In this article, a guest writer, Adam, tells us more about his experience in our very own backyard. A frequent traveller from Australia, let’s find out just how friendly our country is to travellers.
I’ve been adventuring around the world since the age of 18 and regularly visit beautiful Malaysia. As I have family, and have been exposed to many cultural traditions I thought it would be an ideal experience to try different foods and explore some highlights of this nation. Each city has its own uniqueness filled with different building structures influenced by colonial and local designs. When travelling to countries I am always fascinated by food and the unique setting the city has to offer.
This round in Malaysia, I set off for an adventure to two iconic cities, Ipoh and Penang. Located about a 2-hour bus trip from Kuala Lumpur, I found myself getting of the bus and continuing my journey in a taxi to the M Boutique Hotel in Ipoh.
M Boutique Hotel, Ipoh
About a 5-minute taxi ride from Ipoh Railway Station and you have arrived at the destination. The hotel is situated on the corner of a main road and joint with an Oldtown Coffee shop alongside with Myth Eatery & Bar.
Upon entering the hotel, I was amazed by the industrial but chic interior, which showcases some interesting designs like hanging circular wooden lamps, rusty suitcases neatly stacked on a wooden floorboard and a comfortable lounge to relax while the friendly and helpful staff prepare your accommodation. The setting is nicely lit which gives an inviting feeling, almost like you’re in a florist with its enclosed environment.
After checking in on the third floor (Excelsior, they call it), I decided to wander through to other levels and check out how different each floor is. The first floor, ‘Adventure’ has an African-like safari theme, with lightbulbs tangled and caged with a rusty enclosure, which highlights the colour of the brick wall from the white painted corridors.
The second floor, ‘Majestic’, has orange-tungsten lamps to highlight the bricks featured on the wall as you enter the floor. I also noticed that every floor features clear, bold black text indicating room allocation and the theme of the level you are on, this really helps assist guests making it easier to locate your room. Alongside the hallways also hang portraits of lion faces, numerals and other forms of animal and plant art which gives a more character to the appearance of the corridors. Naturally, the third floor, Excelsior, had a British colonial-like theme.
Aside from the rooms, on the first floor is a gym and a meeting room available for workspace and guests to use which is conveniently located in the same area. After waking up or before checking out you may like to see what M Boutique’s Myth Eatery & Bar has to offer for breakfast. A nice selection of western and traditional breakfast options, as well as pastries, coffee, tea and juice. All food items are pork free which is a relief because I am not a fan, so if you’re a bacon fan give the chicken ham a go.
After checking out, I figured it would be worth checking out some of the beautiful sights of Downtown Ipoh and visiting the famous eateries. When in Ipoh one must try Dim Sum, as the city has a strong Cantonese influence, Kai Si Hor Fun, a beautiful soup consisting of Chicken, beansprout and a beautiful broth with Kway Teow Noodles and Hainanese Chicken Rice to name a few. All of these dishes you can be sure to find in Downtown Ipoh. Lastly, if you’re interested in some history check out the Hakka Museum which is also located in Downtown Ipoh. As a Hakka-Chinese I found this site to explain a lot of interesting details as to how Hakka Chinese developed within the community, their presence as Tin Miners and their methods of business. A very interesting place to visit and a non-profitable business, however you may donate at the end of guided tour.
Macallister Mansion, Penang
It was time to farewell Ipoh and head north for Georgetown, one of my favourite places to visit for food, pleasure and paradise. Only a 2-hour drive from Ipoh and located on an island off the peninsula of Malaysia, I decided I will stay at the Macalister Mansion. The Macalister Mansion was built in the early 20th century designed as an old English mansion and located on Macalister Road. You can barely miss it as it stands out to be this spectacular white grand building that sits openly on the left-hand side of Macalister Road. Trying to located Macalister Mansion can be tricky if you are unfamiliar with the road system in Georgetown, many roads feed into another with the one-way traffic setup and is recommended that a Navman is enabled when navigating.
Upon arrival, a helpful attendant of the hotel directed me to a reserved parking space, something like valet parking, before assisting me with my baggage as I proceeded to the reception. The reception is rather small and is suitable for the property as the mansion only features 8 uniquely designed rooms. After checking in, the receptionist guided me through to the hotel’s facilities, to the right a room named ‘The Den’ featured as a comfortable lounge equipped with the finest whiskey selections with imports from Scotland to Japan. The Den also has a professional, private-like ambiance and does not shy away from inviting one from lighting a cigar. To the left of the reception is the cellar, I was really impressed with the interior and the obscure paintings hung upon the walls. The Cellar has more of a cosy ambiance compared to The Den and invites you in with its fireplace and comfortable lounges. The Macalister Mansion also boasts over 300 labels of wine from all over the world, 20 different labels by the glass, and seemingly boasts the largest collection in Penang. Certainly, a tempting treat before bedtime or if you simply just feel like having a nice late chat.
I was also amazed by the small courtyard located next to the den (where the toilets are), as they have these beautiful white sculptures, beams and a small patch of lawn which at first doesn’t seem like a lot of space but is a nice setting for taking some selfies as you can capture the mansion’s colonial appearance with only a few props. As for food options, there is the living room which has more of an enclosed environment, featuring a staff workspace with a coffee machine and pastry cabinet. I found the staff to be very helpful, offering lots of suggestions and even suggested where to find some hidden treasures in Georgetown. I think the highlight of the menu is their High Tea set which is reasonably priced. If you are looking for something more exquisite, intimate and you are happy to splurge, then the dining room might be suited for you. The chef, Johnson Wong, offers a beautiful tasting menu which also is available with wine pairing.
I chose to stay in Room 6 as it was perfect for a solo stay, although it is also suitable for couples, it is a studio designed room with an open bathroom. The bed is very comfortable providing an easy rest and makes it two times easier to fall asleep with an IPod speaker provided. Above the bed displays an art piece made by Indonesian artist Albert Yonathan, the art piece consists of handmade porcelain ships formed in two circles and is also inspired by the voyages of the very own Sir Norman Macalister. The bathroom itself is something to make time of as it is an intimate space with a bathtub located in the centre, the shower isolated to one side as well as the toilet. I also found the idea of creating two vanities interesting, as this eliminates stalling when the misses feel the need to attend to essential procedures. What I liked the most about the room is the control of lighting, I think it is always best to keep the curtains closed to enjoy the features of the room and play around with the lighting as it’s not intrusively bright. It’s nice to sleep with one of the dim bathroom lights on.
Finally, the highlight for Macalister is the The Lawn. You will find at most hotels that your pool, bar, gym and other facilities will be situated at the rear of your hotel, but the Macalister Mansion wouldn’t be a unique concept hotel without a pool and bar smack bang in the front of the hotel, would it? The simplicity of using the pool and the exclusivity adds to the pleasure, and for all those photogenic people, this is the place to snap a photo. Be sure to make the most of your time soaking up the sun in the pool or if you don’t like immersing yourself in the water, then request a drink at the bar and dip your feet in water. However you choose to make the most out of a hotel, there is always a way at Macalister Mansion.
Once you’ve spoiled yourself with the offerings of Macalister Mansion, it’s time to set off on an adventure to the colonial sites of Georgetown. Some interesting places worth visiting are: Chew Jetty, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (The Blue Mansion), Fort Cornwallis, Chulia Street, Love Lane, Little India, Kapitan Keling Mosque and The Camera Museum. For food: Tek Sen Restaurant (offers beautiful fusion Malaysian Chinese), Macallum Connoisseurs(great coffee), Mee Sotong(long queues and close to Fort Cornwallis), Zhu Yuan Vegetarian(amazing vegetarian food), Sister’s Char Koay Teow(across from Macalister Mansion) and Lebuh Kimberley, a small street consisting of street food to die for.
Bayview Hotel, Penang
Not only does Penang offer colonial heritage sights and delicious food, but Penang boasts of beautiful resorts along a strand full of sandy beaches. This area is well known as Batu Ferringhi, which is located in the north-western part of Penang Island. It takes about 20-30 minutes to reach by car and a little longer by public bus, either way it is easily reachable. During this period, I decided to stay at the peaceful end of Batu Ferringhi, at a hotel named Bayview Hotel.
Bayview Hotel features a grand lobby with well set out facilities and has a much more of a commercialised feel as a hotel compared with Macalister and M Boutique. The clientele range from families, to couples, to retirees and has a welcoming presence. My room located on the 6th floor overlooked a beautiful view of the swimming pool and further in the horizon, the beach. I like the simplicity of the hotel, as you can simply leave your room with your towel and choose between pulling out a deck chair or stroll along the beach within a 100 metres walking distance.
The hotel is fabulous for families, many children gather about in the small pool while the bigger people make use of the large swimming pool the hotel has to offer. I have to emphasise that the staff here are extremely polite and were very attentive to any queries that I made, so be sure to do so upon visit and they also offer towels when exchanging your room access card if you’d like to use the pool.
The hotel offers a couple of dining choices namely La Veranda All Day Dining which serves a variety of local and international foods, this is also where my complimentary breakfast was held. Otherwise, there is another option at Marco Polo Restaurant which offers a fusion of Western, Malay, Chinese and Peranakan cuisine.
The room is spacious with a bathroom equipped with essential needs. I recommend allowing a bit of air to blow into the room just to breathe in the fresh air that comes directly from the sea. Do ask the friendly staff if an ocean view room is available and you will see what I mean. Relaxing in the room is also a perfect choice while you do some light reading or do some trip planning. The bed was very comfortable and provided a comfortable sleep. I think the price for the room is also great for what’s to offer.
Aside from the hotel, during the night the main street hosts some fantastic market stalls which runs for some distance and during the day be sure to visit the National Park located at the north-western point of the Island before heading south on a windy journey to the quaint village of Balik Pulau.
After travelling for some days, it was finally time to pack my bags and flee back to Kuala Lumpur. It was a fantastic journey mixing up transport between the cities, making a debut in Ipoh and finding variety in familiar Penang. I can’t wait to encounter these beautiful places again.