Monday, April 30, 2012

Chinatown Again, Kuala Lumpur

20th - 21st March 2012

In Kuala Lumpur Chinatown, I stayed at a cheap hotel very close to Petaling Street. This time, I would be looking for food which I had not had during my last visit about three weeks earlier.

Right at the entrance of the hotel where I was staying was a hawker stall. I had my first breakfast here of, well, as usual, the Tua Pau (big pork bun).

Later, I called my friend in Sibu for the eatery where he said has the hottest and spiciest sting ray that he ever had. However, it would only open in the evening. He then recommended beef noodles at a very famous shop which he said lies opposite Kota Raya Supermarket and is beside Hong Leong Bank. I found it and it was called Shin Kee Beef Noodles. However, it would open late, not early enough for breakfast.

I went to explore the streets and found another self-proclaimed famous eatery. There were a lot of patrons there and I decided to go in to try the rice porridge for my second breakfast.

After that, I went to visit the Central Market. About two decades ago, it was a market but since then, it has been turned into a market selling hawker fares. It is known as Pasar Seni in Malay.

Since the hotel check-out time was 12:00 noon, I decided to go for an early lunch at Shin Kee Beef Noodles. It was already 11:20 a.m. A table has already been taken. Just after I sat down, another two groups came inside the small restaurant. The noodles was really good.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stop Over In Penang

17th, 19 - 20th March 2012

On the way to and back from Hatyai, we stopped at Penang. It was opportune for me to savor the famous Penang food again after my last visit in 2008.

On the first overnight stay in Penang on 17th March, Chong came over to the airport to send us to the hotel and to take us out for a late dinner. Thank you for taking the trouble every time I come over to Penang. You have to drive all the way from Sg. Petani in Kedah and endured the traffic jam at Penang Bridge just because I am coming. Not only that, you have to treat us to dinner! Where can one find a friend like you? You are a true friend, Chong. I owe you.

Originally, Chong wanted to bring us to a place which a friend of his had introduced. However, he was unable to find the place and so we ended up at Super Tanker food court. By that time, it was already 10:00 p.m.

On our return trip to Penang from Hatyai on 19th March 2012, we reached Penang late again. Since Red Garden Food Court was the nearest place to our accommodation at Oriental Hotel, we decided to go there for our late dinner.

The next day, 20th March 2012, I woke up early as usual and went out to explore for breakfast. I had Penang Curry Mee at Kafe 78. Not bad.

After that, I went to take a stroll from Upper Penang Road to Dr. Lim Chwee Leong Road, Lebuh McNair, Magazine Road and back to Penang Road, basically walking on the periphery of Komtar, Prangin Mall and 1st Avenue before returning to the hotel. I noticed while strolling that Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul has upgrade itself from the little stall at Lebuh Keng Kwee to a place beside Komtar Walk, near the overhead pedestrian bridge.

After my friends woke up, we had breakfast at Kafe Kheng Pin. I ordered Lobak to be shared by us. Then, we changed our Thai Baht to Malaysian Ringgit at a money changer along Penang Road. The rate was MYR1 to THB10.29. It was a very attractive rate.

Then I accompanied them to Komtar shopping. Except for Pacific Supermarket and the government offices the whole place was practically dead. From Komtar, I went over to Prangin Mall. It looked like Prangin Mall is following the way of Komtar to its demise. The food court has closed and the giant screen had fallen silent. Except for the lower floors, a few shop lots on the upper floors have shuttered shut. It was more vibrant in 2008.

From Prangin Mall, we went to 1st Avenue, a new shopping centre. From 1st Avenue, we crossed Magazine Road to go to the unnamed hawker stall selling Teochew rice porridge. There were a lot of patrons and when we arrived after 1:00 p.m. the side dishes had almost been sold out. It looked like its main business was no longer Teochew rice porridge but normal economy rice.

During lunch, we discussed our programme for the afternoon and decided to take Rapid Penang bus to Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera). From Komtar, the bus fare was MYR2.00 on buses no. 201, 203, 204 and 502 while the bus going to Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) was no. 204. The fare from Kek Lok Si Temple to Penang Hill was MYR1.40.

We were walking from the base of Kek Lok Si Temple to the bus stop when Rapid Penang bus no. 204 turned the corner to the bus stop a short distant away. We ran and made it just in time. From there, we went to Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera).

It looked like the red funicular trains have been replaced by blue trains. In the past, a one way trip up or down the hill would require passengers to change train at the mid-hill station with the full journey taking 30 minutes. These new trains could make the same journey in 10 minutes without the need for the passengers to change trains. It was fast. A two-way tickets cost MYR8 for Malaysians and MYR30 for non-citizens.

That evening, a former colleague who was now working in Taiping came over to pick us up. From here, we went to Gurney Drive food centre for dinner when the place he originally intended to bring us was found closed for the day.

21st March 2012 would be our final day in Penang. We would be leaving for KL that evening. Again, I woke up early to look for breakfast. I found an open air food court somewhere near the back of Chowrasta Market. There were a number of stalls here and there were quite a lot of patrons. It looked like a popular place. After my friends woke up, I took them to the same place for breakfast.

Since we had late breakfast, we skipped lunch. On my part, I have not had my Nasi Kandar yet from the famous Line Clear Nasi Kandar. How could I leave without a taste of it? I decided to buy take away Nasi Kandar before packing my luggage for our evening flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hatyai - Shopping District

Hatyai - 19 March 2012 (Day 2)

I came to Hatyai thinking I would see the chaotic scene of 1994. It was different from cities and major towns in Malaysia, and I liked it. Little do I know that it has since been tamed and now look and feel like a Malaysian city, making it less interesting.

When I was here in 1994, yellow boxes have not been introduced at traffic junctions. It was interesting to see the disorderly traffic at the junction. On five-foot ways, vendors  roasting cashew nut was  a common sight. Girlie magazine of Thai version in the likes of Playboy were sold openly, though they were covered in plastic sheets. Toy guns that looked like real guns were displayed and sold openly. Then, it could be because my friend brought us to see the wild and old part of the city.

The girlie magazine is now gone. The only roasting I saw was the roasting of water chestnut at a stall. The city has mellowed and become more orderly and less interesting. Maybe, readers can enlighten me whether the wild and old Hatyai can still be seen at other part of Hatyai.

Also in 1994, I did not see so many tudung/ scarved women in Hatyai. At that time, we were surprised at a market while shopping when a girl talked to us in Malay. She saw us the night earlier in a disco where she served us drinks. She was Muslim but not in tudung. Now, you would see female tudung vendors everywhere.

Although the van driver who drove us to Hatyai indicated that it would be difficult communicating with the local people, this does not seem true. Except for the taxi driver who drove us to Samila Beach and Klong Hae, his employer spoke good Mandarin and she was young. So did the van driver who picked us to see the Thai Girl show. He spoke good Mandarin. The receptionist at Diamond Plaza Hotel spoke good English too and at all the food stalls where we ate, they all spoke a mixture of Mandarin and Hockien. At the food stall where we had our dinner before the Thai Girl show, the young female vendor spoke good English. Surprisingly, most of them do not look like ethnic Chinese.

(Click to enlarge)
I was on my way to Kim Yong Market, a popular local destination by 7:45 a.m. local time. Kim Yong Market covers not only the street stalls but also the stalls located inside the building beside the street.

One street has mainly food stalls. One particular stall caught my eyes and I ordered the stir-fried flat noodle  (a cross of Kuih Kak and Char Koay Teow) from him, thinking of having it there. However, he prepared only take-away ... and it was delicious. He speaks Hockien.

After my friends woke up, I took them to Kim Yong Market to a shop where I saw there were more choices of noodle being offered. There, I took my second breakfast of Wantan Noodle and it was good too.

Kim Yong Market opened early. However, I was surprised when I saw a hawker packing up and leaving the market at 10:30 a.m. already.

During my early morning walk, I passed by Lee Gardens Plaza. However, I did not explore the mall. After the second breakfast, we visited Lee Gardens Plaza. It was small, with just a few stores on each floor. On the top level, there was a foodcourt and here, we had our lunch.

Santisuk and Yong Dee markets were another two shopping destinations. However, they were less interesting as they were smaller and most of the stalls sell similar items.

To the west of Hatyai is the railway station. It was just a short walk from Diamond Plaza Hotel. This part of Hatyai did not have high-rise building but old wooden structure. This is an old part of Hatyai.

Stalls are found on every street, selling a variety of products.

During the final hours before departure time at 3:00 p.m. local time, I strolled towards Odean Shopping Mall. I was here in 1994 and I had to visit it before leaving Hatyai. I went in and had a short look before leaving.

Just before Odean was a lane selling the usual hawker fares such as bags, clothes, etc. Here, I found a leather wallet I liked and bought it. If it was not because of time constraint, I could have bought a crocodile leather belt which was quite nice.

On Saturday, 31st March 2012, two weeks after our visit to Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel, a car bomb planted by terrorists at the hotel went off and killed at least eight people, including a Malaysian. Over 300 people were injured. It was on the Malaysian news scene for several days.