Penang to Phuket: Reunion with Friends

The dazzling lobby of Eastern & Oriental (E&O) Hotel, Georgetown Penang

Travelling solo can be a lonely experience. On my part, it has been a relatively indulging experience. Solo travel can be a great opportunity for reflection and moving at an individual pace. When traveling by yourself, you only have to please yourself.  You have the freedom to do anything and everything you want:  from being frugal or extravagant to being adventurous or idling. You have no one to blame but yourself if you miss your flight because you went to a wrong gate or terminal, or you woke up late.  It is your own time, day and moment to create a learning or exciting experience.  One of the best things about travelling solo is the ease of finding and meeting other travellers and/or interacting with locals.  No matter how long and far the journey is the best measurable enjoyment is the number of new friends you make.

The only disadvantage about traveling solo is that it tends to be more expensive, as there is no one to share costs with. You will need to budget a little bit more as rooms are usually about the same price for one or for two.

Yes, safety is paramount for a solo traveller. Alertness and awareness to your surroundings is helpful travelling insurance and tips to safety.

Whilst ‘Facebook’ serves as the No.1 social network medium to connect and reconnect with friends, especially the long lost ones, nothing is comparable to the pleasure of re-connecting with friends through your travels.  It definitely gives you that sense of familiarity and belonging, away from home.  I am really thankful and blessed to have great friends, with whom I get the chance to meet during holidays or/and other special occasions.

The historical Penang, known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ was my first stop from Kota Kinabalu. Malays also commonly recognise Penang as the culinary capital of Malaysia.

I secured myself a room at the Bayview Hotel Georgetown, a decent hotel that provides comfortable facilities for simple travelers.  The hotel is located on the junction of Farquhar Street and Penang Road and nearby is the imposing glorious white bleached façade of the dazzling Penang heritage hotel, Eastern & Oriental (E&O) Hotel.  My friends from Melbourne, Michael and Derren, stayed at the E&O Hotel.  Their suite has a spacious living area with its dark timber floors and furnishings.  It has a wide, white shutter door leading to an impressive sea view.  Aside from the stunning and massive bathroom, I also loved the oversized safe, big enough to fit a ladies oversized-handbag.   Yes, mine certainly fitted perfectly along with the laptop.

I had an awesome experience starting with the extravagant selection of breakfast varieties to the full afternoon R&R at the E&O’s.  As well as enjoying a refreshing dip in the small, but impressive, swimming pool over looking the sea then followed by an indulgent high tea at the stylish The 1885 Restaurant. I certainly had an ultimate experience that day at this prim hotel in Georgetown, the colonial city of Penang.  From the food street nearby E&O is the ‘Red Garden’ hawker food market where you can find a wide selection of Indian restaurants/eateries. You will definitely enjoy a delectable pot of authentic Indian, Chinese & Malay cuisines and delicacies.

One thing that Penang prides most is not its culinary offerings but rather its rich colonial architectural history.  One of my favourites is the The Blue Mansion (The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion), a true masterpiece of Penang’s history. The legendary mansion boost 38 rooms, 7 staircases, 220 windows and 5 courtyards.  The main courtyard was used as a scene of one of my favourite films, ‘The Indochine’.  Built by the most renowned personality of the era, Cheong Fatt Tze, the historic mansion is a must see and visit place. And I can guarantee that you will love the ‘tour guide.’  I have never seen someone so passionate about showcasing a piece of history.  There was never a dull moment as she narrated the amazing stories of this award-winning heritage property.

Don’t miss a visit to the bustling street bazaar of Batu Ferringhi at night. It’s the haven for faux signature merchandises and other exciting pieces at a bargain price.  The place is accessible by taxi from E&O.  Be sure to negotiate with the cab driver the fare before hopping in to the cab.

My next stop was in the thriving island of Phuket, a popular holiday travel destination among Australians.  I spent 4-days by myself at Marriott Courtyard in Surin Beach, a popular beach destination away from the bustling Patong Beach.  If you are looking for world-class hotels, this is not the location for you. It was an awesome 3-night hideaway beach break experience in full privacy. Courtyard is a perfect hotel for family holiday goers.  What I liked the most about the hotel is the easy accessibility to Surin Beach.

My favourite spot to hang out was at the trendy and funky ‘Catch Bar,’ which is situated right on the beach.  From the fitted live webcam, anyone could have the chance to ‘Catch’ a glance of you sitting back and relaxing, while you sip cocktails, read your favorite book, or people gaze.  At night, it was a gloriously relaxing experience just to sit on one of the sun beds facing the water whilst enjoying the smell and sound of the evening ocean breeze.  I heard that they do a great buffet barbeque night, which unfortunately I did not get the chance to try but I was told by the other hotel guests that the buffet is highly recommended.

I met Tamy from Sydney and an Australian friend of hers, Alex.  On my last day, I had to shop around for a taxi that would take me to Mai Khao.  None of the taxis outside agreed with what I was willing to pay based on the price range quoted by my taxi driver from Phuket Airport.  Tamy and myself decided to take a walk along the beach hoping to find someone else who could give me the right price to break the territorial system in the area.  Yehhhh!  Five minutes later we found one for THB700 (hotel was charging THB1000 and outside the hotel was charging THB900).

In 45 minutes I was at my next stop, Marriott Mai Khao Beach, a peaceful stretch of strand on the northwest coast of Phuket, and 15 minutes from the airport.  As I entered the area, I immediately felt the complete isolation of the place, away from the hustling and bustling Patong beach.  Surin beach was more of a village type beach destination while Mai Khao offers a more world-class resort treatment. These include hotels like Anantara, Renaissance, JW Marriott and Sala.

Upon arrival at the Marriott, I immediately spotted my friend Gina, the birthday celebrant herself along with the rest of her family and best friend.  I was so pleased that I made it to her birthday having missed her and her sister Gemma in Venice by a few hours. While our villa was still being arranged, we killed time by enjoying some light snacks and yummy smoothies at ‘Delights’, the resort’s casual dining choice.  Delights offers ½ serving which I love the most, allowing your palate time to decide for another meal or desert.

After a good 30 minutes, everyone was in the comfort of their own villa.  The 2-bedroom villas were the ultimate abode for families, in our case, 2 villas were perfect for a party of 8 people.  The villa is akin to a 2-bedroom self-contained apartment that provides comfort and privacy.  Each was fully equipped with comfortable facilities including a good-size kitchen, massive and long open plan living and dining areas, and an inviting master bedroom with a huge tub, twin sinks and separate shower.  As you stepped out of the back glass sliding door, you will see a good size plunge pool perfect for a night swim.  The back door leads to a beautiful tropical pond setting, then onto the stunning pool of the resort via a walkway.

Everyone stayed up late to the arrival of the midnight tick, to welcome the first second of Gina’s birthday with a bottle of fine bubbles.  Sure enough the evening lasted to 2 am of shared drinking, story telling, jokes and laughter.

We spent the following day exploring the beach of Mai Khao and surrounds.  Adjacent to the resort is Turtle Village, a mini shopping complex housing boutique shops, a supermarket and the Coffee Club.  Within a 10-minute walk through a walkway is the beach. Trust me it was not easy to find it due to lack of signage but it was worth the walk.  This time of the year, we spotted no swimmers, as swimming is extremely dangerous as the water slopes steeply and deeply.  But we definitely had fun splashing against the sea waves.  The sand was coarse in light brown colour, which I vividly remember as I massaged my feet through it.

At 5 pm the party began, with a pre dinner cocktail at  JW Marriott’s Blue Bar, just in time to watch the sunset whilst the party guests enjoyed bites of a wide selection of delectable hors d’oeuvres, while chilled background music was being played.  At 6.30 pm, dinner was served at Ginja Restaurant.   We savoured an ultimate Thai style dining experience complemented by a glass of fine wine.  At the end of the night, the birthday girl whispered her wish as she blew the candles of her birthday cake as the partygoers loudly and gleefully sang the birthday song.  It was indeed a lovely evening, a generous way to celebrate a special day in the company of close friends and immediate family.

The next day, we all opted to check out the town of Patong with a quick visit at the night market.  This brought back some memories of my Phuket visit in 2009, where 3 restaurants perched together on a cliffside offering stunning seaside scenic views, located on the north end of Patong Beach.  The view was even more spectacular at nighttime. We dined at of the restaurants, Baan Rim Pa, a fine dining Thai restaurant, adjacent to the 2 other restaurants Joe’s Downstairs and Da Maurizio. It was an ultimate dining experience that everyone should do when visiting Phuket. The restaurant pianist at the Baan Rim Pa made the evening even more memorable, complemented by the dazzling panoramic views of the beach of Patong. The sound of the dash of waves rolling into the rocks joined the symphony.

I was up as early as 4 am the following day as I prepared for my 5 am pick up and transfer to the airport for my first Kuwait Airlines flight bound to my final Asian destination, the Philippines, my last leg and country to visit before returning to Australia.

© 2012 by Michelle Riel, retains sole copyright to her contributions to all the contents of this site.

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