Post Penang World Music Festival: Batik, Spices and Butterflies During Penang Island Tour

A sample of the spices found in the Spice Garden - Photo by Angel Romero
A sample of the spices found in the Spice Garden – Photo by Angel Romero
On the last day in Penang, our hosts gave us a tour of Penang Island. My travel colleagues that day were Filipino writer Niña Terol-Zialcita and Singaporean publisher and writer Mallika Naguran.

The driver on that occasion was Imaduddin, better known as Imad. We drove along the shore and had a brief stop at the Tropical Spice Garden. The garden is located in a former rubber plantation along Penang’s Teluk Bahang shoreline, in the northwestern part of the island. Tropical Spice Garden has over 8 acres of secondary jungle, with over 500 species of tropical flora and fauna. It is an eco-friendly garden. The developers used primarily natural and recycled building materials and the garden applies organic fertilizer and integrated pest control methods.

The next stop was Penang Batik Factory, located at 669m, Mk. 2, Teluk Bahang. Batik is a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax and dyeing “resist” technique. The factory provides a tour that shows visitors the batik-making process. The wax is used on fabric to prevent dye from penetrating the cloth. Wax is put on the fabric, followed by dye. The more complex batiks use successive layers.

Shirts for men at Penang Batik Factory - Photo by Angel Romero
Shirts for men at Penang Batik Factory – Photo by Angel Romero
Penang Batik Factory makes unique hand-drawn batik and hand-blockprinted batik. Products include clothes for men and women. The factory includes a store with finished products. I couldn’t resist and bought a great shirt there. The factory also makes scarves, tablecloths, souvenirs and uniforms. A batik crash course is also available. The factory has an outlet in Georgetown at 422 Jalan Kebun Bunga, near the Penang Botanic Gardens.

We returned to the coast to visit a fishing village. Our group walked down a narrow pier to watch the daily catch of various species of fish, including sting rays and shrimp. The fresh fish is loaded in plastic crates that are transported on motorcycles to the local market.

Next we visited the Penang Butterfly Farm, an attraction that was opened to the public in 1986. It is established as a ‘living museum’ to educate the public as well as a research facility to develop breeding methods. The exhibit includes beautiful free flying butterflies as well as a selection of other insects, arachnids and reptiles.

Butterfly at Penang Butterfly Farm - Photo by Angel Romero
Butterfly at Penang Butterfly Farm – Photo by Angel Romero
From the butterfly farm we rode through winding roads surrounded by fruit plantations. Some of the trees we saw grow the famous durian fruit. You may have heard about this expensive and highly valued fruit. I remember watching an episode featuring the durian in one of the cooking or travel channels on TV. This is the fruit that has a horrible smell. It is banned in many public places, but its fans find it delicious. Unfortunately, the fruit was not in season so we couldn’t try it. Our guide mentioned that some durians were available in some local shops, but these were imports from neighboring Thailand.

At a hilltop, we stopped at a large fruit stand that featured samples of some of the local products, including the jewel of the spice crown, nutmeg. This fruit is used to make candied fruit, juice (or cordial), oil for skin problems and then the nutmeg spice for cooking that many of us are familiar with. Other fruits were on display, including fresh cocoa beans. I bought a couple of bags of the candied nutmeg.

Nutmeg fruit (lower left) at fruit stand in Penang - Photo by Angel Romero
Nutmeg fruit (lower left) at fruit stand in Penang – Photo by Angel Romero
A little later we were able to see from afar the majestic Kek Lok Si temple located in a small town called Air Itam. It is one of the best known temples on Penang and the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.

At the foot of Kek Lok Si, in Air Itam visitors can try the famous penang assam laksa. It is a bowl of spicy and sour noodle soup with tamarind and shrimp. According to our guide and other sources, it is one of the best laksas in the island. I have to admit that I didn’t try it, but my two colleagues did, and they enjoyed it.

We returned to the Lone Pine Hotel where my colleagues and I had an opportunity to meet with the hotel’s management, including general manager Guido Farina, assistant sales and PR manager Elizabeth Chin, and executive assistant manager Khoo Boo Lim. They invited us to try one of the signature dishes served at the hotel, the Tiffin Lunch at The Bungalow. The food comes in tiffin carriers, which is a type of lunch box made out of metal, used commonly in India. They come in two to three tiers.

Hainanese tiffin lunch at Lone Pine Hotel in Penang  - Photo by Angel Romero
Hainanese tiffin lunch at Lone Pine Hotel in Penang – Photo by Angel Romero
Our meal began with a starter, a Hainanese spring roll with minced chicken, crab meat, prawns, cabbage, turnips, carrots, and onion, served with traditional dipping sauce.

The Main Course included Kiam Chai Ark, a rich broth with duck meat, salted vegetables, and sour plum; Acar & Crackers, assorted fruits pickles & papadom; Assam Curry Fish in a spicy & sour rich curry with okra, tomatoes, and ginger flower; Yam Duck made the Hainanese way, which is stewed duck with yam and spices; Ju Hu Char, wok stir fried shredded turnip, carrot, cuttlefish, shrimp, and chicken.

For dessert we were served Sago Gula Melaka, Malaysia’s favorite pudding, made with cream, coconut milk, and palm sugar. I love desserts and always leave room for them. This one was truly exquisite.

That was the last stage of our trip. There was much more to see, but as usual not enough time to see it all. You can find out more about other attractions and activities available by visiting the Discovery Overland Holidays website.

I’d like to thank our generous hosts, drivers and guides, and of course the musicians, for a great time in Penang Island, including the Penang World Music Festival 2013 team: YB Danny Law Heng Kiang, Penang State Exco for Tourism Development and Culture; Gracie Geikie, Mark Justin, Letitia Samuel, Pein Lee, Tan Chung Siong, Annie Wong Pik Ming, Alexis Elvina Langgie, Jacqueline Tunggi, and Tan Koon Ling; the Lone Pine Hotel, Discovery Overland Holidays; the Hotel Royal Penang; and photographers Pek Min Han, Pein Lee and Robertus Pudyanto.

If you plan to travel to Penang, check out the following websites

Also, visit the websites of my colleagues:

Niña Terol-Zialcita:
Mallika Naguran: Gaia Discovery

Related stories:

Post Penang World Music Festival, a Tour of UNESCO World Heritage Georgetown

Iranian Frame Drums, Bissauan Beats and Malaysian Fusion, High Spots of Day 2 at Penang World Music Festival 2013

Balkan Sounds, Taiko Drumming and Portuguese Musical Explorers Highlights of Day 1 at Penang World Music Festival

Penang World Music Festival 2013 Opens at the Khoo Kongsi

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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