Big Blue Holidays
Oh boy, I do love to travel, but it can be exhausting doing all of the planning. I refuse to partake in group tours but at the same time like to have a local “in” on where to stay and what to eat and do. That’s where my friends at Big Blue Holidays come in. Curating an itinerary based on my personal preferences, they took care of everything from flights to hotels and a schedule of culinary, cultural and adventure tours designed just for me.
Big Blue Holidays – A Weekend in Penang
This weekend in Penang with Big Blue Holidays begins in the Business Class Lounge of Malaysia Airlines at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. We satiate hunger pangs with a bowl of hot noodles and light refreshments while watching the planes take off and land.
The flight from KL to Penang is under an hour, yet we still appreciate the spaciousness of business class of Malaysia Airlines and the privilege of alighting first. With only carry-on luggage we’re off the plane and out the door ready to explore Penang without delay.
Cocktails at Copper Bar
It’s late Friday evening when we arrive at Georgetown, Penang. I’m not a night-owl and so am pretty much ready for bed. A cocktail at the bar where we’re staying, however, is the perfect nightcap. The luxury boutique hotel arranged by Big Blue Holidays, 88 Armenian is our digs for the weekend, and their bar, Copper, has a list of craft cocktails that welcome us before hitting the sack. Check out some of their Peranakan-inspired mash-ups here.
The stunning six-room boutique hotel is an exemplary blend of heritage charm and contemporary convenience. The ultimate in modern comforts are provided such as a single-screen control for lights and air-con; a Smart TV with Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and a bunch of international channels; iPad connected to Spotify and high-quality sound system; sensor make-up mirror; and an entire range of Aesop bath and beauty products. These amenities are supported by local warmth and hospitality with a mini-bar filled with gourmet goodies, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and our very own bath butler!
Double-glazed windows, blackout curtains and a first-rate Simmons mattress ensure our sleep is sound and we don’t stir until hunger pangs nudge us awake the following morning.
Breakfast in Penang
While we have a line-up of culinary exploration on our day’s itinerary, we wouldn’t miss breakfast at 88 Armenian. Taken in their restaurant, Copper, the compact morning menu is beautifully presented and gourmet in nature. We keep things simple with muesli, eggs and coffee, as we’re about to embark on a street food and cultural tour with Mark from Simply Enak.
Simply Enak Walking Street Food & Culture Tour
The team at Big Blue Holidays have arranged for Mark to meet us at the lobby of our hotel; a convenient location in the centre of Georgetown’s World UNESCO Heritage Site.
Mark not only grew up in Penang but was raised right in the heart of Georgetown. As such, he has had relationships since childhood with some of Penang’s most-famed street food vendors. With epicurean eyes, he has incredible insight into the history of Penang’s delicious stalls and also on the hottest cafes, restaurants and bars to recently make a mark on the scene.
While most of our tour is an introduction to the island’s local recipes, Mark knows our love for coffee and pastries and kicks off the morning with flaky, buttery treats and hot brews from a new café in town. From the young to the old, the tour continues winding through alleys and back lanes with personal introductions to hawkers who have been in the industry for up to 70 years!
Char koay teow, white curry mee, and nasi kandar are some of the key recipes on the list, and as we walk, talk and eat, Mark shares the history of each dish. I’m not going to disclose their secret locations here; you’ll have to take a tour with Mark of Simply Enak (or ask Big Blue Holidays to arrange it for you) for that.
Besides food, our imaginations are set wild with stories of secret societies, clan houses and places of worship. We’re led down hidden passages where escape exits are revealed and revel in scandals and tales of the past. We even learn of a personal connection to the opium dens once rampant in these streets – it’s the things movie scripts are made of.
Satiated, we’re ready to head back to the hotel to escape the heat of the midday sun. Knowing our estimated return time, 88 Armenian’s bath butler has the tub full and infused with a refreshing mix of bath salts. A pot of herbal tea accompanies it (as does a bottle of bubbly; it is the weekend after all).
Coffee and Waffles
There is something about Penang that stimulates hunger, and so in the afternoon, we’re off on the fool trail again. This time it’s to check out a curious café that offers coffee and waffles during the day and morphs into a cocktail bar at night. More on Norm & Noct here.
There’s a little free-time built into our itinerary by Big Blue Holidays, and we use it to indulge in a foot massage on the way back to the hotel. There are quite a few in Georgetown, and they’re generally reasonably priced too.
After freshening up, we’re ready to check out Copper Bar & Restaurant; a kitchen that offers a contemporary play on local ingredients and flavours. Partaking in a six-course degustation, we get a good sampling across the menu. Their small, but well-chosen wines list furnishes a fine drop for pairing too. Read more about the menu here.
After another great night of slumber, Sunday sees a change of pace in Big Blue Holidays’ programme. Today we’re excited by a Tree Top Platform, the Flight of the Colugo and a Canopy Walk.
We catch a Grab to the base of Penang Hill where Fast Lane tickets for the hill tram are awaiting us at The Habitat’s counter. With these priority passes courtesy of Big Blue Holidays we skip the queues and get the front seats with breathtaking views of the ride up Penang Hill. Once at the top, a five-minute walk has us at the private jungle enclave of The Habitat Penang where a personal guide awaits us.
The Habitat Penang is home to a host of forest trails, zip-lines, canopy walks, jungle swings and the highest public viewing platform on the island. Guests may pay to enter the park and freely roam or take a guide who explains some of the wonders of the 130-million-year-old rainforest surrounds.
A highlight of any visit to The Habitat Penang is the 13-metre-high treetop walk, Curtis Crest. Built on the plateau, it offers 360-degree views of Penang and across to the mainland. On a clear day, you can even see the neighbouring island of Langkawi.
The Langur Way Canopy Walk is another must, and possibly the most sturdy and approachable we’ve yet to come across. With its wide, smooth pathway, it is even accessible by wheelchairs.
Lastly, The Flight of the Colugo adds a little adrenalin to the mountain top. The course includes five zip lines, an abseil and a rope bridge. It’s perfect for first-timers to ziplining as friendly guides take guests through the whole experience; checking equipment, clipping and unclipping, and sharing some interesting facts along the way.
The Last Bath
Returning to 88 Armenian, we take one last bath drawn by the butler before heading to the airport for our return Business Class flights to KL with Malaysia Airlines.
Big Blue Holidays Review
Big Blue Holidays encourage guests to be part of the story rather than a mere observer. Partnerships not only with locals but with people who desire to make travel a narrative, mean participants have meaningful encounters and avoid tourist traps. Big Blue Holidays offers more than just a list to tick off but make travellers key players in the script.
Reasons to book through Big Blue Holidays: boutique tours curated for small groups catering especially to the contemporary luxury traveller; more than just a list of things to see but engagement in the stories behind them.
Read more about luxury and gourmet travel to Penang here.