Oh Malaysia photos. I haven't forgotten about you. A five-day weekend (how great was the break?!) was the perfect opportunity to delve into the archives. Sure none of us want to be back at work at our desks today, but here's a photo-rich post to get you back into the swing of things...
My last Malaysia post left you in Penang, Malaysia. We woke up early the next morning to make the 350km drive from Penang back down to Kuala Lumpur, ready for the next leg of our trip to Thailand.
Breakfast was at a truckstop along the way. Unlike comfort stops in Australia, there were no fast food chains to be found here. Instead we headed into a simply furnished food court circled with hawker stalls, half of them still closed at this hour of the morning.
Nasi lemak bungkus was clearly the most popular breakfast of choice, a takeaway version of nasi lemak that is wrapped tightly in banana leaf and a coversheet of brown paper. Inside is a mound of coconut rice topped with fried anchovies and spicy sambal sauce. It's delicious, but small in serve so we top this up with a couple of fluffy steamed buns filled with lotus paste and sweetened black bean paste.
Billy has the mee rebus, yellow egg noodles swaddled in a thick curry gravy, served with fried shallots, deep-fried tofu and a hard boiled egg.
Salak madu or snake fruit
On our way back to the car we pick up a couple of snacks. Forget bags of chips or bars of chocolate - all that is on offer here is fresh fruit, available loose or pre-peeled and sliced and packed up into plastic bags.
Ciku madu or sapodilla fruit
We arrive in Kuala Lumpur about 4 1/2 hours later, enough time to sneak in a quick shop and late lunch at Mid Valley Megamall.
Mid Valley Megamall is a gargantuan shopping centre with 430 shops littered across five floors. After a brief zip-around, we head to Ying Ker Lou for lunch, which specialises in Haka cuisine. Even on the run, we are determined to make every meal count, although the presence of air-conditioning is also welcomed.
We're immediately impressed by the seriousness of the tea menu, set out just like a wine list with separations by variety and then graded by quality (and price). We try the standard pu'er tea and notice differences in fragrance and flavour between this and the more expensive gong pin tie guan yin oolong tea (RM6 or about AU$2.15 per teapot) and the top level South Mountain supreme oolong tea (RM10 or about AU$3.60 per teapot).
Hakka yam abacus RM17 (about AU$6.10)
What I'd been most keen to try was abacus beads, something I'd been curious about ever since Poh Ling Yeow cooked this dish on MasterChef Australia. This dish is so-named because the little dumplings made from steamed yam and tapioca flour look just like the wooden beads used in a Chinese abacus, an old-skool calculator.
These aren't as chewy or glutinous as I thought they'd be, but we enjoy the contrast between the yam and mix of dried shrimp, squid and crunchy black fungus strips.
Crispy pork belly with fermented bean curd RM22 (about AU$7.85)
The crispy pork belly has taken on a salty sweetness with its coating of fermented bean curd and the Dong Jian-style bean curd is also a hit. I relish the braised pork tail with peanuts, carefully extricating skin and flesh from each cylindrical stump.
Dong Jian-style stuffed bean curd in hotpot RM23 (about AU$8.20)
Braised pork tail with peanuts RM25 (about AU$8.90)
We jump in a maxi-cab to the airport. Traffic is truly insane in Kuala Lumpur. Kilometre-long stretches of freeway seem to reach a standstill. There are no accidents or roadworks to blame. There are simply so many cars on the road that everyone is used to spending half their time waiting in traffic.
We reach the airport with plenty of time to check-in. There's even a chance for one last snack before we board the plane. I'm not usually one for fast food chains either at home or abroad, but the offer of fried chickens is enough to sway my mind.
Ayam goreng, or fried chicken, is a standard offering at McDonalds in Malaysia and when we receive our order, I immediately toy with the idea of buying more. The batter is all kinds of nubbly bliss, and beneath the crunchy golden batter is piping hot chicken that is tender and juicy.
Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Making Thai iced coffee
Our flight lands late in Phuket, and it's a one hour drive from the international airport to where we're staying, Kata Beach. It's one of the quieter areas on the island, unlike the brash and garish Patong, and we wake early the next morning to explore.
Frothing the coffee
There's no better start to a day than coffee and we gravitate to a roadside stall like excited school kids. We're already feeling hot and sticky in the humidity, and the iced coffee is cool, strong and deliciously sweet with condensed milk.
Iced coffees to go
Mobile satay and som tum stall
Literally a mobile stall
Okay sometimes you get suckered into the weird and wacky. And besides, Pete has a craving for burgers. We end up at the Dino Bar for lunch, a kitsch and touristy food bar that looks straight out of Bedrock from the Flintstones.
Our drinks come with elaborate garnishes and we have a full view of the kitchen from our stools. This soon becomes a form of torture as we watch each order being painstakingly prepared and delivered to every customer but us, until at last! Lunch arrives!
Beef burger and pork burger 180 baht (about AU$6.20)
So lunch wouldn't have won any gourmet awards but we fare better when we head into the town of Patong for dinner, a fifteen minute drive away. The difference in traffic and the number of tourists is staggering, the roads teeming with tuk tuks and the footpaths spilling over with hastily set-up street stalls selling watches, sunglasses, wallets and souvenirs.
It's hard to find any restaurant not rowdy with tourists and waiters urgently cajole you inside as soon as you glance in their direction. We eventually settle on Red Boat Seafood, one of several restaurants that make up the open-air Patong Seafood Food Court.
[Clockwise from top left]: Fresh coconut juice 60 baht (about AU$2);
We order a mix of dishes but there's not much relief from the chilli - everything is deliciously spicy. The chicken in pandanus leaves is sweet and caramelised from the grill but to my surprise one of the highlights is the spicy shrimp soup, arriving in a ringed cauldron so it stays hot throughout our dinner. The soup is peppery with chilli but also rich with the flavour of a dark prawn stock.
[Clockwise from top left]: Fried squid with black curry paste 180 baht (about AU$6.20);
We walk off dinner by exploring the streets of Patong. Eventually we find ourselves on Bangla Road, a chaotic pedestrian strip that is every nightmare your mother ever imagined and more. The noise is relentless, with music blaring from nightclubs and strip joints, flashing neon assaulting your senses, and loud drunken tourists every which way you look.
Every few steps we're approached by spruikers, or hopeful locals selling cheap trinkets or toys. The spruikers point eagerly toward their strip clubs, where young women gyrate with forlorn resignation in their eyes. Large groups of men stop to stare at the dancing lady boys, jostling each other for a better view. It's seedy, harrowing and depressing, and the walk feels much longer than it actually is.
Power cables galore
I'd had much more fun earlier that day, when we'd headed to a day spa looking for a traditional Thai massage. For one hour we were kneaded, twisted and pulled by young Thai women who were infinitely stronger than they first appeared.
My foot in the fish spa
- So tasty, but only 14/20?
I couldn't resist a fish foot spa either. Fish pedicures involve placing your feet in a tank filled with live garra rufa fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet. I admit I was nervous as I prepared to lower my feet into the water. What would it feel like? Would it hurt?
I sit next to Billy and we look at each other before we submerge our feet. And then I laugh. And laugh. And laugh.
The sensation is like a cross between pins-and-needles and having your feet tickled with hundreds of feathers. I'm extremely ticklish and soon I'm bent over double, convulsing with laughter in that please-stop-I'm-about-to-have-an-accident kinda way. The tickling is relentless and everyone else is laughing at my hysteria.
It takes some time before I can bear to open my eyes and watch the fish. Nibbling at my skin. Their mouths opening and closing like greedy little chicks. I can feel the flick of their tails, like the brush of a feather as they swarm about hungrily. It takes another couple of minutes before I dare to spread my toes. They dive right in. The feeling is bizarre.
And the result? My skin is definitely smoother, and it's hilarious to see whose feet the fish attacked with more vigour. And I haven't laughed so much in my life. Or since.
We'd also stumbled across a wet market in Kata, offering well-timed shelter from the monsoonal rains. The covered market is a world away from Bangla Road, and we happily while away our time exploring the aisles.
There is much to see and the glimpse of local life in Kata Beach is quietly earnest.
Choosing the best seafood
> Read the next Thailand 2010 post (James Bond Island, Phuket)
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4/27/2011 03:33:00 am