December 11, 2011

SELAMAT MALAYSIA: Batu Caves, Serangoon

We knew it was going to be hot and we still resolved to climb that 272 steps leading to the caves. But when we got there the heat was so insane that firm resolve quickly melted away with our sweats.


What would have been an awesome photo op inside the caves turned into a 10 minute monkey-stalking walk back to the train station and back to KL.


So what’s there to see in Batu Caves and was it worth the 45 minute travel from Kuala Lumpur? Yes, the monkeys alone made the trip worthwhile.



Aside from them monkeys, Batu Caves is the most popular Hindu Shrine outside of India and the most popular attraction in Selangor Malaysia. Located on a limestone hill, the caves are guarded by a giant statue of Lord Muraugan, the largest Hindu statue (and plated in gold!) in the world.



Another thing worth mentioning are the birds (not sure whether they’re doves or pigeons). Birds on this part of the world don’t seem to be too anti-social: they don’t instantly fly away when you walk past them, it was such an awesome experience feeding and chasing them.



Here are some of the useful tips if you plan to visit Batu Caves:

  • Do not take the cab. Yes it is more convenient but it’s also much more expensive. A LOT MORE EXPENSIVE! Take the train instead, it’s cheaper, faster and straightforward, it also gives you a chance to breathe in and out the local scene.
  • Try to visit at an early or later time of the day as the heat can get really bad midday or just bring an umbrella if you must. But if you don’t mind the uneven tan lines then a sunblock might not be a bad idea too.
  • Bring drinking water, there are shops in the vicinity but of course it’s got a tourist tag on it. Get your H20 at KL Sentral it’s much cheaper there.
  • Wear really comfy shoes and prepare to climb 272 steps. A big NO NO to heels and wedges but if you can strut your way up the caves with those, then you should be Americas Next Top Model!
  • Pay attention to your belongings and beware of thieves! Monkey thieves that is. Do not even attempt a tug of war with them, I've read somewhere that they consider it a challenge and almost every time they win and the loser usually walks away with head hung in shame all the while brandishing a nasty bite.


HOW TO GET THERE: from KL Sentral take the KTM Train bound for Sentul Station (the ride takes only about 40 minutes) from there it should only be a short walk to the caves.

November 29, 2011

SELAMAT MALAYSIA: Jonker Walk at Night, Melaka

Jonker Street in Chinatown Melaka is a haven for antique shoppers. This narrow street also known as Jalan Hang Jebat or Jonker Walk harbours’ a good number of old shop buildings that sell 17th century artefacts and relics like Chinese porcelains, brassware’s, lamps, furniture’s, coins and money notes to name a few. It’s a place that seems to be suspended in time so if you’re in Melaka and scouring for antique treasures is your thing, a walk along this street is highly recommendable. As for us, admiring the old building was enough.


When night falls during weekends, the entire street is closed to traffic and it is transformed into a night flea market with an almost carnival-like atmosphere. Antique shops vanishes and is replaced with make shift stalls with their ingenious light fixtures spotlighting their wares. Sellers scream at the top of their lungs competing for your attention and shopping dollars, even doling out sample of their edible goods.




There’s a lot of interesting stuff to buy here and by interesting I mean tourist junk and we are suckers for those.






The night market is best experienced on an empty stomach, if you can; try not to have dinner before going, as the market offers a unique variety of gastronomic treats. We just followed the trail of stalls and when we got at the end of the street, we were surprised at how much food we’ve already consumed.






If you want a proper sit down dinner, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from. We made sure not to leave Melaka without sampling plates of the nyonya cuisine that they are extremely famous for. The dishes are a tasty fusion of Chinese and Malay recipes. Restoran Famosa seems to be a popular choice among tourist and locals and they are known for their tasty Chicken Rice Balls. These balls are almost the same size and shape that of a ping-pong ball and cooked in chicken broth. It is usually paired with roast chicken, duck or pork and is best eaten with pounded chilli sauce, but it is so flavourful that you can eat it on its own. Freshly baked flaky and buttery pineapple tart was the perfect dessert to cap that dinner.





The weekend night market in Jonker starts at 6pm and ends at midnight.

November 22, 2011

SELAMAT MALAYSIA: Melaka Heritage Trail

Melaka is a very inexpensive city yet does not fall short on character. It has all the modern comforts to make one’s holiday pleasurable without sacrificing its old world distinct qualities and charisma.

Although among the third smallest Malaysian estate, it is well drenched in culture and history. Well placed along the spice trade in the Straits of Malacca and with a successful thriving port, it captured the attention of the Portuguese, Dutch and the English. Its independence was returned after the World War II but not before these European colonizers left their mark mixed with the early settlers’ customs creating a unique multi-cultural vibrant texture.

 

The attractions are concentrated in an area and stands close together that you can finish it in a day, but a hurried pace would go against the vibe of the place. This historical city declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site only July of 2008 gives off an easy atmosphere that force you to take it easy and just luxuriate in the moment.


As with any city, the best way to experience Malacca is by walking through it, and this heritage city is easy to navigate as you make the river that runs in the middle your guiding point.


Start your walking tour at the Tourist Information Center just across the Malacca Town Square also known as the Dutch Square. You’d instantly know you’re in the right place when you find yourself surrounded with buildings coated with red paint, so unlike anywhere in Malaysia. Landmarks clustered in these area includes the old General Post Office turned into a Youth Museum beside the oldest Dutch church in the far east - Christ church that face the Tan Beng Swee Clock Tower with the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fountain in between it. Separated by a small narrow road lined with souvenir shops is the Stadthuys - Dutch for Muncipal Town Hall and holds the title for being the oldest and biggest colonial building in Southeast Asia.

Malaysia Youth Museum and Melaka Art Gallery

Christ Church

Victoria Fountain and Tan Beng Swee Clock Tower

 Victoria Fountain with Stadhuys on the backdrop

Climb up a flight of stairs at the side of the Town Hall and continue on to a St. Paul’s hill where the ruin of St. Paul church stands. Originally built by a Portuguese Sea Captain in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for saving his life at sea, the Dutch later renamed it to St. Paul’s Church and served as their house of worship for more than 100 years.



St. Paul's church interior
 granite tomb stones with Portuguese and Dutch inscriptions

Make your way down the hill and you’ll pass by the Dutch graveyard where most of their military officials and family members are buried.



Continuing on downward will bring you to the iconic symbol of Melaka – the Porta de Santiago. Built in 1512 as part of the 4 main gates of the Portuguese fortress and was restored by the Dutch by forced labor when they overthrew the Portuguese in 1641. The Dutch fortified it with bastions and canons to counter attacks from invaders.





Also in the area is the Melaka Sultanate  Palace Cultural Museum which is also worth a visit.  Here are some more of interesting places in this heritage trail:

Melaka Sultanate Palace Cultural Museum

Malay and Islamic World Museum

Coronation Park 

Middlesburg Bastion



When you’re tired from all that walking, hop on a heavily decorated rickshaw and just wander around town with the wind on your face. The people of this charming place are a hospitable and kind lot and tourist rates are regulated so there is no risk for rip offs. A platter of freshly made roti chanai and local coffee at an al fresco table beside the river is a great way to cap this tour.



GETTING THERE: most visitors to this small vibrant town come by road. Kuala Lumpur in the north is approximately 1.5 - 2 hours, while Singapore in the south is about 3 - 4 hours away. No railway serves Melaka, the nearest train station is in Tampin, roughly about 45minutes from Melaka.  Buses are more straightforward, cheap and convenient, check here for schedules: http://www.journeymalaysia.com/ptamelaka.htm

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