Day 87/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Malaysia.
A special day today! My birthday! Where oh where in the world are we? Again, somewhere I had never heard of! That definitely is the beauty of this World Cruise. I’m seeing places and learning things that I never learned in school, or read about in a newspaper or online. So where are we? Keep reading please and you will find out!
When we watched the pre-recorded port talk for the excursion for our optional excursion in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia the shore excursions manager Chantelle had said that our drive to the place we were visiting would be 2 hours. I looked at Richard, and he looked at me and we both cringed. Did I really want to be sitting on a bus for 4 hours on my birthday? The issue again with this port was it was added after Myanmar was scrapped. This segment of the World Cruise originally had us spending 3 days in Myanmar and since Myanmar has its political issues, we had not planned on getting off the ship, if in fact the Neptune was still going to Myanmar. When the change in itinerary happened, I had decided we would take the excursion to ‘Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island’, but of course, I did not know there would be a 2 hour bus ride because that is never disclosed on the ‘My Viking Journey’ portal where we chose our shore excursions.
The day was very hazy when we arrived around 7am at GeorgeTown, the capital city of Penang Island. Of course it was hot, since it is always hot in this equatorial part of the world. It felt like 93F outside! So where is GeorgeTown, Malaysia anyway? And what is its claim to fame, since I had never even heard of it!
GeorgeTown is located on the Straits of Malacca and was originally established as a transshipment port in 1786 as the first British settlement in Southeast Asia. Many immigrants from all of Asia settled in GeorgeTown in the 19th century, which led to the growth of this town. In 1867 GeorgeTown became a British Crown Colony but during the Second World War, was annexed by the Empire of Japan, but was recaptured by the British before the end of the war. When Malaya attained independence from Britain in 1957, GeorgeTown was declared a city, but in 1974 Malaysia revoked that city status. Finally in 2015, GeorgeTown regained city status and the entire City of GeorgeTown now occupies the entirely of Penang Island! GeorgeTown is a hub of arts, culture, manufacturing, transportation, education, healthcare and media in Malaysia. ‘The Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone‘ a high-tech manufacturing hub regarded as the ‘Silicon Valley of the East’ became the centre of Malaysia electronic manufacturing industry. Companies such as Motorola, Dell, Intel, Bosch, Sony, AMD all have plants in this zone.
Swettenham Cruise terminal. It was quite a long walk from the ship.
We walked through the Swettenham cruise terminal to our waiting bus, Number 5 and to meet our tour guide ‘David’. Our guide was again a bit of a comedian, because he said that yesterday his name had been ‘Richard’ but today he was ‘David’. He called us all his ’family’ and told us that he would not be using the red Viking ‘follow the sign’ red lollipop, since he forgets to bring back the lollipop and then he gets in trouble with the tour operator.
Our guide told us that to get off the island of Penang, we would be travelling along a 13.5km (8.4 mile) bridge called the Penang Bridge. Apparently there is also a ferry to get off Penang Island connecting GeorgeTown and Butterworth, but our journey off the island was on bus #5.
As we drove on the toll highway towards our exit which would take us to Bukit Merah Laketown Resort we noticed tons and tons of Palm trees which our guide told us were used in palm oil production. Malaysia is the second largest palm oil producer in the world after Indonesia, and the palm oil industry makes up about 5% of Malaysia’s economy. The labour practises though of Malaysia’s palm oil production include both child labour and forced labour practices, so some countries have banned importation of Malaysian palm oil. Palm oil is used in half of all packaged products in the U.S. as the product is found in lipstick, soaps, detergents and even ice cream.
We finally arrived at Bukit Merah Laketown Resort after only an hour’s drive.
The resort of Bukit Merah Laketown Resort has seen better days…..
Well that was a pleasant surprise, only an one hour drive, given what we had been told in the Port Talk by Chantelle! We were all wearing our QV audio headsets trying to follow our short guide, David, who refused to use the Viking #5 red lollipop. As some people needed to use the ‘Happy Room’ as David called it, some people from our bus turned left and went to the washrooms. Since we were near the back of the bus, by the time we got into the Resort area, we didn’t know where David was. He kept saying over the headset “Follow me my family!” But what he did not say was where he was! We did not need the ‘happy room’ so we headed down toward the water area hoping to find our guide!
We finally caught up to David and saw that he was sending the first bunch of people from our bus on a boat.
The boats could only handle so many people and we were heading towards the second boat, that David was waiting on. We had marched through Group 3’s bus, and saw Gene and Margaret who were waiting under a sheltered area, to board their boat to the Island. Apparently a lot of people in Group 3 were upset that Group 5 (with our guide David) had marched right through their group, to get on waiting boats. Without a red lollipop to follow, of course we had lost people to the ‘happy room’ and David kept calling people over the QV box from group 5 to “come and join your family on the boat”. Finally after a few minutes of calling people, we had our full ‘family’ back together and we headed across the Lake to Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island. Richard absolutely hated the way that David guided us! Richard does Tour Guiding as one of his professions, so he knows a good guide from a bad one. The proper thing to do after an hour bus ride, in the morning, would have been to hold the lollipop, first of all, then tell the entire group before de-boarding the bus, that we would be waiting 5 minutes for everyone to use the ‘happy room’, before proceeding down the jetty, to the pier, where we would be boarding 2 boats to take us to the Island. I have to keep saying to Richard “You are not working right now, just relax!” He sees things that he knows are wrong and could be done better, but this is not his gig, so he just has to relax!
Heading to see the orangutans.
After a nice, short, 10 minute pleasant boat ride to the small Island of Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island, we were finally going to see some wildlife!
ORANGUTAN!!! Founded in the year 2000, Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island Foundation operates a rehabilitation center on a 35 acre island. There are three orangutan species and all of them with extremely low reproductive rates in the wild, which makes them highly endangered. The orangutans in the center get to live in natural surroundings instead of cages and with dedicated staff to look after them. There is also a nursery and research center for orangutans beside the rehabilitation centre. For the tour, the visitors walk through a caged walkway observing the orangutans through the fence. We did not technically have a guide with each of our groups, but a guide was available close by if we had questions to ask. There were 16 orangutans on the Island to view and since morning was the best time to view them, we had come at the right time.
As we got off the boat and walked up through a brief educational area with posters about the orangutans, we immediately saw a macaque monkey. Yeesh! I did not want to encounter another one of those monkeys since I had enough of macaque’s in Singapore at the golf course! I made sure to put my sunglasses in my purse instead of on top of my head, just in case the monkey came anywhere near me!
We walked along an enclosed cage area for about 20 minutes, trying to see if the orangutans were doing anything interesting.
We saw a couple of younger orangutans wrestling and playing with each other and as they played they were rolling head over heels, holding onto each other. Another big old 42 year old alpha male orangutan was sitting being fed breakfast. First he ate a mango, but he did not like the skin, so he peeled the mango before he ate it. Then he was fed a sweet potato and again, he did not like the skin, so he peeled that too. He then got a hold of some sugar cane, and again he methodically peeled the cane with his teeth, before eating the cane. It was nice to see the orangutans in the ‘wild’ and we felt like they were laughing at us in our ‘cage’ as we walked along watching them.
Hey! I want some food
“This tastes good. Look at all those funny people looking at me!”
“Hi there cutie! What’s your name??”
Trying to get the shot!
The rehab centre offered a movie for viewing, but the space was too crowded, now that all 4 busloads of Viking people were trying to watch the movie, so I left, even though the room was cool and air conditioned!
We were all given a nice lunch bag of cookies, croissants, juice and apples and were told that if we didn’t want the apples, we could roll them down a tube, to the small floating platform and perhaps the orangutans would come and get the apples to eat. Since not everyone wanted their apple, some of the people who play the game Baggo on the ship decided to start tossing their apples to the floating platform, since the apples were getting stuck in the tube, instead of rolling out onto the platform.
The next thing we knew there was a big old orangutan sitting there eating apples and nonchalantly catching apples with one hand!
Hey who is in the wild? Me or you? Notice the apple in his left hand.
Look at that face. Dare me to catch another apple!
“Got another one! Mine….all mine!”
I got one of his catches on video but with the crappy internet I won’t be able to load it here. I will try on Facebook to post it. The catch he made was amazing, and so smooth, just like he was playing baseball and grabbed the ball out of the air, with absolutely no effort!
Since our group was the first to the island, David our tour guide called his ‘family’ to be the first ones off the island. We split up into two waiting boats and made the short journey back across the lake to our waiting bus. We were trying to figure out how to meet up with Gene and Margaret afterwards in downtown Georgetown and asked our tour guide if he could drop us off somewhere close to downtown Georgetown, but he said that all of the buses would be returning to the Swettenham pier so we could meet up with them on the pier when we returned.
After a pleasant one hour air conditioned drive back to the pier, our bus arrived 2 minutes before Gene and Margaret’s bus, so we met up with them and started walking towards downtown GeorgeTown. We only had 4 hours to try and see as much of GeorgeTown by foot, before our 5pm back on board time and the heat was stifling! I knew that the street art scene was near Armenian Street, so we started walking, with Gene holding the map, towards Armenian Street.
Would you trust this man with a map?
GeorgeTown was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 because of its ‘cultural diversity embedded in living heritage or built heritage’. GeorgeTown is a historic colonial town that demonstrates cultural influences from its former function as a trading port linking East and West.
Of course no walking tour with me and Margaret would be complete without stopping for shopping, so we wandered into Little India and started visiting all of the amazing textiles stores! There were so many gorgeous garments and fabrics, we didn’t know where to look! At least the stores were air conditioned, so every few shops, we would enter, to get some relief from the sweat rolling down our backs!
We finally made it to Armenian street where we saw two guys walking with fresh squeezed orange juices. We had to get some fresh juice because we were so thirsty and hot. Fresh squeezed juice is so inexpensive too!
What a cool street with the colourful umbrellas hanging in the street. It reminded us of Cartagena where we had seen umbrellas hanging upside down in an alley along with street art.
There was some street art that we could see, but not what I had read about so I wanted to keep looking for street art.
Recent street art from 2021.
Interesting street art reflecting local culture.
Finally after walking down Armenian Street, we found some street art that I had read about. I think in Georgetown for us to be able to maximize our time looking for street art, we should have hired a local guide to meet us at the pier and take us around in 3 hours. Back in 2008 a project ‘Marking GeorgeTown’ was started with a goal to give a unique embellished identity to GeorgeTown. Fifty two street art sculptures from 4 local artists were created to give a new dimension to the town. Furthermore in 2012, a municipal corporation decided to create a plethora of art depicting the rich history of GeorgeTown’s streets and many eminent artists were asked to create street art. One London trained, Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic created such beautiful street art that tourists posed with his work and the street art scene in GeorgeTown took off on social media, leading other artists to make their contributions to this place.
‘Kids on a bicycle‘ which we did see was nominated as one of the World’s top 15 wall paintings and was created by Ernest Zacharevic.
Someone did a replica of his work on a bus stop and I was able to capture both the ‘Kids on a bicycle’ and the replica at the same time!
Art imitating art….
Other street art in GeorgeTown that we saw today:
Very realistic street art.
All manner of street art in GeorgeTown, Penang Island, Malaysia.
We found the stores in GeorgeTown were a mix of high end souvenir stores, to very refined clothing stores, to junky ethnic clothing stores. There was no rhyme or reason to the make up of the city, but it was a great place to spend the afternoon wandering around in the heat exploring before we had to head back to the Neptune.
A higher end store on Armenian Street, GeorgeTown. We didn’t have enough time to spend in this neat UNESCO City.
Richard had planned a special dinner for me in Manfredi’s private dining room tonight. Once we boarded the ship in December and figured out how the private dining rooms situation worked (find 12 people for Manfredi’s or 10 people for Chef’s Table and reserve at the World Cafe reservation’s area on the port side of the World Cafe during lunch time), he booked for March 20th for 12 people. Since we didn’t know 10 other people when we boarded, he figured by March 20th, we would!
We had our place cards ready for the seating plan and Richard went down early to Manfredi’s to advance the room and the dinner. A couple of things we have not liked at previous dinners in Manfredi’s private room have been the following:
Not enough staff. With one person looking after the meals, 2 meals arrive at the same time and the rest of the people are waiting for their food and the food gets cold, the longer people wait for everyone else’s meal to arrive. There is always that awkward waiting for someone to say “You go ahead, we don’t want your food to get cold”! So Richard organized a few more staff to assist with the meal, to make sure that the food would be hot for everyone.
The staff have a habit of asking if their are dietary concerns at the beginning of the meal. Every guest has a profile on file and the staff can access the profile of everyone attending the meal, since we book with each other’s room numbers. At every meal the staff always call out in front of everyone the fact that someone has a ‘gluten allergy’ or are ‘allergic to shellfish’ when frankly they could quietly have a conversation with the guest and make sure that their dietary concerns are met. So Richard asked that the head server would not publicly make any announcements about dietary concerns this evening.
Richard reconfirmed that we had ordered pink champagne to toast before dinner and that it would be on ice in the private room. The staff wanted to give us the included ‘Prosecco’, when we actually wanted to purchase champagne and use our shipboard credits, for real champagne. Finally Richard asked for the actual bottle to view, so that he could see that it was really pink French champagne and not prosecco.
Everyone we had invited arrived for dinner just before 7pm and we proceeded into the private room at Manfredi’s. Everyone had really spiffed up too and the laughter and champagne was flowing!
Julie, Sharon, Gene, Dave, Richard, Sue, Mike, Steve, Margaret and me. We had Steve and Sue switch places so all of the girls were at one end and the guys were at the other end and the gossip flowed!
I had ordered a special pasta dinner for my birthday which was not on the menu. We ordered my meal about 2 weeks ago, so that the Viking staff would have time to make sure they had all of the ingredients. It wasn’t anything difficult, but it was a pasta dish that I make at home when we feel like pasta, and I was missing it. The recipe is: farfalle pasta, basil pesto, sun dried tomatoes, grilled chicken, mushrooms, olives, yellow or red peppers and Parmesan cheese. I also add chicken broth to the sauce, garlic and sometimes I also add goat cheese, capers and pine nuts. Anyway, I had my request in for my special meal and when I was served my pasta, I was missing one big thing in my meal! There was NO CHICKEN! Instead of Chicken in my pasta, I had CHICKPEAS! And the chickpeas were hard!
Pasta with chickpeas…not chicken!
Yeesh. Darko our server for the evening asked if everything was ok and I told him I was missing Chicken in my pasta! Casper the Restaurant Manager was called and he produced the paper where he had written my special pasta request down and he confirmed that I was supposed to have chicken. Immediately my pasta was removed and a fresh pasta with chicken came out of the kitchen! Richard felt bad, because he had done everything he could ahead of time to reconfirm my special meal and yet the kitchen still messed up the order. Luckily everything was resolved quickly and we all enjoyed our meals over some fantastic conversation and laughter!
If your birthday occurs during the World Cruise, Viking usually prepares a chocolate bomb cake and delivers it to your stateroom. Since I wanted to share my birthday cake with our guests at Manfredi’s, I had asked ahead of time for a carrot cake with real cream cheese frosting to share at dessert and Viking did not disappoint!
My birthday cake.
No flames allowed, so blowing out an electric candle!
The carrot cake with cream cheese frosting was simply amazing and probably the best dessert I have seen or eaten since we arrived onboard the ship last December! WOW! All of our guests loved the dessert and I don’t think any of the cake was leftover, with some people also ordering vanilla ice cream to go with the cake!
Our evening ended at Manfredi’s at 10pm. The time seemed to fly as we laughed and joked all evening long. After dinner, we went straight back to our cabin, since it was now 10am back home and the birthday wishes were flying in from friends and family and I wanted to respond as much as I could before I went to bed.
This is 62!!
What a fantastic, memorable birthday I had for my 62nd birthday! Two years ago on my 60th, Richard took me to Tofino, Vancouver Island to go Whale Watching and we did not see a blasted whale! We endured a very bumpy boat ride, only to see a few sea lions and no whales. Today’s adventures to see orangutans was such a highlight I will always remember, as well as sharing such good fun with this new group of friends we have made onboard. Brits, Ozzies, Americans and Canadians; we have so many people to visit in the future as we we have so many shared memories we are making along this trip.
We are sailing for Phuket, Thailand now after a very wonderful birthday day in GeorgeTown, Malaysia.