Monday, 23 December 2013

Festive Dining: Macalister Mansion - Georgetown

And with the last of 3 updates today regarding festive dining I have saved what for me would be the best until last, Macalister Mansion.  OK, there may be only the slightest chance of frost, snow and ice on the day (it pays to be optimistic!!), but the festive offerings at MM really to do look enticing, complete with wine pairing menus.  Details can be found here.

Festive Dining: E&O Hotel - Georgetown

Another option for those who have left it a bit late to plan dining out over the festive period a variety of options will be available at the E&O Hotel, right in the heart of Georgetown.  Details of the range of festive offerings can be found here.

Festive Dining: Rasa Sayang Hotel - Batu Ferringhi

Still not planned your Christmas dining?  Here's one to consider.  The excellent Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa in Batu Ferringhi has a great range of options for eating out over the festive period be it a brunch, buffet or fine dining with some superb set dinners in the famed Ferringhi Grill restaurant.  A guide the the resort's festive dining can be found here.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Road Transport Department (JPJ) - Penang

Previously when needing to get much done involving the Road Transport Department (JPJ -Jabatan Pengangkutan JalanI have always travelled to Butterworth, despite there previously being a JPJ branch out at Batu Uban (now closed).  Now though, JPJ have moved to their new location at Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, near to the University Sains Malaysia (USM) and is much more accessible for those in the North of Penang.

First time I went there it took me a while to find, mostly because I'd always seen it while passing on the way to the airport and if travelling from Georgetown you actually need to turn off before you see JPJ.  The directions, or at least as best as I can describe them :), when driving from the direction of Georgetown, are as follows:

- Drive along Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah and turn right at the roundabout (in the direction of the airport) - Drive through first lights (you will see USM's sports field on the right)
- Next set of traffic lights turn right - signposted P15 (Jalan Sungai Dua)
- Drive to first set of traffic lights (you will see a KFC), turn left
- Drive along this road and then take second left turn. Follow the road to the JPJ car park.

JPJ does get very busy at times but opens at 07:45 and getting there early will mostly avoid the queues.  It may also be advisable to avoid a day or two before and just after public holidays, especially extended ones.  JPJ Penang can handle the full range of JPJ administrative procedures, including one I'm regularly asked about by expats, driving licence conversion.

The full address and contact details are here:

Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah
10510 Pulau Pinang
Tel: 04-656 4131 / 04-656 4087
Fax: 04-656 4080

The JPJ website is here and they also have a Facebook Page here.

Budget 2014: Real Property Gains Tax / Goods & Services Tax

There were many measures announced in the Budget for 2014 and of these, two will be of particular interest to expats, the former of the two in particular if you own, or are contemplating buying, property here.

The regulations regarding Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) have been amended in an attempt to curb foreign property speculation, unfortunately expat residents, including MM2H visa holders, have not been exempted from the changes.  From January 2014 non-Malaysians / non-residents (e.g. those who do not whole Permanent Resident status) will be required to pay 30% tax on any property price gain if sold within 5 years of acquiring the property.  After 5 years the tax is levied at 5%.  I stress that this is on the gains, not the overall sale price, so if you buy a property for RM 750K and sell for RM 900K after 5 years you will pay 5% RPGT only on the RM 150K the property has gained in value.  When calculating the gain you can subtract the cost of acquisition (e.g. legal fees etc) and any renovation costs, so it will be worth hanging on to any bills!

Still, the increase is quite considerable given that in 2013 the rate was 15% if the property was sold within 3 years (and of course, in Penang at least, foreign owners are locked in for 3 years so could not sell), dropping to 10% in years 4 and 5 and zero thereafter.  For some this is still not an issue but it may be enough for others, depending on their plans and circumstances, to think harder and longer about buying a property here.  What will be interesting to see is the trend over the next few years.

The second change, which will of course apply to everyone, is the imposition of a Goods and Services Tax from April 2015, however the current Sales Tax (6%) and Service Tax (10%) will be abolished.  There will be no GST on essential cooking items (rice, flour, spices and oil etc) or on electricity consumption up to 200 units.  Property sale is also GST exempt.

An overview of the announcements for the 2014 Budget can be found here at 'The Malaysian Insider'.  There is also a useful PDF showing some budget highlights here.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tesco (Tanjung Tokong): Online shopping and delivery


Tired of driving to the supermarket, filling the trolley and queuing to pay?  Residents near to Tanjung Tokong will be pleased to know that Tesco has recently started an online shopping and home delivery service.  You can start shopping online here.

Festive Dining: Copthorne Orchid Hotel, Penang

Christmas is not all that far away now (albeit I'm holding back starting to play the daily fix of Christmas music until 1st December) and those nice folks at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel have sent me details of their seasonal promotion.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Hotel: Macalister Mansion - Macalister Road, Georgetown (Top Pick)

MM location map
It’s rare these days that I find hotels to get too much excited about.  Most tend to be either corporate chain establishments with little to endear, increasingly popular boutique hotels, some of which manage to pull the concept off much better than others, or the ‘cheap as chips’ glorified guest houses.  All in all, a bit meh.  Once in a blue moon however you come across a truly outstanding establishment  which really impresses at every level.  One example is Macalister Mansion which, for ease of reference and conveniently, is located in Macalister Road, Georgetown, Penang.

I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of visitors coming to Penang do not come for the beach experience.  While the option is there, with numerous hotels in the Batu Ferringhi area, its is clear that the ‘down-town’ experience is in hot demand with visitors in abundance at the numerous heritage sites and areas in Georgetown, soaking up the ambience, indulging in Penang’s famed street food, shopping in central Georgetown and the maze of ‘Komtar’ and wandering round the backstreets that make up Little India and the Chinese Quarter.  For many, this is what Penang is all about.  But where do you stay, or more pertinent to this article, where do you say if you want somewhere a cut above the rest, somewhere with some class and style?  And of course it’s not only visitors from afar who will at times wish to seek out the occasional gem of a hotel.  Local residents searching for somewhere to stay for that special occasion or celebration, a couple looking at a super-special place to host a wedding dinner and maybe even have a few special invited guests to stay a couple of days, or visitors from out-station just looking for somewhere special to spend a few days in the ‘Pearl of the Orient’.  So why is this hotel special, what makes it really stand out.  Read on…….

Macalister Mansion, or MM as it is known locally, is housed in a magnificent heritage building which is very befitting to its name.  Sweeping in from Macalister Road the driveway can swing you round right outside the front door with ample off-road parking for your car, a godsend in this part of town!  

As you enter the reception you will immediately be struck by its style which flows throughout the establishment (unlike many corporate boxes where the, ahem, ‘style’ comes to an abrupt halt once you go beyond reception), it exudes chic and elegance and yet is done in a very tasteful way which compliments the heritage exterior of the hotel.  Spacious, minimalist and tastefully lit, the reception area sets the scene well.  The staff are also worth a mention, friendly and welcoming with nothing too much trouble.

One of MMs superb rooms

Once checked in you will be shown to your room and I have to say that these are probably some of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen in a hotel, far better, for instance, than some of the (so called) 5 star gilt-heavy glitz that you see in some chain hotels.  

An equally superb bathroom
Spacious, beautifully designed and furnished, with big comfortable beds, large flat screen TVs (some of which spin to allow you to watch the super-size screen in the bath!) and outstanding bathrooms.  The beds are superbly comfortable and the rooms quiet!!  No thumping discos and adjoining nightclubs here!  The rooms alone are enough to warrant a true 5* rating IMO but there is so much more to Macalaister Mansion too.

MM's restaurant

Without doubt, one of the finest restaurants in Penang is also located at Macalister Mansion.  Again, tastefully decorated and appointed, the restaurant is definitely a place to linger with a partner or with friends as you savour some of Penang’s finest cuisine.  

Exquisite fine dining at MM's renowned restaurant

Under the watchful eye of head chef Lance U’reen the kitchen team produce some truly inspiring dishes with more than a hint of classical French influence fused with a distinctly Asian twist that gives the restaurant its unique appeal.  

Each dish a feast for the eyes and palate!

Reasonably priced and with an excellent wine cellar (the restaurant also serves a superb wine-pairing menu) Macalister’s restaurant is a great place to dine, whether or not you are staying at the hotel.

The Living Room cafe

The hotel also houses its own café, 'The Living Room', decorated in a fresh and airy ‘garden’ style, the café is open all day until turned midnight and offers a superb range of very reasonably priced dishes, delicacies and cakes for a great mouth-watering lunch, high-tea or supper.  

Delicious Hokkien Mee at The Living Room

The café also serves something which I find increasingly difficult to get these days, good coffee, you know, coffee that TASTES like coffee!!!  The café is a superb place to chill, chat and relax as you take a break from exploring town.  

The Living Room's 'Gourmet Shop'

The newly opened 'Gourmet Shop' at the cafe stocks and sells a wide variety of delicacies and you can even pick up a loaf or two of your favourite freshly baked bread when visiting.  

Fashion show at MM

Occasionally MM also plays host to themed events such as fashion shows.  Such is the quality of the food and environment at the restaurant and café they will both be subject to their own dedicated reviews.

The Cellar

Speaking of chilling, also housed within MM is ‘The Cellar’ wine bar, a modern and luxuriously furnished wine bar with an extremely well stocked cellar, a wide range of whiskies and spirits and also specialist imported beers.  

Lounge at The Cellar

You can choose to sit at the bar, at one of the tables with high stools (one of which can easily accommodate 8-10 people) or at one of the very comfortable low tables with leather armchairs or sofas, there’s even a sofa in front of flame effect fire that is very cosy.  

Superb cheeseboard at The Cellar

While talking about ‘The Cellar’, it would be remiss not to mention the exceptional cheeseboard here, available in two sizes, the largest costs just RM 35 for a great selections of cheeses, biscuits and accompaniments, great with a glass of your favourite wine and, given the price of imported French cheeses in these parts, exceptionally good value.

The Cigar Lounge

Moving on again, the hotel also boasts a very chic ‘Cigar and Wine / Champagne’ lounge, The Den, nestled near to reception it’s a great place to indulge one of the many fine cigars stocked at MM which I suspect will have something to appeal to even the most hardened connoisseur.

MM's pool and pool bar

Finally, and moving outside the hotel, despite its very convenient central location, MM boasts a very nice pool area and poolside bar, great if you fancy a cooling dip or an afternoon / early evening (or morning for the ‘early risers’!) relax with a cocktail as the sun goes down, and of course to work up an appetite for the superb restaurant!

That then is MM, a real gem of hotel, a cut above the rest, with an unrivalled air of style and panache, and right in the heart of Georgetown.  Whether it’s to stay, eat dinner, doing lunch or chilling at ‘The Cellar’, MM IMHO offers a 10/10 experience and is most definitely worth a visit.  Understandably it qualifies with ease for a ‘Top Pick’!  You can visit the hotel's website here and their Facebook Page here.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

2013 Honda 'Airblade'

I watch motorbike releases in Malaysia quite closely, especially those in the somewhat ubiquitous 100-125cc range.  This one though slipped under my radar and I'm glad that my relatively frequent visits to the Boon Siew Honda site have picked it up.

The bike pictured above is the 2013 'Airblade'.  For those who don't know the Airblade has been a fantastically popular bike in Malaysia's neighbouring countries, especially Viet Nam and Thailand (where it is extremely popular with expats who, generally being somewhat taller and heavier than many Thai nationals, find some of the other popular bikes there too small).

The 2013 Airblade sports several technological innovations that really do make this bike stand out, including:
  • 125cc engine
  • Honda's famed PGM-FI (fuel injection)
  • Integrated ACG system (smooth, friction reduced starting - more fuel efficient)
  • Engine 'Idle Stop' (the excellent fuel saving innovation previously seen only on the top-range PCX)
  • Combination braking (pulling just one brake level applies both front and back brakes in correct proportion)
  • Remote key bike location (pressing this will sound the horn and flash the lights allowing you to quickly locate YOUR bike amongst what can often be hundreds of parked bikes)
  • Side stand engine cut-off (engine only starts if side stand is up)
  • Twin projector headlights
Honda's excellent PCX 150

I have always been a fan of Honda's top end scooter, the PCX (see here), and if my riding involved regular longer distances I would go for the PCX without doubt due to the great handling and greater long-distance comfort. One problem for me though is that I'm tall (6'03") and I do find that this pushes me quite a way back on the PCX's seat.  Being so far back from the handlebars in a slightly low, cruiser-style, riding position makes bikes a little less manoeuvrable FOR ME in the heavy traffic I often encounter where I ride in both Penang and Thailand.  Being a long-term bike rider, in such circumstances you will often use your hips and body weight to 'flip' the bike from side to side when manoeuvring between lanes in stationary traffic, easier to do if the riding position is more upright (e.g. you'd not get much success trying this on a Harley 'Fatboy').  No doubt though, I and many others consider the PCX to be the best scoot money can buy, especially if your riding includes longer distance commutes, and I'd recommend it without any hesitation whatsoever.

Honda Click 125i
However, for heavily congested town traffic and in light of my ride position concerns, I actually find in Thailand that I prefer Honda's equally superb new Click 125i and it's my small 'scoot' of choice for riding in busy town traffic there. The Click 125i is not available in Malaysia though (or at least not yet) and previously I held off getting a PCX for the reasons given above. The release of the new Airblade though changes all that AND also deals with three other 'issues' that I have with the Click.

Firstly, the Click has a 'floorboard' (traditional scooter) style configuration whereas the Airblade has the step-through 'underbone' layout.  The construction type does affect the weight distribution particularly in terms of the placement of the engine and fuel tank.  I have personally always preferred the latter in terms of handling and stability, possibly as a result of being a long-time 'big bike' rider, as a result of which I've become more familiar with the more traditional bike layout (step-through).  Secondly, the Click also has a single rear shock-absorber vs the Airblade's twin rear shocks which I personally favour more in terms of both durability and comfort for long term use.  With the size and weight of many Thai nationals, even two-up, the single shock on the Click is likely pose no problem at all, increase the weight though, either by way of rider/passenger and/or loads and I'd always go for twin shocks if at all possible.  Finally, tubeless tyres are 'standard fit' on the Airblade, this is a definite plus point as those used to frequent punctures on the small tyres fitted to scooters will vouch for.  As can be seen the Airblade addresses all of these concerns and for me would be the better prospect for purchase even if the Click was available in Malaysia.  The only thing I find slightly off-putting with the Airblade is the fuel-tank capacity which is just 4 litres.  Hopefully the bike will have good enough fuel economy to make visits to the gas station less frequent than one might expect (even the Click 125i has a 5.5 litre tank!).

Honda Airblade in 'Pearl Metalloid White'
Available in three striking colour schemes the 2013 Airblade is a great bike and at RM 7,700, given the bike's features and technological innovation, is competitively priced IMO and of course there is the comfort of knowing that the bike is a Honda. The Airblade is yet another very welcome addition to the bikes available in Malaysia and IMO one which will make the decision between a PCX or an Airblade a much tougher one. You can take a closer look at the Airblade and download the brochure here, or better still, visit your local authorised Honda dealer and see the bike for yourself!

NB: See here for more coverage of the Honda Airblade and an on the road review.

Posting Delays

Sincere apologies to my readers and followers for the lack of updates but at the moment I am on a 3 month intensive Thai Language Course in Thailand and intensive is an accurate description!  Very good course but what with daily lessons in speaking, reading and writing, a lot of course related home-work and the constant need to practice speaking and reading it's all very draining and it leaves little time for anything else except sleeping and eating.  

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible and as the language becomes more familiar, I hope to find time to put up some long overdue posts.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Ops Selamat 3 - Reduced Speed Limits

Just a quick note, as people start to gear up for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri festive season, to advise that a speed limit reduction is in now in force on federal roads, from 90 kph to 80kph, while on state roads it is reduced from 80 kph to 70 kph.

In addition, Works Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof has stated that all road repair work, including on that on tolled highways, will be suspended during Ops Selamat 3 for the comfort of motorists and to ease traffic flow.

The operation lasts until 18 August.

One of the press releases pertaining to this can be found here.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Event: Foam Party / Miss Hard Rock Penang - Hard Rock Hotel

Hard Rock Hotel will be hosting another of it's excellent foam parties this weekend on Saturday 1st June with the the lovely and talented DJ Vida from Thailand.  More details here.

In addition, registrations are now open (until 22 July) for Miss Hard Rock Penang, to be held at the hotel on 24 August 2013.  With a number of top sponsors and some great prizes Miss Hard Rock (Penang) 2013 promises to be a well contested event.  More details here.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Hennessy Artistry - Penang 2013

For many, THE Penang clubbing event in the calendar was held last night at SPICE (formerly PISA), in the shape of Hennessy Artistry 2013.

Pick of Penang was delighted to be invited to the event and, like last year, it was outstanding, the larger floorspace of the SPICE venue allowing Hennessy to pull out all the stops to create a super-clubbing experience with great performances from talented singers, musicians, DJs and dancers and a fabulous light show.

Partygoers got in the mood early as soon as the doors opened and, as ever, the event attracted a glamorous crowd, one of them here, my lovely chum Chrissy Yin.

The first act up was '24 Herbs' who delivered a superb and punchy hip-hop performance that really got the crowd in the mood.

Throughout, the artists and DJs were supported by a superb dance crew from KL, all provided co-ordinated by my good chums at RED Artist Management.

The next performance was a superb violin and vocal duo with a great take on some even better music.

Guests were well and truly in the mood by this time, here, another glamorous friend I actually met at last year's Artistry, Wei Wei Teoh (2nd from left) and chums.

Australian born DJ Andy Murphy was next to take the stage with some really great sounds......

......again, supported by the super-sexy dance crew.

One of the great things about Artistry is you get to meet new chums, in this case a charming visitor from KL, in Penang just for the event.

It's also a good opportunity to catch up with folks I sometimes don't get chance to see often enough.

The final performance of the night was from DJ Nicole Chen with a brilliant session of house music.......

.....and more chances to see and shoot the very talented dancers.

Finally, at 2am, that was it.  Sadly all over for another year, but all good things must come to an end.  However, there's still chance to catch Hennessy Artistry this year at the KL event, details of which are yet to be announced.  Details of this and all Hennessy events can be found here.  Some more photos can be found here.