Friday, September 4, 2020

NZ, Covid-19, and out & about

Covid-19 started to gain momentum. On the 18th of March we got word that Thailand was going to close its borders so we began a 2 day process of packing up all our stuff and exiting the apartment.  The border closure came in the next week – so we happy we made the call to move quickly. 

It was packed at Vientiane airport, whereas in Bangkok the departure halls were all but empty.  We returned to Bannockburn NZ, happy we had the house to return to.


Back in NZ after lock-down eased, we took a short break to …Oamaru.  Somewhere we normally passed through or stopped for lunch, but never stayed.  It was a very enjoyable place to explore a little further.  We stayed just outside the town, on the way to Bushy Beach, in a converted farmhouse.

In town we walked the harbour, visited the excellent public gardens and generally enjoyed looking about.  The one thing that stood out was the food – every meal was outstanding and we suffered food fatigue! The Star and Garter café, with its walls covered with old wedding photos, Fat Sally Pub with a chicken salad loaded with tasty morsels that was so big we couldn’t finish, cheese from Whitestone, Pizza from the Brewery and an outstanding south American influenced meal from Cucina

And we finished with a detour to Fleur’s at Moeraki.  The food was excellent and the Pinot Gris so outstanding we stopped at the cellar door in Kurow on the way home and purchased a few more bottles


In August our little break away was to Twizel.  Again staying a few minutes outside town.  We took a trip up to Mount Cook and walked the Hooker track to the glacier lake.  

The day started cold – Andrew left his hat in the car and insisted on imitating a Russian grandmother with his scarf wrapped around his head.  

The day warmed up and most of the walk was in pleasant sunshine. We also walked up the hill to view the Tasman glacier and lake.  We visited the Salmon Farm shop, biked around the area and had lots of coffees at the Hydro café. Highlight of our accommodation was an outdoor bath. It took a lot of talking to convince Andrew it was worth braving the -4 degrees of frost to sit in the double sized bath, looking at the milky way in the dark skies.  He loved it once he tried it.

Frosty morning, looking at the outdoor bathtub

Mt Cook road and Clay Cliffs

Penang March 2020

Penang,Malaysia and more specifically it’s largest city of Georgetown, had long been on the to-do list.  But needing 3 flights from Vientiane to get there, it had been a little hard to schedule in.  We took the opportunity to visit in March when Covid-19 was starting to take hold outside China, but before we knew quite how big it was going to get.

Having left Vientiane @ 8:30 and landed via a stop in KL @ 16:00 we thought we would take the local bus into town.  And it was a real local bus, we ended up taking well over 90 minutes to get to destination, stopping at every stop along the way.  But looking for a positive, we saw some territory we wouldn’t have seen from the expressway on the 25 minute return journey. 

Instead of a 3 minute walk to our accommodation, it ended up being a 15 minute slog after Maps told us to get off the bus one stop further than we should have.  While the temperature was similar to Vientiane in the mid-30s, Malaysia had 75% humidity compared to 33% back in Laos.  We felt rather sweaty arriving at Campbell House, our base for the next 3 nights.  It was a good location, quiet and easy enough for us to walk where we wanted to go.  It was also a good cool bolt-hole in the middle of the very hot and humid days.  

There was no lift, so the luggage was hoisted by rope & pulley up to the 2nd and 3rd stories. 

After checking in and freshening up we were off to eat.  Just down the street was a recommended Indian restaurant, Hameediyah, where everything is recommended but their murtabak were highly recommended.  It was bustling spot and we were lucky to get a table.  And the murtabak were delicious.

 Our time in Georgetown involved a lot of walking and exploring.  The heritage area is a real tourist magnet and there are so many signs of gentrification.  On the other hand the street art does give a nice feeling.  But lines of people wanting to Instagram themselves in front of said street art wasn’t attractive.

 Two of the highlights of our time in Georgetown included the visit to the Pinang PeranakanMansion.  It was surprisingly larger than it’s outside façade suggested and the interior collections and rooms were enjoyable and informative.   There were very good textile and beading collections and a surprising amount of European china.  Lots of display cases full of cherubs and dolls.

 The other great use of our time was joining a food tour Heritage on a plate  The insights from a local about experiences and changes in the city was as interesting as the food we sampled.  He took us to places he liked, not necessarily the ‘famous’ spots in Penang.  From Indian sweets (puthu), to a killer samosa cart, curry, Chinese noodles and more – we were unable to fit in all the food offered. 

This was a trip where we ate a lot.  From a café with 20 varieties of cake, to the Italian restaurant below our hotel, we had only positive experiences.  Andrew found the best souvenir, being a small wooden clipboard and has used it daily since – who says we never buy souvenirs