Ubud, Bali – “Eat, Pray, Love”

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We left the Gili Islands and headed back to “mainland Bali” the the spiritual capital called Ubud. The town was always popular for travellers, but recently gained fame for it being portrayed in the book and film “Eat, Pray, Love”. The town is situated up in the hills and it has a nice and comfortable climate. We were initially struck by the culture of the town and how it appears to “alternative travelers”. Nearly every restaurant was vegan this, organic that, raw food….blah blah. We did get some good local Indonesia food of gado-gado and Nasi Campur! We also stopped later and got famous Balinese roast pig. It was spicy and the crispy skin was amazing. Not quite as good as Italian roast pork in my book!

Gado Gado- steamed veggies in lemongrass with homemade peanut sauce on top!

Gado Gado- steamed veggies in lemongrass with homemade peanut sauce on top!

Nasi Campur

Nasi Campur

Famous Balinese suckling pig

Famous Balinese suckling pig

Anyways, Ubud was a nice place to relax and enjoy some nice temples within the city. The small guesthouse we were staying in had a lovely view of a rice terrace with a nice patio overlooking the field. Kathleen used this time to practice some of her yoga…she misses doing it at home!

Rice field behind our guesthouse

Rice field behind our guesthouse

The doorway to our room!

The doorway to our room!

Namaste

Namaste

Cobra dancer?

Cobra dancer?

Like a pro

Like a pro

Kathleen trying to teach me yoga

Kathleen trying to teach me yoga

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Indonesia in 90% Muslim (actually the largest Muslim nation in the world), but Bali is actually Hindu (like India). Centuries ago, the king of Bali refused conversion to Islam and since then, Hindu has been the norm. Instead of mosques, there are temples and shrines all around the island. Shop keepers always put an offering outside their shops of flowers, rice, and incense. In town we visited the Saraswati Temple – while small, it gave us a good look at Balinese architecture.

Temple in Ubud

Temple in Ubud

Rob doing a great imitation

Rob doing a great imitation

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In the evening, we went to a cultural show and dance. The show was held at a small temple which made for an amazing setting. The place was packed, but we got there early and had great seats. The show was very fascinating, even though we really didn’t know what was going on. There were at least 20 men playing instruments (all percussion) and the performers outfits and dances were amazing!

Palace Temple in Ubud before the cultural dance show

Palace Temple in Ubud before the cultural dance show

A musician smiling to his buddy across the way

A musician smiling to his buddy across the way

Look at those eyes!

Look at those eyes!

Dancing up a storm

Dancing up a storm

I love the hand movements

I love the hand movements

Facial expressions help to tell the story

Facial expressions help to tell the story

A dancing mythical creature

A dancing mythical creature

Famous Bali mask

Famous Bali mask

2 kings ready for their close up

2 kings ready for their close up

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Trying to lure the king

Trying to lure the king

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

Favorite cultural dance of entire trip!

Favorite cultural dance of entire trip!

Gili Air

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After our few days on Nusa Lembongan, we tempted fate again and took another boat to the island called Gili Air. The Gili Islands are an archipelago of three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air — just off the northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia. The islands are a popular destination for tourists looking for a remote island experience (which we were!). Our two hour boat ride was actually nice and painless and worth the money (surprisingly!) since we were worried about a scary boat taking us to the island.

Gili Air is small. There are no cars, just horse drawn carts (used as taxi and transport) as well as bicycles. You can walk around the entire island in an hour or so. There are beach shacks, restaurants and dive shops and not much else. Since it was high season (tons of French people), we booked early. We got a little bungalow inside the island (really just a 5 minute bike ride to the beach).

Our 'fast boat' to Gili Air

Our ‘fast boat’ to Gili Air

Beach on Gili Air- laid back and full of sunshine

Beach on Gili Air- laid back and full of sunshine

Our first day, we spent on the beach (cheap and fun). The beach wasn’t as nice as we would have thought, but the water was warm and the weather was great so we had a nice time just laying out. Later that night, we saw one of the best sunsets of the entire trip! So beautiful and the sky was so clear you could see the volcano on the island of Bali.

Beach digs

Beach digs

White sandy beach

White sandy beach

Lovely sunset

Lovely sunset

Taking it all in

Taking it all in

The volcano in the background

The volcano in the background

Best sunset

Best sunset

The next day our “eat, pray, love” experience went downhill shifting to “bargain, pay, get ripped off”. We spent half the day trying to find safe, not too expensive ferry ride back to Bali (aka civilization). As with everything you book in Southeast Asia, this took 4 hours of going to different travel agencies and deciding if they are a scam or not, then trying to barter the price for the ferry (so you aren’t getting ripped off), then try and confirm that the ticket is in fact real (our guy changed the time on the ticket compared to what ferry we actually wanted to be on–we were wise to this and showed up on the ticketed time even though it was 4 hours earlier than the next boat). They do this so you miss the “ticketed boat” and have to buy a new fare for the boat you actually wanted.

After our stressed out experience, we ate at a local Warung. I got basic nasi goreng (stir fried noodles with veggies and an egg on top) which is the famous local dish. A few hours later I had the worst chills and got so sick! I couldn’t get out of bed the entire next day. Having eaten food in Delhi Belly India, in hill country Nepal, sketchy food stands in China, sidewalk restaurants in Vietnam, and local joints in Thailand I NEVER got sick. This was the first time I got truly food poisoning and it happened to be on the most touristy island you could think of, in a proper restaurant at that!

Eating pasta because we had enough of the "local" food after I got sick

Eating pasta because we had enough of the “local” food after I got sick

Dinner side

Dinner side

Needless to say, Rob and I had enough of our “island” experience and were excited to head to Ubud the following day.

Nusa Lembongan Island Adventures

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After our exciting and relaxing time with Alex, we took a quick flight to Bali, Indonesia to check out the beaches and culture. It seems to be just another crooked country in southeast Asia. Two hours it took through immigration (they gave Rob a hard time about the pages in his passport again), but seemed too tired for a bribe that late at night. Once through immigration, we waited another hour for an “official” taxi, who then tried to tell us there was a “nighttime taxi cab fee” once we didn’t buy that, he said there was a fee because there were two hours of traffic and that was extra (which we didn’t buy) so after some fighting he relented to the posted price. This was the official taxi cab stand inside the airport! They are suppose to be the company that won’t rip you off. We found our driver and our supposed “2-hour” drive took all of 40 minutes, max. Tired and worn out we slept in our overnight accommodation in Sanur beach in preparation for our ferry to Nusa Lembongan.

We arrived at the port, and among all the scams, we somehow managed to find a boat that was leaving that hour to go to Nusa which was only 30 minutes away by boat. We stepped aboard, hoping that it wouldn’t sink. (Last year a boat of tourists sank due to horrible safety standards and way to crowded boats!). Once we arrived on the island, we were taken by “taxi” aka pick-up truck to our hotel.

Boats resting off shore

Boats resting off shore

Awesome pool!

Awesome pool!

Total babe at the pool

Total babe at the pool

We found a great, new hotel in Nusa Lembongan that opened just 20 days before we arrived (we got a GREAT deal on the room rate)! We were scared as to what we would find since there were no reviews and it was so brand new. We lucked out on an awesome bungalow with a great pool that overlooked the ocean. From our deck, you can see the seaweed farmers each night as the tide goes out, collecting seaweed to sell.

Locals farming the seaweed

Locals farming the seaweed

Seaweed at low tide

Seaweed at low tide

Collecting seaweed

Collecting seaweed

Lady drying her seaweed she just collected

Lady drying her seaweed she just collected

We ate at the bungalows that night since it was my birthday and Rob surprised me with an awesome 28th birthday cake. It was a fun evening and a great way to celebrate.

Happy 28th Birthday!! Great cake after dinner.

Happy 28th Birthday!! Great cake after dinner.

The next day, we rented a motorbike (which Rob loves to drive) and went to see Mushroom Bay and Dream Beach. Mushroom Bay was crowded with lots of boats and restaurants, so we camped out on Dream Beach that afternoon. It is a small beach, surrounded by a cove with rough waves and blue water. Rob, being the brave swimmer he is, was one of the only people to actually go swimming in the rough currents. He said the water was so clear and the water refreshing making it a great dip in the ocean. I was scared the entire time he was out there!

Mushroom Bay

Mushroom Bay

Dream beach behind us

Dream beach behind us

Rob riding the "rough" waves on Dream Beach

Rob riding the “rough” waves on Dream Beach

I prefer to catch some rays

I prefer to catch some rays

Later in the day, we drove around the island and got to check out: the mangroves, tiny beach huts that line the shores, temples that dot the interior of the island, and scenic hill top views over the ocean. It was a nice place to get away from the crowded city center and a nice way to appreciate the beaches.

Rob and his famous motorbike (he wants to get one to ride around Norristown with)

Rob and his famous motorbike (he wants to get one to ride around Norristown with)

Boats docked off shore

Boats docked off shore

The mangroves around the island

The mangroves around the island

Local temple in town

Local temple in town

Life in the day of

Life in the day of

View at the top of the hill

View at the top of the hill

Prayer offering on the coast

Prayer offering on the coast

Sunset in Nusa on the last night

Sunset in Nusa on the last night

3 fun filled days in Singapore

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After 4 exhausting days scuba diving in Sipadan, we flew to Singapore where we would be reunited with our friend Alex who has been living there for the past 9 months for work. We got to his apartment around 8 in the evening and he surprised us with wine and cheese appetizers – something we haven’t had in so long!

King of Prussia in Singapore!

King of Prussia in Singapore!

So excited

So excited

It was so great to be in his apartment which was huge and it had great views over the city. After a shower, we headed out in the city for a drink. Kathleen and I were shocked to see the prices of everything in Singapore. The specials are 5 beers for $55 Singapore ($44 US). It was insane!!

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Marina Bay Sands Hotel at night

Marina Bay Sands Hotel at night

We headed back fairly early was we were exhausted from a day of traveling. The next day Alex took us out to explore the city. Our first stop was lunch in a Hawker Market. In typical Singapore fashion, they have removed the ubiquitous street food and placed them into hawker markets, which are essentially food courts. Unlike other cheap street food in Asia, these are immaculate with each vendor having a letter grade displayed for cleanliness – a safe way to eat cheap! Inside this specific hawker market, you could choose from any food such as Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, Western, Thai, etc. For Singapore being such an expensive city, we each got a meal for $5 US dollars each!

Approaching the Hawker Market right in the downtown district

Approaching the Hawker Market right in the downtown district

Clean street food!

Clean street food!

Two Chinese dishes and my Indian curry

Two Chinese dishes and my Indian curry

Next up was exploring the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel. While it’s a 5 star hotel with a $500+ night price tag, it is still awesome to take pictures. Along the way, we stopped at the Singapore Merlion fountain.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel

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Singapore Merlion fountain

Singapore Merlion fountain

Stop for a quick ice cream break!

Stop for a quick ice cream break!

Singapore Museum of Science

Singapore Museum of Science

We wanted to visit the “Gardens by the Bay” and en-route you go through a skywalk through the Marina Bay Sands Hotel – very impressive. We walked around the Gardens by the Bay for a bit. They have turned several water towers into an artifical tree with walkways between them. Since it was the first day after Ramadan, it was big holiday and all of the Indonesian and Malaysians that live in Singapore were out with their families having picnics.

The open lobby

The open lobby

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

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On the train ride back, hunger over came us all! With Singapore being the best food city in the world, we all agreed to go Din Tai Fung, the same restaurant Kathleen and I went to in Hong Kong. It is a Taiwan based chain restaurant around Asia, but they make the BEST dim sum in the world. 30 pork dim sums later…

YUM

YUM

Still hungry, Alex took us to a sushi boat restaurant where all plates of sushi are a $1.50. We ended up crushing 27 plates among the 3 of us!

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Exhausted from a day in the heat and all of the food, we called it a night and settled into Alex’s apartment for quiet evening.

The next day, the food adventures began again! First stop was Chinatown. Actually, Chinese make up 74% of the population of Singapore. Next come Malays at 13%, Indians at 9% and others at 3%. But we got to China town and set off in search of the most famous Singapore dish…the Chili Crab! While nearly all restaurants in Singapore sell the Chili Crab, the best (and cheapest spot) is the Hawker Market. Kathleen and I felt as we were transported back to China again! The chili crab was amazing!

Our chili crab!

Our chili crab!

Settling down for lunch

Settling down for lunch

We did some shopping for cheap souvenirs in Chinatown and it started to rain very heavily. Since Singapore is only a few degrees above the equator, they are no stranger to tropical downpours.

Heavy, heavy, rain

Heavy, heavy, rain

For dinner that night, we decided to make some steak, potatoes and salad back at Alex’s apartment as Kathleen and I were both craving some food from home! We also bought a frozen cheesecake and sang happy birthday to her!

The birthday girl

The birthday girl

Baller with the champange

Baller with the champange

That night to celebrate Kathleen’s birthday, Alex took us to the bar called “1-Altitude”. The bar sits on the 63rd floor of 1 Raffles Place and it’s 925 feet high. The price tag was high, but the views surrounding Singapore were awesome! There are tall buildings in ever direction! We couldn’t leave Singapore without a famous Singapore Sling either!

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Rooftop Singapore Sling!

Rooftop Singapore Sling!

KOP buddies

KOP buddies

My birthday babe!

My birthday babe!

It was an awesome night to spend Kathleen’s birthday and our last night in Singapore. Alex was a great host letting us use his apartment and bought us treats that we missed from home, like milk and cereal! Singapore is an awesome and modern city and we are really glad we visited. Again, Asian food is amazing and Singapore is great as you can eat food from what feels like any corner of the world. We’ll miss you Alex and thanks for your hospitality!

The world’s best scuba diving!

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Another big reason we decided to fly to Borneo, besides orangutans, is we wanted to scuba dive the world famous island of Sipadan and it’s nearby dive sites. Sipadan is said to be Jacques Cousteau favorite dive sight in all of the world – impressive. Sipadan is located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, the center of one of the richest marine habitats in the world. More than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this ecosystem alone!

We took a 5 hour bus from Sandakan to Semporna and spent the night before taking a boat to Mabul Island where we would be staying for the next 4 days. Mabul is a tiny, sandy island about a 45 minute boat ride away from the mainland, but that is where all of the dive resorts are located to give them closer access to Sipidan and the surrounding islands and reefs. No hotels are allowed on Sipadan and since 2004, Malaysia has kept a VERY tight regulation on access to the islands. Permits have to be issued (and secured months ahead of time) and they are capped at 250 permits per day. This includes divers, snorkelers, and people who just visit. We saw a few Chinese families just sitting on a picnic table the whole day – hardly fair for people who want to dive there!

We had 4 days of scuba diving booked at the resort which was 3 dives a day (and 4 dives on our day at Sipadan) for a total of 13 dives – a lot and it was exhausting! We saw a lot of amazing things in our days diving around the island. We didn’t have the best visibility as the water was a bit choppy. Below are some pictures we took diving close to Mabul Island.

Scuba babe

Scuba babe

We look special

We look special

A Chocolate Chip Starfish...yes that's the real name!

A Chocolate Chip Starfish…yes that’s the real name!

Cloudy water

Cloudy water

Feisty crab

Feisty crab

Cuddlefish

Cuddlefish

Moray Eel

Moray Eel

VERY RARE! A Blue Ringed Octopus - one of the most poisonous in the world

VERY RARE! A Blue Ringed Octopus – one of the most poisonous in the world

. During our dives there, we saw an INSANE amount of fish and sea life. We easily saw over 100 sea turtles – most were 3 to 5 feet big! We also saw over 100 sharks while we were diving. All were harmless reef sharks, but we did catch a sighting of a 7 foot grey reef shark just off in the distance – very scary! What makes Sipadan so special is it’s a small sandy island and then a few feet from the shore, it drops 2,000 straight down into the abyss. It allows the deep water nutrients to come up and the reef surrounding the island is very rich.

One of the highlights for us diving was at one point the sun was blocked out from a school of jackfish – there were so many of them that we couldn’t see anything but fish above us. We also so tons of bumphead parrotfish and even a tornado of barracudas!

We can’t claim the pictures below – our camera couldn’t go that deep. But we stole these from our friend JP who dove here a few weeks before us!

Stonefish

Stonefish

Nudibranch

Nudibranch

A tornado school of fish!

A tornado school of fish!

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Blue ribbon ray

Blue ribbon ray

Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimp

Grey reef shark

Grey reef shark

Grey reef shark

Grey reef shark

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Diving Sipadan was amazing and it’s going to hard to top scuba diving like that ever again!

Meeting Orangutans in Borneo

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Our incredible journey to get to the jungles of Borneo started in Penang the day before. From Penang, we boarded a shuttle bus that would drop us off at the bus station in town which was about 40 minutes door to door. From there we boarded a ‘overnight’ bus to Kuala Lumpur which was 6 hours (suppose to be 5 hours but got delayed). Once we go dropped off in KL we had to board an airport bus which was a hassle to find at 3:45 am. Once on the airport bus it was another hour until we reached the airport. From there, we took a two-hour Air Asia flight to Sandakan. From the airport it was a 40 minute taxi ride to our hotel. Long, but rewarding travel day since we were staying in the rain forest and getting to see Orangutans (my dream)!

Mt. Kinabalu from our plane - largest mountain in Southeast Asia

Mt. Kinabalu from our plane – largest mountain in Southeast Asia

Our room was like a tree house overlooking the jungle below. It was a really great view and a great way to feel immersed. I can imagine Orangutans swinging from the trees.

Rob on the deck of our room overlooking the jungle

Rob on the deck of our room overlooking the jungle

Our 'outdoors' bathroom that has a view of the rain forest!

Our ‘outdoors’ bathroom that has a view of the rain forest!

In the top of the trees

In the top of the trees

No rest for the weary, we decided to hike in the Sandakan Rainforest Discovery Centre. It is a complex system of suspension bridges that hang high over the rain forest and trees below. Thousands of birds, reptiles, and monkey’s live in this rain forest. We were hoping to see monkeys when we were there.

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Rain Forest walk

Rain Forest walk

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Bird watching tower

Bird watching tower

Looking down into the rain forest floor

Looking down into the rain forest floor

At the top of the trees

At the top of the trees

We had a nice (but HOT) day. It was a great way to explore and literally get a “bird’s eye view” or a “monkey’s view” high in the trees. Once we completed the suspension bridge trail, we walked on a path below that weaved through the trees and streams. It was a hot day, so I think the animals were sluggish. We saw and heard a lot of birds, but they were too quick for our camera.

The leaf was bigger than Rob!

The leaf was bigger than Rob!

Gorgeous view

Gorgeous view

Standing tall like a tree

Standing tall like a tree

Our last stop of the day was the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre founded in 1964, to rehabilitate orphan orangutans. The site is 43 sq km of protected land at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Today around 60 to 80 orangutans are living free in the reserve.

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We went first watched a brief video on how the orangutans are rescued from local villages that take them as pets or simply abandoned in the wild. These amazing animals are so smart and share over 95% of their DNA with humans. You can even find them using those large rain forest leaves as umbrellas when it rains for cover.

It was around 3 pm which is the second feeding of the day when the sanctuary feeds the orangutans. It was less crowded with tourists so we got a front row seat in seeing them. The animals are released back into the rain forest here, so sometimes you won’t see any orangutans feeding at all. The ones that do show up are often the younger ones who they just released. They only feed them bananas so they will get sick of eating it and forage for more food in the wild.

He's hungry

He’s hungry

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Stretching those legs

Stretching those legs

While we were there we saw 6 total. 5 teenager orangutans and 1 large male one who kept his post on the rope eating most of the time. We were so close and we got to see directly into their little faces. It’s weird to see their feet and hands look so human like. They love swinging from the branches and trees and truly were making monkey faces eating their bananas.

Snacking on his bananas!

Snacking on his bananas!

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Swinging and eating

Swinging and eating

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Hanging with the keeper

Hanging with the keeper

In the lush forrest

In the lush forrest

This is one of the only places in the world where you can still see them in their natural habitat. Unfortunately they are becoming endangered as locals are cutting down the rain forest to make more land for palm trees which produce $$ they get from palm oil. They are so beautiful to see in their natural habitat and I hope this foundation continues to help them before it’s too late.

Penang, Malaysia – “All we did was eat”

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Penang is the street food capital of Asia. If you don’t eat the street food here, it’s like going to Paris and not seeing the Louvre. This bustling city is home to a huge mixture of immigrants that call this place home. You can see a huge influx of Chinese and Indians as well those from the Middle East.

Our first night in town, we of course ate street food. There were literally 100’s of vendors lining the streets just outside of our hostel. It seems no one cooks, ever. We saw families eating together while sitting on tiny plastic seats, workers stopping by for a quick bite before their shift, even people pulling over on a motorbikes to grab a handful of chicken satay to eat while they bike! Since it was Ramadan, it seemed extremely crowded since many can not eat during the day, only after the sunsets. Rob and I went walking the neighborhood one night and we saw a full restaurant of people waiting until the sunset to eat their meals! They were all sitting perfecting still watching the clock until it was dinnertime.

Durian cart--this stuff smells so bad it's banned on public transport!

Durian cart–this stuff smells so bad it’s banned on public transport!

Busy merchants during the night market

Busy merchants during the night market

Cranking out the food

Cranking out the food

We only have a handful of pictures since we were so busy eating! You can try anything from Durian shakes, curries, noodle dishes, satay, etc… the list goes on. We started with roasted chicken on a spit, than stopped for chicken satay with the best homemade peanut sauce of my life, sampled Chinese stir fry noodles whose line was out the door and than caved and got another 10 skewer order of chicken satay all washed down with a cold Tiger beer. Our grand total for dinner that night was: $8.00! That’s a lot considering our beer was expensive (Muslim country so alcohol is highly priced).

Chicken satay with a huge plate of peanut sauce and Chinese noodles!

Chicken satay with a huge plate of peanut sauce and Chinese noodles!

The next day, Rob and I took care of some housekeeping things of doing laundry, printing tickets out, booking buses, and even found time to cruise the mall. It is SOOO hot during the day that we didn’t mind hanging out for a little bit. We even stopped at the local food court and had laksa which is a spicy noodle dish with lots of goodies on top. For dessert we had cendol, which is one of Penang’s most famous desserts. It is a bowl of shaved-ice with syrup made from brown coconut sugar and filled with kidney beans and green worm-like jelly which we called cendol. It tasted very unique.

Laksa spicy noodle dish also famous in Penang

Laksa spicy noodle dish also famous in Penang

Cendol dessert dish we ate

Cendol dessert dish we ate

Before dinner, Rob decided to be brave and get a haircut and a shave for $3 bucks. The little old man was so nice and Rob said it was a great shave! He is crazy but it was fun exploring the neighborhood with it’s colorful houses.

Walking through Chinatown where our hostel was

Walking through Chinatown where our hostel was

Colorful streets

Colorful streets

Rob getting his shave

Rob getting his shave

Colorful houses around town (like the houses in the Malay quarter in Cape Town!)

Colorful houses around town (like the houses in the Malay quarter in Cape Town!)

China Town reppin

China Town reppin

For dinner we walked around Little Indian. We loved it!! It’s like being in Indian but without the smell, cows in the street, and filth all around. People don’t’ really bother you either. They have great shops for saris, spices, music, and food. We ordered the BEST tandoori chicken we EVER had. Again, we ordered another serving because it was so delicious! You know it was clean and the price was too good to resist. $5 bucks for a huge plate.

Little India (fake Taj behind Rob)

Little India (fake Taj behind Rob)

Amazing tandoori chicken

Amazing tandoori chicken

Later that night, we began our epic journey to Borneo. We loved Penang and thought it was a great city to explore. It has a unique mix of people and cultures. You can see a mosque on one corner, with Catholic church next to it, with a Hindu temple around the corner. Many different people, cultures and most importantly food.