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Thirty Travel Memories Part 1 – The East

Maryam Bibi Rumaney shares her second instalment in our Armchair Travel Series. Thirty memories are substantial so we have split it up into 3 regions she has travelled and bring you one region each week. Enjoy these gems from the comfort of your armchair.

Part 1 – The East

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

The president addressed the nation on the 15 March 2020, advising all South Africans to practice social distancing. It was at this point that I decided to begin my lockdown journey. On average, I do about four overseas trips per year (a mixture of work and leisure), and another four in domestic travel, or local getaways. What felt so strange was not having any trips planned for 2020. Everything was cancelled – work and leisure. As I reflected upon this separation from my love for travel, I thought of compiling 30 travel memories, as I have been in lockdown for 32 days thus far. I was reflecting on how I have been blessed to visit 27 countries and over 50 cities, to date. I hope you are transported, while I take you on a journey of my fondest memories.

1. Pangkor Laut, Malaysia
Pangkor Laut resort has been on my husband’s bucket list for almost a decade. It is the only resort on the island. As a birthday treat for him, we headed to this gorgeous hidden gem. The resort makes up about 20% of the island, while the remaining 80% is natural jungle. There are monkeys, snakes and huge reptiles that roam freely. Generally, these animals do not bug you, but the resort outlines a ‘security’ brief. Since the resort is solely located on the Island, all dining and activities happen right there. The best feature of this resort is Emerald Bay. Warm waters, that are clear and a beach that is peaceful. We visited in January, and found it to be quite empty, which added to the feel of an almost private island. There are a few restaurants, so each night you could choose a different cuisine. A dish that stood out was the Malaysian lamb shank. A sweet, yet tropical experience of a pineapple salad and a curry marinade on tender meat that falls off the bone as you slice into it.

2. Mumbai, India
I was eight weeks pregnant and had to go to India for work. My husband joined me on this trip, and we planned on maxing out our travels before the baby’s arrival. We stayed in an area called Andheri, and my work was based in Bandra. My cousin, who stayed in Kuwait at the time, had a lovely apartment in Andheri and offered for us to stay at her place. We enjoyed the community feel that the complex offered. I would leave for work in the mornings and my husband would head over to the quaint park opposite for a run or brisk walk. At work, the office would have vegetarian lunch ordered daily, and it gets delivered in a ‘dabba’, a metal lunchbox with a few layers (this is an actual industry in India). Indian cooking is highly creative when it comes to vegetarian offerings, and hence we were never disappointed. A particular favourite became a South Indian dish call Upma, which a colleague at work would order for me. Upma is similar to soji, but a savoury version. I loved returning from work to organised evening activities and shopping escapades. One Sunday afternoon, we ventured to the touristy hub of Colaba, where we headed to Baadshai, a long-standing restaurant, for a falooda. We ended up having a south Indian evening filled with dosa, idli and dhai (yoghurt) puri. Not forgetting that famous falooda.

3. New Delhi, India
My husband wanted to visit a sight off the beaten track. We had to head into Old Delhi, take a bicycle rickshaw and venture into a residential complex off the industrial market. This was an absolute adventure! We had one contact, a little boy, who was going to be our guide. He resided within this complex and took us to where we needed to be. If you have ever visited India, then you will know that finding anything means that you have to navigate through chaotic streets. It was my first time on this cycle rikshaw, and I was definitely living on the edge. As we rode, we dodged cars and animals! Yes, huge cattle amid the masses of people, and since the weather was still cool, it was quite chilly. It was jittery ride, but well worth the experience.

4. Gujarat, India

India is a destination that I have travelled to quite often. Having experienced quite a few cities, I found Gujarat to be an interesting state. This is a dry state, which means that alcohol is broadly banned. This also means that you will find many quaint vegetarian restaurants throughout the city. Since my travels to India have generally been in December, I experience their winter. Something I really enjoyed were the local soups, hearty and wholesome. Two that come to mind are the yoghurt (khadi) and vegetable soups. Lightly spiced, and perfect for the colder weather, I am transported back to these flavours. In terms of Indian sweetmeats, Gujarat has the best selection of Peda, an Indian sweet that is made of milk and sugar and ends up being rich and creamy.

5. Phuket, Thailand

As I was progressing through my pregnancy, we decided to take a babymoon. May is my birthday month, and our anniversary month. We thus decided to book a trip to Phuket, Thailand. My medical colleagues reassured me that after having worked in Thailand for many years, I will find good doctors if I end up needing healthcare. Off we went. We stayed right opposite the beach, and right next to Bangla road. This was an experience for the senses. The food was good, and the entertainment unique. This is where we had the best lobster to date. No wonder, it came with a later discovered price tag that was the most expensive meal for two we have ever had. We vowed to savour each bite, and never bring up the price again. The lesson: always double-check that their English meaning matches yours.

Thailand was also where we had our first experience of the fish nibbling foot spa and we did a fruit carving workshop. We found both activities to be thoroughly enjoyable. We got certificates for completing the fruit carving workshop, but I have yet to use those decorative techniques.

6. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
I was invited to attend a meeting in Vietnam. My husband decided to join me, and as a surprise, organised a three-day cruise on Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site and boasts breath-taking views of the Bay. The water is calm and the cruise is not bumpy at all. The boat had about 14 rooms and operated like a hotel. Special meals were prepared for us as we requested Halaal. I was amazed at how, despite Islam being such a small fraction of the religious community (approximately 1% of the total population), the hospitality industry understood what Halaal meant. On the boat vegetarian and seafood meals were prepared for us. The staff were friendly and service was amongst the best we have ever experienced. Dishes were prettily plated and I learnt how to eat with chopsticks. Even now, whenever I eat noodles, I want my chopsticks.

7. Hajj, Saudi Arabia
One of the most momentous journeys that I have ever undertaken was Hajj. What made Hajj truly special was being able to share it with my husband. I was accredited a year before I actually went. My visa was denied because I was a young, solo, female applicant. The Saudi government is strict on having a male accompany females on travel. Little did I know, that by the next year I would be married and my experience of Hajj would just be so much more fulfilling. To have a partner that assists your spiritual growth is immensely beneficial, and truly guided my journey as a first-time pilgrim.

During the five days of Hajj my husband dropped his phone somewhere between Mina and Azizia. It was Eid, and after pelting, we headed back to the camp to find out if the slaughtering of our sheep were complete. Somewhere along this trip, my husband dropped his phone. After the five days of Hajj, we tried to locate the phone and found it to be with someone in Medina. We managed to contact this person. He was a Pakistani national and took the phone to Pakistan. A few months later my husband’s friend travelled to Pakistan and collected the phone for us. We love travel and my husband is the photographer. While I savour each moment, forgetting to snap often enough, my husband takes care of that so that we have travel pictures. His phone had all our travel pictures from the past few months. I find this experience to be a reminder of how what is meant to be yours, will always find its way, even if it needs to cross oceans to find you, it will.

8. Hanoi, Vietnam
We were exploring Hanoi for the day. As we stumbled into the old part of the city, we found a mosque. After prayers, we spotted a small Halaal, home-based kitchen restaurant right next door to the mosque. We enjoyed a fusion of Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese cuisine. Coupled with warm service, as if you are in your mother’s kitchen. This was a lovely find in a city with so few Muslims.

9. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia ranks as one of my favourite destinations and is a halaal foodie’s dream. In Kuala Lampur we stayed at a hotel that served such a variety for breakfast that you had to make sure that you had two hours to sample it all. There was a wide variety of the usual stuff like pastries and cereals. Then they had stations that catered for every cuisine from Indian to Western, and Malaysian to Indonesian. You could have rice, dim sum and even sushi. It was one of the most memorable breakfast spreads by far.

10. Penang, Malaysia
Penang is a huge tourist destination. Night markets and street food ranks high on the list of things to do. Being a majority Muslim country, Malaysia allows for the adventurous halaal foodie to truly indulge. From our hotel, we took a walk in the rain, through the night market and into a food market with a variety of street foods. We tried a Malaysian prawn curry known as kari laksa udung, something similar to butter chicken and a local rice dish with vegetables. This was served with something similar Indian naan bread. Good flavours, and ample variety.

11. Doha, Qatar
My first experience of the opulent Arab world took me to Doha. A city that can be seen in a day, a mere 11000km2. Having been to Dubai, however much later, I find that Doha reminds me of a mini-Dubai. It is in Doha that I first experienced segregated dining areas in restaurants and family hours at malls. Since the society is segregated by gender at large, restaurants offer curtained cabins that allow women the privacy to remove their face coverings. Another interesting aspect was this concept of family hours at the mall. Weekends typically spanned Thursday evening until Saturday. The working week resumes on Sunday morning. During the weekend, only families were allowed to visit malls. This meant couples, parents with children, and groups that resembled families. Hence, single people had to wait until the week to frequent the mall. It was during this time that a three-story arts museum opened up, located on the water. A visit to the museum was highly interesting, given all the early Islamic artefacts that were on display at the time.

12. Ngong Ping, Hong Kong
As a young second-year university student, a friend and I set off to do a two-week course at Hong Kong University. This unexpected trip turned out to be in a city that I grew to love. Besides all the high-rise buildings and the fast-paced lifestyle, I appreciated the safety of the city and the ease with which we could commute as two solo female travellers. One Sunday, we took a bus to a mountainous area called Ngong Ping. Here we headed over to try the cuisine at a local monastery. The food was vegan and one of the tastiest meals I have had in this category. Rice was served, with a selection of local vegetables and a dish of tofu and mushroom. The meal was highly flavourful despite the fact that they omit the use of bulbous plants, such as onions, garlic and ginger, for example. A foodie experience with a difference. I developed an appreciation for this type of simple, yet wholesome cuisine.

We hope you enjoyed this bit of armchair travel. Look out next week for Maryam’s next set of travel memories from Africa.

By Maryam Bibi Rumaney
Maryam is a molecular scientist by profession with a passion for writing. She currently works as a freelance consultant offering laboratory advisory, scientific editing, and English language services. She loves travel and is always looking for the next adventure. Connect with her at http://www.mbrumaney.co/

You may also enjoy our recent article: Armchair Travel to Morocco.

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