In the north of peninsular Malaysia is the small island of Penang. It’s widely known as the food paradise of all of South-East Asia. Now that’s a big claim, and if you haven’t heard of Penang, don’t worry. We didn’t really know much about it either.
Penang, and it’s capital, Georgetown, only really pops up in conversations with people who stare vacantly into the distance, mid-conversation, as they recount a sour/spicy/sweet soup that a mother/aunty/grandma has perfected for years/generations/eons, and it all comes down to the crispiness/tartness/texture of some herb/spice/sauce that is only available from a small village/region/country at certain time of day/season/century.
Neither of us have visited a city to simply Eat, and it seems Penang couldn’t be a more perfect destination.
So we reached out to two close friends from Malaysia, who in turn passed on recommendations from two local Penangites on the best hawker stalls (that’s street-food to you and I), to visit, and what to eat there.
We highly recommend any and all of the places below and If you see us staring vacantly into the distance when we talk about Penang, you’ll now know why...
~ 10 ways to get more Bang for your Bhat ~
We were pretty excited to arrive in Thailand. Yes we were looking forward to the white sandy beaches and sunshine, but before that we had to make the most of being in an real city (Bangkok), where we could actually wander through air-conditioned malls and get far too excited at the prospect of buying some new clothes.
We may have gotten a little too excited; and between shopping, cinemas & roof top bars, we managed to spend a considerable chunk of our monthly Thailand budget in about 5 days. When we had enough of the big city, we headed off to find the perfect beach retreat on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, and to recoup some of our spending, tightened our belts so much that we got kicked out of our ‘family run’ guesthouse “for not spending enough” (We actually thought this was pretty cool…yay us!).
So, if you’re not visiting this infamous island just to let your hair down and party all night at the Full Moon Party (known as FMP to the cool kids), here’s our guide to relaxing in this beautiful part of the world on a budget:
There was an epic amount of footage to squish into this seven and a half minute video, from the monumentus sights in Volgograd and Moscow, to one of the worlds most romantacised train rides, the Trans-Mongolian, to the incredibly vast, beautiful and breathtaking Mongolia.
Check it all out on the newly added 'monthly video'...Chapter 6 on the videos tab, or click here.
VISITING STALIN'S PRINTING PRESS (OR, HOW A COMMUNIST DRILL SERGEANT FORCED US TO SIT ON STALIN'S BED).
The weirdest experience we had in Tbilisi was at the mercy of an intimidating man with his well-worn stick; a stick which had beaten its fair share of ideas into people for many decades and now pointed authoritatively at a wilted photograph of a surprisingly handsome man in his early 20’s...
Eastern Turkey turned out to be one of our favourite regions to travel through, with amazing hospitality, jaw-dropping landscapes and perhaps the best breakfast we came across yet. Read all about our adventures - and check out our photos here!
Interested in Istanbul, Cappadocia and Western Turkey? Don't miss our Turkey page with links to those articles too!
and a couple of things your Lonely Planet doesn’t tell you...
Myanmar was a massive highlight for us on the trip, and much of the reading we were doing before we arrived had us thinking we’d be pretty much as off the beaten track as we were in the North Eastern states of India. Off the beaten track Myanmar is no more, in a few short years, tourism here has exploded, and if you stick to the main sights (which are fantastic and totally worth it), you’ll be there with plenty of others….which is a good reason to get there sooner rather than later.
Even though the tourism industry might be thriving, you are still going to meet some of the most genuine, friendly people, with the biggest smiles you’ve ever seen. Catch someones eye and they will instantly open up into a huge friendly grin. Thailand’s the land is smiles? No way, its Myanmar by a long shot.
If you’re on your way there, you’ve probably read a few things in the Lonely Planet such as being loaded up on pristine new US dollars, or the pre-planning needed to get buses around between main destinations. We found Myanmar to be one of the easiest countries we’d travelled through yet (although we were yet to arrive in Thailand), and its pretty obvious the country has come a long way in the tourism market since they opened their doors fully to tourists in 2010.
It's not Lonely Planets fault that their latest edition has been superseded so quickly with the big changes in the country, but as we found travel blogs and fellow travellers the most up-to-date source of info, we thought we’d add to the bunch with our tips and a few corrections to the Lonely Planet myths.
With our passports still in our hands after visiting the Indian Embassy, we realised we could apply for our Myanmar visa while the first stage of the Indian one was being processed. Handy!
We thought Turkey's greatest drawcard (other than Istanbul) deserved its own destinations page. We have a bunch of practical advice, too, if you want to plan your next trip there. We hiked through valleys, explored dusty paths, and got lost countless times.
And even made friends with a fluffy little thing called Ôrdek.
Click here to read all about it.
Update from Jan, who crossed the border on 2/01/17 (see comments at bottom of post):
1. No permit for state of Manipur needed, at least not for foreigners. It may be possible that Indians need one, although this isn't confirmed.
For past 60 days or so there have been some political problems in Manipur, so be cautious. Jan had some difficultities organising transport from Dimapur (Nagaland) to Imphal (Manipur). Supposedly government buses travelling to Imphal get burnt to ashes. Jan ended up paying for a pretty expensive shared car (1500rp).
2. MYM government changed the conditions recently, so now you need to pay for a two-way crossing (even though if you only cross once), which $160. Jan went through the same agency mentioned in the post below.
3. Shared taxi from Imphal to Moreh cost Jan 500rp. It should be the local price, his friends from Imphal arranged it, and three passenders shared the van. Our price mentioned below was probably a complete rip off...but it was boxing day, so we didn't have many options.
With India committed to developing tourism in the North-Eastern states (hello living tree-root bridges and hill-tribes) and Myanmar looking to uphold its cooly-undiscovered-but-totally-discovered image for at least another few years, it’s natural that the passage between the two is going to develop rapidly.
Follow the official websites and guidebooks and you’d be left scratching your head wondering how to cross between the two by land. If it wasn’t for travel bloggers out there, we’d think it wasn’t possible.
It is possible. And it’s easy with a bit of planning.
Most articles we’ve read have shown how to cross from Myanmar into India, so we’re adding to the pool of knowledge out there with our experience doing it from India to Myanmar. And we did it on a Sunday - so there were a few extra steps.
Click 'Read More' below to find out how!
It was around five hours into our bus ride to Mawlamyine in the east of Myanmar/Burma that we glanced at our watches and noticed the date. We left London 9 months ago.
We’re still going strong. We cross into Thailand in a few days time, then it’s a hop south through Malaysia, skip along a few Indonesian islands and a small jump to the top of Australia.
We have a Facebook page which we’ll push a lot more content to when we cross the border (and finally have some decent Internet).
Thanks for following our journey so far.
Pete & Em
EMMA & PETE
We're just two Aussie's who met in London, married in Prague and travelled overland back to Australia.