Penang, according to The Lonely Planet, is cited by New Yorkers (The New York Times) as being one of  the 44 must-see destination in the world. Which, considering all of the options, is pretty impressive. The main reason cited: the food. And having spent 4 days in Georgetown now, the main city in Penang, I really, really get it. The food is mind-blowingly good. And inexpensive. And readily available. Everywhere you look or walk you can have your pick of unique, mouth watering Penang delectables any time of the day or night for virtually next to nothing. Penang cuisine, naturally, is a reflection of the diverse ethnic groups which co-exist happily here: Chinese, Malay and Indian, so there's something for every taste. And pocket. Our favourites have included: roti canai (a flat bread served with a lentil curry), Laksa (a spicy, sour noodle, beef and tamarind soup), banana leaf rice platters and some of the outstanding tandori on offer. Luca loves his regular fix of a Malaysian banana or pineapple pancake and no meal is complete these days without a lime, melon or kiwi juice. He's even mastered the use of chop sticks!

Georgetown is a feast for the senses in lots of other ways too. Given its ethnic mix it is a muli-religious city and the aroma of joss sticks which emanates from the Buddhist Temples wafts through the aromatic spicy and peppery city air to the background noise of the many mosque's Call to Prayer. A lunch time stroll through Little India, to which we were brought by Trishaw, was short lived for us, not because it was unpleasant but simply because of a virtual sensory overload as Bollywood music blasted from the long row of bright red, orange and yellow jewel and clothing shop fronts and stalls under the sweltering noon time sun. We were all over-hot and a little overwrought and needed some shady respite so we turned away from Little India into Chinatown and, well, ended up at “Auntie Sim's” whom, it transpires, unknown to us at the time, is a well-known Penang fortune teller. You can have your tarot cards read, palm read or face read for approximately €3.50. So I took the opportunity to take a few minutes respite in the shade and, yes, you guessed it, had my palm read. I mean when in Rome and all that... The only information requested of me was my age and then Auntie Sim took my right hand in hers and read my “present” and, later, took my left hand and read my future from that. It was an interesting and, strangely, at times a somewhat emotional experience (okay this is me we are talking about – so the latter could be a very unique observation :) ). And what did this reading reveal? Well, in short, it seems that I have a pretty decent life line and career line – there's nothing remarkable either in lows or highs there on either palm which is a good thing in lots of ways but then, given that I am at a bit of a cross road career wise, I was hoping that she would tell me that some serious career highlights awaited. Ah well. But, she also said, I have had and always will have a strong encouraging influence in my career and I will be prosperous. I am gentle and intelligent; I have a very strong brain line it seems (honestly, I am not making this up – they were Auntie Sim's words) but my brain can be overactive at times which can lead to unhappiness. The latter is actually very true. Sometimes I do over-think/ over-analyse and over-worry and drive myself (and probably my loved ones) mad as a result. The good news was that my left hand went on to foretell that this would ease with age. Phew! I have a very good present and future social life; this info was gleaned from the finger tips. My relationship line was much better from the age of about 30 - check – that's when I met Phil. I was told that my really good years for the future would be 43-48, 50-51 and 60-61. And that travel and overseas featured in my future too. Her predictions for having more children were a bit hard to interpret, despite me really straining my ears to hear (!) at that point, so I am getting Phil to get his fortune told in Thailand to see what they say to him. I have no idea why my interest in these pyschic arts has been piqued recently– maybe it's just the hot, exotic surroudings and/or the fact that I am at a cross roads career wise and in so many other ways too. Because you see I do actually fundamentally believe that, while some things are beyond our control (some aspects of our health etc.) we all control and forge our own destiny to a large part. As the poem which inspired Nelson Mandela while in captivity on Robbin Island, “Invictus”, goes : “ I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul”. My fate will be revealed with time. For now the Cameron Highlands loom in my near future so, I'd better sign off and get organised to go onwards and upwards (literally).



We finally dragged ourselves away from the Perhentian Islands, albeit reluctantly, and hit the road again. We spent a night on the mainland and a day trying, unsuccessfully, to get our Thai visas. We then, after much negotiation with a bus company, managed to get our bikes, trailer and gear onto a night bus to Penang. This to avoid the alternative of having to cycle across the width of the country and, most importantly, over the Cameron Highlands! The bus to Penang dropped us off in Chinatown, Georgetown at 5am, which was an interesting experience to say the least. We hot-footed, or rather pedalled rapidly, out of there and to a hotel around the corner. Chinatown, once visited in daylight, is a wonderful and vibrant place, full of stalls serving the most delicious food.

Our plan from here is to spend a few days pottering around and taking in the sights of Georgetown and Penang island, then bus it to the Cameron Highlands for a day or two, to visit the tea plantations and enjoy a respite from the heat in the relatively cool mountain air. Once back in Penang, we'll get our Thai visas and then cycle northwards toward the Thai border – not missing the opportunity to take a break for a few days on the white sand beaches of Langkawi islands of course!

We'll miss the Perhentians and the cast of characters we met there, but having planned to spend only a few nights there and having spent almost three weeks, we felt that it was about time we made a move.


We've now languished for 12 days at D'Lagoon, Teluk Kerma and have been seduced by its sleepy way of life. Lonely Planet descibes it as: ”... a small bay... one of the better places on Kecil with good coral and a tranquil, isolated location”. As the photos show it truly is idyllic; white sand, palm trees with dozey hammocks drooping twixt them and a cafe/ restauant overlooking the beach. We live, for the princely sum of RM50/ €11 per night, in a simple wooden beach chalet comprising a basic (cold water) bathroom and one bedroom with lino flooring throughout. But our view, oh, our view of the beach and the crashing and roaring symphony of the ocean mere meters away as the waves trip, fizz, foam and spill onto the surf.... priceless.

We spend our days swimming, eating, reading, snorkelling, collecting shells, gazing, occasionally taking a walk through the dense jungle or maybe hopping on a (not for the faint hearted) water taxi to check out another part of the island or the neighbouring bigger island. Whenever we've gone on such a short day trip we always find ourselves happy to be returning to our little refuge, our little part of paradise... devoid of distractions or indications of the passage of time but for the sun, moon and stars (or your watch, of course, if you care to look).

But, as Mischa Berlinski puts it in “Fieldwork”, (which I've just finished reading), "there is an unfortunate fact which every traveller eventually comes to know: there is no place in this world so exotic, so remote, or so beautiful that ennui does not eventually set in". The time has come for us to move on now - admittedly with reluctance. But I know that this little bay, is a place to which we will return, in our mind's eye, for years and years to come. No doubt, like Wordsworths "Tintern Abbey", it will bring us future "sensations sweet... mid the din Of towns and cities" and "in hours of weariness".  Luca may not remember much of it when he is older, admittedly, but we can show him the pictures and remind him that it was where he first saw lizards, stroked wild civet cats, drank from freshly harvested coconuts and, as is his wont, thrived in what he called our "island house".

Goodbye, for now, Paradise. We'll be back and, in the meantime, we look forward to those "sensations sweet"...


Cycling to paradise

Having had to get an internal flight from the uncyclable Kuala Lumpur to the east coast, as buses wouldn't take our bikes, we arrived in Kota Bharu hot and hassled. From there we cycled south, with the Perhentian islands in sights. The cycling was hot and, despite a total lack of hills and generally good roads, gruelling. Traffic in towns is chaotic.... cars, brightly coloured buses, taxis and mopeds beeping and weaving everywhere. And very few people cycling. Mmmmm.... I wonder why? But, outside the towns, the cycling is calmer, although no less hot and energy sapping.

Having taken a very necessary, impromptu rest stop at the side of the road, on the steps of a local shop (i.e. part of a family's dwelling turned into a makeshift grocers), the family came out and gave us ice creams and a watermelon and refused to take payment for them. They also let us rest in the relative cool of their shop for as long as we needed, despite, we surmised afterwards, being in a rush to get to the mosque. Such kindness is typical of the Malaysian hospitality we've received thus far. Everyone, and I mean everyone, greets us with cheers and hellos as we pass, waving and clapping. Luca is treated like a celebrity.... every passer-by wants to shake his hand, high-five him or have their photo taken with him.

We arrived in the Perhentian islands two days ago. It's the perfect cliche of tropical paradise! White coral sands, brilliant blue sea, isolated beaches and bays with wooden beach chalets. No roads - jungle tracks leading to even more remote beaches and water taxis to neighbouring bays and clusters of chalets the only transport option (our bikes are locked up in a hotel garage on the mainland). We're staying in the most remote beach on the smaller of the two islands, in a wooden chalet that overlooks palm trees, a stunning bay and the wonderfully warm and inviting South China Sea. There are about six other guests here, as it's just re-opened after the monsoon season. The food is delicious.... amazing nasi goreng, noodles, freshly caught fish barbecued on the beach every evening and freshly fallen coconuts to drink from. And it all costs less than €20 a night. We had planned to stay here for just two nights and then move on to the bigger Perhentian island. Now we think we'll stay for at least a week. The bikes can wait. How do you leave paradise?