|Situated in Georgetown at the intersection of Farquhar Street and Penang Road, the E&O Hotel is 20 kilometers from the Penang International Airport and within walking distance from the food havens, shopping complexes and entertainment outlets of downtown Georgetown. Our stay reminded me of a bygone era, when patrons dressed for dinner, and a butler called to attend to the bath and linens. The dark wood floors and walls creates a very old, if not formal atmosphere. The staff was extremely friendly, from check in to check out.
Check in is quite civilized. We are invited to sit on a couch while the staff brings cool towels and hot tea to the table. We are allowed a few minutes to relax before registering. Our bags are sent to our room ahead of us. We are escorted to our room, with the front desk clerk as our guide. She explains not only the functions in the room, but the many opportunities afforded by the hotel.
We took a nap since our trip started in California the day before. We decided to have the famous buffet in the hotel dining room. Many of the items were new to us, but we tried several. The obvious choices of beef, lamb, noodles, and fish were extremely fresh and well prepared. It turns out that the chefs are making the food on the grill near the entrance to the restaurant. We decided to wait until morning to explore Georgetown. By the way, our suite had a closet the size of a small bedroom. Our sitting area faced the Straits of Malacca, as we watched a beautiful sunset and the evening fireworks presented by the hotel.
After another delicious meal in the dining room, this time breakfast, we headed out for a walk down to the famous KOMTAR Shopping complex. We walked past many old buildings, and smelled all of the local flavors and curries. The heat, humidity and smog are just terrible, but we continued on to KOMTAR. It turned out to be all hype. KOMTAR is portrayed as the best shopping on the island. But we found half filled stalls in an multi level, worn out mall. Fifteen minutes later, we were ready to leave.
Now for the fun. We decided to take a cab, then opted for a trishaw ride. We hailed the first one to come along. The driver must have been about 80 years old!! We negotiated the price, and headed back to the general hotel area. Along the way, we saw many of the old colonial buildings that make Georgetown an interesting place. But each time we got to an incline at all, we practically came to a dead stop. But the old driver insisted that we continue. I offered to get out, and even to push. He steadfastly refused. It felt like we were moving backwards at some point. The mile or so ride must have taken half an hour!!! But it was an experience to remember.
Safely back from the trishaw ride, we gathered our bags and hired a car to Batu Ferringhi, home of the Rasa Sayang Resort and Hotel on the other side of the island. It was a pleasant ride, with a driver who spoke very good English. He pointed out the landmarks, and laughed when we told him about our trishaw experience. He said only tourists do that.
We had no idea what to expect at the Rasa. Our friends in Penang, Jason and Chun arranged this stay for us. They lived next door to the General Manager of the hotel, and got us a “deal”. Again, we had a most civilized check in experience. We sat at a comfortable sofa, with cool towels, and an iced drink. We were told that we were upgraded to a suite, and our bags were in the room waiting for us. And what an upgrade it was. We discovered that the Rasa wing of the hotel was completely remodeled recently. Oh, and we had our own butler.
The suite had a parlor, and a bathroom the size of a bedroom. The shower, with about 5 nozzles, could easily hold a dinner table for eight people. The flat screen TV could swivel and be seen from the king size bed or the parlor sofa. A basket of fresh fruit, and tray of cold drinks were waiting for us. A laptop was sitting on the desk for us to use. All the controls were located bedside, as well as several other locations. Our tub was really a jacuzzi tub on the outside deck!!! And we had a great view of the Andaman Sea.
But it gets better. All day long, drinks and appetizers are served free of charge in the lobby. Our lobby in the Rasa wing of the hotel is separate from the hotel proper. High tea is served at 3pm as well. It included sushi, dim sum, champagne, as well as hot tea and any other beverage desired. I thought I found hotel heaven. Fresh baked cookies, along with homemade desserts topped off the “snacks”.
Jason and Chun both teach at the Dalat International Language School. They teach English to mostly rich kids from Korea and Japan. We met them the year before on the island of Langkawi, where Jason was performing wedding ceremonies for the hotel. They invited us to see their island and enjoy the famous food of Penang. So, we headed out to have some of that famous Penang seafood.
We drove practically around the island, where we finally turned down a dark road, then down a dark driveway to the back of someone’s house. All of a sudden, there is a lively scene of people, plastic tables and chairs, hawkers selling food, and lots of happy noise. Jason and Chun told us that this is the best seafood on the island. We first ordered some skewers of chicken and meat from a nearby hawker, then got a table. The dirt and gravel floor did not dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for this food. We walked over to the seafood tanks, and picked out our dinner dishes.
We found some drinks, ate our appetizers, and waited. All of a sudden, dish upon dish of seafood arrived at our table. We had lobsters, whole fish, huge prawns, and some things I could not recognize. But it was all delicious, and expertly prepared. Who would guess that this place even existed? As we ate, the shells are left scattered on the paper table cloths. When we are done, the help just gathers everything up in the table cloth and tosses it away.
We were so fortunate that Jason and Chun were between semesters at their school. The next day, we were taken to the famous Kek Lok Si Temple in Georgetown. It is reputedly the largest Buddhist temple in all of SE Asia, and is known as “The Temple of Supreme Bliss”. Construction began in 1890, and in 1930, a seven story pagoda was added. Generous donations from Chinese enable the temple to continue growing. It is impressive and colorful site.
But now for the fun. We headed to some hawker stalls for lunch. After some noodles, we decided to have that famous Malay dessert called ABC. We got to choose our own ingredients at the ABC stand. We chose fresh fruit, along with the shave ice, simple syrup, sweet corn, and fruit toppings. But then we went a lttle crazy. Or maybe I should say, Sheri went a little crazy. She asked Jason to find a durian stand so she could have durian again. So we drove around Georgetown for about 20 minutes until we found a stand along the roadside.
Though it was early in the season, we picked a large, ripe durian and began. Being outside helps dissipate the strong odor. But it still smells like a cross between rotten onions and stinky sweat socks. After being told it is an acquired taste, Sheri was determined to try it again. Well, this time was magic, and she loved it. The three of them ate durian, while I bought some rambutan (like lychee). Little did I know a durian monster was being created.
Fortunately, we parted ways for a few hours to nap and rejuvenate from the heat. We had big plans that night for the famous Penang Night Market, as we were on the prowl for faux Rolex watches. We were close enough to walk, so we charged down to the stalls of the market. Jason knew what he was doing, as we finally found a stall with a vendor he knew. I wanted the famous Rolex Yachtmaster, since the Penang pirates are best at copying this style of Rolex. Sheri got one for herself, as well as a few more for friends back home. I think we ended up paying about $100 for three.
We also bought some pirated DVDs, like the complete Seinfeld, the first 4 seasons of “24”, and a few others. Very inexpensive, very illegal I am sure. But it was fun. Then we headed to the hawker stalls for a late dinner. Again, this was a real treat in Penang. After getting a table, we go to each stall and order. The food comes to the table, and we pay each vendor as it is served. There was not a single dish over $3.00! Huge plates of prawns, curry chicken, fish, squid, Penang fried rice, and fresh Penang vegetables. No matter what we ordered, it was flavorful, interesting, and very inexpensive. The hardest thing was finding some soda or bottled water. Fantastic food, very cheap, and FAST. It truly is the food capital of Malaysia.
Our final morning at the Rasa was quite eventful. We invited Jason and Chun to the famous breakfast buffet. Rather pricey for guests, but worth every penny. No buffet in Vegas comes close to this. Every type of ethnic food, freshly prepared, include roti and naan, as well as homemade pastries, sushi, noodles, as well as the traditional Asian and American breakfasts. And lots of champagne flowing.
Jason has traveled much of the world already. Anytime we mention a destination, he has been there. He is currently coaching the school’s floor ball team. They have been to tournaments all over SE Asia, and done quite well. It is difficult to go anywhere on the island without running into someone he knows. We hope to visit his friend’s lodge in the Penang rainforest on our next trip to Penang.
It was sad to say goodbye to Jason and Chun. It was also sad to leave the 5 star Rasa Sayang. We hardly got to enjoy all the amenities. The spa has won numerous awards throughout Asia, and they even have a nine hole pitch and putt golf course. Beach activities also looked quite inviting, with jet skis, parasailing, and jet boat rides to the nearby islands. We hardly spent any time on the most beautiful beach in Malaysia.
And spa and pools are magnificent. The spa has private suites for bathing, steam and massage. The reception area is a tranquil setting, fit for a prince or princess. Soft Malay music plays in the background, a small steam trickles through the courtyard, and the soft but fragrant smell of freshly brewed tea permeates the room. The pool is also reserved for Rasa guests, apart from the main pool. And the pool attendant is ready with cold drinks, and towels as he sets up an area for us on the lounge chairs or tables.
We were destined to return to the Rasa a year later. It is our favorite hotel now. We did get to use more of the facilities on our second stay. We even got upgraded again to a suite. We enjoyed all of the freebies, but forgot to use the outdoor jacuzzi tub on the deck. We enjoyed the Night Market again, as well as the great seafood. We got to see their school where they teach. And we had lunch at their apartment nearby. It is just too bad that we are so far away. We would love to see them more often.