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Plunge into Penang

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Plunge into Penang | The Thaiger

PHUKET: First of all, no, panang curry is not from Penang. And yes, of course, it is debated. It’s ok though, because the northern Malaysian island is overflowing with taste-bud dazzling dishes. When or if you find yourself in this hotpot of ethnic diversity and boundless character, you will find a wondrous assortment of flavors far beyond the food.

Although it is an island, Penang is accessible by two bridges and has its own international airport. Having the closest Thai embassy to Phuket that issues one-year visas, those bridges see a steady flow of visa run vans in and out of Penang. However, sketchy van rides (story here), stricter enforcement of immigration laws (story here) and affordable direct flights on Firefly airlines (schedule here) may change the visa run scene.

For travellers who find themselves in Southeast Asia, Penang should definitely be on their radar. With its narrow winding streets, worn but clean and unique colonial edifices, and spectrum of activities to satisfy most tastes, it’s a haven for those seeking a smaller Asian city that exudes an air of exotic mystery.

As an island along the strategic maritime trading route of the Straight of Malacca, Penang has been a trading hub for centuries. The majority of the inhabitants are a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indians. The 16th and 17th centuries saw waves of Portuguese and Dutch reign and in the late 1700s, the British set up shop in Penang making it the first British settlement in Southeast Asia.

The British influence is glaringly obvious in the colonial style architecture and street names like Lebuh (avenue) Kimberly and Lebuh Buckingham, not to mention the cultural center, George Town. But behind the thin Western facade lies quaint boutique shophouses and guesthouses with charming courtyards surrounded by intricate Chinese carvings and murals of brightly colored, fearsome characters.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Penang is certainly well-steeped in its own inherent charm, but the city has also capitalized on the creativity of the Penangites. Placed all around the city are wrought iron caricatures sporting short, wry narratives about the street they are located. Like the outline of a fat man tip-toeing across a ledge which says, “The local Chinese say the rich men who lived on Muntri Street kept their mistresses here, hence the name Ai Cheng Hang or Love Lane.”

A popular activity is to find one of the maps which show the location and description of all 50-some of the sculptures and rent a bike to roll around and see them all. Along the ride, it is hard to miss all of the funky street art adorning walls and buildings. It all stemmed from a small street art project in 2012 which has snowballed and now the quirky paintings, many featuring cats, are everywhere.

The best way to glimpse back to the lifestyle of the early Chinese immigrants is a visit to the fascinating Peranakan Mansion. Peranakan is the name taken by the “Straights Chinese” who settled in Singapore, Malacca and Penang, and are also found in other surrounding regions like Phuket. Over time, their Chinese traditions fused with those of the neighboring Thai, Malay and Burmese to forge their own set of unique cuisines, fashions and beliefs.

The museum is housed in a cavernous old mansion which was in a steady state of decay until it was recently revived to its current glory. The house itself is unique in that it sports English tiles, Scottish
ironworks and Chinese features of excruciating detail as well as its own temple with bas relief carvings depicting heaven and hell. The enigmatic museum director Lillian Tong explained that treasures of huge cultural significance were unearthed throughout the vacated mansion after they acquired it.

On display throughout the mansion are over 1,000 artifacts depicting the rich history of the culture. Items such as painstakingly crafted beaded slippers for the women to flaunt, finely woven textiles to wear and opulent mother-of-pearl inlaid day beds for the men to laze the day away on smoking opium. It’s easy to get lost for hours gazing in disbelief at the exorbitant collection.

As a traveller or photographer, it is immediately apparent just how photogenic Penang is. Be sure to have ample memory cards, batteries and personal stamina. When you’re ready for a break, the Penang Camera Museum beckons.

The two-storey, 325-square-meter ode to photography contains over 250 cameras dating back more than a century from all over the world. If available, get a tour, as the guide is very knowledgeable and entertaining as he quizzes groups on photographic history and camera technology. Don’t forget to get a selfie with the picture they have of the first selfie being taken.

What many may consider the main attraction of Penang is the variety of incredible eats. There is just so much good food everywhere that it’s a wonder everyone isn’t overweight. Some of the local, must-try dishes are the char kuey teow wok fried noodles, the spectrum of curries in nasi kandar and the sweet coconut and pandan rice of nasi lemak served surrounded by little piles of everything from fried chicken to spicy anchovies. The Penang-style roast pork is incomprehensibly amazing and one would be doing themselves a great disservice by not indulging.

Naturally, since they comprise one of the three main ethnic groups in Penang, the Indian influence permeates throughout the city. An aimless wander around Little India is compulsory and heading there with an empty stomach even more so. In fact, hitch a ride on one of the iconic trishaws which perpetually crawl through the streets blasting tinny music and decked out in flowers.

Bollywood posters plaster the front of CD and DVD shops which also blare the soundtracks through loudspeakers. The area is rife with tailors and vendors hawking Indian spices, trinkets and delicious snacks like samosas and pakora.

Perhaps the best note to leave off on before leaving Penang is a jaunt to the top of Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) on the snazzy new cable car. Go early to avoid the hordes and revel in the cool temps and grand views. There is a colorful little Hindu temple, restaurants and a botanical garden to explore atop the 833-meter-tall hill.

The thing about Penang is there is always something around the corner to tickle the senses. From the rich culture and smiling faces to the heavenly cuisine and eccentric street art, Penang merits a spot on any traveller’s agenda.

If considering a trip to Penang, keep in mind that the George Town Street Fest will be held for the entire month of August. Festival Director Joe Sidek sums it up best, “We aim to make this an enriching experience for everyone with our offering of a diverse palette of world-class events that immediately transforms George Town into a borderless stage celebrating art, culture and heritag

— Jeremie Schatz

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Thailand

Thai Airways charges British passenger 80,000 baht for extra luggage

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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Thai Airways charges British passenger 80,000 baht for extra luggage | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Thai Airways

A British expat has been charged a whopping 79,825.13 baht by Thai Airways for extra luggage on a flight to London from Bangkok.

The report was posted by Thai Visa.

The incident occurred when the man in question (who is not named) was on the Thai Airways website purchasing 20kg extra luggage each way, and was quoted 975.90 Thai baht, a reasonable price. But when the automatic receipt was generated and the man was shocked to find out that the transaction had been processed by Thai Airways in British pounds, not Thai Baht.

The cost of the original ticket was of 544 Pounds ( 22,234.08 baht) and now he had been charged 1,951.80 POUNDS (79,825.13 baht) for the luggage.

The ‘victim’ logged into his Barclays mobile banking App to find that the transaction was there and still pending. The situation was made worse when the man called customer service at Thai Airways, who he says ‘did nothing to help him’.

On the phone with the airline, he says that they were ‘absolutely awful’, rude, dismissive, and even told him ‘you have to pay’. When he asked the airline for a refund they weren’t willing to acknowledge the problem or even investigate. He tried to explain to them that there must be a glitch in their system as the currency has changed without the price being adjusted.

With no help from Thai Airways it was the man’s bank who were more rational and could see that this was a suspicious charge. Barclay’s flagged the transaction as fraudulent, which triggered an instant insurance claim, and had the man refunded the full amount back to this account.

The insurance company will now pursue claims against Thai Airways to recover the amount.

“They’ve made it completely clear that they don’t give a sh*t about their customers. 80,000 baht for one bag is just madness! A grain of common sense was all that was needed to resolve this amicably, but Thai Airways would rather steal from returning customers than help them. I will never use Thai Airways again, and I will warn everyone of their unethical practices and lack of integrity.”

Over to you Thai Airways…

SOURCE: Thai Visa 

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Bangkok

Thailand Tourism Festival 2019 showcasing Thailand to Thais

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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Thailand Tourism Festival 2019 showcasing Thailand to Thais | The Thaiger

The Tourism Authority of Thailand will host the 39th edition of Thailand Tourism Festival at Bangkok’s Lumpini Park from January 23-27. This year the festival features five ‘tourism villages’ representing different regions of Thailand plus two additional zones of activity.

Central Region Zone – presents the heritage of old Siam through a traditional Thai house and the former rural way of life back in the days through demonstrations, such as, traditional garland making.

Northern Zone – showcases the beautiful hand-woven cotton and silk textiles the region is famous for, presenting the intricate patterns. The zone reflects the artistic nature of the people of the North plus a range of contemporary arts inspired by the region.

Southern Zone – presenting new perspectives of the South that go beyond the beaches and islands including the secondary cities such as Surat Thani and Phatthalung, the hidden gems in major cities like Phuket’s Peranakan and arts in the three southernmost provinces.

Northeastern (Isan) Zone – brings Thailand’s more vibrant cuisine to life. Food is one major inspiration for travelling to this region, linking it with traditional festivals and cultural values while promoting its three main tourism clusters: North Isan, Central Isan and South Isan.

Eastern Zone – presenting new perspectives of the East under a ‘more fun’ concept through replicas of landmarks most synonymous with the region in combination with three dedicated corners for 3D photography backdrops reflecting the region’s identity.

Perhaps most importantly, there is also a ‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle’ waste initiative zone to help raise awareness and promote responsible and sustainable tourism through various activities, games and more.

And TAT Studio provides daily live broadcasts of the Thailand Tourism Festival2019 in all formats: news reports, special scoops, interviews plus activities and performances. It comprises a live digital TV studio, a 1672 traveller companion information centre, an ‘Or Sor Tho’ magazine section, and virtual reality games and lucky draws.

For more information, call the TAT contact centre on 1672.

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Chiang Rai

‘The Cave’ due out mid year – First cave rescue film to reach cinemas

The Thaiger & The Nation

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‘The Cave’ due out mid year – First cave rescue film to reach cinemas | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Thai-born director Tom Waller on location during the filming of “The Cave” in central Thailand – AFP

A Thai-born director, Tom Waller,  who reportedly took only a few weeks to shoot the first film about the dramatic Tham Luang cave rescue of the Mu Pa football team in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, says his focus was on authenticity and the mission’s “unsung” heroes.

AFP reports that book publishers and Hollywood studios are still  jostling to make their versions of the saga that unfolded in the middle of last year.

Tom Waller says “The Cave”, which is aiming for Thai release for the July anniversary of the operation, will be a “genuine” retelling of the gripping mission to extract the 12 boys and their coach from the waterlogged Tham Luang cave.

Its cast features more than a dozen of the real-life rescue heroes as well as extras such as the cooks who provided food round-the-clock food as officials and the world’s media massed at the cave entrance.

The Mu Pa “Wild Boars” spent more than a fortnight trapped in the dark before divers rescued them in an mission of unprecedented complexity — diving the boys out through twisting passageways while they were heavily sedated.

Waller, a Thai citizen with an Irish father and whose work includes “The Last Executioner”, said he did not immediately think he would take on the project despite its real-life dramatic arc.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

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