March 5, 2020

Taiping, Malaysia

With reviews like "dark, creepy hotel" my expectations for The Potato Hotel were low to say the least. Perhaps that's why I was so delighted to find not a dank, dirty Piyaporn-esque place, but friendly staff, spacious room and mostly clean sheets.

"They probably wash these," Mr. Go said of the afghans we were given for blankets. At least there were mattress pads under the sheets and we didn't feel the need to sleep on towels.

We strolled along the highway, expecting to have a hard time finding dinner due to CNY, but we found a place packed with locals and ordered food just before they closed down for the evening. Char koay teow (sometimes called Koay teow goreng), nasi goreng and Mr. Go's favorite, laksa. Then an ais kacang (shaved ice with condensed milk, tapioca jelly, beans and corn).

Mr. Go mused on the importance of bad experiences. His first ais kacang (sometimes called ABC for reasons I don't understand. Ais (ice), beans corn perhaps?) in Penang was not good, which made him appreciate a delicious one all the more. Just like our bad durian experience in Thailand made for such a contrast and such a delightful surprise with good durian in Malaysia.

Babs made friends with some nearby girls, then we watched a movie at the Potato and turned in early.

I made a plan for Taiping the next day, so we took a Grab to the Larut Makang Hawker center for some breakfast, then walked to the Taiping Lake Gardens. There was a playground for Babs and a nice breeze as we strolled along the lake and the pathways to the many islands. The 100+-year-old trees curved sideways onto the roads and cast enormous canopies. We saw a couple monitor lizards, turtles and monkeys in the trees.

It was midday and brain-meltingly hot, so we got some snacks at the shopping mall and went to see Dolittle in the air conditioning. Afterward we took a grab to Simpang to find Mr. Go a barber.

While a taciturn young Indian gentleman sliced Mr. Go's face, Babs and I strolled to scope out dinner options. We waved at the girls whom Babs had befriended the day before when they called out to her from across the street.

Then two young Malay girls stopped on their motorbike to strike up a conversation. Izzati and Afiqah shyly asked to take pictures with us, then recorded the remainder of our conversation. They scored my WhatsApp number and we have been chatting ever since.

We got a couple bags of food from roadside stands, the ubiquitous nasi lemak in cone-shaped banana leaves, some fried sweet potato slices, the nice lady threw in some potato-coconut balls for free (and it cost a total of 4 ringgit). We snagged some finger bananas along the way and called it dinner.

The next morning, we checked out of the Potato. The nice girl at the front desk confessed that she had to check the name on our reservation to be sure Mr. Go was not soccer player Harry Cane (not the first time he has gotten this comment) and asked to get pictures with us all.

Our Grab driver was convinced we would not be able to find decent breakfast around the bus station and also sagely told us we should have got on the bus at the bus stop just up the road from the Potato rather than taking a taxi all the way to the bus station. Yes, he was right on the latter, but how was I to know?

It turned out alright, because there was a street market going on right beside the bus station. We nabbed some char koay teow, potato wedges, chicken balls and kuih and it was delightful.

The bus did indeed stop to pick up passengers at the StarMart office just by the Potato. C'est la vie. There's only so much information available online to a confused traveler.

Hot Tip: When booking bus tickets, try searching for your bus company's ticketing offices rather than just the central bus station.

This bus was just as spacious and comfortable as the last StarMart Express, except better because we were 3 of the 5 people on board. It took 3.5 hours to KL and we stopped twice for the driver to have a smoke break, which suited us fine. We pottied and got meat on a stick snacks.

Once in KL we Grabbed to our Airbnb for our last 4 days of our trip in Malaysia.

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