Travel With Bender

Uncovering the best family holidays

Penang, Malaysia

A Tropical Birthday On Monkey Beach

It’s going to be hard to describe how this day was. Although my Facebook status pretty much sums it up:

“That was an absolutely amazing day. 3 boats, 30 people all headed to Monkey Beach. We had a 5 year old’s bday party there with fairy bread (Americans never heard of it!), we swam, we fed monkeys, and we talked for hours. You ever have one of those days that are just so perfect and so unique and so unbelievably mind-blowing you can hardly believe it's real. I am in that moment!”

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The previous night our 30+ group of travelling families had decided a trip to Monkey Beach was in order. We loaded up cars, some caught buses and headed to Penang National Park by 10am. After some negotiations with the boat drivers we managed to hire 3 boats at 160MYR ($51) each, holding ten people. So for our family of 4 we paid $20. This included a stop at the northeast of Penang Island along the Muka Head cape to view the meromictic lake & turtle hatchery.

The boat ride to the lake was pleasant. The breeze was refreshing, the water went from a nasty brown to a shimmering blue, back to an unpleasant brown. The kids loved the ride and nothing could stop those silly grins as we bounced over the waves.

We walked to the left to visit the natural meromictic lake. One of only 20 meromitic lakes in the world, this lake is our second meromitic after the most famous – the Dead Sea. While the Dead Sea in Israel is a permanent lake, this one in Penang is seasonal, only with water during April-May and October-November. Unfortunately it must mean late October cause the lake was dried up and smelly. Not like our experience floating in the Dead Sea.

Oh well, my kids managed to find some rather nice looking water flowing into the ocean and spent a lovely time splashing around before we moved on to the turtle hatchery. This is a small place conserving turtles and the little ones swimming around were just plain cute. 

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Soon we were running across hot sand back to our boats, which once on the move, provided nature’s cooling air-conditioning, the breeze. The water turned back to a pleasing blue and in less than 10 minutes we arrived at Monkey Beach. No monkeys. Our friend on the previous boat has already arrived and we were greeted with boisterous shouts from teenage boys who had found a crab & were determined to cook it up for lunch. It made me smile.

One of the son’s of our travelling families was 5 today. There was a remarkable party table set up with party hats, chips, vegetables, fruit, salad & fairy bread… Wait, what? Australian’s love fairy bread. It is a staple at any children’s birthday party. White bread spread with butter and sprinkled with 100’s & 1000’s (sprinkles) – YUM! This Aussie family made an amazing fairy bread cake and all our US friends were muddled... What is fairy bread? Oh the shame to not have grown up with pool party birthdays followed by frankfurters & tomato sauce, cheezels, timtams & fairy bread!

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Once everyone had arrived on the island we sang happy birthday to Spencer with beautiful Hannah playing the mandolin…. “Happy birthday dear Spencer, happy birthday to you… and many more” And many more?! What is that?! Haha Lauren (Spencer’s Aussie mum) and I overruled this nonsense with the proper Australian version “Happy birthday dear Spencer, happy birthday to you… Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray.” Again apparently this is an Australian thing? We didn’t entertain our US friends with the several other happy birthday verses including “he’s a jolly good fellow” and “why was he born so beautiful.”

Who knew English-speaking countries could be so different? I for one am enjoying all the differences our friends on the other side of the world present to us and find it exciting and thrilling to learn all these tiny nuances. It’s what got me passionate about travel in the first place. Learning new cultures and exploring our differences or even discovering our similarities.

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My daughter has been missing "normal" parties and was so excited to wear a party hat and play with other kids. Several other "parties", such as the foam party, etc. had been a huge disappointment to her without the food and balloons and party hats! 

While we were eating the monkey’s came, of course. They were rather shy and waited for the food rather then approach us. I liked them, they were sweet. That is until we were all taking a swim in the bath of an ocean (the water was not refreshing, it was very warm) and the monkeys decided to take advantage and ransack our bags. Makes me laugh as the 30 of us struggled from the water shooing away those beady-eye, teeth-baring monkeys. Especially our Australian friend Kevin with a coconut high above his head ready to bowl some heads.

After our warm ocean bath and our hasty exit from the ocean the adults sat on the beach while the children built sandcastles, searched for crabs, found shells & generally enjoyed themselves. The teens cooked and ate their crab find. And we just sat and chatted.

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That was the moment I sat there daydreaming. I was on a tropical island, celebrating a 5th birthday party of a boy I met a few days earlier with people I once called strangers. And yet we no longer were. We had bonded online, reinforced those ties in person and I, for one, know even when they leave I will have friends for life…

Which will come in handy once they disperse all over the earth again, because I know I will have several homes around the world to stay in whenever we are where they are.

Enough of that sappy stuff. There is a small drink stand on Monkey Beach to grab a coke. There is also a few jet ski and banana boats for the tourists. It's really quite a delightful little place.

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The day ended with our very fast ride back to Penang National Park. We had a shower, nap and met everyone again for some of the most delicious Indian food in Penang at Sri Ananda Bahwan. The staff handled our travelling families party well, got all our orders right and the food, as always, was simply delicious.

Home before 10pm for once to finish off this wonderful post and time to reflect on my truly remarkable day. I am not sure if Monkey Island would have been as amazing without our extraordinary friends, but I am giving this attraction two big thumbs up!

For more photos on our Strangers in Penang, please check out our Photo Journal

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Here's what you have to say...

"I respond to every comment by private email. So please leave me comments, I love chatting to you" -
Posted by Rose on
What an amazing experience for you all! So inspiring to see all these families with children traveling. We have only done traveling close to home with our three little ones, but are motivated to do more when we see the wonderful experiences you are having.
Posted by Michele @ Malaysian Meanders on
Well, now I am quite bummed out that I was feeling too tired to join you on your excursion. Sounds like a blast! I have never heard the Aussie versions of Happy Birthday. Sri Ananda Bahwan is a favorite with my friends. We'd meet there every Friday morning for a leisurely breakfast. Hope to see you again before you leave.
Posted by Micki on
Looks like such a fun day, guys! Love that you're hanging out with new friends.
Posted by Erin on
Rose - you can do it, we are glad to show you the way!
Michele - it was so great you came to the pool party, look forward to seeing you again.
Micki - hope we get to meet you some day!
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