The world changes in a myriad of ways when you have your first child. It permeates so many aspects of life and definitely changes how you travel, how you choose your destination, your accommodation right down to your daily schedule!
So when my best friend Alena confirmed her plans to come visit us once the bebe was past her first few months, I knew we'd want to venture beyond Kuala Lumpur to share a little more of Malaysia with her.
It'd been over 8 years since she'd visited last, when I had freshly arrived and hardly knew my nasi from my mee!
We wanted somewhere near enough that it wouldn't warrant a huge amount of travel with the little one, but far enough that it'd be interesting for all of us to have a little walk and wander, plus tropical beaches galore. We pretty quickly decided that a combo vacation in Penang and Pangkor Laut would be perfect - a little history, culture, great food and plenty of beach time!
The thing is when someone travels literally half way across the world to spend time with you, the very last place you want to be is in separate hotel rooms, possibly spread out across different floors. You just don't get that quality time together, especially not when you've a little one that needs to be put to bed early. You also aren't looking to be right in the thick of the bar and club scene, instead you want parks, places to lunch and brunch, and a wide open, friendly neighborhood.
As our landing pad in Penang, the Permai Residence (which you can book via AirBnB) is perfectly situated half way between the busy Georgetown area and the beaches at Batu Ferringhi, which makes it a great place to stay if you drive up from Kuala Lumpur or one of the neighboring cities like Ipoh. But as we flew in from KL, we were quite chuffed to find out how easy it was to grab an Uber to take us wherever we fancied!
Our Uber dropped us at the front gates which swung open to reveal a huge two story house, where we were warmly greeted by Farina and her daughter, the AirBnB property managers for the Permai Residence. They showed us around the home and then gave us some choice tidbits and ideas about where to go in the neighborhood and in Georgetown as well.
It wasn't mere luck that we found this gem off AirBnB, whenever we think of heading to Penang, our first call is always to Lily Aziz. Lily, who runs Property Management and Homestays Penang (Click on Penang Propery Angel to find out more) and also recently started a catchy Instagram account called Penang Local, is our local guru, go-to-girl, and basically all around wish-fulfilling jewel!
Withing moments of deciding to go to Penang, Lily had a dozen good ideas to fill as many days and great suggestions on where to stay and what to do. Taking out the guesswork to make sure you make the most out of your holidays is just a no-brainer!
So we were delighted but unsurprised when Lily's recommendation of the Permai Residence was so spot on. It has that feeling of a brand new home that's been lovingly planned out by the owners to the smallest details.
There's nothing cookie-cutter airbnby about the way the sky lights have been carefully placed to catch the mornings first rays. You can tell someone put a lot of thought into how the light moved in and around the house, and how to position the windows for maximum openness while maintaining privacy. There are some homes that you know are built from molds, following specific patterns and look like every other building on the block.
This is not one of them.
It isn't luck that finds the windows above the showers at the perfect height and size to frame the neighboring hillsides; it's very clear that this house is the owner's passion project.
Once we settled in, we went for a wander as we'd heard that there was a little neighborhood park just a stones throw away with little cafes and restaurants. Unlike our city living in KL, it was only a 5 minute walk along a quiet, tree lined street before we came across the little park.
Just across it we found a packed Chinese restaurant, Home Style Restaurant, with prototypical plastic tables spilling out into the sidewalk and knew we found the right spot. It's always a good idea to follow the locals and that holds particularly true in Penang, where everybody seems to be a self-professed foodie!
We also spotted a cafe, played called Let's MEAT that would serve us very well the following morning for an American style breakfast. While we were game to try all sorts of local goodies in Penang, there is something lovely about starting your morning with a foamy cappuccino, a stack of pancakes, and an omelette. Perhaps a tad boring but we knew we were in for a day full of local delights with Delish Asia, so we cut ourselves some slack and grabbed a second cup of coffee to go along with an extra jar of the Lokal Fine Food grapefruit jam!
As we met up with Joy, one of the two dynamic ladies behind the fabulous food & market tours of Delish Asia at the outskirts of a nearby local wet market, I explained to my bestie that although I consider myself pretty adept at local food Penang is a whole different cultural, eating experience compared to Kuala Lumpur.
Its markets and alleys are lined with stalls and without a discerning local to literally take you by the hand, you could easily miss some of the tastiest bits.
Normally when we travel abroad, I'm forever signing up for food tours and cooking classes but once you are in your "own country" even as an expat, you tend to take it for granted. So having a friend visit was the perfect excuse to act like a proper tourist and get the grand introduction to Penang foodie haunts!
As we walked through the morning market, Joy paused at one stall after another to share a little story about the origins of a particular dish or the interesting backstory of one of the shop keepers. You could see she was a regular, as they called over to us to take a gander at whichever produce they were particularly proud of.
Even though I've trawled the markets of Chow Kit & Bangsar, there's been many a random vegetable or odd dried item that I've wondered about, so this was my chance to ply her with questions! I was also quite chuffed to be able to share a little about some of the local midin/paku that I recognized from an earlier trip to Sarawak . She was also game to try some durian again, but quickly realized that her first impression still held, sadly!
Once we had done our fair share of ogling, we started our food hunt and tasting in earnest. Joy would pop us over to one stall and then another, offering one of the very best curry puffs I’ve ever had (and mind you, I’ve had my fair share!) to other local delicacies like the handmade sweet noodles pictured above .
Part of Delish Asia’s draw is that the guides have clearly built friendships with some of the long standing food hawkers and cafes, because we were warmly welcomed everywhere we went. It’s one thing to get a delicious bowl of chicken kopitan curry, it's another to hear the stories of the families behind the curries of how they built their business inter-generationally, one curry and bao at a time.
Of course, we also got to try some of Penang’s most famous dishes - Penang Laksa, Ice Cendol & Char Kuey Teow. I’m SO glad it didn’t fall on my shoulders to have to suss out the best spots, I can’t even begin to imagine how many blog posts and restaurant/hawker reviews I’d have had to read and try to figure out where to start. Thank goodness Delish Asia took that leg work out so all I had to do was rustle up, pick up my chopsticks and take a seat - while still appearing to be a rather good hostess for organizing the tour!
Other nearby spots that one must hit while in Tanjung Bungah are definitely the cozy Gusto Cafe, where we dug into a delicious breakfast and many happy cups of coffee. There's also the local branch of Sri Ananda Bahwan, which I’ve been assured by local residents is even more delicious than the one in Georgetown which was one of my previous highlights during an earlier trip to Penang.
I mean how lucky were we to have all these options just a few minutes walk or drive away. In the end we hardly even put our fantastic kitchen at the Permai Residence to use, although I guess half the point of going to Penang is eating out at hawker stalls & local spots!
Otherwise the loveliest surprise in booking the Permai Residence was discovering that Klein & Fine, a local store run by two wonderful ladies Sangeet & Inge, was literally less than 5 minutes drive away!
We’d been planning to visit the store having followed their Instagram for months. Klein & Fine carries a lot of local Malaysian brands along with a few choice Indian and international brands. So if you are in Tanjung Bungah, whether you are at the Permai or if you are driving between Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi, then you simply must stop there. Browse for some pretty pieces, grab a delicious slice of German cake, and just perhaps one last cuppa coffee!
All in all, we loved our stay at the Permai Residences This huge home was the perfect find for us. As new parents, we definitely spend more time at "home" no matter where we are traveling, so the large comfortable sofas were perfect for us to lounge all together at in the early evenings while baby napped. It gave us a chance to all be close together, literally down the hall from each other and yet have enough space and privacy. And the best treat for me was that massive tub that we could soak in ~ a hot cosy, bubble bath after spending a long sweaty day touring around Penang!
It's the kind of place you want to come back to with a big group of girlfriends since there's a number of bedrooms you can rent out, making it perfect for larger group getaways. I can already imagine the house filled with all the wine & laughter!!
And then all too soon, it was time to pack up and head out - to the beaches!
Part 2 coming soon!
- Thanks to Joy & Lily of Delish Asia for such a fantastic morning browsing & happily nibbling our way through the morning market & stalls! You can find out more about the different tours Delish Asia offers at: http://www.delishasia.com/ Find out more at:https://www.tripadvisor.com.my/Attraction_Review-g660694-d10819396-Reviews-Delish_Asia-Penang_Island_Penang.html
- Thanks to Permai Residences for a true home away from home in Tanjung Bungah! It was very hard to leave, especially that fantastic huge tub - simply perfect for bubble baths! Folks, you can book the Permai Residence for your next stay in Penang via AirBnB at: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16784985
- Thanks to Klein & Fine for the lovely cup of coffee, cake and conversations, and all the great shopping finds! Find them here at https://www.facebook.com/kleinandfine/
- And lastly, thanks to Lokal Fine Foods for the lovely jars of jam we discovered at the Permai Residences - they were divine and are in the process of happily being consumed in both California and KL! https://www.facebook.com/pg/lokalpenang/about/
- You can get your very own personalized Penang support, if you are lucky, from Lily herself at http://www.penangpropertyangel.com/property-management-homestay.aspx !