I’ve been putting off writing this post because I don’t know how to do it and not come off as a bigot, travel wimp, snob or some combination thereof. It is an impossible task. I have spent a lot of time researching various subjects for this post, discarding most of them. I’m going to risk it, however, because both global and armchair travelers should know a few things about Penang, Malaysia. Consider them travel tips for the culturally adventurous.
*Malaysia is a Muslim nation which practices freedom of religion. Indeed, there are churches, temples, mosques, and internet cafes to suit every need. I, however, was unprepared for the Talibanesque burqas gracing the resort facilities where we stayed at the northern end of the island. I had never seen a “full burqa” up close and personal before much less a swim “burquini”. As a fellow expat, Princess Dreidl, who also stayed at the same resort previously, said, “I’ve never felt so naked in a bathing suit.” Indeed. I wore a one-piece the entire time and can empathize with Dreidl’s sentiments. I made sure my sarong covered my ample white thighs as much as possible. The chest was impossible to contain and I serious regret not doing something about it with the beloved Dr. C in Brazil. Princess Z, a Muslimah from another country, confirms that Malaysia is a destination spot for honeymooning Muslims, especially, and that under the burqas are probably Chanel bikinis. The Malaysian flag has the American flag blue background and red and white stripes. In the place of the stars, however, is a crescent moon and one star, a symbol of Islam.
*The Middle Eastern attire was nothing to compared to my first polygamist sighting. Warren Jeffs picked the wrong religion and country; modesty, however, is a value the two religions have in common along with the multiple wives. Contradictory, I know. To me, there is nothing modest about having two women publically stroke your body parts. Princess Z has been a wealth of information on this subject; she tells me her husband can’t afford another wife and if he could, he would have to divorce her first. The same rule would apply to Mr. Understanding.
*the Langkawi ferry system leaves much to be desired, with its cockroaches, random airline seats, 200% over-capacity seating, and mere two exits. Fly to Langkawi if you must (and really you must) but don’t take the boat. Those prone to seasickness and claustrophobia should also avoid the ferry. We took the ferry as part of a tour with 400 other people to the snorkeling platform “Langkawi Coral”. Coral, sea anemones, and tropical fish inhabit the ocean floor along with a barracuda or two. Snorklers and scuba-divers will have a field day. Mr. Understanding and I shared an hour long spiritual “moment” following around what I believe to be a parrot fish, the most beautiful fish either of us had ever seen, a striking example of God’s creativity, ingenuity, and love of color. Pack a lunch (the lunch provided is heavy on grease, not good if returning via the ferry) and buy an underwater digital camera (I did not have one, the photos of fish above are the closest things to what we saw that I could find on the internet).
*skip a jaunt to Monkey Beach. There are probably monkeys at your hotel. All of Malaysia’s garbage seems to float right to that beach and the diesel fumes from the rickety boat might kill you. We think the monkeys pick the garbage off the beach, scavenge any edible bits, and throw the rest on a patch of land beyond the beach. The kids enjoyed fishing from the “yacht”, however, and the sand was lovely, making the beer can half full.
*the weather was idyllic the entire time and the water warm.
*the Tropical Spice Garden and Butterfly Farm are must sees. Order the monkey punch, made with lime juice, nutmeg juice, and lemongrass at the snack booth for a refreshing taste treat.
*no bugs to speak of, like the odious borrachudos of Brazil, but jelly fish galore at some of the beaches.
*try a fish spa – the tiny fish really do nibble off your icky skin, the ultimate in recycling as it were. They will eat more if you can stop laughing and keep your feet still.
*topless and nude sunbathing are federally prohibited.
*no need to buy anything at the “night market” if you live in China.
*go with a good friend so you can chat about all of these experiences together and bring a set of dominoes. We went with Bea Long and her family and had a superb time. strong>Mr. Long and I trounced Mr. Understanding and Bea at dominoes, which Mr. U accepted gracefully for once. Our kids all like each other and got along famously, a bonus for the parents. I could actually read at the pool, one of the huge benefits of traveling with older children, making it a real vacation from life in Shanghai.
That’s it for the travel tips for now. Next up is a list of all those books I read on vacation.