Next stop? One of my favourite holiday experiences – a homestay…. in Penang! So we left the islands the same way we came, ferry and bus. We stopped in a small town called Kota Bharu for a pit stop, and then continued to a town called Kota Aur for 2 nights. This was the most organised homestay I’ve ever been on. The whole town is in on the stay experience – government approved and brochured.
Not a bad experience, but a bit too manufactured. For example, we couldn’t be left on our own to chill for too long as the day had to be filled with activities – such as pandan leaf rose making and leaf weaving 😏. The scenery around was stunning – this is a proper village slap bang in the middle of coconut palm trees and rice fields.
Where am I staying?
So I was staying in one of the biggest houses involved in the homestay – it housed 3 other travellers, we all had our own rooms and shared bathrooms. All modern, clean, but a bit to pink for my taste, but hey ho, I enjoyed it 🙂 Once again, I don’t think it is right to rate somebody’s house, but I will say it was pristine and clean and very nice.
What did I eat? Fruit!! Finally!!! I went out to a local market and bought mangoes, dragonfruit, rambutans and had that for breakfast one morning, supplemented with some watermelon and oranges. What a lovely change!! I had them with all my breakfasts for the next few days. Breakfast at the homestay was essentially fried rice and kuih – this time steamed rice buns topped with fresh coconut. Essentially an idli. Very delicious and I was glad I was eating new (albeit familiar) food. The other notable breakfast when we were out and about was a roti canai – flaky, crispy flatbread/paronta (thankfully made with coconut oil and not butter) with some dhal and a cup of lemon tea. Super tasty and so many layers – I had to have 2. We watched the guys make it too – so talented!
Lunches were excellent too. For me – mainly a mixture of vegetables and rice. I also had an excellent plate of noodles while out and about sightseeing. I say excellent because it tasted TOO tasty which probably meant it was loaded with MSG so left most of it alone. Thankfully the homestay food was sans MSG.
Dinners were epic. I should mention that for all meals I had my own dishes made especially for me, which I was very touched by. On the first night we sat down to a table full with chicken stew, fish, mixed vegetables, a tray full of raw veggies. I was happy with rice (well, I saw happy but I am getting riced out) and the veggies, but I had two more dishes – just for me. Tofu in this killer tamarind sauce and potatoes with chillies. This meal was amazing. So so so tasty, the tofu with rice was excellent. And there were some bitter tasting leaves in the raw veggie pile which were so moreish – unfortunately nobody knew the name in English. The next night the food was just as good. But by this time I was starting to get riced out, so I had this stunning soup with fresh veggies and bean curd sheets – so clean tasting and full of goodness. OMG. The tofu was also exceptional – I had it with a spoonful of rice. BTW – the omnis enjoyed their food but not the bones in the fish and meat – the traditional way of cooking that stuff. We did eat a few meals with our hands (loved it, not a problem for me) but the ones who were not used to it were really struggling. LOL.
The food here was really good and I doubt I overdosed – but this is the first time on my travels that I thought I need a break from rice. I have started craving avocado and boring stuff like cereal! Aaah – almost forgot to mention the meal I had on the way to the homestay – a dosa! Or a thosai as it is known here. Oh mama. So tasty – including the chutneys. Heavenly!
What did I do?
We were pretty busy in the homestay. All the women in the village got together to entertain us and to be entertained. But first, a bike ride through the paddy fields, well, alongside. We basically cycled around the village, stopping by at the house on the water, a traditional timber house (another homestay house, where we were fed fresh mangoes of the tree – thank you!), and to get coconuts for the juice – once again, fresh off the tree. Watching this nimble man gracefully almost glide up the tree was a sight to behold! So blessed, so grateful!
And then we indulged in a lot of activities with the local ladies. We learnt how to play Congkak (pls google) – so much fun and I was on a roll – never played it before and I beat everyone, muhahahhhaha. We learnt how to make pandan roses and rice bags (not as good with these things 😉 and my favourite – making kuih. We made 2 different kinds – pancakes and ‘sticks’. Freshly shredded coconut (which we shredded ourselves), flour (plain for pancakes, glutinous rice for the sticks) water and salt. Oh my. So tasty and thankfully repeatable. I’ll be making the pancakes at home for sure.
Finally, a few more activities away from the homestay. We started off with a visit to a palm tree plantation – a locally managed, sustainable plantation. The palms were of a different variety than the oil bearing – these ones were for extracting sap. The products produced were sap – essentially the juice – vinegar and jelly. I didn’t try the jelly (assume it was thickened with gelatin), but I had the juice. It tasted nothing like I’ve had before – a slightly pungent but sweet aftertaste – I quite liked it. There was stuff for sale too but I didn’t bother buying anything – I’ve still got over a month of travelling!
Next stop – a whispering wet market. It was actually very horrible to see all these beautiful dead fish and crustaceans and even baby rays. WHY!!! The reason why we went here is because this is the only market in Malaysia where buyers whisper their offer price to the sellers – and the seller decides on who to sell to. Very interesting to watch, but sad to see all these beautiful dead fish. We were the only tourists there so we received a lot of attention.
Final stop was very sad – the Tsumani museum. Although Malaysia had the least number of fatalities, the area was still affected. One of the families in the area gave up their house and turned it into a museum. It was a very humbling experience, being made aware of the power of nature – and more importantly – the power of people and how everyone came together to help.
On a happier note, here are some lovely kittens at my homestay – I loved playing with them and I’m a dog person! Sooo tiny and cute!
Final mention – we stopped at a lovely Chinese temple on the way to Kota Aur – really bright and beautiful with a massive standing Buddha.
I loved this part of my trip. The journey, food as stops before getting to Kota Aur, and once I was there for the homestay. Although ‘commercialised’ the people were so amazingly nice and I thoroughly enjoyed observing and experiencing proper village life.