Aaron’s Blog

Top 5 Things to Do on Langkawi

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Beach under the Sun

Welcome to Langkawi, concurrently a tropical paradise and tax-free haven, this island on the northwest coast of Malaysia has been positioned by recent government promotions as a premier vacation destination in Malaysia.  Easily reachable  by ferry from Penang, the mainland, or a few locations in Thailand, it presents an easy and tempting getaway for people in the local area as well as foreigners from all over the planet.  Sit back, relax, and let the smell of palm trees fill your nose as we show you 5 things that shouldn’t be missed on the island of Langkawi.

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Destination: Georgetown, Penang

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Insense and Monks

Georgetown is the entryway to the exotic island of Penang in Malaysia, and this port city has seen different cultures come and go throughout the years while still maintaining it’s own unique flavor.  Georgetown is Penang’s main city, and is the entry point to the island for most, whether you are coming from the Ferry or the primary bridge to the mainland.  It might be tempting for many tourists to skip past this historic town on the way to the more touristy destinations and beaches of Batu Ferringhi, but it would be a horrible mistake as Georgetown has it’s own wonderful appeal, even without the sand.

People on the Streets of PenangPenang, like Malaysia in general, is a giant melting pot of cultures, especially Malay, Indian, and China.  Penang’s strategic location meant that it also had many visitiors/owners from former western powers, such as the Dutch and the British, making for an even greater melange than normal.  This means that, depending on what street you turn down, you could start your walk in Merry Old England, walk through Calcutta, and end up in Shanghai.  It’s like Epcot Center, only real, and without $20 commemorative mugs.

The legacy of British colonialism is apparent in the architecture in the area near the port and culminates in the remnants of Fort Cornwallis, a star-shaped fort built by the British to protect the harbor.  The fort, open for tours, has been gutted by time, but the walls, chapel, powder magazine, and a few cannons are more than enough to conjure up an idea of days past.  You can stare out of the harbor and feel what it would have been to be behind the walls of such a structure, thousands of miles from home.

Barracks in Fort CornwallisCannon overlooks the BayChapel in Fort Cornwallis

Turning away from the port area and heading South, you see the main administrative buildings of the island, another remnant of British control, as you can clearly see by the architectural style. Read more

Now I Understand Medical Tourism

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Island Hospital

Medical Tourism is a huge industry.  It’s resposible for billions of dollars a year in revenue as people travel across boarders to get medical procedures done.  It’s something I was aware of, but never understood why someone would travel from a developed country to the third world in order to get an important operation done.  Wouldn’t they be risking their lives in some dingy operating room with doctors poking and prodding them trying to figure out how to fix them before they bled out?  Well, now I get it.

IMG_8445After several days of a strange soreness in my throat, we called our insurance company and they gave us the name of a hospital to go to.  Island Hospital.  I was imagining sand floors and nurses in grass skirts, but the truth, while less dramatic, was much more comforting.  It was a large medical center, which contained it’s own ER, Operating rooms, Specialists, Top of the line imaging equipment, in-house lab, and hundreds of patient beds.  I’d been to many clinics in Japan that offer far less.

I was quickly registered, and then taken to see an Endocrinologist.  This being Malaysia, all of the staff and nurses spoke fantastic English, which made the whole process as stressless as possible.  I was still nervous about the level of care I would receive until I met the doctor.  Trained in the UK, and fully fluent in English, he clearly knew what he was talking about, which is something severly lacking among Japanese doctors.  He confirmed that my thyroid was swollen, sent me to get an ultrasound, and then took a fine needle biopsy to try and rule out cancer.  Luckily, it came back negative.  However, since we were going to be traveling for the next 9 months, he suggested that I might want to have half of it taken out as we never know when it might act up again and the next time we might not be in such a good facility.

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Photo of the Week: A House of Colors in Penang

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A Colorful Building

In the back streets of Georgetown lies this house.  Old, worn down, half falling apart, but with a sense of style.  We just stumbled up on it and I couldn’t help taking a snap of it.  It really stands out in a town of relatively standard, more subdued colors, and adds a bit of pizazz.  Thumbs up, yellow house!

Stellar Dim Sum at Tai Tong in Penang

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Dim Sum at Tai Tong

Suck it, Hong Kong!  You may have invented modern Dim Sum, but Malaysia has you beat!  In the back streets of Georgetown on the island of Penang in Malaysia, lies a small, unnassuming restaurant named Tai Tong, which has been pumping out fantastic dim sum for the locals for many years.  It’s not classy or gourmet, but it’s dim sum as it should be:  hot, fast, mouthwateringly delicious, and pushed on you by spirited, old Chinese grandmas.

What to Choose-Walking in, you are ushered to an open table, of which there may be very few.  Ok, ushered is a strong word.  Let’s call it pointed to.  Sitting down, the staff will give you a menu and try to convince you to buy one of the main dishes they have on offer, but you didn’t come here for sweet and sour pork, you came here for dim sum, and dim sum you shall have.  The old women who seem to run the shop (as opposed to the old men who seem to just sit around) wheel around 3 carts full of goodies to choose from.  One cart carries the steamed dishes, full of various dumplings stuffed with pork, shrimp, vegetables and herbs, etc.  The next cart brings the buns, bread, and sticky rice.  The final cart is full of fried treats, including the wonderful sesame balls.  The staff aren’t fluent in English, but they know enough to tell you what’s in each morsel and will gladly help you pick out the good stuff.

Tai Tong is full of good stuff.  We enjoyed everything that we had there.  The one thing we did end up ordering from the menu, the spring rolls, were also fantastic.  Perfectly cripy and done with some egg and tofu on the inside for a wonderful combination of flavor and texture.  In fact, we loved it so much that we went back 3 times as nothing else seemed to measure up.  This is how it should be done.  This is dim sum heaven.

Glutinous Sticky RiceTasty Dim SumFried Sesame Balls