Penang & Langkawi, Malaysia

On Scott’s birthday we headed to Malaysia, where half of my family lives. I feel a little bad because we spent most of the day traveling from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur, with a long layover before heading to Penang. So not the most glamorous birthday for Scott, but we made up for it by eating some of his favorite Asian foods for dinner that night.

Family meal with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and parents

My family’s big thing is food. Especially on my mom’s side, everything revolves around food and it’s honestly perfect. If my aunts aren’t cooking with my mom, we’re off to some amazing restaurant or hawker stalls. It’s how we show our love, something I’ve adopted from my mom, food is the best thing to talk over, share, and enjoy together. Bottom line, if you know me, you know that food is one of my most favorite things. I get genuine joy out of good meal, and often will tear up with a big smile on my face when something tastes so good, I just can’t help myself. I thank my parents for this love and passion, food has always been plenty in my house regardless of our financials and my parents have always put all their love in the things they make.

Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur

Okay, that little rant was just for some perspective. Not only has this blog been very food centered, our time in Malaysia was very food centered, so I thought it was fair to give a little background! The second day we were in Malaysia, we actually had to fly back to Kuala Lumpur for me to take some exams. Long story short, I passed both exams, woo hoo! We checked out the Batu Caves and then we were quickly on our way back to Penang, where my parents had landed a few hours earlier. We hadn’t seen my parents in almost three months, and my dad hadn’t been to Malaysia in nearly 20 years, so I was giddy as could be to see my family all together and for my dad to enjoy some of the things he missed about Asia.

It is traditional to eat with your hands off of banana leaf
Family breakfast (me, Scott, Rohan, Umesh, Rajini, Lakshmi, Latha, and Tim)
Watermelon Juice
Chinese style fried fish
Chinese style steamed fish
Hainanese chicken rice
Roti cani and curry
Wantan Mee
Chicken satay
Chili clams
Char kway teow
Fried sting ray

Most of the time like I noted above was about eating. We ate some of the best food all over Penang, not only is Malaysia known for having good food, but Penang specifically is known for their food worldwide. They best part about it is there are Malays, Chinese, Thai, Indians all in one place creating amazing food. Some of our favorites were: wanton mee for breakfast, crispy wantons (Scott likes soft wantons) with noodles in a rich brown broth with greens and sliced pork, Char Kway Teo, fried fat noodles with veggies, prawns, and a little kick, fried stingray, samosas, curry mee, satay, roti canai (Indian bread), chendul, which is like shave ice with coconut milk, kidney beans, brown sugar, and weird green “noodles.” Chendul is one of Scott’s absolute favorite desserts because it is refreshing, but I am not a fan! My aunts and mom also made curries, fish, dosa (another Indian “bread”), and various other delicious things that popped up around the house.

Making Christmas cookies with Lavanya
Scott and Tim on top of Penang Hill

We were never short of food or love. The house was full of my cousins, aunts, uncles, my mom, dad, and Scott, it felt nice to have everyone spend time together as a family when we live so far away. Because we were spending Christmas in Malaysia, my aunt bought a fake Christmas tree and my cousins decorated it. A small gesture, but it felt even more homey for the holidays. My mom brought fudge and Christmas cookies over from Eugene, and my cousin and I made sugar cookies. All of the little things to try and make it Christmas in Malaysia! After being off for the last few months it was truly comforting, though a bit weird to have a warm tropical Christmas. I think next year we are due for some snow after 11 months of chasing summer.

Aunts, uncles, cousins, and great aunts
Christmas with Lavanya
Sari shopping with my aunts

One of the days that we were in Penang we decided to go with my dad to a water park on the other side of the island. Scott has first heard of it because it is noted as having the worlds longest water slide. Something like 6 minutes from top to bottom. It was pretty awesome, and Dad even saw monkeys as we were traveling through the slide in the middle of the jungle. There were other thrill slides and one in particular that the floor dropped from under you and shot you out over a pool. Scary, but very fun! Worth the trip across the island to cool down a bit. That combined with wandering through the mall is how we kept cool during our trip.

Getting measurements for my sari blouse
Live music on Love Lane
Me and my parents

The last few days we all had together I ended up getting a bit sick, but we still maintained eating lots of good food and doing some sightseeing. We had drinks by the water, enjoyed Malaysian/American fusion food, went to live music on Love lane and just enjoyed the general company of family. After ten days my parents headed home and Scott and I continued to Langkawi, an island off the west coast of Malaysia.

Langkawi sunset

Our initial trip to Langkawi was supposed to be a weeklong. We were hoping to get a nice tan and maybe do some snorkeling on the beach. When we arrived in the airport, we noticed that the clientele for the island was either very wealthy, or backpackers. Two sides of the island distinguish the differences between the two. We took an uber to the backpacker side of the island and found ourselves nestled within an Airbnb homestay community. Most of the houses near the water were not locals, but small shacks and apartments rented out to tourists. Our apartment was located just a five-minute walk from the beach, and it was lovely.


What we did find out rather quickly, is the budget food in Langkawi is not great. Most of it is trying to appeal to western taste buds or completely fried. We weren’t too happy with our options but made do with what we had. Lots of fried noodles and rice. The upside was that there was a ton of fresh fruit on the island, specifically mangos, and they were heavenly!


On our third day in Langkawi, we were falling into our rhythm of sleep, eat, swim, repeat, until we received news that Scott’s grandma had passed away. As noted in our previous posts, we quickly made our way back to the states (or as quickly as we could) and ended up missing the rest of our Langkawi and Philippines portions of our trip. After some quick travel reservations and some help finding the best deals from a family friend we were off from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo (and then hopefully home)… but more on that in the next post!

Langkawi street food on the beach

***This is written about travel from December 18th, 2019-January 2nd 2020***

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