heard "Tie a yellow ribbon" at some stage!!!! Happening and hip this area is not. Or at least not at 12:30am!! I still quite like the area though and it has quite a relaxed feel to it that will probably be absent from the more vibrant areas described above. More on the KL nightlife scene will be posted when I return here on or around 7 May.

I was planning to try the Sky Bar but in just two nights, with the first following a long period of travelling, there just wasn't time. Maybe when I return prior to going home.

Hotel: Melia - Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur

For my first two nights I stayed in KL and booked in at the Melia Hotel. For me this hotel is ideal. It is reasonably well priced and is very well located opposite Times Square on Jalan Imbi and is in walking distance from Bukit Bintang, home to plenty of restaurants and hawker stalls and the numerous bars nearby in Chankat Bukit Bintang. The Times Square shopping mall is enormous covering 10 floors and there are plenty of places to buy goods should you have forgotten anything. There is a 'Cold Storage' (supermarket) on the lower ground floor, a cheap food court as well as plenty of other food outlets. If staying at the Melia and you need to book an Air Asia flight there is also one of their ticket offices nearby (turn right as you come out of the Melia and it's about 50 meters along on the right hand side) though prices are generally cheaper online.

The hotel corridors look a little tired but the staff were helpful and friendly and the rooms I found to be clean, well appointed and spacious. The only thing I did do was turn off the fridge at night as I found it a little noisy when the thermostat kicked in occasionally.

The included buffet breakfast is very good and had a range of Malay (curries and sambals), Chinese (dim sum and soups etc), fried/grilled, continental and also a section doing fresh omelettes etc. The coffee was very good and there was also a range of fruit juices etc. Breakfast is served between 06:30 and 10:30 and the buffet restaurant can get busy. I never had to wait for a table but the closer you get to 10:30 the more chance there is that some of the food types and juices and will not be replenished given the time. You get a free newspaper delivered daily also. The only thing to bear in mind, especially for longer stays, is that the internet is charged for unless stopping in a suite etc and there is no free wi-fi in the lobby which many hotels would have. This would put me off long term but was of no consequence seeing as I had the Digi service on the iPhone.

Like many hotels the Melia takes a credit card authorisation to cover themselves but once you pay this authorisation is cancelled. In my case, the pre-authorisation was for RM 700. I may well look to stay at the Melia when I return from Penang but will also check the Grand Millenium which is also nearby, and also perhaps the Crown Plaza which is near the busy Jalan P Ramelee. I was quite happy with the Melia however and would certainly stay there again.

KLIA & Transfer to Kuala Lumpur

You will have seen below the service update problem I have had so to keep things in perspective I will post the dates the entry relates to until I have caught up. So, 12 hours flight and fast-forward to 5pm Weds 20 April (KL time).

Upon disembarking you will arrive at the KLIA Satellite building. IMO this is an excellent airport and there are countless duty free shops as you stroll along the well signposted route to the baggage reclaim and immigration controls. However, unless you are really desperate to stop at these particular shops I would suggest you make your way with some haste towards immigration as the queues here can be long and take some time to clear. Following the signs you will come to the 'Air Train' connection between the KLIA Satellite and the Main Terminal. This is a short mono-rail type service that runs every few minutes. Once off the transit link again I would bypass the shops and head directly to immigration. Once there the queues can take some time to process. I waited around 20 minutes and the queue was not excessive when I got there. Mis-time it and you could wait for half an hour or more I suspect. The immigration staff though are professional and friendly save for one. I think she had a sister who was an air stewardess.

Once through Immigration there are more duty free shops. Prices I found generally lower than London Heathrow and the range very, very good through the countless stores. Bottles of spirit I think were slightly less than Heathrow and certainly not more expensive. Cigarettes are MUCH cheaper I noticed with 200 Marlboro costing around £10 I noticed. There are also food outlets and such like if you feel so inclined. Having done the tour of the shops I headed to baggage reclaim and found my case had already been offloaded from the carousel and was awaiting my collection. From there it's a short walk through Customs and into level 3 of the arrivals hall.

One of the things I wanted to do was get a local SIM for a mobile number with an internet/data bolt on (see previous post). Once through Customs if you turn immediately left there is a DiGi store from which I was able to purchase a local SIM for RM 10. I also purchased an RM 100 top up voucher and subscribed to an unlimited RM 15 per week mobile internet/data package. The RM 15 is taken off you voucher automatically and will auto-renew each week. It can be cancelled at any time by dialling *116#. For me this is useful as I use an iPhone and use the data element every day for mail, Google Maps and internet etc when out and about (or if you stay in a hotel with no or paid for internet). All you will need is your passport and mobile as the staff there are very helpful and will set the whole thing up while you wait. It only takes a few minutes and for RM 110 I had both mobile phone and internet working before I left the Airport.

Turning back on myself I headed off then to the lifts to get to the KL Ekspress which for me is the best way to travel into KL as you don't get stuck in traffic en route. If you are going straight to the Ekspress Station from Customs you would turn right as you come into the Arrivals Hall but it is all sign-posted anyway. The Ekspress leaves from level 1 and costs RM 35 for a single fare into KL. The trains run every 15 mins IIRC and the journey takes 28 minutes. Be sure to retain your ticket as you will need it for the exit barrier at KL Sentral Station. Once through the barriers at KLSS I headed towards the taxi voucher counter near the exit. Here you buy a voucher, the cost of which will depend on where you want to go. KL is zoned and most hotels will be within the initial zone band I suspect. You can buy two types of voucher. Regular or Executive. I was feeling a bit extravagant so went for the Exec at a cost of RM 25. I believe the regular would have been RM 10 and probably for little noticeable difference. The Exec taxis depart the terminal from the doors to the left of the taxi counter and the Regular from the right set of doors. You hand the large part of the voucher to the driver and keep the small portion yourself. The next driver will make himself known to you as you exit the terminal with your ticket. You don't have to buy a voucher of course but the option is there as it saves haggling with drivers who may not use a meter and prefer to barter for a price. I jumped in the taxi and and took a short drive to my hotel, the Melia on Jalan Imbi, which took about 15 minutes, albeit traffic was a little heavy.

I have to say I found the airport and its facilities to be very good and the travel from the terminal into KL and to my hotel to be completely painless and very reasonable price wise. Top marks from me.

Flight - UK to KL (Malaysian Airlines)

The big day arrived (Tuesday 19 April) and I arrived at Heathrow quite early, 7:00pm for a 10:00pm flight, and that took into account taking the Heathrow Connect at £8.50 as opposed to the Express at £18.00. The Connect takes 25 minutes as opposed to 15 minutes for the Express so it's £1 per minute extra and unless that 10 minutes is vital, personally, I see little point. Malaysian Airlines depart from Terminal 4 which I like much less than Terminal 3 both in terms of layout and food outlets. The design of T4 also leaves much to be desired. Don't think Christopher Wren inspired, think more Kwik-Fit tyre storage warehouse with the exposed pipes and corrugated roofing adding to the "You're in a hangar" experience.

The flight was OK. The aircraft was a Boeing 747 and I suspect these must be ageing a little now as the in-flight entertainment system seems quite dated (compared to airlines like Etihad), but, it does the job. Not a massive range of films I thought for such long flights (12 hours from London to Kuala Lumpur). I had managed to get an exit seat but this was a bit of a mistake. The flight was only about 25% full and throughout the aircraft there were strips of 3 and 4 seats occupied by just one person. Ideal for sprawling out for a good sleep. Unfortunately there were two other people next to me and by the time I got to check all of the empty seat strips were gone. You pays your money and takes your choice :-( Still, I managed to get several hours sleep which was a good thing.

The cabin crew were OK, predominantly male surprisingly and most were friendly and attentive. One of the girls was somewhat surly bordering on quite ignorant I think. Maybe she thought her rather average looks (maybe 5 out of 10 in a night club, at least until the lights came on) elevated her to the status that some of the catwalk super-models seem to bestow upon themselves, or maybe she was just having a bad day. Either way, I decided to leave this particular 'waitress' to her own delusions for the flight. Most people said goodbye to the crew as they left the aircraft but ignored this particular member of staff. I was tempted to give her a good tip like "Don't eat yellow snow" but thought better of it.

The food on board was OK too. Shortly after take off I had a rather nice chicken curry. This was accompanied by a small and somewhat bizarre salad of lettuce, whole sun-dried tomatoes and an eraser shaped liked a king prawn. This was very rubbery but they had managed to impart a prawn like flavour to it. The cheese and biscuits were less inspiring with the yellow square of glutinous material only just resembling cheese. Drinks were served throughout the flight though after the first beer I stuck to juice and water in light of the dehydration from flying. Half way through the flight they delivered a package of goodies which included a cookie, some nuts, a mini imitation toblerone and a small puzzle. The puzzle was a small plastic pack marked 'Peel here'. 20 minutes of attempts to do so left you feeling somewhat frustrated forcing people to resort to biting into the plastic to gain entry. Once the puzzle had been cracked there was another square of glutinous material which, when cold, may have tasted like cheese. The depth of the offering (3-4 mm) coupled with the 30 minutes of handling to get it open rendered it somewhat less desirable. The flight was smooth with little turbulence and about 3 hours before touchdown they served a further meal. I opted for Nasi-lemak, a rice dish with a fiery prawn sambal which was very nice and most welcome, as was the beer I washed it down with.

Just before landing they screen a short film about KLIA, what to expect and how to get into KL etc. from the airport by a variety of means. This is very useful and much better than the somewhat vacuous garbage that they screen when you travel by Etihad to, say, Abu Dhabi where the focus is on clearly how they would like you to perceive the country, pictures of stallions being ridden across the desert, falcons being flown and ever so helpful and friendly citizens who can't do enough for you. Sadly though, that is where it ends and anyone who has been to the UAE will know that the film bears no resemblance to day-to-day life there with what little heritage the place does have (culturally sterile is one of the many apt descriptions I heard) being well and truly buried in sand, building sites, collapsing walkways, backstreet squalor, the conditions endured by the low paid imported labour force and arrogance. But that's another story. They will also announce the baggage reclaim belt that your luggage will be offloaded to so listen out for this just before you disembark

After a very smooth touch down and arrival ahead of schedule we taxied to KLIA which at the end of 12 hours onboard is a pleasant relief. So, my first experience of Malaysian Airlines. Not outstanding I have to say but then few are really and I would certainly be happy to use them again. It is a benefit that they fly direct as these 1-5 hour stopovers would not appeal to me.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Only 3 days now until I leave for Malaysia!! Looking forward to it I must say. Need a break and it will nice to experience life there, check out some places to live and eat, eat, eat!!!

I will doubtless look to get out and about during the evenings and will post thoughts on the various places I visit. There's a 'social' being organised by the ever so friendly MM2H crowd on 3 May so I suspect that will be both pleasant and informative. I'm also meeting up with Catherine Loh when I am there, a property agent who was recommended to me and all of these contacts will I'm sure also provide useful information on where to go and not to go.

My time in KL will be quite limited so I will hit a couple of the haunts which seem to be popular, including the Sky Bar at Traders and a few others. In Penang from what I can gather there is a good selection on the strip that runs outside the Eastern & Oriental Hotel. There is a place called Bagan, a nice looking bar/restaurant, which has been recommended there that I plan to try. I am sure I will seek out others and will post reviews of those I try. Meanwhile, if anyone knows of any 'must do' places, let me know.

NB: The first in a more in-depth series of articles covering Penang's nightlife can be found here.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Hotels - Penang

For a variety of reasons I have altered my plans in terms of accommodation whilst in Penang. I was looking forward to renting the apartment I had on offer in Batu Ferringhi but that will now be somewhat impractical. As such I have looked closer at hotels, and two in particular, the G Hotel and the Evergreen Laurel, both on Gurney Drive and quite well placed. Contact with the hotels by e-mail proved beneficial in terms of securing favourable rates.

The G Hotel, currently listing at around RM 405 for a standard room on Agoda and Asia Travel, have offered me a rate of RM 250 per night. This is on a long-stay basis though but represents a considerable reduction on the best internet rate. The hotel has free internet access in the room and has wifi - essential on the blog front!!!! It looks a nice hotel and has very good reviews. They also throw in 2 pieces of laundry daily at this rate.

The Evergreen Laurel offered me a Deluxe sea view room with breakfast and 3 items of laundry per day at RM 200 per night. Some of the reviews of the hotel were not so hot however and it appears, at least from the internet pages, that the G maybe a little more modern if, as has also been suggested, al little more 'sterile' looking.

Both of the above rates exclude the Government tax of 6% and the hotel service charge at 10% (often written as ++ on sites/quotes). On balance I have decided to stop at the G, a decision I may end up kicking myself for bearing in mind what the Evergreen was offering. The G rate does not include breakfast but as there is a mall/food court next door I don't consider that a problem. There was an offer of RM 270 ++ for a room with breakfast but I figure I'd rather try some variety rather than be tied in to a hotel buffet which I might decide to try just once or twice if I can't be bothered to go out.

As I contacted the hotel direct I have of course made the booking direct and, while I do not earn the 'points' from booking with Agoda or Asia Travel (see Travel Links), I do benefit from being subject to the hotel cancellation policy as which is more flexible. My card is also not charged and the details not in the hands of any intermediary. I did also contemplate trying to secure a good rate while I was there, rather than booking in advance as it was suggested that this was a good idea. Whilst it is an option I am glad I booked as standard rooms are no longer available, maybe it is down to the time of year (Easter and May Bank Holidays etc.). Equally I am ver happy with both the rates offered and am not so sure I would have been able to get even as good, let alone better, as a 'walk-in'.

I will go and check out the Evergreen while I am there, and likely a few other hotels to compare rooms, quality, standards and facilities etc. and I will update the blog accordingly, together with a more in-depth review of the G Hotel.


I had contact from two other hotels today, also quoting long-stay rates (14 nights +). Just for the record then these were the rates at the time of writing:

Traders (Georgetown): 205++ per night for a Deluxe Room and 315++ for a club room. They have broadband access but I am not sure if this is complimentary or not.

Eastern and Oriental: 560++ per night for a Deluxe Suite with sea view. A very nice hotel but at a price. Good for special occasions though

Final Preparations

Only a few days now and I'm making the final preparations for the trip:
  • Currency: Picked up my Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) from the Post Office (commission free in the UK) the other day. Rate was OK (ish) at about 4.96 to the £1. Guidance is that you are allowed to take no more than RM 1,000 into or out of Malaysia. How rigidly this is checked I'm not sure, nor indeed am I sure of the consequences if you are over.
  • Electricity/power points: I gather that the power-points are UK style 3 (square) pin which will save on my having to carry adaptors, albeit they are dirt cheap from many local stores if needed. These adaptors I normally take to convert continental 2 (round) pin to UK 3 pin. It seems that if anything, one living there, you are more likely to need an adaptor to convert the UK style 3 pin sockets to accept 2 pin plugs which small electrical items seem to be supplied with.
  • Car rental: I plan to hire a car for week or so while I'm in Penang and Labelle Car Hire has been very highly recommended (Joe in Georgetown). I have added the company to the 'Useful Links'.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


I'm trying to draw up a list of restaurants I might like to try while visiting Malaysia and particularly the Penang area since that will the base for my stay. These are not places I will definitely go to but are more places to make a mental note of so I can give them a try if the opportunity arises. Clearly it all depends on how the mood takes me, what I fancy to eat on any given day and what recommendations are made on the ground when I'm there, and of course the look/feel of the places when/if I find them. On that basis, some of the places I'm considering so far are:

· Tho Yuen (Lebuh Campbell): Chinese - dim sum
· Teik Sen (Lebuh Carnavon): Chinese
· Madras New Woodlands (Lebuh Penang): Indian
· Restoran Kapitan (Lebuh Chulia): Indian - tandoori and biryanis
· Spice and Rice (Green Hall): Indian
· Sarkies Corner (Lebuh Farquahar): Mix

Tanjung Tokong / Tanjung Bungah
· No Eyed Dear (website)
· Blue Reef (Straits Quay): Good for fish and nice marina views
· Yyu Yuan: Local dishes and Chinese

Batu Ferringhi
· Palace (BF): Indian
· Ship (BF): Steaks etc
· Ferringhi Garden (BF): Steaks etc.

There is also the Golden Steamboat, a buffet/BBQ style restaurant I am planning to look up and this is in Jalan Nagore. Many of the restaurants listed above have been pulled from the guidebooks listed under 'Useful books' but I am also indebted to Bakedbean and Strider24 from the British Expat forums for several of the recommendations.

In addition to those listed above I will try the odd international restaurant while I'm there too, mainly to see if they do the food justice as at times I am very partial to French and Italian cuisine. As one of my hobbies I am doing a professional chef's diploma at the moment and French classical cuisine is my main inspiration, and particularly the food turned out but the current greats such as Raymond Blanc, Michel Roux (Jnr) and the outstanding Pierre Gagnaire. In fact, I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to work at Le Gavroche (the Michelin starred London restaurant of Michel Roux) for a couple of days at the end of last year, but that's another story!!

Once in Malaysia I intend to post comment, if not full blown reviews, of the vast majority of places I visit be it restaurant, food court, hawker stall and bars etc. to include details of quality, cost, decor and ambience etc etc.