Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best of 2012: Highlights from the Year

It's the end of the year! Where did the time go? If you celebrate Christmas, I hope that you had a most excellent day. Santa was kind to us this year. He even brought the kids some items that are hard to find around Penang like a huge, LEGO Ninjago dragon set. The Malaysian restaurant practice of not bringing a customer the bill until they ask for it tripped me up. We had an yummy Christmas brunch at the E&O hotel... and then absentmindedly left without paying. Oops! No worries, they had my phone number from my reservation and tracked me down. Not wanting to be on the Naughty list next year, I drove back and paid them.

As a year-end wrap up, I thought I'd do a Best of 2012. Looking back, it's hard to imagine that I've done so much in one year. Add in all the normal, everyday stuff like overseeing homework, going to my boy's baseball games, and volunteering with the school PTO, and I feel like I've been very busy.

Don't get between Hot Mama and her child at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.
Best Animal Encounter
Visiting the semi-wild orangutans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre in Kuching, Borneo was like stepping into a National Geographic show. The big alpha-male, Ritchie, was intimidating while the protective Hot Mama and her young child was fun to watch. There were no barriers between us, and we humans had to make sure we stayed out of the orangutans' way.
Runner Up:Wildlife river cruise in Borneo where we saw Irrawaddy river dolphins and proboscis monkeys.

Best Natural Wonder
Japan's Mount Fuji deserves to be famous. Its beautiful, symmetrical cone rises up from the surrounding plains, towering over everything nearby. From down at the base, I watched snow blowing off the top and couldn't imagine that people actually climb up to the summit.
Runner Up: Hakone National Park is near Mount Fuji and rounded out the day's visit.

Captivating Mount Fuji

Best Water Adventure
Our day snorkeling at Thailand's Racha Yai island, near Phuket, suited everybody in the family, even my little, beginning swimmer. Crystal clear, blue waters and a boat crew that looked after all our needs almost made me forget how horribly nauseous I got on the ride to and from the island. That's right. I was seasick, and it's so good that it's still getting a Best of 2012 award. Plus, hubby got to play superhero by rescuing two young women from the surf.
Runner Up: White water rafting near Ipoh, Malaysia

Snorkeling in Thailand

Best Use of Gold
I must commend whoever came up with the idea of covering the top two levels of Kinkaku-ji Temple in Kyoto with gold leaf. I'm pretty sure that my Homeowner's Association in my Austin neighborhood would never approve such a design for my house. And now that I think about it, hubby wouldn't approve either.
Runner Up: My wedding ring which is 20 years old and, hence, ineligible for this year's award

Kinkaku-ji Temple in Kyoto shimmers in the sun.

Best Use of Steel
What are you going to do with 1800 tons of steel? Sure, some people may choose to erect a tower, but how about turning it into an Observation Wheel (like a Ferris wheel on steroids)? At 165 meters, the Singapore Flyer is the tallest one in the world. We took a 30-minute "round trip" on it last October.
Runner Up: Coming in a very close 2nd place is the Tokyo Tower which is the tallest, self-supporting steel structure in the world.

The Singapore Flyer - 1800 tons of steel, 165m tall

Tokyo Tower - 4000 tons of steel, 333m tall

Best Theme Park
We're an experienced Disney park family, but Tokyo DisneySea still managed to impress. Most of the rides are unique to this location, but you can still do favorites like The Tower of Terror (with a different storyline, no less). 
Runner Up: LEGOland Malaysia

Jules Verne's Mysterious Island at Tokyo DisneySea

That's not a shirt. Those are small urns
hooked directly into his skin.
Best Festival
One of the must-see festivals in Penang is Thaipussum, but it's not for the squeamish. Hindu devotees honor Lord Murugan by carrying different physical burdens called kavadis to offer up as penance, thanksgiving or in supplication. As the procession makes its way through town, people smash coconuts to cleanse the path. Some people balance urns of milk on their heads while others carry tall altars decorated with peacock feathers. The most difficult burden is a multitude of body piercings with urns hanging off the body from hooks and spears threaded through the cheeks and tongue. All I could think was "Ouch!"
Runner Up: Loy Krathong

Foot pounding at Pangkor Laut Spa Village

Best Spa
Pangkor Laut, a private island in Malaysia, doesn't just hold the title of Best Spa for 2012, it's hands down the absolute, best spa I've been to in my entire life. Their Bath House Ritual brings in practices from all over Asia and sets a relaxed mood before your actual treatment begins.
Runner Up: The time I stuck my feet into a tank of flesh-eating fish

Best Buffet
I'll admit it. Ever since I went to my first big Vegas buffet when I was I a kid, I've always had a thing for buffets. The Mother's Day Brunch at the Shangri-la Rasa Sayang hotel in Penang wins for selection, quality and flavor. We had our choice of mock shark fin soup, fresh seafood, local delicacies, and a dessert bar with made-to-order crepes, ice cream, cakes and cotton candy. What really clinched the top spot for them was all the entertainment they provided for the kids. A clown went from table to table making balloon art, there was a crafts table for them to make Best Mom sashes, and kids could watch a movie on the porch.  Runner Up: Pangkor Laut Feast Village
Dessert station at the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Spice Market Cafe
Crepes, Cotton Candy, Cakes and a Chocolate Fountain

Best Street Food
Ok, I like all types of food from the high end to the low budget. Penang is known as a street food paradise, but this year, my heart and cravings are back in Austin, Texas. The Food Trailer Park on South Congress is one of the best places to get cheap, tasty food. The Mighty Cone Hot'n'Crunchy is a favorite of mine. A breading of sesame seeds, almonds, arbol chili flakes, sea salt, sugar and corn flakes encases your choice of chicken, avocado or shrimp. It's deep-fried, plunked in a tortilla cone and topped with mango-jalepeno slaw and ancho sauce. Nom nom!
Runner Up: Penang's Char Koay Teow

The Mighty Cone Hot'n'Crunchy Chicken in Austin, Texas

Best Source of Ice Cream Ingredients
Some foodies say that you should know where your food comes from. How about if you visit the farm where it is grown? Escaping the tropical heat of Penang, we drove up to the cooler climate of the Cameron Highlands. We picked hydroponic strawberries, bought strawberry syrup, and turned it into the yummiest strawberry ice cream I have ever made. This flavor has been hard for me to get right, so I was ecstatic with the results. Too bad I forgot to write down what I did.
Runner Up: Coconut milk freshly squeezed before my eyes at the local wet market.

Get in my belly!

Before I start making up increasingly strange categories like Best Toilet Instruction Sign, I'll stop now.

Happy New Year from Malaysian Meanders!
May it be filled with adventure and awe.
This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Traveler's Sandbox. Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. Hee! I like your categories. Like that you have a runner up too. I usually find it hard to pick just one winner.

  2. What a great year of travel. I especially like the Mount Fuji photo.

  3. What an incredibly fun year you have had. . .hope you have many more adventures to write about in the coming year!

  4. What a year. My favourite of your photos is Mt. Fuji. What a wonderful day you had for viewing it. I read that it is quite often covered in cloud!

  5. Great write-up and year-end post, Michelle and how lucky for your family to have gone to all these wonderful places. Love the pictures of Kyoto and Mt. Fuji (jealous you got to see it in all its glory). Totally agree on Tokyo DisneySea and I've found myself comparing the CA parks to it. Looking forward to more of your adventures in 2013 especially the Oz ones.

  6. hahahaha I absolutely love your quirky categories - best ice cream ingredient sound right to me :)

  7. I hope that 2013 will be even better in every way!

  8. What a nice year-ender, Michelle. I would love to experience that best spa and best streetfood--two of my favorite activities when I'm traveling haha. Happy new year to you and your family!

  9. What a wonderful wrap up of the year- and what a busy year it's been. I love your best spa winner and would love to go. Great way to showcase the year.
    Happy New Year for 2013.

  10. Love your post and your categories.
    Hope 2013 you cross more places off your list.
    Best wishes for the New Year!

  11. Looks like you had an interesting year. Mount Fuji looks amazing. Best wishes for the New Year 2013!

  12. Thank you so much for your wonderful blog! I have just stumbled upon it and am clinging to your posts like rays of sunlight! LOL. I know a bit dramatic, but in two weeks my husband is being transferred to KL and our two toddlers and myself are moving with him. I have never lived anywhere other than sunny California and am having major anxiety about the move. Your blog posts give me something to look forward to. Thanks again!

  13. The spa and snorkeling sound really good right about now. And anything deep-fried is my favorite food to eat. I've found some interesting toilet instruction signs around the world, too - fun stuff!

  14. What wonderful adventures you've had this year. Wishing you more in 2013. Happy New year :)


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