Season 1, Episode 7 - Video.
Footage from Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.
Apologies for the pretty lousy video to accompany this episode - I lost some footage from the end of the trip!
They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Personally, I would argue the quickest way to a man’s heart is to crack open his rib cage, but if the boring version of the adage is true then perhaps that’s why I enjoyed my time in Georgetown so much. My heart must be close to my stomach, either that or Georgetown did some ninja heart-grabbing shit on me.
Georgetown is the second largest city in Malaysia and the El Capitano city of Penang, an island state located off the country’s northwest coast. I have to admit that prior to our arrival in Georgetown I didn’t know much about the place apart from the fact that it’s famous for its food. What I did know was that it lay next to the Strait of Malacca and out there be pirates. At least that’s what I was hoping, turns out that doesn’t happen much anymore, but it did once, and that’s the round-about point I’m making here – I was expecting history and Georgetown didn’t disappoint.
Georgetown, nicknamed the “Pearl of the Orient”, is a city that instantly struck me as a diverse mix of cultures that somehow seems to work. I’m not just talking about the typical East meets West that is experienced in South-East Asia but more the fact that Georgetown takes the cultures of the Malay, Chinese and Indians and boils them all together in a steaming hot bowl of culture noodle soup. You also get a sense of just how complex this city’s history is, with colonial buildings, Chinese clan houses and Indian settlements all thrown into a bowl and whipped into a consistent batter with foamy peaks.
Ok let me stop there and get the obligatory history of the place visited out of the way…
Georgetown was founded by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786. Some stuff happened between him and the Sultan of Kedah that resulted in some fighting, pirates came and went, Georgetown grew, trade, immigration…it became a bustling modern city with strong cultural mix and impressive heritage ok?
In case the mouth salivating metaphors didn’t give it away I want to talk about the food. Learning about the history of Georgetown was interesting but the food was the highlight of this portion of the trip. Roti Canai for breakfast, Biriyani for lunch, traditional Nonya food for dinner. We spent three days in Georgetown and it’s fair to say we spent the majority of the time eating or considering where the next meal would be coming food. The street food is some of the best in the world and the cultural mix produces some absolutely delicious experiences…except for Ice Kachang.
Ok, so if you haven’t been to Malaysia, Penang in particular, you probably have know idea what I’m talking about when I say Ice Kachang. That is a good thing. Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a bowl on the table in front of you. Inside that bowl sits ice (basically like a snow cone) with two flavours of syrup, raspberry and brown. Yes, I’m just going to say brown because I’m that unsure of what flavour it actually was. Doesn’t sound too bad right…but now comes the good bit. On top of that unknown flavoured snow cone I want you to add red beans. Now head into the cupboard and grab that can of creamed corn from the back, the one with the use by date six years ago, and add that on top of the beans. Done? Good, now you can pour milk all over it and call it a dessert. What just happened? Ice Kachang just happened.
If you are a food lover or a history lover travelling South-East Asia I highly recommended a trip to Penang. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a wonderful city to wander around in order to burn off the even more wonderful food. Just avoid the Ice Kachang. Seriously, there’s no need to lie on your deathbed regretting the time you didn’t eat syrupy corn, bean, milk snow cone but you can regret that time you didn’t go to Georgetown.
Season 1, Episode 6 - Video
Footage from in and around Chiang Rai, including the incredible White Temple.
I must apologise for the rather lengthy time period since my last post. Work, health, life and commercial writing gigs have all been getting in the way of some Tumbling Traveller updates. However I have recently finished the Episode 6 video and will be uploading it shortly. Following this we will return to regular scheduled programming, we’ve still got Malaysia to cover!
Season 1, Episode 6
The Hands of Hell @ The White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand
Season 1, Episode 6
The White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand
If you’ve been following ‘The Tumbling Traveller’ since it began, or you’ve gone back and read most of the posts (or for those of you who ‘just hired the movie’ in High School - you’ve watched the videos), you may have been thinking any of the following things:
“Wow, Chiang Mai looks like a fun city to explore.”
“Pai, what a great little mountain village.”
You’d be right.
You sound like a girl but you’re still on the money.
“Hmmm, it seems like he doesn’t have a bad word to say about anywhere he went.”
Don’t misunderstand me here, everywhere I’ve been has had something to offer, every place is new and exciting, at least to begin with. But of all the places I visited on this trip, I’ve got to say that Chiang Rai was the least interesting. To be fair I possibly didn’t spend enough time here to see what the surrounding area has to offer but the city itself is, frankly, rather dull.
Chiang Rai (not to be confused with the more southern Chiang Mai) is the capital of Thailand’s northern most province and is just south of the point at which the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet – the infamous area known as the Golden Triangle, the source of most of the world’s heroin during the twentieth century.
If you’ve been to Bangkok then you’ve likely seen the most famous thing Chiang Rai has to offer. Legend has it that in 1432 a great earthquake, or perhaps a lightning strike, split open the Chedi, a mound containing relics of Buddha, at Wat Phra Kaeo in Chiang Rai. Inside, buried beneath the muddy stucco, monks caught sight of a green gleam in the sunlight. What they dug out was the half metre tall Emerald Buddha (although it’s made of jade rather than emerald), the most famous image of Buddha now kept in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Clearly, if a city is most famous for something that is now kept elsewhere you may struggle to find many other redeeming qualities about the place.
Chiang Rai, which has only been an official part of Thailand since 1933, is used mostly by tourists as a stopover on the way to Myanmar or Laos, or to partake of a quick border run to get another 15 days on their Thai visa. For us, Chiang Rai was a stopover on the way back from Laos as it was from here we were scheduled to fly to Bangkok. We decided to stay a few nights and give the city a look over.
Our time here wasn’t an altogether memorable experience. The guesthouse we stayed at, Akha River House, was a bit of a walk out of town and while it was comfortable and may once have been a pleasant place to stay, the recently constructed six lane highway running past the window left the place with a slight case of shattered serenity.
During our wandering around the city after dark, the time when most Thai cities really come to life, we visited the night markets – a let-down after those in Chiang Mai and found that the majority of bars had a clientèle of two fat European men being swooned over by six Thai girls who were probably paid to make them happy.
The single highlight of Chiang Rai, which is almost enough to make a stopover there worthy, is the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun. This Buddhist temple, as if the name isn’t a dead give-away, is completely white and coated in small mirrors – an architectural choice that makes it glare with retina burning glory under the sun. The temple, which is a recent addition to Thailand’s Wats being completed in 1997, is worth a look if only to experience an indescribable feeling of off-putting beauty. Walking up to the temple you are forced to cross a pit of hundreds of hands that reach up at you from the depths of Hell and, if the outside isn’t bizarre enough, inside, opposite the traditional image of Budda is a painted mural that mixes dragons with Spiderman, Batman and images of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, Keanu Reeves as Neo even makes a cameo appearance. I couldn’t help but leave the place with an overwhelming feeling of WTF.
So Chiang Rai, home of the Emerald Buddha that isn’t there anymore, my suggestion is to avoid it. If you are passing through to go somewhere else on one of the common routes north check out the beautiful White Temple, and the way it pays homage to both Buddha and Keanu Reeves, just don’t expect your time in Chiang Rai to be a party.
Season 1, Episode 5 - Video Footage from our time at the Gibbon Experience, Bokeo Nature Reserve, Laos.
Season 1, Episode 5 - Video
Footage from our time at the Gibbon Experience, Bokeo Nature Reserve, Laos.
Season 1, Episode 5: Zip-lining
Season 1, Episode 5: Tree-house sunset