Travel stories, tips and suggestions from Malaysia

langkawi a nature lover's paradise

Langkawi, Malaysia – A Nature Lover’s Paradise

By Vanessa of The Island Drum

Peninsular Malaysia has over ten popular islands just off its coastlines but for nature lovers Langkawi, Malaysia is a standout.

Despite Langkawi’s reputation as a beachy resort island, its natural topography is often overlooked by travellers keen on a dose of nature. In fact, nature greets visitors in abundance immediately upon arrival, whether arriving by boat or plane.

langkawi malaysia view from cable car

Ferry passengers are greeted by lush tropical islands and islets as the ferries weave their way to the main Langkawi terminal and flight arrivals are presented with bird’s-eye views of stretches of sandy, white beaches, picturesque rainforests and padi fields.

The Geopark That Is Langkawi

cable car in langkawi malaysia

Langkawi’s natural beauty is one of the main reasons the 99-island archipelago was granted UNESCO Geopark status back in 2007.

Visitors often get confused as to the location of the ‘Langkawi Geopark’ when in fact the entire main island as well as the outer islands are considered ‘the Geopark’.

Geological monuments, protected geosites and more than 90 documented areas of geological diversity are grouped together to form three separate geoforest parks within the archipelago, which is where many of Langkawi’s ‘sightseeing’ venues and activities are also located.

Mat Cincang Cambrian Geoforest Park includes Mat Cincang mountain and gives new meaning to the adage ‘old as the hills’. The  550 million year old mountain is considered by many to be the actual birthplace of Malaysia!
This impressive mountain is over 700 meters tall and home to Langkawi’s most popular attractions: the Panorama Cable Car and Sky Bridge in Oriental Village (Langkawi’s answer to Disneyland, if you will). The vistas from the top (only reachable by cable car) are stunning and, on a clear day, visitors can see as far as Thailand’s distant Koh Tarutao.

Touring the Mangroves in Langkawi

Langkawi water buffalo park

Mangrove tours are generally focused in the Kilim Geopark Forest. A chance to explore them is an eye-opening experience for even the most well-versed nature aficionado. The mangrove ecosystem is one of the most diverse on the island, with the flora and fauna to prove it. The abundance of insects, crustacean and fish, which call the mangroves home is a smorgasbord for a diverse bird population, from Briminy Kites and Sea Eagles to colorful Kingfishers and more. Two varieties of bats can also be spotted ‘hanging around’ within the many limestone caves that are only accessible by boat or kayak. A quick tip: mangrove tours are much more interesting with a licensed knowledgeable guide, to get the absolute most from the experience.

Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park – A Visitor Favourite

island hopping in Langkawi Malaysia

Although there are actually 104 islands within the archipelago (99 at high tide) the nearby island of Dayang Bunting gets the most attention – not just because it’s part of the Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park, but because it is also home to the legendary Tasik Dayang Bunting (better known as the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden). A drink from this mysterious fresh water lake is said to have helped many a barren female become pregnant. To drive that folklore-ish fact home, the mountain top looks very much like a pregnant maiden lying on her back.

Visits to Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park are usually included in the ‘Island Hopping’ boat tours as well as the family friendly jet ski tours of Mega Water Sports. It can be quite touristy during weekends and school holidays, but it is a lovely park with plenty of jungle plants to admire.

For those who prefer to set their own schedule, renting a car or motorbike will allow you to explore the local beaches and waterfalls at a leisurely pace.

Relaxing on the Beaches in Langkawi

Pantai Kok beach in Langaki Malaysia

Beyond the well-known Pantai Cenang (Cenang Beach) and Pantai Tengah, there are at least eight more beaches worth checking out. The pristine Pantai Tanjung Rhu being one of the last public beaches which offers a few undeveloped meters of white sand and inviting emerald green waters is at the top of the list, along with Pantai Teluk Datai (Datai Bay Beach).

The more remote beaches such as Pantai Kok, Pantai Teluk Yu (Shark Bay Beach), Pantai Pasir Tengkorak (Skull Sand Beach), Pantai Batu (Pebble Beach) and Pantai Pasir Hitam (Black Sand Beach) are all unique and worth exploring as some of their names are also indicative of, perhaps, colorful pasts.

Enjoying the Beauty of the Waterfalls in Langkawi

seven wells waterfall langkawi malaysia

When it comes to waterfalls Langkawi has three that stand out, especially during the monsoon season when the cascades are especially abundant.

Telaga Tujuh Waterfall is actually visible from the nearby Panorama Cable Car. More commonly referred to as ‘Seven Wells’, this waterfall sees more than its fare share of visitors, regardless of rainfall, based on sheer beauty as well as convenient proximity to Oriental Village.

The 14-tier Durian Pergangin Waterfall and the more isolated Temurun Waterfall make for picturesque rest stops for visitors circumnavigating the island’s many back roads. You can expect to spot plenty of monkeys along the way, as they are especially attracted to picnic spots – but as cute as they are, feeding them is not advisable.

Trekking the Jungles of Langkawi

Grazing Water Buffalo in langakawi malaysia

Langkawi’s natural gifts are also found deep in the rainforest or in secluded locations best visited with a licensed nature guide (for safety reasons as well as having the benefit of a local expert). Jungle trekking is offered by local tour companies at levels suitable for young children up to the serious mountaineer and they are guaranteed more than a few ‘wow’ moments.

Wildlife is plentiful in the Langkawi archipelago, with the over 200 species of tropical birds leading the pack. Monitor lizards, dusky leaf monkeys, macaques, flying lemurs; the list goes on and on.

With waterfalls and mangroves, beaches and jungles, it’s pretty clear that for anyone with an appreciation for nature, Langkawi will not disappoint.

 


vanessa profile photo island drumABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa is based out of Langakwi, Malaysia and created The Island Drum to provide information and awareness about the island and all the events, attractions and activities. Vanessa is also sharing her experiences travelling Peninsular & East Malaysia as well as Southeast Asia and beyond! You can also find her on Facebook & Instagram.


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What Not To Do While Travelling To Malaysia

Have you ever travelled to a new country only to be confused by certain customs and practices? Walked the roads of a new city uncertain as to how you should behave? Every country has its own customs, standards of behaviour and taboos and often times they remain undiscovered until those practices are breached. Amidst questioning looks, confused stares and, sometimes even, expressions of angry disbelief, a traveller learns fast what is not acceptable in the places they visit.

Getting Lost in the Customs of Malaysia

Malaysia travel

Malaysia is no different. Quickly becoming one of the hottest and most popular travel destinations, it is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic country rich in variety of foods, traditions, and history.

With a core society of indigenous Malay, Indian and Chinese, the culture of Malaysia has also found influence from other areas of the world, from Britain to Persia, Europe to the Arabic nations. With so much diversity it can get confusing for a traveller to know exactly what customs to follow.

Before we first visited Malaysia, we had heard tons of ‘dos and don’ts’ from fellow travellers and we supplemented that with lots of research on the issue ourselves. While we didn’t notice all of these rules in play, possibly because we spent most of our time in the tourist-friendly Georgetown, Penang, we definitely were aware of some stark differences in practices between our own culture and that of the people in Malaysia. We’re sure if we had stayed longer, we may have noticed an even more stark contrast.

If you’re looking to make sure you don’t breach any behavioural rules while visiting Malaysia, the following will give you a good idea of what not to do in Malaysia.

Be Aware of Gestures Considered Rude or Obscene

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Gestures are a difficult thing to control as they often come automatically. When in Malaysia, it’s good to avoid a few gestures that are not acceptable in Malaysia but may be commonly acceptable in other parts of the world.

For instance, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body and as such, should be respected. Touching the head of an adult or passing an object above someone’s head is considered rude and disrespectful.

While common in a lot of western cultures, using the forefinger to point is seen as a rude in Malaysia and instead, make a fist with your thumb over top the fingers and point using the thumb as the directional guide. We noticed about half of the people would point with their finger and the rest with their thumb over fingers. We’ve also found that in many places “pointing in a direction” with your whole hand open-palm, works very well.

Pounding your fist into the palm of your other hand is an obscene gesture to some people in Malaysia and should also be avoided.

Take Into Account Gender-Based Considerations

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An important consideration in many places is the difference in acceptable behaviour from, and between, men and women. In Malaysia, men and women should avoid embracing and kissing in public. Public behaviour and image is incredibly important and public displays of affection are not considered appropriate.

Women should also take care in the beachwear they choose. Topless sunbathing is not allowed and while some tourist areas allow bikinis, many Malay women will swim fully clothed.

Interaction between unfamiliar men and women also comes with taboos. Don’t be offended if a member of the opposite sex does not return an extended hand for a handshake. In Muslim culture, physical contact between members of the opposite sex is not encouraged and may not be reciprocated. If you are a man, wait for the woman to offer her hand first. With a country as diverse in culture as Malaysia, it’s not always easy to identify what beliefs a particular person holds.

Interestingly, it is also important that a woman never touch a monk, even accidentally brushing past, or hand a monk something as they are then required to fast and perform a ritual cleansing.

Remember Table Manners and Guest Etiquette

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Table manners and guest etiquette change significantly from country to country, and even sometimes city to city. What you have been told as a child may not always apply to another country or culture. In Malaysia, there are several important rules to remember when acting as a guest.

You may be used to showing signs of embarrassment when burping as it is often considered rude to do so in public in many Western countries, but in Malaysia burping after a meal is typically acceptable and a regular part of dining etiquette. On the flipside, wearing your shoes upon entering someone’s home, a mosque or a temple is a definite faux-pas. Remove your shoes before entering a house or place of worship as a sign of respect.

A related custom is ensuring the soles of your feet do not point at people or sacred images. When in public, ensure that your feet are facing towards the ground and are not propped up exposing the soles to others.

In Malaysia, there are apparently fairly strict customs for using your hands to eat. Always eat with your right hand, even if you are left-handed, as the left hand in Malaysian culture is usually reserved for bathroom-related behaviours. If you are left handed and cannot get used to the right-handed way, ask for utensils.

 

While there are more customs, traditions and taboos to be encountered in Malaysia, these are some common and more relevant behavioural rules to take into consideration while visiting the country. As a traveller it’s hard to know all the ins and outs of a culture, especially one as diverse and multi-ethnic as Malaysia, but taking time to learn the dos and don’ts, and making an effort to incorporate them while travelling, can make a huge difference in the way in which you are able to interact with the locals you meet and the impression you leave as you go.

 

Have you noticed any of these customs while in Malaysia? What other customs and practices have you noticed differ from your own culture while travelling abroad? Comment below and let us know!

 

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georgetown penang malaysia street art

The Streets of Georgetown – An Artist’s Playground

It’s true, there’s some pretty amazing food virtually everywhere in Georgetown, Penang and we were told about it repeatedly before we travelled to Malaysia. What we weren’t told about however, was something we noticed for ourselves, pretty quickly, while walking the streets of this well-known city: an abundance of art displayed in just about any place a painting, drawing or sculpture could be managed.

From sides of shops and buildings to fire hydrants and posts, it seemed as though no matter where we went, an artist had left his mark. We found a plethora of murals and artistic renderings all around the streets of Georgetown, and, on occasion, on the inside of buildings as well. During our time in the city, we walked around taking a look at the incredible talent that was presented to us on some of the most unlikely of canvasses. 

penang chinese dragon and face street art

Finding An Unconventional Canvas in Malaysia

While seemingly scattered and at random, there are also several series of paintings, by the same artist, and with a similar theme. One such series of murals, by Lithuanian-born artist Ernest Zacharevic, was painted during a 2012 festival and was titled “Mirrors George Town”. His artwork is truly incredible, often working iin aspects of the environment, like a bicycle or window, and can be found throughout the city centre, including Muntri Street, Armenian Street and Lebuh Leith.

penang street art murals by ernest zacharevic

georgetown street art by ernest zacharevic

In addition to the many murals created by Zacharevic, there is another series that is quite identifiable. A group of 52 welded iron wall caricatures have been commissioned, with approximately half already installed. These sculptures are humourous depictions of historical facts and usually placed near landmarks in the city.

welded iron sculptures georgetown

georgetown street art iron cartoons

We found them to be both educational and funny and made walking around the city entertaining. At times it felt like a treasure hunt, trying to find new sculptures that we hadn’t seen before! It was also like having a bit of a guide, giving away tidbits about the different streets and areas we passed.

wrought iron cartoons georgetown street art

wrought iron cartoons george town penang

We particularly liked the cartoon for Cannon street describing an actual cannon shot that occurred in this area! The cartoon says “A cannon shot fired during the 1867 Penang riots made a large hole in this area, hence the name”. You can find a complete list of murals by Ernest Zacharevic and the wrought iron cartoons, and their locations, by downloading the Street Art in George Town brochure by Tourism Penang

penang iron cartoons

The Contributions of Local Artists in Penang

There is also a lot of random artwork created by local artists that dot the streets of Georgetown and it added a welcoming, unique feel to the city. From large scale murals taking up an entire side of a building, to smaller scale pieces of work utilizing a building’s features, such as a window or door, each one is unique and interesting.

penang street art wall mural

georgetown penang street art girl mural

chinese painting georgetown penang

It’s incredible the amount of talent and effort each of these must have taken and it makes the Georgetown a truly remarkable place to walk through.

street art on penang building

There were even some unexpected surprises, like the painting of several characters around a window sill as we turned a corner, or the bear riding a bike that graced the wall of one of our favourite coffee shops.

window art penang georgetown

bear riding a bike penang coffee shop

This cat was perhaps one of the hardest to photograph, not because of its size, but because there seemed to be a steady flow of tourists lining up to take their photo with it. We managed to take a people-free photo on one of our last days in the city.

giant cat mural penang street art

Some we just weren’t too sure about – like the ‘Food Machine’ or the string cats that were attached to a post on the street (we thought that the way the shadows fell was pretty cool) – but they still managed to catch our eye!

odd painting penang street art

string cats penang street art

random art in penang

If you head to Penang, Malaysia, be sure to take time to wander around Georgetown. You’ll be amazed at the talent that graces the walls as you pass. Be sure to keep your eyes open though, as sometimes even something as unsuspecting as a fire hydrant can be turned into a work of art on the streets of Georgetown.

What do you think of street art? Comment below and let us know if you think it enhances an area or distracts from the cultural essence of a community.

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georgetown penang street art

Where to Go to Bite ‘N’ Eat Traditional Indian Food

 

Butter chicken, tandoori and naan. Three of the most common dishes you’ll find ordered and served in Indian restaurants in the Western world. Back home, we have been to numerous Indian restaurants and inevitably we, and those we are with, revert to the same familiar foods with perhaps some kind of masala thrown in to feel adventurous.  During our travels, our culinary knowledge has broadened and our palates have become more refined. While in Thailand, we were able to try some authentic Japanese in Koh Samui at Kobori Restaurant, some Canadian and Western fare in Koh Phangan at Crave and some Thai-fusion in Bangkok at Rock Restaurant, but we never truly explored the depths of flavours and spices available within Indian cuisine. That is, until we made our way to Malaysia.

With the Indian population comprising the third largest in the country, Indian culture and cuisine is a large part of Malaysia. Not only can you find traditional dishes from India, there are various versions that are only found in Malaysia. Malay-style Indian food is quite common incorporating the roti, chippatis and meat dishes representative of North Indian food and the fish, veggies and rice that are more prominent in the South. We had the chance to try some of the Malaysian style Indian food while we ate our way through Penang in 48 hours and we were actively looking for a chance to try out some authentic dishes.

Being exposed to some new Malay-Indian dishes was a great experience and the type of culinary exploration we are always looking for but we still did not know enough about Indian food, be it traditional or Malay style. So, when we had the opportunity to visit Bite N Eat, a restaurant in Penang, Malaysia that prides itself on providing traditional Indian food, we were very excited to see what we could learn and explore the flavours and foods we had yet to discover. We ended up learning a lot and tasting traditional dishes we never would have known to order before.

An Education in Indian Cuisine in Penang

Bite N Eat Restaurant Penang Malaysia Dindigul Biryani

As we walked up to the restaurant, the bright sign signaled we had found Bite N Eat Dindigal Biryani Restaurant and the outdoor grill with fresh roti being made was a wonderful welcoming sight. Seated indoors on the main floor of this UNESCO certified building we were presented with a rather extensive menu. Quite innovatively, Bite N Eat offers its patrons a centralized television and individual tablets with photos of their various dishes to help those who are new to the cuisine determine what to order.

Opened just seven months ago, in May, 2014, the main goal of the restaurant is to bring the exact taste of India to Penang where often times, Malay-Indian style dishes dominate the culinary stage.  Bringing in a chef, as well as a large majority of the serving staff, straight from India, the menu offers traditional dishes from both the North and South of India and hopes to bring true Indian cuisine, not only to those who are familiar with it, but also to those who are unfamiliar, with the food.

mint julipe drink and ginger delight bite n eat

We started with two drinks made in-house: Mint Julipe & Ginger Delight. The Mint Julipe had a strong flavor of fresh mint with a refreshing burst of lime balanced with sweetness from the sugar encrusted rim of the glass. The ginger delight was balanced in its own way between the sharp bite of cinnamon and the softer, creamier ginger flavor.

bite n eat penang malaysia indian restaurant

Bite N Eat Restaurant Penang Malaysia INdian food

The first round of food was ordered and we were excited to try the variety of Southern and Northern Indian dishes. When the plates of food and bowls of sauces came we had amassed a plethora of spice infused experiences our palates were anxiously awaiting. Onion pakkoda, chicken 555, fish curry, jolly gosht, set dosai, Chicken 65, prawn biryani, and paneer butter masala arrived in two waves and left us incredibly satisfied and had us advancing our knowledge of Indian cuisine and spices.

Bite N Eat Restaurant Indian Cuisine Penang Malaysia

Bite N Eat Penang Malaysia

Bite N Eat Restaurant Penang Malaysia best indian restaurant

The entire feast was delicious and while we were quite full, we were still excited to have the opportunity to try some more of the homemade drinks and traditional desserts. Our nutmeg juice drink was a great after-meal drink and complemented the desserts: fragrant coconut and carrot halwa both of which were warm, fragrant and rich in flavor.

Bite N Eat Penang Malaysia

By the end of the meal, we had tasted quite a variety of different types of food with many different spices and flavor combinations and were thoroughly thrilled with the exploration into Indian cuisine from first bite to last.  Bite N Eat is definitely the place to go to learn about traditional Indian cuisine and venture into the world of spices and flavours these dishes have to offer.

Bite N Eat Penang Malaysia Staff

There were so many dishes to choose from and we were unable to try it all. Have we missed something that you would consider a key dish in Indian cuisine? Comment below and let us know!

 

 

How To Eat Your Way Through Penang in 48 Hours

Finding Diverse Food in George Town, Penang

48 hours has passed since we arrived in George Town, Penang considered Southeast Asia’s culinary kingdom. This melting pot of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures have been blending and coming together centuries before any fancy fusion restaurant. Said to have some of Asia’s best street food at some very low prices, it also has some restaurants where a couple like us can eat for around RM15 ($5 CAN).

In Thailand the food was amazing everywhere (you can see our post on great restaurants in Pai) but the cuisine was not quite as diverse in most areas. Here in Penang, even in such a short time, we’ve managed to find some amazing and diverse food, eating Chinese dim sum, Indian butter chicken and a Malaysian specialty, Laksa.

Surprising Indian Delight: Restoran Ros Mutiara Sdn Bhd

Butter Chicken Indian food

 

Located on Chulia Street, this was our first stop for a meal in Malaysia and we were hoping it would be a memorable one. During the long overnight train ride from Thailand we didn’t eat much mostly because, as we discovered, train food is just as bad, or worse, than airplane food. Looking at the flimsy paper-placemat menu we decided we didn’t want to ruin our appetite and since good eats is the reason why we decided to come to Penang in the first place, we figured we’d wait. The sacrifice was worth it.

When we walked into Restoran Ros Mutiara Sdn Bhd (straight from the ferry we caught after the train ride), we noticed that it was a bit like a cafeteria-style restaurant with different types of Indian food on display, plastic chairs (which are found in most of the eateries we’ve enjoyed in Asia) and only two walls.

We sat down, ordered butter chicken (our go-to Indian dish), rice, and two orders of garlic naan (we absolutely love garlic naan!). We didn’t know we were in for a treat. Everything that came out was made fresh and a bit different in flavour than the usual western style Indian food we are accustomed too, but in the most delightful way.

The naan was a bit thicker, crispier on the outside but softer in the middle, with chunks of amazingness (garlic) throughout. The butter chicken had a touch of spice to it; not an uncomfortable amount but a little from the garlic, onion and hint of ginger we tasted, in addition to the rest of the spices.

It was also the best we’ve had to date. For us, this place was a pleasant surprise and what we hope is a glimpse into the quality of food we will be experiencing throughout the rest of our stay in Penang.

Laksa the Chinese-Malay Way: Joo Hooi Café

famous teochew chendul penang

Since first learning about the island of Penang, Laksa has been associated with it in our minds. Laksa, a soup created from Chinese and Malaysian influences is found in Singapore, Indonesia and, of course, Malaysia. This soup is made many different ways: Curry laksa, Assam laksa and Sarawak laksa. With some quick Google research we found a place specializing in Assam Laksa and decided on it for our introduction to the dish because of its close location to our hotel.

Joo Hooi Cafe wasn’t hard to find as it’s located on the corner of one of the main streets, Julan Penang, and was full of people. Outside, a street food cart “Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul” stands with a lineup of at least 20 people long at all times. Although apparently very famous in Penang, especially to the Chinese visitors and locals, we continued passed the line. We weren’t here for that – we came for the Laksa.

Assam Laksa Penang

We were incredibly lucky and instantly found a seat in a booth that was held together by only a few pieces of duct tape. The Laksa here, like many others, is made in a huge pot. The soup came in a small plastic bowl and we weren’t too sure what to expect from this tiny, crowded restaurant.

The first few bites had us questioning the popularity of the dish, and the place. It was a little fishy with a confusing blend of flavours but as we ate more we found the flavor blended more completely and it got better with each spoonful. The mint and lime infused with the soup and by the end it left us wanting more.

Dim Sum For the Needy: Tai Tong Restaurant

Dim Sum Penang

Once again, Google search provided us with another great place to eat. Our last dim sum restaurant was back in Toronto, Canada before we left for Asia (with a brief pork bun teaser at Rock Restaurant in Bangkok) and our dim sum cravings were kicking in. We figured it was likely we’d find some decent places to eat some in Penang and luckily, our search brought us to Tai Tong Restaurant, right down the street from the coffee shop where we were getting work done.

We didn’t read too much about this place as we needed only to see the words ‘good’ and ‘dim sum’ and we were sold. We packed up our computers and almost ran to this restaurant. Another plastic chair restaurant, with plastic table cloths and two walls, we sat down not quite sure whether we had found the right all-day dim sum restaurant we had read about online.

When we were handed a menu, we got even more confused until we saw the typical dim sum serving carts being pushed down the row of tables.

Dim sum

We ordered Har gow (shrimp dumplings), Sumai (shrimp and pork wrapped in cabbage), bbq pork buns and our new favourite, chicken feet (although Carolann didn’t care for the bean paste sauce used here).

We would definitely recommend this restaurant as a good place to get your dim sum on. We ordered five dishes and a bottle of water and our total bill was RM16 (about $5.50CDN). With the quality and price, you really can’t go wrong. Just be careful, they close one day a week and last we heard, it was on Mondays!

 

We’ve spent only 48 hours in Penang and we’ve got a couple weeks to go in Malaysia. We came for the food and it looks like we will end up staying for the food. They say that  Penang is the culinary capital of Asia and judging by our experience so far, we would agree, although we’ve only just scratched the surface.

From Indian, to Malay, to Chinese, to Thai and beyond, the cuisines of Asia seem to meet here, sometimes fusing, sometimes remaining their own. It seems as though we’ll only ever really get surface deep into the culinary possibilities in Penang as with every corner you turn, there is another food stall or restaurant serving a different style of food.

With so many places to eat and cuisines to try, the majority of places and dishes are left to be discovered by the people who dare to explore and expand their culinary horizons.

 


***** You Can Do It Too! It’s not always easy to find good places to eat, especially if you don’t have internet access. If you do, Google away! But either way, don’t be afraid to get out there and seek out new places on your own.  Roaming the streets and looking for those great, local establishments, with little to no internet exposure, can provide you with the best experiences. When we look for a local restaurant or food stand, we keep our eye out for those places that are busy with lots of locals. You’re generally sure to find good food where the locals know and choose. *****


 

Comment below and let us know what city is your favourite for finding great and diverse cuisine!