Thursday, February 27, 2014

Running Around Beijing's Olympic Green

The most expensive Olympics Games in history are over now, and Sochi is free to commence its downward spiral until the day when it's featured in "Abandoned Olympic Venues" articles floating around on the internet. I actually never got to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics other than the entertaining clip of when AT-AT Walkers attacked downhill skiers. Our satellite TV went out during a January power outage, and I've been holding firm to my stance that the kids need to figure out how to fix it if they want to watch television.

What surprises me when I look through those Abandoned Olympic Venues pictures is that Beijing is in there. Granted, it's nowhere close to the pinnacle of attention it once occupied in Summer 2008, but I wouldn't label it abandoned.

When I asked the kids what they wanted to visit in Beijing, what do you think was at the top of my teen son's list? Not the Forbidden City. Not the Great Wall. His pick was seeing the Beijing National Stadium, a.k.a. "The Birds Nest" with his own two eyes.

Birds Nest, stadium, Olympic, Beijing
The Birds Nest (Beijing National Stadium)

That's how we found ourselves at Bejing Olympic Green one October day surrounded by busloads of Chinese tourists. Located just 25 minutes away from the Forbidden City in one direction and the Summer Palace in another, it's close enough to other popular sites that it's easy to stop by for an hour to walk around.

On one side of the very long plaza running the length of the green is the Beijing National Stadium, affectionately known as "The Birds Nest." It has a distinctively irregular, steel latticework design which originated from the study of Chinese ceramics. This was the home of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies as well as football matches and track and field events. Covering 258,000 square meters, it can seat up to 80,000 people  a figure that it comes no where near approaching nowadays.

I warned my boy that since we were arriving late in the afternoon too near to closing time, we wouldn't be able to go in for him to do his best Usain Bolt imitation. Our guide says that it's now mainly used for concerts or winter ice skating, although you can pay CNY50 per person if you just want to go in to look around and take photos.

Beijing, aquatics, Olympic, swimming
The Water Cube (Beijing National Aquatics Center)

The Water Cube whose official name is the Beijing National Aquatics Center sits across the plaza from the Birds Nest. It was the site of the 2008 Summer Olympic swimming and diving events and is currently being utilized as an indoor water park. The outer surface looks like soap bubbles squeezing through a polyhedral frame.

Beijing, Olympic, dragon building, torch
Pangu Plaza - Olympic torch or Dragon Head?

We couldn't help noticing the 39-stories-tall building rising up behind the Water Cube. It's called Pangu Plaza and is not actually part of the Olympic complex. What we thought was a torch is supposed to be a dragon head, and the four boxy looking, 23-story-tall buildings trailing behind it represent the dragon's undulating body. Ok, whatever... if you say so. The tallest building is a 7-star hotel while the rest of the plaza is a shopping mall, office space, and residential apartments.

Numerous kites guide your eyes up to heaven

Besides the modern architecture in a city better known for its ancient structures, what I will remember most about Beijing's Olympic Green is the numerous kite sellers strolling up and down the plaza among the hundreds of tourists. They daisy chainned together multiple 5-kite strands so that they stretched high into the sky.  At one point, an electric police buggy came by, and the crowd of kite sellers started strolling away from them. "Oh me sir? No, I'm not selling anything. I just happened to come out today to fly this massive line of kites right here."

Tip: Instead of buying your kids souvenir kites, just pick up a discarded one from the ground and let them run around to make it fly since the string is so short it won't catch any air.

Running around Beijing Olympic Green

Our time walking around this 2008 Summer Olympics venue was brief but interesting. Plus, it gave us a chance to attempt to form the Olympic Rings ourselves.

Chinese tourists took pictures of us posing like the Olympic rings
The strange thing is that I saw a few strangers, probably Chinese tourists, stopping to take pictures of us as we posed for our own camera. Why do you think they wanted a photograph?
a. We're such a cute, clever family.
b. We have THREE kids, even though the oldest is a boy.
c. My husband is white and over 2 meters tall (and incredibly handsome). 
d. All of the above 

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, Friday Postcards on Walking On Travels, "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper, and Sunday Traveler at Chasing the Donkey. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Up on Penang Hill

Sweat is pouring off me. I raise my feet, climbing step after step, upwards on Penang Hill. At least the jungle all around me provides a natural shade canopy, shielding me from the tropical sun. Why am I doing this? Because it's there. Because my fit friends do it and seem to enjoy the trek. Because my son does it, and I feel the need to literally go over the hill to prove that I'm not metaphorically over-the-hill. Because it's a way to experience the island while getting away from the hustle, bustle, and traffic that is George Town.

Penang Hill
Gratuitous monkey photo

Jungle Trek

My friend and I are taking the stairs leading upwards from the Moon Gate along Waterfall Road near the Botanical Garden. Other people ranging from athletes going on a trail run to senior citizens with trekking poles are out this morning as it's a popular hike for those looking to exercise outside. Steps are cut into the trail, keeping us from slipping on the muddy parts. Breaks in the trees give us little glimpses of the city below, showing us how far we've climbed. Monkeys look down from the branches, hoping that we'll get distracted so they can steal our water bottles. One time, a tree root suddenly starts slithering away a split moment before I realize that it's actually a long snake crossing the trail. At Station 5, a group has apparently hiked up to play mahjong or use the exercise equipment. Tea and water are available from volunteers who have carried up the supplies.

Penang Hill
Mahjong players at Station 5 rest area on Penang Hill jungle trek

Hiking up the Jeep Trail

When my son and husband go with the Boy Scouts, they take the paved 5 km Jeep Trail starting at the Botanical Garden parking lot. It's not a public road, so it's ideal for hiking. Two stations along the way provide refreshments and toilet facilities. Keep in mind your personal fitness level. My boy can make it to the top in about 90 minutes. Some other friends of mine took 4 hours to complete the same hike and couldn't walk for 2 weeks afterwards because their muscles were so sore. Other hiking trails start at Air Itam Dam, the Youth Park, and Hye Keat Estate.

Fun Time Riding the Funicular Train

By far, the most popular way to ascend Penang Hill is to take the funicular up from Air Itam. This way only takes 10 minutes and leaves you far less out-of-breath. On the other hand, it isn't free. (Tip: No matter how hard you try to speak Malay and pass yourself off as a local, they will still ask for your MyKAD card to get the discounted rate. Some expats have had success saving money by showing their visas.)

The train carries 100 people and departs every 15-30 minutes, depending on the crowd. Try to get a window with a good view of the tracks for the most excitement. There's one scary point mid-way when you swear you are about to crash into the oncoming train until they both suddenly shift to the side to avoid each other.

Newly refurbished funicular carriage

When you reach the top, you'll be at the most developed, touristy peak called Flagstaff Hill (Bukit Bendera) which was named after the flag that was raised there whenever the British post had arrived. At 823 meters (2,750 feet) above sea level, it has scenic vistas of George Town, the Straits of Malacca, and the mainland on a clear day. In the late 1700's when Penang was a British colony, the cooler climate up at the top encouraged the British to turn it into a hill station resort and clear land to grow strawberries. Best of all, it was free of the malaria sickness infesting the lowlands at the time.

Welcome to the Top

The main plaza near the top showcases a variety of entertainment. I've seen everything from symphonic quartet concerts to paying to have your picture taken with a giant, yellow and white, Burmese python wrapped around your shoulders. Take time to explore the rickety, wooden, funicular carriages of yesteryear that are on display. There's an Owl Museum, but frankly, everyone I know who has visited has rated it as boring, so we've never bothered to go in.

Penang Hill
Main plaza at top of Penang Hill's Bukit Bendera

Follow the road around to the right, and you'll come across stairs leading up to an area with a playground, Hindu temple, and mosque.

Banana tree and the only Hindu temple on Penang Hill

The Bellevue Hotel is a bit further along the road with an onsite Aviary Ginger Garden that you can pay to explore. It advertises itself as the "World's First Detergent-Free Hotel." What does that mean? I don't know. Walk through the hotel to the back where the cafe has a panoramic view of the northern side of the island. Oddly, there's also a geodesic dome in honor of Buckminster Fuller who once stayed here while helping to design what is now KOMTAR.

Penang Hill
Looking over the northern edge of the island towards Straits Quay from The Bellevue Hotel

You Take the High Road

My favorite section at the top of Penang Hill is taking a stroll along the Summit Road extending around to the left from the main plaza. Century-old heritage bungalows originally built for high ranking officers of the British East India Company line the road, and some of them will make you think you've stumbled upon a little cottage in jolly ole England.

Brownhead Bungalow where the well-to-do can escape to cooler air

It's a long but easy walk. Most people hitch a ride on a buggy which are for hire at the base of the playground stairs near the main plaza for RM30-60.

Penang Hill, burka
Hire a buggy if you don't want to walk.

A viewing platform by the side of the road has one of the best views from the hill. Keep an eye out for the red post box with the VR (Victoria Regina/Queen Victoria) insignia on it. It's supposedly one of the oldest in Penang and certainly on the Hill.

Penang Hill
The oldest postbox on Penang Hill

Carnivorous Plants

Near the end of the Summit Road, about a 30-40 minute walk, you'll find the Monkey Cup Garden. These carnivorous pitcher plants are said to be nature's answer to how monkeys quench their thirst. I think they only resort to this when their efforts to steal tourist water bottles fail.

Penang Hill
Monkey Cups
See the spider inside the one on the bottom left?

There's not much razzle dazzle to the garden, but my girl and I were satisfied by looking at the over 100 varieties growing here along the mossy ground trying to figure out which ones were having success at trapping insects. And silently in my head, I kept singing the songs from Little Shop of Horrors the whole time.

Penang Hill
A leaf frog, traditional instruments, Venus flytraps, and enjoying the swing

Spend the Night on the Hill

One of the Boy Scouts' favorite places to camp on the island is at the Nature Lodge of the Methodist Centre located off Upper Tunnel Road West. Although the price is a bit too dear for single family camping, it's a great location for a group event. A sheltered area beneath the building provides protection from Penang's frequent rainstorms. There's an ample lawn for pitching tents. Best of all, a few thatched huts on stilts constructed by the orang asli (natives) occupy the property, too. Hubby says that these stay surprisingly dry in a rainstorm, too. If you plan on camping here, you can hire a jeep from the Bellevue Hotel to carry your equipment up.

Penang Hill, Methodist Centre

Feed Me

All that walking around makes my family a bit hungry. At the very least, the promise of ice cream has kept the kids going when they'd rather lay down on the road and refuse to move. The cheapest eats are at the Cliff Cafe at the 3-story building at the Main Plaza. Numerous hawkers offer Assam Laksa, Char Koay Teow, Ais Kacang, and other local delights.

Penang Hill, hawker
Cold Ais Kacang (Bean Ice) is refreshing on a hot day.

The cafe at the back of the Bellevue Hotel is a scenic spot to enjoy a cocktail. Watch out for pit vipers in the trees, by the way.

The fanciest restaurant is on the hillock near the upper funicular station and is called David Brown's Restaurant and Tea Terrace. I imagine that many Penang brides must dream of having their wedding reception at such a romantic spot. While the setting was idyllic, I found the Western food to be pricey, and I didn't think that the taste measured up to the upscale meal they were aspiring to offer. Next time, I think I'll just plan on having appetizers or dessert here instead of a full meal.

Penang Hill
Romantic David Brown's Restaurant

Back Down Again

Your options for getting back down to the base are about the same as the ones to get up Penang Hill. Some people mix it up by running up and then taking the train down. (Penang Momma, I'm talking about you). My boy is most in awe of a friend who longboarded down the Jeep Trail. Please make sure you have good insurance before you try this X-Games-style stunt. If you hike back down to the Moon Gate, reward yourself with a tall, cool glass of freshly squeezed juice or coconut water (nature's Gatorade) at the Juice Stand across the street.

If You Go:

  • Find more information on jungle trekking trails at Forest Explorers or Penang Trails. Trails are not marked, so for the first few times, you may want to go with someone who is experienced hiking these routes. Otherwise, you can end up at the base far from where you parked the car, as my son's friends discovered. 
  • RapidPenang bus line 204 takes you to the bottom funicular station.
  • If you are driving to the funicular station, follow the signs to "Bukit Bendera."
  • Current funicular train schedules and fares can be found at the Penang Hill webpage.
  • The menu  and contact information for reservations at David Brown's Restaurant and Tea Terraces can be found on the webpage. Open 9AM-9PM.
  • Aviary Ginger Garden at The Bellevue admission is Adults RM8 and Children RM5. Open 9AM-6PM.
  • Reservations for The Methodist Centre Nature Lodge can be made at the Bellevue Hotel.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper, Sunday Traveler on Ice Cream and Permafrost, and Travel Photo Mondays on Travel Photo Discovery. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Looking for Wildlife and Homelife on a Borneo River

Reading National Geographic Kids inspires my children to explore. In the same way that the original magazine got adults dreaming of adventures in faraway lands, the kid version has given my children a curiosity about the animals, landscapes, and cultures of our vast, diverse world.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
Fisherman on the Santubong River, Borneo

When we boarded the boat on Borneo's Santubong River, my daughter was immediately enthralled by the wildlife photos lining the ceiling. Pictures of proboscis monkeys with their comical, Jimmy Durante noses stared down at us. Irrawaddy dolphins with their characteristic rounded heads and snub noses were shown frolicking in the water. Images of crocodiles glared at us, daring us to get a little closer. As the boat began to chug its way out into the river, she went on and on, telling me everything she knew about proboscis monkeys and their endangered status.

After a while, she paused for a breath and said, "Mama, we should go and see these animals sometime," waving her arm at the pictures

"Honey," I told her, "That's why we're on this boat. Those are the animals we're going to see!"

She was so surprised and delighted. The look on her face was akin to a preschool girl who has just been told she's going to DisneyWorld to have breakfast with all the Princesses. It was as if she had stepped into the pages of National Geographic. A world which had so far only existed on paper was suddenly about to become real.

We were going to see these animals in the wild. Of course, this can be a little trickier than seeing them at the zoo or aquarium. They aren't captive and waiting for you to come by to look at them. No, these animals are living free, and we needed a combination of luck and familiarity with their habits to find them. Luckily, we had a guide who knew a few tricks.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
Waiting and staring, hoping to see proboscis monkeys.

Our first successful sighting was of some Irrawaddy dolphins. They are known to hang around fishing boats, so our boat would cut its motor and silently float whenever we came upon a fisherman.

"There!" someone would cry, pointing excitedly. The dolphins quickly came up out of the water and dove back down again. We would watch for a while before continuing down the river looking for more fishing boats to stalk.

Before you start scrolling down to see fantastic wildlife photos, I need to let you in on something. Photographing wildlife can be really hard -- perhaps even more difficult than taking pictures of uncooperative toddlers. Basically, none of my pictures turned out. All the ones of dolphins show nothing but water. I only got one photo of an animal the entire evening, and it was taken right as we were climbing on board.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
Mudskippers are amphibious fish that use their pectoral fins to walk on land.

Yup, that's the sum total of all my successful wildlife photos. At least I have my memories...not that you can see them.

As we reached the mangrove forest, the boat took us closer to shore to look for proboscis monkeys. The key is to look for violently shaking branches. Night was approaching which is the time when these monkeys move from the inland spots where they spent the day back out to the river to forage for food. We spotted a few moving through the trees but never got the closeup look that we'd been hoping for. From what my friends tell me, we would have had a better chance of seeing them if we had spent the night at one of the Bako National Park cabins where the proboscis monkeys come crashing through the area every morning.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
Fishing village on the Sanbutong River

For me, one of the best parts of our river excursion was stopping at a Malay fishing village. The brightly painted houses were raised up on stilts to keep them out of the way of rising water. Boats were tied up all along the shore.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
The fishermen have returned home for the day.

This place is so remote that they are not hooked up to a power utility. Instead, the loud drone of gasoline powered electric generators filled the air as we pulled up. There's a small school to serve the younger children, but teens interested in getting an education had to go elsewhere for classes, only coming home on weekends.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
Toddler boy hanging out the window over the water.

The lack of power and secondary schools made me realize how different my life was compared to this fishing society. After all, I had reached their village on a 3-hour pleasure cruise and was going to lay my head down to sleep in a lovely hotel in Kuching that night. The fishing families, on the other hand, did not have the economic means to travel this distance often. Their poverty keeps them isolated.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
However, they do have the money for satellite television.

The evening call to prayer was just about go out as we landed, so most of the footpaths were empty as wandered through the village. In fact, we never saw a man the whole time we were there as they were off praying. I did see a Winnie-the-Pooh baby blanket hanging up to dry, though.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
Wooden walkways between homes lead down to the river.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
One little boy dressed up in his Friday finery. 

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
The fanciest house I saw in the village.

We only spent a few minutes walking around. I actually felt a bit odd taking photos, wondering what I would think if some stranger stood a few feet from my home taking pictures of it.

Santubong, Sarawak, Borneo
Sunset from the fishing village

As the sun began to set, we got back on board for our return trip. The guide shone his powerful flashlight at the mangrove forest's shoreline, sweeping its beam back and forth. He was looking for crocodiles whose eyes reflect the light, making them glow in the dark. My girl was the only person to see a crocodile (or so she claims).

We ended the evening cruise floating by a couple trees filled with fireflies blinking on and off. Fireflies are pretty much impossible to photograph in the dark from a bobbing boat. While I remember seeing fireflies on summer nights when I was a kid, this is the first time that my own children have seen them. I wonder if the fireflies are dying off in Houston, Texas as my parents still live in my childhood home, and the fireflies no longer flit through their yard.

All of us were quiet on the 40-minute van ride back to Kuching. It's excursions like this that make me fully appreciate all that travel can show my family. Wildlife transforms from being something we read about in books or visit in captivity to something that we see in its natural habitat. We're introduced to people whose society is physically located close to our own modern world yet remains so different from ours. We weren't just flipping through a copy of National Geographic. We were experiencing it in real life.

We booked our tour through CPH Travel Agency. They picked us up from our hotel in Kuching in an air conditioned van and provided fruit snacks and non-alcoholic beverages on the cruise as part of the tour. The boat had life-jackets if you elected to wear one, even ones small enough for preschoolers. The cost was a little more than US$50 for adults and US$25 for children.

Don't Anger the Orangutans

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper, Sunday Traveler on Ice Cream and Permafrost, and Travel Photo Mondays on Travel Photo Discovery. Check them out form more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chocolate Workshop at Chocolate Passion

Some people are carnivores, and some fancy-pants types call themselves omnivores. Some hipsters are locovores. I consider myself a chocovore — someone who eats chocolate. Preferably all the time. All. The. Time. I have a fantasy that I fill a Camelbak Hydration Pack with liquid chocolate ganache and have it at the ready whenever I need a hit. So, when Chocolate Passion announced a chocolate making workshop at their Straits Quay location, I immediately signed up. And then in a fit of lunacy propelled by a brain high on cocoa, I asked my two youngest kiddos if they'd like to join me. I bet you can guess their answer. "Yes, mama!"

Let's just think of this as career exploration.

The workshop started off with a 30-minute lecture on the history and production of chocolate. My son probably would have paid better attention had he remembered to wear his eyeglasses to see the presentation. Then, it was time to wash our hands and get started on the hands-on part. The staff distributed about 250 grams each of white, dark, and milk chocolate. I will attest that this is some of the best quality chocolate I have come across in Penang. Believe me, I have surveyed the other options extensively. After zapping it in the microwave, one 30 second burst at a time, we eventually ended up with 3 bowls of melted goodness.

Mixing up the white and milk chocolates.
If only she had another hand, then she could stir the dark chocolate, too.

Finally, it was time to start creating on our chocolate masterpieces. We filled piping bags with the melted chocolate and snipped off the bottom.

Chocolate Passion's Master Artisan Callin Tan demonstrates how to fill a piping bag.

My kids have fortunately had some experience helping me decorate cakes, so they were familiar with how to properly hold and handle piping bags. They experimented with putting more than one type of chocolate into a mold in layers or to add design accents. Coloring the white chocolate was another way to add a little oomph to the candy's appearance. When each tray was full, we carefully placed them into the refrigerator to harden.

Piping melted chocolate into the molds.

Concentrating on getting it just right

Having gained some confidence in making molded chocolates, we then moved on to freehand designs. This was also a good opportunity to add in some little extras like sprinkles, corn flakes, sugared nuts, or slivered almonds.

Freehand chocolate designs, except for the lolly.

The hardest part was keeping the chocolate at just the right temperature. We had to go back to the microwave a few times to melt the chocolate which had begun to harden in the bowl. My daughter took advantage of the pliable, dough-like stage of the chocolate to use her fingers to form a little animal head. That turned out to be an extremely messy activity.

Surprisingly, my kids followed my strict instructions not to lick their fingers
as we'd be sharing these chocolates as gifts.

Creating all this chocolaty yumminess took a couple hours. When the chocolates in the molds finally hardened, we turned the trays over and popped them out. At the end of the class, everyone put their best pieces on display as we did a little show-and-tell for the other students and received a Certificate for attending. They gave us plastic bags with twist ties and a fine looking chocolate box to package up our goodies for gift-giving. I couldn't believe how much we had made. Bonus! We got to bring our aprons home to remind us of our fun as a Chocolatier-for-a-day.

Just a few of our best looking chocolate candies

Do you know what is the best part of this workshop?

Eating the chocolates, of course!

Nom nom, so delicious!

We signed up for this workshop that was announced on their Facebook page, but you can also schedule a private workshop for a party activity or team building.

Their core business is selling handcrafted chocolates, chocolate desserts and drinks. Need a gift for your wedding guests, party guests or for corporate giving? They can do a large, custom order for you, too.

Where can you find Chocolate Passion?

  • Straits Quay - Ground Floor Al Fresco area
  • Gurney Paragon - Level 6
  • Auto City in Butterworth
  • Tel: 04-890 6121
  • Website:

If you're ever wondering what to get me for a gift, anything from Chocolate Passion will do. (Hint, hint Hubby. Valentine's Day is this Friday.)

This post is part of Foodie Tuesday on Inside Journeys. Check it out for more delicious inspiration.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Made in Penang Interactive Museum for 3D Photo Fun

There's a new museum in historic George Town, and it's on the fast track to becoming one of the most popular attractions on the island. What makes the Made in Penang Interactive Museum so great? They've distilled the essence of Penang its myriad ethnic cultures, foods, festivals, traditions, and landmarks and highlighted them all in one place through cheeky artistic renderings. Best of all, YOU get to be part of the fun by jumping right into each scene. It's an outing that appeals to everyone, from families with young kids, to couples on a date night, to friends who just want to hang out for a few hours.  

You know how people like to take their photo with the twin Petronas Towers where it looks like they're hanging from the Skybridge? Or with the Leaning Tower of Pisa as if they're holding it up or pushing it over? Or as if they're pinching the top of the Eiffel Tower? They position yourself just right, and snap the photo for a great picture. That's what this place reminds me of.

Bring your camera!

First and foremost, remember to bring a camera whether it's on your smartphone, iPad, point-and-shoot cam, or your fancy DSLR. You will want to take photographs. That is the key to the interactive fun of this museum. You might even say that the artists have provided only part of each exhibit. You and your companions are an integral component, too.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
One of the canons at Fort Cornwallis takes aim, shoots, and hits.
Sure, the above picture is a dynamic, 3D depiction of what the British who built nearby Fort Cornwallis intended. Canons were to defend the island colony which was then a valuable part of the British East India company. The cannonball has not only hit its target; its impact cracked the wall, broke the frame, and spilled seawater out into the gallery. 

But what makes this an interactive museum is...

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Yup, it was my kids who fired that cannon.

You are part of the scene.

Up on the second floor, images pay homage to different, famous aspects of Penang. It's a good first stop for tourists to get an overview of the island, but it's also an ideal way to reminisce about what makes this place so interesting. You could almost make a series of postcards entitled "Penang is ______" with the printouts of your visit to this museum. 

A written description in both English and Chinese accompanies each piece of 3D art along with a suggested pose. Of course, if you're like my kids, you're free to improvise as well. 

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
That Tom Yam is spicy hot!
Originating in Thailand, the sour and spicy flavors of Tom Yam are a popular part of Penang cuisine.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Suggested pose and explanation of the Tom Yam artwork.

Look for the round sticker of red clogs on the floor in front of each scene to figure out where to stand to get just the right angle for taking a photograph. Museum staff members can take your photo for you if you want to be in the picture, too. On crowded days, staff also help block people from straying into your photo and keep the queue in order. The "Will you Marry Me? Love Lane" mural even has a charming bouquet of flowers that a staff member will hand you when it's time for your snapshot.

Here are just some of the thirty murals highlighting the best of Penang. Visit the museum to see the rest and insert yourself into these photos. 

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
What's an Aunty's favorite way to tour Penang? On a Trishaw, of course.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Betting on Siamese fighting fish was a popular past time among rural folk.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Crafting handmade wooden clogs is a vanishing heritage trade.
(Trivia: Famous shoe designer Jimmy Choo is from Penang.)

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
The waters around Penang are a dolphin habitat, and the Penang Bridge stretches 13.5 km to the mainland.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
The Penang Ferry started operating in 1920 between George Town and Butterworth on the mainland.

Water fights break out at the Thai Buddhist temple during Songkran, the Thai New Year celebration, each April.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Kids love visiting the turtle pond at Kek Lok Si, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Carniverous Monkey Cup pitcher plants are native to Malaysia and have their own garden up on Penang Hill.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Durian orchards dot the back side of the island.
Although it's the King of Fruits, my son would like to give its stinky aroma the boot. 

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Char Koay Teow is pretty much my all time, favorite hawker food.
If only the prawns were truly that big.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
The Indian influence on Malaysian mamak (food) is seen in Roti Canai (flatbread) and Teh Tarik (pulled tea).

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Spider Man atop the Queen Victoria Clocktower built in 1897 to commemorate 
her Diamond Jubilee when Penang was still a British colony.

Made in Penang Interactive Museum, 3D art
Peranakans are the descendents of the Chinese who immigrated to the British Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore). This decor is typical to their homes in the mid-20th century. 

What also impressed me is that most of these pieces are actually 2D. They only look like they're popping out of the wall, and there's usually nothing to hold onto. You really have to pretend! Some gals were doing wall sits in the Peranakan room to make it look like they were sitting in the chairs. They must have good quadriceps.

Augmented Reality

Another interactive part of the museum has a few kiosks specializing in Augmented Reality. Step up to one set where a video camera shows your face on a screen with a Chinese opera mask superimposed upon it. With all my family's different head shapes, the mask adjusts itself to fit just right and moves along with the person.

Two kiosks require the QR code on the entrance ticket. Hold it out to the camera, and you are suddenly holding KOMTAR in your hand. Since it's the tallest building on the island and home to Penang State government offices, you couldn't do that in real life. Turn your ticket sideways, and KOMTAR rolls sideways, too. The other kiosk requiring the QR code on your ticket reveals the Penang ferry floating around on the water. 

Your entrance ticket's QR code lets you try out a little Augmented Reality. 

Historical Dioramas

The ground floor houses a few dioramas shedding light on Penang's history. Sculptor Khoo Chooi Hooi created these tiny depictions of life in bygone days from the 1960's Indian Barber to the Nasi Lamak sellers on the sidewalks. When I look at the small sculpture of the Durian stand, I am immediately transported to the smells of the durian stall across the street from my home. 

Historical dioramas of Penang life in years gone past.
(Clockwise from top left: Penang Jetty in the 19th century; smell the Durian stall from blocks away; Teh Tarik is milky, sweet and frothy; pungent and spicy Nasi Lamak for sale; roadside stalls selling Lemang (bamboo rice) are popular during the fasting month of Ramadan)

How the Penang Jetty looked over a century ago.
Also, the building now occupied by the Made in Penang Interactive Museum

A small movie theater on your way out of the museum shows "Pearl of Malaysia," a film about Penang's story. The English version and Mandarin version alternate with one movie starting every 30 minutes. 


  • Bring a camera. I repeat... bring a camera.
  • This museum is best enjoyed without a crowd around. Weekdays or at opening time on weekends are the quietest and the ideal time to visit. (Let's just say that when we were there on a Sunday afternoon that was also the 3rd day of the Chinese New Year holiday was NOT the best time.)
  • Hours: 9AM - 6PM daily; Plan on spending 1-2 hours at the museum.
  • Hungry? A small kopitiam selling drinks, snacks, Cendol, Ais Kacang, and Penang Laksa is located by the ticket booth.
  • The walkway leading into the museum has Malaysia's longest and widest 3D mural. You can enjoy it and take photos for free here without actually entering the museum.

Entrance Fees:
  • Non MyKad holder (non-Malaysians): RM30
  • Non MyKad holder, students and children: RM15
  • MyKad holder: RM15
  • MyKad holder, students an children: RM10

No. 3, Pengkalan Weld, George Town, Penang
Across from the Church Street Pier

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper, Travel Photo Mondays on Travel Photo Discovery, and Our World Tuesday. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
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