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

Cruise Passenger - - PUBLISHER’S LETTER -

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

PE­NANG, MALAYSIA

PHUKET, THAI­LAND

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