I kept this diary of things we have done in Singapore for 2 years. I have now moved some of it to other travel pages but you can still find links to many of our activities here. I have also created a reading list of books we have read about the region.

Western Japan

Birds in Singapore

Kuala Lumpur stopover

Thai Diving

Singapore Liveaboard

Local Residents

Beijing Summer

Diving with Sharks

Shanghai Heatwave

Taiwan Tourists

An Indian week

Where U bin?

Island hideaway

Steamy running

A Trip to the Zoo

Gardens by the Bay


Singapore walks

Mind the bus

Flower power


Early weeks


Vicky's Blog


ShophousesVicky is away and I have nothing to do in Singapore for the weekend so I decide to go exploring. Penang is an hour's flight on the North West coast of Malaysia and I am told it is worth a visit.

This island and natural port was once the capital of the Straits Settlements before being overtaken by Singapore. Its cultural mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Baba-Nyonya makes a rich mix - not to mention the Thais, Burmese, Indonesian and British who have settled here and left their mark on the island.

TeksenThe most noticeable effects are food and architecture. I start with lunch at Teksen, a recommended Chinese shophouse restaurant. The queues outside confirm that it is popular - I meet a man in the queue who has just driven 4 hours from KL to get here. Clean and bright it is a lot smarter than many other shophouses. I ignore the long menu and go for the dish of the day - very tender braised duck leg with ginger accompanied by baby pak choi with garlic, plain rice and a Tiger beer. It's been a hot morning.

Dining roomLady of the houseGeorge Town, the capital, is a UNESCO world heritage site and packed with interesting buildings. The Pinang Perenakan Mansion is one of the most spectacular. A former merchant, community pillar and clan leader's house it has been beautifully restored and is packed full of furniture, fabrics and photos. Large portraits and photos of the merchant's parents remind you of his filial duties. It is also packed with mainland Chinese tourists posing at the dining table ("Do not sit/touch").


Street artPenang's street art is a great draw with the tourists. Steel cartoons adorn many of the walls in the town and in 2012 some 'Banksy style' murals were commissioned from Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. These have been added to by local contributions and brighten up the rather tatty walls in the old town. Another chance for coach loads of Chinese tourists to pose for selfies!


Khoo KongsiThe religious mix in Penang is illustrated by the large number of Temples (Buddhist and Hindu) and Mosques that fill the town. One of the finest of these is the temple in the Khoo Kongsi clanhouse complex (right). Others combine fine carvings and elaborate rooves with rather Disney-like temple characters. The clans were focal points for arriving Chinese immigrants and while they broke out into riots in 1867 the 'secret society' label from the British was I think rather unfair.

Penang HillOutside of George Town I have to visit Penang Hill having read Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain. The old ricketing funicular was replaced by a super fast modern version four years ago and it whizzes you up through tropical forest and giant granite boulders in no time. More of a ridge than a hill, some fine bungalows with amazing views sit either side of the hill top road surrounded by tropical forest and hibiscus hedges. With only birdsong and crickets, along with dragon flies and butterflies it is very peaceful after the hussle and bustle down below.

I make a few more visits outside of town. The botanical gardens have fabulous trees and grounds although the plants are rather neglected. The huge Kek Lok Si temple can be see from miles around but close up it is rather tacky with hundreds of shopping stalls selling plastic tat. Nevermind, great food and very different from Singapore.

View the slideshow below for more scenes of Penang.