Fist thing about Penang, it's damn hot and I thought Singapore was hot, no, this was worse! It got so bad that we actually had to retreat into our hotel room and blast the aircon as heat exhaustion was a constant threat. Secondly, Penang is bigger than you think and Charlestown (A Unesco World Heritage Site) is only a small albeit cool part of it. There is a lot to see on this island and to do it properly, you need more than a weekend, so for this trip, we focused on Charlestown alone. Finally, the food. Time Magazine was right, there is a lot of great food on this island in the form of restaurants and hawker centers but what really sets Penang apart, is the sea of food carts.
There are some amazing Carts that offer amazing specialties like Laksa (Tamarind based unlike the Singaporean version with Coconut milk), Chedol, Mee, Satays... the list goes on and one. We ate from the carts for every meal and toured Charlestown each day to see the architecture, sites, mosques, temples and parks. PENANG is a very cool city, a cool island and one I would visit again. You can check out our pics HERE!
The only way to Phi Phi is via boat so you have to fly into either Krabi or Phuket, taxi to the dock then take a 1-3 hour boat ride (depending where you depart from and how old your ferry is). You could charter a speedboat but that's far more expensive and only saves you 1/3 of the time. Also be weary of hotels that offer you "Airport Transfer" some places will charge you double of what it would cost if you just hailed a cab at the airport and booked your own ferry at the pier (judgment call - follow your gut).
Once in Phi Phi, the ferry drops you off at the main pier which is extremely congested with arriving and departing passengers as well as Hotel hawkers picking up reserved customers and trying to drum up more business. There are no cars on Phi Phi so you have to walk to your hotel, luckily the island is so small and compact, a 20 minute journey is about all you have to endure at the most. The island is covered in tourist shops, scuba schools, restaurants and food stalls but surprisingly very few "Beer Bars" unlike most major Thai towns. Phi Phi seems to be a popular destination for European tourists as we were one of the only English speaking couples in a sea of Russian, Swiss and French accents. Add to the fact that it was Chinese New Year weekend and it made for an extremely busy place! Word to the wise, do your best to speak some Thai and you will be treated very well.
We had great weather on Phi Phi and enjoyed the beach right outside our hotel, where we drank some umbrella drinks and saw some fire-dancing in the evening. We ate some amazing thai food at our three favorite restaurants: Pum (a small chain of Thai-cooking schools that serve amazingly fresh dishes), Anna's (mom & pop style Thai home cooking done right) and Papaya (a shoddy looking hole in the wall that dishes out fantastic Thai food). We also got tattoos done traditionally with the Bamboo stick! Michelle got the Thai word for "Breathe" on her wrist while I got the Thai "43", my lucky number, on my arm. I was expecting more pain from the bamboo but it wasn't too bad and overall the tattoo was quick. This is Michelle's second Bamboo tattoo, the first being the five flying birds on her forearm she got last year in Krabi.
We would definitely go back for another relaxing weekend in Phi Phi, perhaps to scuba or get another, larger tattoo but it made a good first impression. Here are the PICS to prove it!
It was hard to not be with our families and puppies in Vancouver but Lisa & John and their NZ families took us in and made for a terrific time. After our 12 hour flight we arrived to hugs and tears and within 10 minutes we were at Weta Cave to get Gio his Dr Grordbort's Ray Gun and then off for a quick G&T at the vintage theater Weta uses for their events and finally we were wooshed off to the new house for a little freshening up and then directly taken out on the town. We started at a very cool bar, with lisas family, The General Practitioner, an old bordello turned surgery turned bar. The décor is tastefully remembering the buildings previous uses with dark furniture and framed pieces of vintage surgery tools. After some tastings of local brews we needed to eat and headed down to the waterfront for more local brews and some pizza. During the evening we discussed an interesting local brew – gunpowder rum. Rum made with gunpowder! That was then our next destination, the one and only place to get this in Wellington, The Hawthorne, an old school dark and velvety bar with a hint of salon. Gio tried the straight up original gunpowder rum while Michelle had the cherry gunpowder rum. Both were awesome with just that hit of metal punch and smooth yummy sweet rum. By this time it was time for bed and we headed home for the night all happy and boozy warm.
Christmas eve morning brought one of the best meals of the trip. We went to Manuri Surf Club in Island Bay for the best avocado mash with thick grainy homemade toast and fresh tomatoes, awesome coffee and a pretty fantastic view of the ocean. This is a locals hang out where you wish you were one of the locals and could come in everyday after morning surfing or walking on the beach. The ladies afterwards went to Te Papa Museum for the Bridal Dress show presented by the London and the boys were off to find goodies for the grill. Christmas Eve and Day were spent BBQ-ing, baking and roasting as well as drinking game playing and lots of eating!
With Christmas done the touring began. We mixed hiking adventures with wine tasting and sight seeing. On the North Island we headed to Martinburough and Greytown for a day of wine tasting and homemade chocolate.
Then it was off to the South Island. We flew to Queenstown, the self proclaimed adventure capital of the world for some touring and New Years Celebrations. For the Lord of the Rings fans in us we did aim at seeing the different locations that were used for filming. But really these were all over the south island and all of it was amazingly beautiful. The Pinnicles, the Remarkables, Glenorchy, the glow worm caves, Lake Hawea, Franz Josef Glacier and while we did make it to some of the bays where the penguins migrate to we missed their arrival by a few days. Our final night was in a town called Terras at a little BnB in the middle of farmland. The owners were amazing hosts and went into their garden and collected fresh veggies, new potatoes, and rasberries for our dinner. Our salad dressing was made from their own olive oil and plums. Fantastic last night of the adventure.
We made it back to Wellington to have our last couple nights with our friends at their place. We explored Wellington and one more trip to Weta and that was it, our vacation was over. Overall impression of NZ? AMAZING! Thank you to John and Lisa for being such fabulous hosts and we cant wait to do it again as we will definitely be back but please, let the PICS speak for themselves!!!