Get Up & Go guest blogger Jac Taylor adds some spice to our day.
Most travellers come to Penang looking for postcard-grade paradise. It has all the ingredients, after all: swaying palm trees, buffet-toting resorts, photo-available monkeys in the trees and enough beaches that, somewhere, there’s a secluded spot in the sunshine with your name on it.I came for paradise too and, when you’re a travel writer who’s genuinely on holidays, the most holiday-like thing you can do is to go ON the beaten track. Be a tourist. Hang your camera around your neck and remember to be wide-eyed about the fun, touristy stuff. So it seemed only fitting to log onto the resort WiFi, once ensconced by the pool amongst an international array of toddlers splashing their little hearts out, and look up the top tourist spots.
Number One on the list didn’t really grab me, to be honest, being a garden tour – but being nothing if not dedicated, I found a lovely man in the nearby town who was willing to let me borrow his brother’s car for a tidy sum, and set off to see what all the fuss was about.The Tropical Spice Garden is beautiful. Thoroughly, peacefully, heart-fillingly nice. The guides simply can’t wait to show you how pretty it is, as well as how clever Mother Nature has been, giving all these plants a thousand and one uses – most of which are downright fascinating. A pathway crisscrosses up the mountainside and is best taken slowly, since every leaf and berry seem to tell a story; if you’re an avid photographer, you’ll be moving at a snail’s pace.
We saw how cinnamon bark looks when still attached to a tree, and heard stories of lives lost when spices were worth more than gold. We handed around freshly dried cardamom pods to sniff, and tasted fresher-than-fresh ginger tea. Up the top of the incline, a schmickly turned-out cooking school enlightened aproned visitors, elbow-deep and grinning from ear to ear.
What I saw over the rise past the school, though, widened my own grin: a timber treehouse serving spicy cocktails, overlooking the azure waters far below. This alone is worth the visit, but keep enough ringgit in your wallet for the most fragrant souvenir shop I’ve seen. Fresh whole nutmeg, pure citronella oil spray, you name it, and – as long as you declare it all – you can bring it back home and, quite literally, add a little spice back into your life.
Jac Taylor is a travel writer, photographer and TV producer who has more than a passing interest in top travel attractions. Her new website The Travel Ten (www.thetravelten.com) launches in(February).