Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Shore Excursions via SuperStar Gemini


I thought I knew what to expect as this was my fifth time to visit Penang. But as we boarded a trishaw for a 15-minute cycle around Georgetown, everything looked somehow different; a fresh look to one of my favorite islands in Malaysia. It felt like it was my first time, as we passed historic alleys and through identical but totally unique shophouses. This was the first shore excursion of our four-day cruise holiday via SuperStar Gemini and it was a unique take on my usual getting-lost-on-the-alleys moments.

Earlier, still recovering from my disbelief that I was actually fulfilling a far-fetched wish, I strutted my way to the top deck of our cruise ship, the SuperStar Gemini, like I was paid to. It was a fun-filled four days together with 13 souls that were invited by Star Cruises, the leading cruise line in the Asia-Pacific region, to experience a cruise holiday.

SuperStar Gemini
SuperStar Gemini, our playground for four days
We flew to Singapore and boarded the cruise ship then navigated the Malacca Strait with designated Ports of Call on Penang and Langkawi, both in Malaysia.

Guests at SuperStar Gemini have a choice on the cruise's shore excursions; whether to avail one of the pre-arranged shared tours from the ship itself or have a free and easy shore time by exploring the destinations on their own (just keep in mind that they have a strict call time so you have to be back at the ship on the given time).

Khoo Kongsi Temple Penang
Penang stopover for five hours
It was actually just months ago when me and my buddy included Langkawi and Penang on our two-month Beach Hop Asia 2016 summer backpacking trip and I have only the fondest memories of these places. I was only too glad that it was again included on our cruise shore excursions.

It was four in the afternoon, our second cruise day, when we arrived at Swettenham Cruise Pier and disembarked from SuperStar Gemini. The unpredictable weather caught up with us as we boarded our private van for the five-hour daytrip for our first shore excursion in Penang.

Georgetown Penang
Georgetown on a trishaw
First stop was Chew Jetty. Everyone converged on the entryway as our guide talked about the history and importance of this certain landmark. The group then strolled their way to the wooden planks and explored the houses on stilts which mostly were turned into caf├ęs and shops.

Chew Jetty Penang
Faded Children in a Boat mural by Ernest Zacharevic at Chew Jetty
I followed the pack and almost veered away to go to the other jetty, Lim Jetty, which was the total opposite of the famous one; no souvenir shops but legit houses. I trailed behind them and noticed that my every visit at Chew Jetty always felt like the first time. More and more houses were being turned into souvenir shops that it felt like the century-old heritage of the place is quickly being replaced with commercialism.

Chew Jetty Penang
Where's Mr. Sunshine?
Our second stop was the famous icon of Penang, the Boy on a Bike by the renowned mural artist Ernest Zacharevic. It was, as always, the most photographed artwork in Georgetown.

Ernest Zacharevic Penang Art
The famed icon of Penang, Ernest Zacharevic's Boy on a Bike
We marched along the damp street of Lebuh Ah Quee and were led to Lebuh Cannon for a temple visit, the Khoo Kongsi Temple. I was surprised how we can miss such a beautiful temple during my previous trips. And then my buddy mentioned that there’s a RM5 (US$1.20) entrance fee. That totally explained why. haha. We’re cheapskates like that.

Khoo Kongsi Temple Penang

Khoo Kongsi Temple Penang
Khoo Kongsi Temple
We hopped on to the van again and were brought to Jalan Penang, passing by my favorite hotel in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of GeorgetownEastern & Oriental Hotel, for our next adventure. Trishawa light three-wheeled pedaled tricycle, was the means of transportation during the early times in Penang. It has now been replaced by motorbikes, leaving the funky hybrid of a tricycle and rickshaw to tourists.

Georgetown Penang
Penang shophouses
We chose our groovy trishaw and started the 15-minute trip. We circled around familiar alleys, such as Lebuh Love and Lebuh Chulia, and it all felt different. I thought I knew Georgetown by heart, but the view from we were, neatly tucked inside the trishaw, was way different from how I experienced it before. I couldn’t distinguish the difference but I know there’s something unique on the ride itself. Uncle, our very accommodating chauffeur, definitely added to it.

Trishaw Georgetown Penang
Trishaw first-timer, surprisingly, I enjoyed it
Shopping and dinner were next. Taste Cafe at G Hotel along Gurney Drive was the venue for our glutton session and as I checked on the buffet spread, I went giddy on the wide variety of Malay and Western dishes. Of course, I filled my plate with chicken satay, roasted duck and mee goreng (my Penang food favorites). And it was oh so good. The fried noodle dish with my choice of toppings (which I loaded with bean curd slices) was so amazing.

Cocoa Boutique Penang
Cocoa Boutique
G Hotel Penang
Taste Cafe at G Hotel Penang
Mie Goreng Penang
Mie Goreng is love!
Our last stop that night was supposedly Penang’s City Hall. But when I saw some bear statues in the middle of the park in front of it, I ran into its muddy ground and checked it out. Apparently, it was an exhibition of United Buddy Bears which is having a world tour (as a symbol of tolerance and living together in peace). I scanned each bear and checked out the Philippines’ version.

Philippines' bear
We went back to SuperStar Gemini at past nine in the evening after our brief shore excursion and enjoyed the onboard shows that night.

The next day, we arrived in Langkawi right before we had breakfast. The weather was gloomy, haze enveloping the islands surrounding the archipelago. By eight, we disembarked the ship and headed towards our ride for that day's shore excursion.

Langkawi Geoforest Park
Jetty at UNESCO's World Heritage Geopark of Kilim Geoforest Park in Langkawi
Langkawi Geoforest Park
Misty morning
It was just months ago when me and my buddy explored the Kilim Geoforest Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Geopark accorded in 2007.  This time, we revisited the exact same spots without the intense glare of the sun blinding our sight. It was magical as we emerged from different water channels on the misty islands, revealing beautiful sceneries at each turn.

Langkawi Geoforest Park

Langkawi Geoforest Park
Lush mangrove forests and karst-laden scenery
We had our lunch on one of the floating restaurants inside the geopark. We feasted on grilled fish and stir-fried veggies while overlooking the peaceful scenery.


Me and my buddy specifically requested to have an hour or so for shopping (advantages of having private tours) as we knew that Langkawi is a duty-free island. Our guide brought us to two shopping centers near Pantai Cenang and splurged on Malaysian coffee and teh tarik which were incredibly cheap on this side of Malaysia.

We went back to the ship at half past one in the afternoon after our shore excursion. At the top deck of SuperStar Gemini, we spent our siesta time, bidding goodbye to the gorgeous islands of Langkawi.

SuperStar Gemini
Last day chill on board SuperStar Gemini
It was the last day of our cruise holiday, and just like the first day, we spent the whole day on the ship while waiting for our final stop. At seven in the evening, we finally disembarked at Singapore, leaving us with a few hours to spare for roaming around before leaving for the airport.

We headed to Bugis for an hour of shopping time after dinner. I wasn’t really into shopping at that time, so together with some friends, we opted to do some food tripping instead at the hawker food center behind Bugis Street. After shared tales on traveling, we downed our last iced coffees and met the others who seemed happy with their great bargains. We went to Changi Airport and waited for our midnight flight back to Manila.

Singapore Shophouses
Singapore shophouses
Although it was a bit short, our shore excursions via SuperStar Gemini were a nice way to check out Penang and Langkawi, especially for those who are planning to visit them again for future trips. But for those who've visited them before, like me, it was surprising to see a different side to these famed islands. Definitely an added bonus for a luxury cruise with friends.




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