Saved by the bao

Okay. So, maybe my trip to Malaysia was several months ago. I’m sure you all get it: I loved it there.

I swear, I didn’t want to write another Malaysia post.

(well…maybe I did. But for the sake of whatever sort of limited-loyal readership I have, I wanted to restrain myself)

Readers, this was the thought process:

– I have mere days left in Baghdad, and nothing significant, exciting or food-related will be occurring in that time. (Unless you count election results…eh? eh? anybody?)
– My journey back home will involve a 24-hour layover in an exciting new place that Kirstin has never been before! That means, I’ll make it up to all of you with a real post about something that I actually ate/saw/experienced recently.
– I couldn’t bear to just abandon the blog until the above-mentioned exciting post is crafted and published, so it was either a Malaysia post, or another vague (and boring) post about the direction my life is heading in.

But, I’ll leave the choice to you, the loyal reader, about whether to read on, about a misunderstanding of what a “park” is and how I managed to claw my way through a dense jungle with only a fluffy steamed bao to sustain my energy.

(One more thing, I’m starting to plan for my own bao-making adventure. Does anybody have good dough recipes or tips/techniques? Much appreciated! …okay, read on!)

I read about the Penang National Park in Lonely Planet and was enchanted by their description of lush tropical plants and quiet, white sand beaches that were perfect for picnicking. So I imagine a wide-open, grassy space, some scattered trees and a well-marked trail to the beach.

What we encountered was much different. Rickety bridges crossing over deep-cut trenches and rushing creeks, climbing up steps that had been mauled by weather since they were first installed decades before, overgrown trails, gigantic insects that buzzed so loud the sound reverberated through the trees (which were taller than most buildings I’ve lived in). And to trudge over and under all these obstacles took three hours and way more energy than we were prepared to exert.

Our savior? A big, fluffy, steamed bun, known in some circles as a bao. As big as my hand and packed full of a thick, spiced chicken mixture. Heavy, but not overbearing. Halfway through our journey through the depths of the jungle we found a fallen tree to rest on and inhale our snacks. I’m not sure we would’ve had the energy to climb so many stairs and pull ourselves through all of that if it weren’t for those buns!

Just as it was starting to seem a bit hopeless, an endless journey where the sounds were no longer enchanting, the atmosphere no longer inspiring and my patience winding down, we found ourselves on a rickety little bridge outside of the forest.

It was strange at first. We spent so much time locked inside, and then, without much of a warning, we had made it through our unexpected voyage. On the other side we did indeed find a pristine white sand beach, just as it was described in the guidebook. For a while we were the only people there.

So we frolicked.

…and I snapped more pictures than I know what to do with now.

(Though, as you can tell, I had some fun experimenting with diptychs.)

Eventually we found a campsite and hired a boat to sail us back around to the main side of the island. The driver would spot monkeys and gigantic lizards sunbathing on huge boulders along the coast and would drive up close so that I could get pictures of them. Unfortunately, my zoom is still pretty atrocious and the pictures didn’t come out so well. But take my word for it, the experience was a bit surreal.

Definitely a highlight of the trip. Stay tuned for real-time adventures!