Shore excursions: Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Phuket.
The run from Singapore to Phuket is one of the most popular for Asian cruises. During a five-night Southeast Asia cruise onboard Genting Dream, Teresa Ooi made the most of shore excursions to explore three very different ports of call – and sample the fo
Kuala Lumpur is a city of contrasts. Its skyline is punctuated by Moorish minarets, copper domes and gleaming skyscrapers. Bustling food-stall-lined streets are packed with charming locals of Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage.
The national dish, nasi lemak is oily coconut rice served with ikan bilis (fried anchovies), egg, cucumber and sambal. The national drink is teh tarik (condensed milk tea). It’s served from a pot with a huge spout, and vendors like to pull the spout away from the mug while pouring.
It is a 90-minute drive from Port Klang, where Genting Dream berths, to KL. But it is worth it with a guide like Hon.
Our tour starts at the former KL railway station, a Moorish-style building designed by British architect AB Hubbock in 1910. With its distinctive arches and minarets, it is one of the city’s most photographed landmarks.
Dataran Merdeka (Independent Square) is flanked by the black-andwhite Royal Selangor Club and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, one of the city’s oldest heritage sites. Dubbed the blood and bandages building for its red bricks and white arches and banding, it was built between 1894 and 1897.
“The building once housed the high courts and often lawyers, after fighting their case, would meet at the Royal Selangor Club to lick their wounds or crow over their victory while drinking a glass of stengah (whisky and water),” says Hon.
After visiting the futuristic Petronas Towers, it is time for a local lunch at Jalan Ampang, which Hon describes as an institution. We try nasi padang, rice with a mixture of dishes including fish curry, bitter gourd vegetables, tandoori chicken and eggplant cooked in sambal, washed down with iced lime juice. Our bill is a princely R$60 ($19).
For dessert, we make our way to Jalan Alor, where stalls specialise in street food including durian – the king of fruit. We try Malaysia’s Musang King durian. With its creamy, yellow flesh, it is heavenly.
Our second port of call is the exotic and charming island of Penang, one of world’s street-food capitals with a dazzling array of cuisines from the Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. Exploring is best done in the morning before the heat and humidity kick in. We’re lucky as an overcast day makes walking around George Town’s heritage zone a pleasant experience.
This is one of the last bastions of Chinese settlement on the island and home to different clans. The Chew Jetty is a water village with 75 wooden homes on stilts built for the Chew clan more than 100 years ago. Most homes include a shrine to the Goddess of the Ocean. Others have turned their frontages into shop houses selling everything from durian puffs to tourist knick-knacks. About 2,000 people live in this village.
We make a flying visit to Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi, a clan temple built in 1873 by Cheah Yam, an immigrant from Sek Tong village in Southern China. The temple in Armenian Street is magnificent with an ornate archway leading to the ancestral temple in a courtyard.
We stop to watch blacksmith Ah Huat fire steel rods to make a ship’s anchor at his shop in Gereja Street. Then it’s time for a cup of coffee at a kopitiam (coffee shop) and a plate of char kway teow, fried rice noodles with chicken, prawns and beansprouts.
A visit to the ostentatious Pinang Peranakan Mansion offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of a rich late 19th-century merchant. There are more than 1,000 antiques and collectibles on display, with carved wooden panels, ornate gold entrances, European-styled teak furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl and flooring of vintage English tiles.
We take a tricycle ride to the island’s famous Eastern & Oriental Hotel, a shining example of East-meets-West colonial architecture built in 1885.
For lunch, we head to Keng Swee Street to sample Penang’s renowned street food including Penang assam laksa (fish noodles cooked in sour tamarind soup), rojak (fruit and vegetable salad in a spicy shrimp sauce), chicken satay and chendol (iced dessert). The piquant mix of flavours is both heady and spicy.
No visit to Penang is complete without a stop at Ghee Hiang at Jalan Macalister where you can buy pastries filled with red palm sugar, sesame honey or savoury mung peas. Started in 1856, it is also famous for its sesame oil.
Phuket is the biggest island in the Andaman Sea. The mountainous island covers 576 square kilometres and is fringed with high-end seaside resorts. It is also home to fabulous street food.
We arrive at dawn and berth off the famous Patong beach where we are met by two delightful guides from the Vitamin Sea tour company: Chan Chai Panya “Just call me Sunshine” and Emmy.
Our first stop is breakfast at Super Dim Sum in the Old Phuket Town where we select small plates of dumplings, tofu and mushrooms which are then steamed and brought to our table piping hot to be eaten with coriander, sweet and sour sauce and a dash of chilli, We feast on 16 plates for about $20.
We then walk along Rommanee Street, the former red light district which has been gentrified with trendy shops. At Talang Road, we stop for a bowl of iced jelly made without gelatin, refreshingly delicious on a hot and humid morning.
We make a brief stop at Thalang National Museum which chronicles the history of Phuket. We then visit the historical Chinpracha House, a Sinocolonial mansion where Oliver Stone’s movie Heaven & Earth was filmed. Khun Daeng, a descendent of the original owner lives there and graciously shows off Stone’s handwritten note of thanks. We then make our way to Wat Chalong, the largest and most revered temple in Phuket. Many Thais come to pray and buy gold-leaf paper to stick to statues of the monks who founded the temple.
But there is something bigger to come. The 45-metre marble Big Buddha on top of Nakkerd Hills is one of the most important landmarks on the island. The lofty site offers 360-degree views of Phuket town and the beaches at Karon, Kata and Chalong Bay.
We drive to Rawai Beach for lunch at the Sea Gypsies Fish Market. We buy fresh seafood and walk it across to the restaurant opposite where it is cooked to order. We settled for a kilo of large prawns to be cooked four ways – steamed, braised in tamarind sauce, tom yum soup and in the pineapple rice, and a live grouper to be steamed with ginger. The delicious meal, including fresh coconut drinks, sets us back a grand $61.
It comes as no surprise that visitors to Phuket hit a historic high of 8.4 million in 2017 – up 11.3 per cent on the previous year. The island is particularly popular among Australians who comprised
55 per cent of visitors.
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA